Tag Archive: New Jersey


Baretta-n-Fred

“Baretta” is an American detective series which ran on ABC Television from 1975 to 1978.

The show was a toned-down version of the successful 1973–74 ABC series, “Toma”. This starred Tony Musante as the chameleonic, real-life New Jersey undercover police officer David Toma. Despite its popularity, the show received intense criticism for its realistic and frequent depictions of police and criminal violence.

When Musante left the series after a single season, the concept was rebooted as “Baretta”, with Robert Blake in the title role.

Now, Robert Blake (born Michael “Mickey” Vincenzo Gubitosi) began his career as one of “The Little Rascals”, child stars of a very popular series of comedy shorts, made during the 1940s.

He was also one of the very few members of the Our Gang (as the kids were known) to:
(a) make it to a ripe old age (born 1933; he’s still with us) and
(b) make it in acting, as an adult.

But, I digress.

The Premise

Detective Anthony Vincenzo “Tony” Baretta is an unorthodox plainclothes cop (Badge #609) with the 53rd precinct of an unnamed Eastern city (suspiciously like Newark, New Jersey). He lives with Fred, his Triton Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, in apartment 2C at the run-down King Edward Hotel.

The Man

Like his predecessor David Toma, Tony Baretta adopted many disguises on the job.

When not in disguise, Baretta usually wore a T-shirt, jeans and a soft cap. He often carried an unlit cigarette in his lips or behind his ear.

When exasperated, he would occasionally speak in asides to his late father, Louie Baretta.

His catchphrases included “You can take that to the bank”, and “And that‘s the name of that tune.”

That Tune

Speaking of which, here’s a YouTube video of the opening credits, set to the iconic theme tune “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”.
The song was composed by Dave Grusin & Morgan Ames, and performed by no less than Sammy Davis, Jr. (ask your folks, if you don’t know who he was):

Initially an instrumental, the song was released as a single in Europe in 1976, reaching number one in the Dutch Top 40 as “Baretta’s Theme”.

Wheels and Places

Baretta drove a rusted-out 1966 Chevy Impala four-door sedan nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” (license plate 532 BEN).

In the series the detective hung out at Ross’s Billiard Academy, and referred to his numerous girlfriends as his “cousins”.

Baretta’s People

Supporting characters included:

Billy Truman (actor Tom Ewell), the elderly hotel manager / house detective, who used to work with Tony’s father Louie at the 53rd Precinct.

Rooster (actor Michael D. Roberts), a streetwise pimp and Tony’s favorite informant.

Tony’s supervisors Inspector Shiller (played by Dana Elcar) and Lieutenant Hal Brubaker (actor Edward Grover).

Detective Foley (actor John Ward), an irritating stick-in-the-mud.

“Fats” (played by Chino “Fats” Williams), a gravelly-voiced black detective who often goes on stakeouts with Tony.

Detective Nopke (actor Ron Thompson), a rookie who admires Baretta‘s street smarts.

Little Moe (played by Angelo Rossitto), a shoeshine man and informant.

Mr. Nicholas (actor Titos Vandis), a mob boss.

Mr. Muncie (actor Paul Lichtman), the owner of a liquor store at 52nd and Main.

Where To, Now?

After its initial run in syndication began in 1979, the series later re-appeared on TV Land in 1999, as part of a package of series licensed from Universal.

The show has not aired in over a decade – but it’s still worth a look, as a cultural icon of its day.

“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time”.

That’s good advice, people.

Peace.

Gangsters: John Gotti

John-Gotti

John Joseph Gotti, Jr. (October 27, 1940 – June 10, 2002) was an Italian-American mobster who became boss of the Gambino crime family in New York City. Operating out of the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, Gotti became one of the crime family’s biggest earners.

Gotti was one of the most powerful crime bosses of his era, and widely recognized for his outspoken personality and flamboyant style. He became known as the “The Dapper Don” for his expensive clothes and personality in front of TV news cameras.

Gotti was later nicknamed “The Teflon Don” after three high-profile trials in the 1980s resulted in his acquittal – though it was later revealed that the verdicts were the result of jury tampering and juror misconduct.

In the 1996 HBO TV movie “Gotti”, John Gotti was played by Armand Assante.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s how Hollywood saw it.

Here’s what history has to tell us:

Gotti’s Early Life

John Joseph Gotti, Jr. was born in an Italian-American enclave in the Bronx on October 27, 1940.

He was the fifth of the thirteen children of John Joseph Gotti, Sr. and his wife Philomena (referred to as Fannie).

John was one of five brothers who would become “made men” in the Gambino Family; Eugene Gotti was initiated before John, Peter Gotti was initiated under John’s leadership in 1988, and Richard V. Gotti was identified as a Capo by 2002. The fifth, Vincent, was not initiated until 2002.

Gotti grew up in poverty. His father worked irregularly as a day laborer and habitual gambler.

In school Gotti had a history of truancy and bullying other students. He dropped out, while attending Franklin K. Lane High School, at the age of 16.

Gangland Links

Gotti was involved in street gangs associated with New York Mafiosi from the age of 12.

When he was 14, he was attempting to steal a cement mixer from a construction site when it fell, crushing his toes; this injury left him with a permanent limp.

After leaving school, he devoted himself to working with the Mafia-associated Fulton-Rockaway Boys gang, where he met and befriended future Gambino mobsters Angelo Ruggiero and Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson.

Marriage

Gotti met his future wife, Victoria DiGiorgio, in 1958.

The couple had their first child, a daughter named Angel, in 1961, and were married on March 6, 1962. They would have four more children: another daughter (Victoria) and three sons (John, Frank and Peter).

Gotti attempted to work legitimately in 1962 as a presser in a coat factory, and as an assistant truck driver. However, by 1966 he had been jailed twice for criminal offenses.

The Gambino Crime Family

Gotti’s criminal career began in earnest when he became an associate of Carmine Fatico, a capo in what became the Gambino family after the murder of Albert Anastasia.

Together with his brother Gene and Ruggiero, Gotti carried out truck hijackings at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport).

During this time, Gotti befriended fellow mob hijacker and future Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino and was given the nicknames “Black John” and “Crazy Horse.”

It was also around this time that Gotti met Gambino underboss Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce.

Hijacking Arrests

In February 1968, United Airlines employees identified Gotti as the man who had signed for stolen merchandise; the FBI arrested him for the United hijacking soon after.

Two months later, while out on bail, Gotti was arrested a third time for hijacking – this time for stealing a load of cigarettes worth $50,000, on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Later that year, Gotti pleaded guilty to a Northwest Airlines hijacking and was sentenced to three years at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Prosecutors dropped the charges for the cigarette hijacking. Gotti also pleaded guilty to the United hijacking, and spent less than three years at Lewisburg.

The Bergin Hunt and Fish Club

Gotti and Ruggiero were paroled in 1972, and returned to their old crew at the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club – still working under caporegime Carmine Fatico.

Gotti was transferred to management of the Bergin outfit’s illegal gambling, where he proved himself to be an effective enforcer.

Fatico was indicted on loansharking charges in 1972. As a condition of his release, he could not associate with known felons.

Although Gotti was not yet a made man in the Mafia (due to the membership books having been closed since 1957), Fatico named Gotti the acting capo of the Bergin Crew soon after Gotti was paroled.

In his new role, he frequently traveled to Dellacroce’s headquarters at the Ravenite Social Club to brief the underboss on the crew’s activities. Dellacroce had already taken a liking to Gotti, and the two became even closer during this time.

Hitman

In 1973 – after Carlo Gambino’s nephew Emanuel Gambino was kidnapped and murdered – John Gotti, Ruggiero, and Ralph Galione were assigned to the hit team targeting the main suspect, Irish-American gangster James McBratney.

The team botched their attempt to abduct McBratney at a Staten Island bar, and Galione shot McBratney dead when his accomplices managed to restrain him.

Identified by eyewitnesses and a police informant at Bergin, Gotti was arrested for the killing in June 1974. With the help of attorney Roy Cohn, he was able to strike a plea bargain, and received a four-year sentence for attempted manslaughter for his part in the hit.

After his death, Gotti was also identified by Joseph Massino as the killer of Vito Borelli, a Gambino associate killed in 1975 for insulting Paul Castellano.

Capo

Gotti was released in July 1977 after two years imprisonment.

He was then initiated into the Gambino family (now under the command of Paul Castellano), and immediately promoted to replace Fatico as Capo of the Bergin crew.

Gotti and his team reported directly to Dellacroce as part of concessions given by Castellano to keep Dellacroce as underboss, and Gotti was regarded as Dellacroce’s protégé.

Under Gotti, the Bergin crew were the biggest earners among Dellacroce’s units.

Besides his cut of his subordinates’ earnings, Gotti ran his own loan sharking operation and held a no-show job as a plumbing supply salesman. Unconfirmed allegations by FBI informants in the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club claimed Gotti also financed drug deals.

Family Affairs

Gotti tried to keep most of his family uninvolved with his activities, except for his son John Angelo Gotti (commonly known as John Gotti Jr.), who by 1982 was a mob associate.

On March 18, 1980, Gotti’s youngest son, 12-year-old Frank, was run over and killed on a family friend’s minibike by John Favara, a neighbor.

While Frank’s death was ruled an accident, Favara subsequently received death threats and, when he visited the Gottis to apologize, was attacked by Victoria Gotti with a baseball bat.

On July 28, 1980, he was abducted and disappeared, presumed murdered.

While the Gottis were on vacation in Florida at the time, John Gotti is still presumed to have ordered the killing.

Indictments

In his last two years as the Bergin Capo, Gotti was indicted on two occasions, with both cases coming to trial after his ascension to Gambino Boss.

In September 1984 Gotti was in an altercation with refrigerator mechanic Romual Piecyk, and was subsequently charged with assault and robbery.

In 1985 he was indicted with Dellacroce and several Bergin crew members in a racketeering case, by Assistant US Attorney Diane Giacalone. The indictment also revealed that Gotti’s friend “Willie Boy” Johnson (one of his co-defendants) had been an FBI informant.

Taking Over

Gotti rapidly became dissatisfied with Paul Castellano’s leadership.

In August 1983, Ruggiero and Gene Gotti were arrested for dealing heroin, based primarily on recordings from a bug in Ruggiero’s house. Castellano – who had banned made men in his family from dealing drugs under threat of death – demanded transcripts of the tapes, and when Ruggiero refused, he threatened to demote Gotti.

In 1984, Castellano was arrested and indicted for association in the crimes of Gambino hitman Roy DeMeo’s crew.

The following year he received a second indictment, for his role in the American Mafia’s Commission.

Facing life imprisonment for either case, Castellano arranged for John Gotti to serve in his absence as acting boss in a triumvirate with Thomas Bilotti, and Thomas Gambino.

Gotti, meanwhile, began conspiring with fellow disgruntled Gambino family members Sammy Gravano, Frank DeCicco, Robert DiBernardo and Joseph Armone (a group collectively dubbed “the Fist”, by themselves) to overthrow Castellano, with Gambino insisting despite the boss’ inaction that Castellano would eventually try to kill him. The conspirators had the support of the bosses-in-waiting of the other families in the Commission case, as well as the complicity of Gambino consigliere Joseph N. Gallo.

After Dellacroce died of cancer on December 2, 1985, Castellano revised his succession plan, appointing Bilotti as underboss to Thomas Gambino as sole acting boss, while making plans to break up Gotti’s crew.

Infuriated by this (and Castellano’s refusal to attend Dellacroce’s wake), Gotti resolved to kill his boss.

DeCicco tipped Gotti off that he would be having a meeting with Castellano and several other Gambino mobsters at Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985.

The evening of the meeting, when the boss and underboss arrived, they were ambushed and shot dead by assassins under Gotti’s command. Gotti allegedly watched the hit from his car, with Gravano.

Several days after the murder, Gotti was named head of a three-man committee (with Gallo and DeCicco) to temporarily run the family pending the election of a new boss. It was also announced that an internal investigation into Castellano’s murder was well underway.

However, it was an open secret that Gotti was acting boss in all but name, and nearly all of the family’s capos knew he’d been the one behind the hit.

He was formally acclaimed as the new boss of the Gambino family at a meeting of 20 capos held on January 15, 1986. He appointed his co-conspirator DeCicco as the new underboss, while retaining Gallo as consigliere.

A Public Face

At the time of Gotti’s takeover, the Gambino family was regarded as the most powerful American Mafia family, with an annual income of $500 million.

In the book “Underboss”, Gravano estimated that Gotti himself had an annual income of not less than $5 million during his years as boss, and more likely between $10 and $12 million.

To protect himself legally, Gotti banned members of the Gambino family from accepting plea bargains that acknowledged the existence of their organization.

Gotti maintained a genial public image in an attempt to play down press releases that depicted him as a ruthless mobster. He reportedly would offer coffee to FBI agents assigned to tail him.

“The Teflon Don”

Upon the revelation of his attacker’s occupation (and amid reports of intimidation by the Gambinos), the fridge mechanic Romual Piecyk decided not to testify against Gotti, and when the assault trial commenced in March 1986 he testified he was unable to remember who attacked him. The case was promptly dismissed, with the New York Daily News summarizing the proceedings with the headline “I Forgotti!”

On April 13, 1986, underboss Frank DeCicco was killed when his car was bombed following a visit to Castellano loyalist James Failla.

The bombing was allegedly carried out by Lucchese capos Victor Amuso and Anthony Casso, under orders from bosses Anthony Corallo and Vincent Gigante, to avenge Castellano and Bilotti by killing their successors.

Gotti had also planned to visit Failla that day, but canceled, and the bomb was detonated after a soldier who rode with DeCicco was mistaken for the boss.

Following the bombing, Judge Eugene Nickerson, presiding over Gotti’s racketeering trial, rescheduled to avoid a jury tainted by the resulting publicity, while Prosecutor Diane Giacalone had Gotti’s bail revoked due to evidence of intimidation in the Piecyk case.

Jury selection for the racketeering case began again in August 1986, with John Gotti standing trial alongside Gene Gotti, “Willie Boy” Johnson (who, despite being exposed as an informant, refused to turn state’s evidence), Leonard DiMaria, Tony Rampino, Nicholas Corozzo and John Carneglia.

At this point, the Gambinos were able to compromise the case when George Pape (a friend of Westies boss Bosko Radonjich) was called to serve on the jury. Through Radonjich, Pape contacted Gravano and agreed to sell his vote on the jury for $60,000.

Pape’s actions meant that Gotti entered the courtroom knowing that he was at least assured of a hung jury.

In the trial’s opening statements on September 25, Gotti’s defense attorney Bruce Cutler denied the existence of the Gambino Crime Family and framed the government’s entire effort as a personal vendetta. His main defense strategy during the prosecution was to attack the credibility of Giacalone’s witnesses by discussing the crimes they had committed before agreeing to testify.

According to mob writers Jerry Capeci and Gene Mustain, despite Cutler’s defense and critiques about the prosecution’s performance, when the jury’s deliberations began, a majority were in favor of convicting Gotti. Pape, however, held out for acquittal until the rest of the jury began to fear that their own safety would be compromised.

On March 13, 1987, they acquitted Gotti and his codefendants of all charges.

Five years later Pape was convicted of obstruction of justice for his part in the fix.

In the face of previous Mafia convictions – particularly the success of the Commission trial – Gotti’s acquittal was a major upset that further added to his reputation.

The American media dubbed him “The Teflon Don”, in reference to the failure of any charges to “stick.”

Cleaning House

While Gotti himself escaped conviction, his associates were not so lucky.

The other two men in the Gambino administration (underboss Armone and consigliere Gallo) had been indicted on racketeering charges in 1986, and were both convicted in December 1987. The heroin trial of Gotti’s former Bergin crewmembers Ruggiero and Gene Gotti also commenced in June of that year.

Prior to their convictions, Gotti allowed Gallo to retire and promoted Sammy Gravano in his place, while slating Frank Locascio to serve as acting underboss in the event of Armone’s imprisonment.

The Gambinos also worked to compromise the heroin trial’s jury, resulting in two mistrials.

When the terminally ill Ruggiero was released in 1989, Gotti refused to contact him, blaming him for the Gambino’s misfortunes. According to Gravano, Gotti also considered murdering Ruggiero and when he finally died “I literally had to drag him to the funeral.”

Beginning in January 1988, Gotti, against Gravano’s advice, required his capos to meet with him at the Ravenite Social Club once a week. This move allowed FBI surveillance to record and identify much of the Gambino hierarchy. The FBI also bugged the Ravenite, but failed to produce incriminating recordings of high quality.

1988 also saw Gotti, Gigante and the new Lucchese boss Victor Amuso attending the first Commission meeting since the Commission trial.

In 1986, future Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso had been injured in an unauthorized hit by Gambino capo Mickey Paradiso. The following year, the FBI warned Gotti they had recorded Genovese consigliere Louis Manna discussing another hit on John and Gene Gotti.

To avoid a war, the leaders of the three families met, denied knowledge of their violence against one another, and agreed to “communicate better.” The bosses also agreed to allow Colombo acting boss Victor Orena to join the Commission.

Gotti was able to take control of the New Jersey DeCavalcante crime family in 1988. The DeCavalcantes remained in the Gambino’s sphere of influence until John Gotti’s imprisonment.

Gotti’s son John Gotti Jr. was initiated into the Gambino family on Christmas Eve 1988. According to fellow mobster Michael DiLeonardo (initiated in the same night), Gravano held the ceremony to keep Gotti from being accused of nepotism.

John Jr. was promptly promoted to capo.

Arrest

On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and New York City detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club, arresting Gotti, Gravano and Frank Locascio.

Gotti was charged, in this new racketeering case, with five murders (Castellano and Bilotti, Robert DiBernardo, Liborio Milito and Louis Dibono) conspiracy to murder Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion.

Based on tapes from FBI bugs played at pretrial hearings, the Gambino “administration” was denied bail, and attorneys Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel were both disqualified from defending Gotti after determining they had worked as “in-house counsel” for the Gambino organization. Gotti subsequently hired Albert Krieger, a Miami attorney who had worked with Joseph Bonanno, to replace Cutler.

The tapes also created a rift between Gotti and Gravano, revealing the Gambino boss describing his newly-appointed underboss as too greedy, and attempting to frame Gravano as the main force behind the murders of DiBernardo, Milito and Dibono.

Gravano opted to turn state’s evidence, formally agreeing to testify on November 13, 1991.

Trial

Gotti and Locascio were tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before United States District Judge I. Leo Glasser.

Jury selection began in January 1992, with the empanelled jury being kept anonymous and – for the first time in a Brooklyn Federal case – fully sequestered during the trial, due to Gotti’s reputation for jury tampering.

The trial commenced with the prosecution’s opening statements on February 12.

Prosecutors Andrew Maloney and John Gleeson began their case by playing tapes of Gotti discussing Gambino family business, including murders he approved, and confirming the animosity between Gotti and Castellano to establish the former’s motive to kill his boss.

After calling an eyewitness who identified Gotti associate John Carneglia as one of the men who shot Bilotti, they then brought Gravano to testify on March 2.

On the stand Gravano confirmed Gotti’s place in the structure of the Gambino family, described in detail the conspiracy to assassinate Castellano, and gave a full description of the hit and its aftermath. Krieger, and Locasio’s attorney Anthony Cardinale, proved unable to shake Gravano during cross-examination.

After additional testimony and tapes, the government rested its case on March 24.

Conviction

Five of Krieger and Cardinale’s intended six witnesses were ruled irrelevant or extraneous, leaving only Gotti’s tax attorney Murray Appleman to testify on his behalf.

The defense also attempted unsuccessfully to have a mistrial declared, based on Maloney’s closing remarks. Gotti himself became increasingly hostile during the trial, and at one point Glasser threatened to remove him from the courtroom.

On April 2, 1992, after only 14 hours of deliberation, the jury found Gotti guilty on all charges of the indictment (Locasio was found guilty on all but one).

James Fox, director of the New York City FBI, announced at a press conference, “The Teflon is gone. The don is covered with Velcro, and all the charges stuck.”

On June 23, 1992, Glasser sentenced both defendants to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and a $250,000 fine.

Incarceration and Death

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. He spent the majority of his sentence in effective solitary confinement, only allowed out of his cell for one hour a day. His final appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.

Despite his imprisonment, and pressure from the Commission to stand down, Gotti is believed to have held on to his position as Gambino boss, with his brother Peter and his son John A. Gotti Jr. relaying orders on his behalf.

By 1998 (when he was indicted for racketeering), John Gotti Jr. was believed to be the acting boss of the family.

John Jr.’s indictment brought further stress to John Gotti’s marriage. Victoria DiGiorgio Gotti, up to that point unaware of her son’s involvement in the mob, blamed her husband for ruining her son’s life, and threatened to leave him unless he allowed John Jr. to leave the mob.

Against his father’s wishes, John Jr. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years and five months imprisonment in 1999. He maintains he has since left the Gambino family.

Peter Gotti subsequently became acting boss, and is believed to have formally succeeded his brother as boss shortly before John Gotti’s death.

In 1998 Gotti was diagnosed with throat cancer and sent to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, for surgery.

While the tumor was removed, the cancer was discovered to have returned two years later and Gotti was transferred back to Springfield, where he spent the rest of his life.

Gotti’s condition rapidly declined, and he died on June 10, 2002, at the age of 61.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced that Gotti’s family would not be permitted to have a Requiem Mass, but allowed it after the burial.

Gotti’s funeral was held in a non-religious facility. After the service, an estimated 300 onlookers followed the procession (which passed Gotti’s Bergin Hunt and Fish Club) to the gravesite.

John Gotti’s body was interred in a crypt next to his son Frank Gotti.

Gotti’s brother Peter was unable to attend, owing to his incarceration.

The other New York crime families sent no representatives to the funeral.

What goes around comes around.

I’ll be around soon, for our next story.

Till then.

Peace.

Gangsters: Murder, Inc.

Murder-Inc

Murder, Inc. (or Murder Incorporated or the Brownsville Boys; known in syndicate circles as The Combination) was the name the press gave to organized crime groups operating in the 1930s and 1940s, that acted as the “enforcement arm” of the Jewish Mafia and later the American Mafia, the early organized crime groups in New York, and elsewhere.

Murder, Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 1,000 contract killings, until the group was exposed in the early 1940s by informer and group member Abe “Kid Twist” Reles.

In the trials that followed, many members were convicted and executed.

Abe Reles himself died, after mysteriously falling out of a window.

Several members of the group featured in the 1991 film, “Mobsters”.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That was the Hollywood version, MTV-style.

Here are the historical facts:

Known Members

Charles “Lucky” Luciano – Founder of the National Crime Syndicate, which used Murder, Inc. as its enforcers
Meyer Lansky – Luciano’s right-hand man in the National Crime Syndicate, who helped form Murder, Inc.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel – one of the founder members
Vincent Mangano – boss of his own family and Murder, Inc. until the Commission took it over
Louis “Lepke” Buchalter – original head of Murder, Inc.
Albert *The Mad Hatter” Anastasia – Succeeded Buchalter until he became boss of the Gambino crime family
Abe “Kid Twist” Reles – Potential witness, who was murdered before he could give evidence against other members of Murder, Inc.
Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein
Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss
Louis Capone – a member of Murder, Inc. who worked under Albert Anastasia and Louis Buchalter.
Allie “Tick Tock” Tannenbaum
Seymour Magoon – the only Irish member of the group
Harry Maione – Leader of the Italian faction of Murder, Inc.
Mendy Weiss
Hyman “Curly” Holtz
Jacob “Jack” Shapiro
Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando – belonged to the Italian faction
Charles “Charlie the Bug” Workman
Joe Adonis – belonged to the Italian faction
Louis Cohen
Frankie Carbo
Louis “Shadow” Kravitz
Philip “Little Farvel” Kovolick
Samuel “Red” Levine

Origins and Early Activities

Murder, Inc. was established after the formation of the commission of the National Crime Syndicate, to which it ultimately answered.

Largely headed by former mob enforcers Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky, it also had members from Louis Buchalter’s labor-racketeering gang (in partnership with Tommy “Three-Fingered Brown” Lucchese), as well as from another group of enforcers from Brownsville, New York, of the late 1920s, led by Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, operating out of an unassuming candy store known as Midnight Rose’s.

Buchalter, in particular, and Joe Adonis occasionally, gave the outfit its orders from the board of directors of the syndicate.

Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia was the group’s operating head, or “Lord High Executioner”, assisted by Lepke’s longtime associate Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro.

In the 1930s Buchalter used Murder, Inc. to murder witnesses and suspected informants when he was investigated by crusading prosecutor Thomas Dewey.

Methods and Means

Most of the killers were Jewish gangsters from the gangs of the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill.

In addition to carrying out crime in New York City and acting as enforcers for New York mobster Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, group members accepted murder contracts from mob bosses all around the United States.

Murder Inc. hit men used a wide variety of weapons, including ice picks, to murder their victims.

Though the group had a number of members, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss was the most prolific killer, committing over 100 murders (some historians put the number as high as 500).

The killers were paid a regular salary as retainer, as well as an average fee of $1,000 to $5,000 per killing. Their families also received monetary benefits.

If the killers were caught, the mob would hire the best lawyers for their defense.

The Murder of Dutch Schultz

Murder Inc.’s best known victim was probably Dutch Schultz, a mobster who had openly defied the syndicate.

In October 1935, Schultz insisted on assassinating Thomas Dewey, who was leading an all-out effort to put the mob out of business.

The syndicate board overruled Schultz. They feared – with good reason – that Dewey’s murder would inflame public outrage to new heights, and result in an even greater campaign to shut down the rackets.

Schultz vowed that he would ignore the board’s decision and kill Dewey himself.

The board decided they needed to act immediately, to kill Schultz before he killed Dewey.

In an ironic twist Buchalter actually saved Dewey’s life – which allowed Dewey to continue his efforts to bring down Buchalter.

Hitmen Mendy Weiss and Charles Workman were given the assignment to kill Dutch Schultz.

On October 24, 1935, they tracked down Schultz and his associates Otto Berman, Abe Landau, and Lulu Rosenkrantz and shot them at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey. Berman, Landau, and Rosenkrantz died almost immediately, while Schultz clung to life until the following day.

As the thorough Workman stayed behind to make sure they had completed their assignment and finished off Schultz in the men’s room of the restaurant, Weiss escaped the scene with their Murder, Inc. getaway driver Seymour Schechter.

Furious at being abandoned by his confederates, Workman had to make his way back to Brooklyn, on foot.

A day or two later Workman filed a ‘grievance’ with the board against Weiss and Schechter.

Although he had simply followed Weiss’ frantic orders to drive away without waiting for Workman, the unfortunate Schechter ended up bearing the punishment – becoming a Murder Inc victim himself, a short time later.

Informants

In January 1940, professional criminal and police informer Harry Rudolph was held as a material witness in the murder of 19-year-old minor gangster Alex Alpert. Alpert had been shot in the back on a street corner in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on November 25, 1933.

While in custody, Rudolph talked with Brooklyn District Attorney William O’Dwyer. With Rudolph’s testimony, O’Dwyer secured first-degree murder indictments against Abe Reles, Martin Goldstein and Anthony Maffetore.

After the three were indicted, O’Dwyer learned from Special Prosecutor John Harlan Amen that Rudolph was reportedly offered a $5,000 bribe by another prisoner, on behalf of the syndicate, to “put Reles and Goldstein on the street”.

O’Dwyer stated that when Maffetore learned of the bribe offer to help clear Reles and Goldstein and after several talks with New York City Detective John Osnato, he decided to turn state’s evidence.

Maffetore eventually stated that he was not involved in the Alpert murder, but was the driver in six other gangland murders.

Maffetore then convinced Abraham Levine to talk.

Reles was next to cooperate with the District Attorney’s office.

The Downfall of Murder Inc.

The testimony of “Kid Twist” Reles was particularly important to the prosecution, as he was a more senior gang member, and he is considered the key to the downfall of Murder, Inc.

Soon after Reles agreed to cooperate, numerous first-degree murder indictments were issued in Brooklyn, The Bronx, and in upstate Sullivan County (Catskills).

Additional members of the “Combination” were added to the list of cooperating witnesses, including Albert Tannenbaum, Seymour Magoon and Sholem Bernstein.

Ironically, Harry Rudolph’s testimony was never used in any of the trials, as he died of natural causes in the infirmary at Rikers Island in June 1940.

Abe Reles fell to his death from a room at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island on November 12, 194 – even though he was under police guard. The official verdict was “accidental death by defenestration”, but the angle of his trajectory suggests that he was pushed.

Harry Maione and Frank Abbandando

Harry Maione and Frank Abbandando were the first members of the Brooklyn “Combination” to be put on trial for murder.

In May 1940, they and Harry Strauss were indicted for the May 25, 1937, ice-pick murder of George “Whitey” Rudnick in a Brooklyn parking garage.

Strauss – after agreeing to cooperate with the District Attorney’s office – was eventually excluded from the trial.

On May 15, 1940, Abe Reles testified that Rudnick was marked for death after Strauss claimed he had obtained information that Rudnick was a “stool pigeon for the police.” Reles also testified that he waited outside the garage while Maione, Abbandando and Strauss were inside with Rudnick.

After Rudnick was believed to have been murdered, Abbandando called for Reles and summoned Angelo “Julie” Catalano to the garage to assist with moving the body. Rudnick was still alive, so Strauss resumed his assault with an ice pick, and Maione used a meat cleaver to complete the job.

The next day, Catalano (who drove the automobile with Rudnick’s body) corroborated Reles’ account of the murder.

“Dukey” Maffetore and Abe “Pretty” Levine testified that they stole the automobile that was used to dispose of the body.

For the defense, Maione and 14 witnesses testified that he was at his grandmother’s wake when Rudnick was murdered.

The funeral home undertaker and embalmer, however, testified that Maione was not at the wake. Also, one of Maione’s chief witnesses admitted that he committed perjury as ordered by Maione’s brother, whom he feared.

On May 23, 1940, Maione and Abbandando were convicted of first-degree murder, which meant a mandatory sentence of death in the electric chair.

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, overturned the conviction on a 4–3 vote in December 1940.

A second trial started on March 10, 1941.

Maione and Abbandando were convicted of first-degree murder for a second time on April 3, 1941, and were formally sentenced to death for a second time on April 14, 1941.

The Court of Appeals upheld the second conviction on January 8, 1942.

Maione and Abbandando were executed at Sing Sing prison on February 19, 1942.

Harry Strauss and Martin Goldstein

Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss and Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein were put on trial for the September 4, 1939, strangulation murder of a bookmaker whose body was set on fire and left in a vacant lot after Feinstein had been strangled.

The trial started in September 1940 with Strauss feigning insanity.

Abe Reles, the chief prosecution witness, testified that Feinstein was murdered on orders of Albert Anastasia. Reles testified that he, Goldstein and Strauss murdered Feinstein in his house.

Reles’s mother-in-law also testified that Reles and Strauss had asked her for an ice pick and some clothesline earlier in the day and, while at the house, heard loud music masking a commotion in the living room. She also testified hearing Strauss say that he had been bitten.

Goldstein’s former bodyguard/driver Seymour Magoon corroborated the story, as he testified that on the night of the murder, Goldstein told him that he along with Reles and Strauss had murdered Puggy Feinstein and that shortly after the crime was committed, Goldstein and “Duke” Maffetore burned the body.

Goldstein’s attorney decided not to put up a defense.

Strauss’s lawyer claimed his client was insane. Strauss was briefly allowed on the witness stand, but refused to take his oath and was “babbling incoherently” as he was led back to the defense table. Strauss then began chewing on a leather strap of a briefcase.

On September 19, 1940, Strauss and Goldstein were convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death in the electric chair a week later.

Strauss and Goldstein were executed in the electric chair on June 12, 1941.

Charles Workman

Charles Workman was indicted in New Jersey on March 27, 1940, for the October 23, 1935, murder of Dutch Schultz and three members of his gang.

The trial, which opened in June 1941, featured testimony from Abe Reles and Albert Tannenbaum as the primary underworld witnesses against Workman.

Next, a female friend of slain gangster Danny Fields, who was described as a “collector for the payroll” of Lepke, testified that Workman showed up at her apartment the day after Schultz’s murder and asked Fields to burn his clothes. The woman (who used a pseudonym on the witness stand) testified that Workman openly talked about the Schultz killing, and how he was left behind in the restaurant.

Workman’s defense opened with testimony from Marty Krompier, a close associate of Dutch Schultz who was shot and wounded in Manhattan the same night Schultz was murdered in New Jersey. Krompier testified that Tannenbaum told him that he did not shoot him, as he was in New Jersey and had killed Schultz.

Workman, in the middle of his defense, changed his plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘no contest’ after one of his chief witnesses, a Manhattan funeral director who testified that Workman was employed by him during the time of the Schultz murder and who was the brother-in-law of the late Lepke associate Danny Fields, recanted his testimony.

The same day that Workman changed his plea, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Workman was paroled on March 10, 1964, after serving 23 years in jail.

Louis Buchalter, Emanuel Weiss, Louis Capone, Harry Strauss, James Ferraco and Philip Cohen

Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss, Louis Capone, Harry Strauss, James “Dizzy” Ferraco and Philip “Little Farvel” Cohen were indicted for the murder of candy-store owner Joe Rosen, who was murdered in Brooklyn on September 13, 1936.

Cohen had his murder indictment dropped prior to the start of the trial, after his conviction on a federal narcotics charge, and received a 10-year sentence.

James Ferraco had vanished without trace, and was presumably killed in 1940 or 1941, while Harry Strauss had already been executed for the murder of Irving Feinstein.

Securing a jury for Lepke proved difficult.

After enough jurors were finally selected, the trial actually started in October 1941.

The trial featured the testimony of Rosen’s wife and son, a teacher, and underworld turncoat Sholem “Sol” Bernstein – who was marked for death after refusing to carry out a murder contract on Irving “Big Gangi” Cohen, who had fled to California after the murder of Walter Sage in 1937.

Lepke, Weiss and Capone were convicted on November 30, 1941.

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in June 1943.

Lepke, Weiss and Capone were executed in Sing-Sing prison on March 4, 1944.

After the Trials

With many of its members executed or imprisoned, Murder, Inc. vanished within a few years.

What goes around, comes around.

I hope you’ll be around, for our next installments.

I’ll be looking at some of the Depression-era badmen (and women) who have passed into infamy, and folklore.

Till then.

Peace.