Killing is an essential part of an organized crime racket — for criminals understand only the law which comes from the barrel of a gun. Every mob must, from time to time, mete out its own justice, either to a member of the gang or someone who threatens the gang's security. But sometimes, a local gunman isn't right for the job. It could be because the killing will immediately point to the mobster who ordered it or for some other reason that makes it inopportune for the local killers to take the contract. Over the years, various mobs had traded favors by sending someone to take out the bum, like Pittsburgh Phil and his trip to Florida. Other times, freelancers could be found to take the job.
The Syndicate board of directors needed the ability to enforce its edicts. Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky had a number of hired guns, but they had other interests, as well. The Bugs and Meyer mob wanted more than just to do the crime Syndicate's dirty work. It was essential that such an enforcement arm be skilled, relentless and willing.
Thanks to Joe Adonis, the dapper gangster with the movie star looks who sat on the national Syndicate board of directors, a group of killers in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn began to pick up some of the contracts. And over time, the Syndicate members began to realize that the Brooklyn gang was almost always successful.
"The precision-like technique they had perfected came to be looked on with great respect and approbation by mob moguls the country over, for the painstaking attention to detail and its neat finality of accomplishment," Turkus wrote.
Lepke Buchalter, for example, used the Brooklyn boys exclusively, paying a flat-rate $12,000 annually for their services. "Those kids in Brooklyn got it taped real good," Lepke once told a pal. "That Reles and Pittsburgh Phil, and that Maione know how to cover up a job so nobody knows a thing."
Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, one of the killers whom Lepke so admired, was a cunning, wire-haired fireplug of a man, a bootlegger who rarely touched alcohol and was tough enough to take two bullets — one in the gut and another in the back — as he ascended to his leadership role in the Brownsville mob. Kid Twist had hands that could strangle a man — and often did. His fingers were broad and flat at the ends and "one could almost imagine this low-browed bandit driving rows of nails into a board merely by snapping the fat heads of his fingers down, one by one," Turkus recalled.
Kid Twist and his mobster buddy Buggsy Goldstein had been living a charmed life, by crime standards. Together, they had been arrested more than 70 times and had only served 50 months behind bars between the two of them. Unlike Pittsburgh Phil and Happy Maione, who killed merely because they liked to kill, Kid Twist only killed when necessary. He was Brooklyn's Public Enemy Number One from 1931 to 1940, when he strolled into a borough police station and started what would become the downfall of Murder, Inc.
Kid Twist was small in stature, but large in ego. He wasn't afraid of the law and was often openly defiant when he appeared before a court. In 1934, when he was sentenced to three years for assault, the soda-jerk-turned-crime-lord was castigated by the judge.
"Reles is one of the most vicious characters we have had in years," said the judge. "I am convinced he will either be sentenced to prison for life or be put out of the way by some good detective with a couple of bullets."
Reles sneered at the judge and whispered to his attorney, who then turned to the court. "I will take on any cop in the city with pistols, fists or anything else," Reles said. "A cop counts to fifteen when he puts his finger on the trigger before he shoots."
He was, Turkus claimed, a moral imbecile. Reles admitted to 11 killings and the law could link him to 14 others. In one of those, Reles protested, he had only held one end of the rope and didn't pull it, so it couldn't possibly be considered a murder count against him.
Reles and Buggsy had taken over Brooklyn, Inc. in 1931, after killing the Shapiro brothers, who had visciously raped the woman who would later become Reles's wife, to send the headstrong Kid Twist a message. Meyer, the elder of the Shapiros and the reigning gangster in Brownsville, escaped the Reles death squad a remarkable 19 times but succumbed in the end. He was found under the beach in Canarsie; an autopsy revealed sand in his lungs. Reles had buried the gangster alive.