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Flight Of The Canary

June 2024
1min read

Despite the six New York City officers supposedly guarding him at Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel, the mob informer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles flew six stories to his death on the morning of November 12. Two of his former colleagues, Louis Lepke and Lucky Luciano, had issued separate fifty-thousand-dollar contracts on his life, but police at the time publicly theorized that Reles had been trying to lower himself either to the room below or to the ground when he fell. No one could explain why he had landed twenty feet out from the side of the hotel.

Before his death Reles had been educating police and the American public about the deadly secret society known as Murder, Inc. In the nearly two years of his cooperation he had introduced such mob usages as “contract,” “mark,” and “hit” to America and had given the police solutions to many murders they hadn’t even known had occurred. In Brooklyn alone, where Murder, Inc., had recruited most of its killers, Reles helped solve forty-nine homicides. He admitted participating in at least thirty of the organization’s hundreds of rub-outs over ten years. Only a rumor that he was to be killed himself had forced Reles to seek sanctuary with the police, after a routine arrest in the spring of 1940.

He outlined the entire organization, its henchmen and executives. Traveling hit men like Reles, Bugsy Goldstein, Chicken Head Gurino, and Pittsburgh Phil (who preferred ice picks to other weapons) would be hired to dispatch anonymous victims in towns across the country, leaving no motives for detectives to ponder. The executives of Murder, Inc.—Vito Genovese, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Abner “Longy” Zwillman, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano—all were syndicate bosses interested in consolidating their bases and providing a national enforcement service. The group’s assassins earned between one and five thousand dollars for each “hit.” Pittsburgh Phil assembled quite a collection of fine suits in fulfilling up to five hundred contracts throughout the 1930s.

On the stand, Reles had seemed to hold little back as he reported in a blank voice the mob atrocities he had seen. (At first he didn’t recall one Rocco Morganti; then he remembered dealing Morganti a hand of cards before shooting him in the face.) Kid Twist’s testimony made the case against six Murder, Inc., members who went to the electric chair, including Lepke and Pittsburgh Phil. Reles had also provided information against Albert Anastasia, the most powerful crime boss of the era, but the prosecutor, the future mayor of New York William O’Dwyer, never brought charges. He claimed the full case against Anastasia “went out the window” with Reles. In later years Luciano took credit for arranging things: “the canary who could sing couldn’t fly,” he said with satisfaction.

Nathan Ward

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