Meyer “The Brain” “Mob’s Accountant” Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel under Prohibition
In the wake of Rothstein’s death, a new generation of Jewish gangsters emerged with criminal mastermind Meyer Lansky (born Majer Suchowljansky; July 4, 1902 – January 15, 1983) and Hollywood playboy Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947). The pair come from Soviet Jewry; Lansky was born in what is now Belarus, before immigrating to LES Manhattan, while Siegel was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to immigrant parents from what is now Ukraine. They became fast friends growing up on the streets of crime and poverty, with Siegel always sticking up for the physically smaller Lansky. During their teen years, the duo formed the Bugs-Meyer Mob at the start of prohibition, offering much needed protection to bootleggers fighting over control of the new industry. The gang specialized in gambling and protection racketeering, supplying bootleggers with stolen trucks and serving as a defense, often being hired out to hijack, kidnap, or kill. Their most notable business associates were the Broadway Mob, under the rising Italian gangster, Joe Adonis.
Lansky was always more controlled and methodological than the impulsive and hot tempered Siegel. While Lansky involved himself in the operational planning and was thus referred to as the “Mob’s “Accountant” or “The Brain” (like Rothstein), Siegel was the top hit man, providing the brawn and grudgingly earning the nickname “Bugsy” due to his erratic murderous behavior. Lansky and Siegel became involved in the affairs of the Italian mafia, befriending Italian mobster, Charles “Lucky” Luciano (November 24, 1897 – January 26, 1962), who enlisted both Meyer and Siegel in his mission to end the Italian mafia’s Castellammarese War by declaring himself ruler. With the help of Luciano’s newfound Jewish friends, and Italian ally Frank “the Prime Minister” Costello (born Francesco Castiglia, January 26, 1891 – February 18, 1973), they arranged the murders of Italian Gangster leader’s Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria on April 15, 1931, and later, Salvatore Maranzano on September 10th of the same year.
Jewish and Italian Crime Unite
Luciano became the head of what was now the Luciano Crime Family (later the Genovese Crime Family). Both Luciano and Costello endorsed business dealings between ethnic lines, as opposed to their predecessors’ who refused to work with non-Italians and specifically, non-Sicilians. Thus, the alliance which formed between Luciano, Costello, Lansky, and Siegel became the forerunner for a much larger scale partnership. In May 1929, an assembly of Jewish and Italian gangsters met in Atlantic City to form the National Crime Syndicate. This organization combined the interests of various Jewish and Italian gangsters in a way that everyone could benefit. The Syndicate strove to harmonize the illegal dealings of the Jewish and Italian underground and worked to maximize profit from the criminal sectors of bootlegging, narcotics, prostitution, labor racketeering, and new gambling casinos in Las Vegas. Irish gangsters were noticeably absent.
Under the National Crime Syndicate, Murder Incorporated carried out contract killings assigned by the Syndicate heads, much in the way the Bugs-Meyer Mob had previously operated. Murder Inc. was based in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the hired killers were assigned their missions, comically obscured by the storefront of Midnight Rose’s candy shop. Louis “Lepke” Buchalter (February 6, 1897 – March 4, 1944) and Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia were placed in charge of the organization, Jewish and Italian respectively, taking orders from Syndicate authorities. Though Buchalter was a ruthless gangster, his nickname is derived from the Yiddish word, “Lepke,” meaning “little Louis.” Murders were particularly gruesome, some involving icepicks, others with axes, and more by strangulation; one man, after an autopsy, appeared to have been buried alive. The murderers received paychecks, much like any profession and were provided attorneys if arrested. One of the most famous murders was that of the above mentioned Dutch Schultz, a member of Murder Inc. who openly defied the Syndicate, promising to murder prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey (March 24, 1902 – March 16, 1971). Though Dewey sought to destroy the mob, the Syndicate feared his murder would escalate tensions and endanger them further. Schultz was marked for death; on October 24, 1935, Schultz was gunned down by his own at a the Palace Chophouse restaurant in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz lingered for some hours, interestingly receiving his last rights from a Catholic priest (he had converted to Catholicism before his death). Meanwhile, Dewey continued to prosecute the gang, eventually succeeding in the incarceration and deportation of Luciano and the execution of Buchalter, among many others. Dewey went on to become New York State Governor.
“Kid Twist” Brings Down Murder Inc.
One member of Murder Inc., Abe “Kid Twist” Reles (May 10, 1906 – November 12, 1941), who took his name from the long deceased, aforementioned gangster, Max “Kid Twist” Zweifach, brought on the fall of Murder Inc. and helped send several members to the Sing Sing electric chair. Reles had been implicated in a number of murders and knew he would face death upon conviction. To counter this, Reles became a police informant, trading in the lives his fellow assassins and even some of his closest childhood friends, in exchange for his own selfish freedom. This lead to many trials in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, resulting in the executions of Murder Inc.’s finest, including the Jewish head, Buchalter, who was found guilty of the murder of shopkeeper, Joseph Rosen.
Although, Buchalter was shared responsibility for roughly a thousand murders, he refused to turn informant against his wife and son’s pleas and his own best interests. “What’s the best I can expect?,” Buchalter told his wife Betty. “They’d give me another six or eight months-at most a year. Betty, if that’s the case, I’d rather go tonight.” It was requested that the execution be postponed a day, so it did not fall on the Sabbath, however the court overruled this notion. On March 4, 1944, Buchalter was sent to the electric chair and became the only top underworld figure of his generation to be tried, convicted, and executed for murder. Reles had now set his sights on testifying against the Italian head, Anastasia, however, on November 12th, 1941, Reles mysteriously “fell” from his room at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, though under guard. It is presumed that the guards were bribed by Anastasia and the Syndicate to kill Reles, who was known after his death as “the canary who could sing, but not fly”.
For Further Reading
- The Real Jewish Gangsters of NYC
- General Theodore Bingham vs. The Jews
- The Eastman Gang
- Big Jack Zelig: The “Big Yid” of the Lower East Side
- The Becker-Rosenthal Trial
- Detective Abraham Shoenfeld Infiltrates Jewish Criminal Underworld
- Arnold Rothstein: The Modern Jewish Gangster
- The National Crime Syndicate
- The Murder of “Bugsy” Siegel
- The Kefauver Committee and Aftermath
- Jewish Gangsters Today
Table of Contents
National Crime Syndicate
- Joe Bruno, “The Murder of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg” (Joe Bruno on the Mob)
- Samuel Newhouse, “Jewish Gangsters and Italian Gangsters form Alliances” (Joe Bruno on the Mob / Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
- “Murder Inc. – The Syndicate’s Killing Team” (J-Grit: The Internet Index of Tough Jews)
Meyer “The Brain” “Mob’s Accountant” Lansky
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
Governor Thomas E. Dewey
Murder of “Dutch” Schultz
- “Nobody Move! This Day in Crime History: October 23, 1935” (Armed Robbery)
- “The Dying Dutchman” (New Jersey History’s Mysteries)
Louis “Lepke” Buchalter
Execution of Louis “Lepke” Buchalter
- Mark Gribben, “Murder Inc.: Lepke’s Mistake” (trueTV: Crime Library)
- “Lepke, 2 Pals Die in Chair at Sing Sing” (Laborers / First Appeared: Sunday News, March 5. 1944)
- “Louis Buchalter” (Correction History)
- Louis “Lepke” Buchalter / Murder Inc. FBI FIles” (Paperless Archives)
- Allan R. May, “The Last Days of Lepke Buchalter” (Allan R. May)