When Lucky Luciano set up organized crime in the early '30s, it was not a purely Italian organization. the Purple Gang of Detroit was Jewish. the Mayfield Road Gang and Egan's Rats were ethnically mixed. And aside from Luciano's associates, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, there was a strong component, especially in the New York area of Jewish criminal organizations [Lepke and Shapiro, Dutch Schultz, Longy Zwillman, etc.]
So when the Commission began to put together an enforcement team, they looked to combine both Jewish and Italian gangs in its composition. the result was the Union of two gangs from East New York, Happy Maione's Ocean Hill crew, and the Brownsville gang helmed by Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles, and 'Bugsy Goldstein. The two gangs were combined for the purposes of contract killing, and were put on retainer. They were also allowed to keep their own rackets in East New York, without 'kicking up'. In addition, the individual killers on any contract were paid for the job. Contracts in New York were passed down by the Commission through Albert Anastasia, who supervised the gang, and occasionally went along on a job. Contracts from the rest of the U.S were funneled through the commission to the gang, and then carried out nationally.
Murder, Inc., as it later became known, had a crew of "talent" unrivalled in gangland. There was Charlie "The Bug" Workman, the man who killed Dutch Schultz. There was Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, who volunteered for contracts and favored ice picks. There was Frank "The Dasher" Abbondando, Vito "Chicken Head" Guarino, as well as Reles , Maione and a raft of others.
In an era before forensics, Murder, Inc. was a fearsome proposition. Out of New York City, they came, killed, and left, often on the same day as the murder. With no connection to the victim, they were virtually untraceable. IN New York City, they dumped bodies down sewers, sunk them in bodies of weater in the Catskills, burned the bodies in vacant lots. By the mid to late 1930s, Murder, Inc. had carried out hundreds, if not a few thousand, contract killings. They had even scouted Thomas E. Dewey for the feasibility of his murder [They decided it was possible, but the contract was never let.]
As the '30s progressed, Murder, Inc. began to evolve into a hit squad primarily for Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Luciano and the Five families had their own killers [One of the ways you 'made your "button"', and get on the books was to kill someone], although Murder, Inc. was still contracted for Commission hits. But an increasing percentage of their work was silencing people who presented a threat to Lepke, real or imagined.
Lepke was in hiding, from both local and Federal authorities, and he began ordering murders in job lots. Bodies began turning up in greater numbers, and many had connections to Lepke. the authorities began to take notice. And a result was increased heat on the Brownsville boys
And Abe Reles, sitting in jail, and somewhat concerned about when, not if, Lepke got around to him, decided to sing for his supper. And Reles sang an aria. His first transcripted statement took over three days to record. Reles brought three things to the table. First he had been in Murder, Inc. from its founding. Second, he had an almost photographic memory for some 44 murders he had either participated in, witnessed or heard ordered. And third, he could give the DA Lepke on a murder rap, the execution of Joe Rosen. Reles, who had not participated in that homicide had been present when Lepke ordered his own button man, Mendy Weiss, to kill Rosen. But Reles, in return for immunity gave the District Attorney, William O'Dwyer so much more. By the time he finished testifying, Happy Maione, Bugsy Goldstein, Pittsburgh Phil, Frank the Dasher, Vito Guarino, and most of the rest of Murder, Inc. were awaiting an appointment with the electric chair, as was Lepke, Mendy Weiss, and Louis Capone [no relation]. Charlie the Bug was sentenced to 30 years in New Jersey.
And then O'Dwyer prepared his star witness for the "Lord High Executioner of Murder, Inc.", Albert "The Mad Hatter" Anastasia, the man who had ordered most of the contracts Murder, Inc. had carried out. But there was a problem. That problem's name was Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Anastasia was a loyal friend and follower of Luciano. He had been made underboss of a family on Luciano's orders. Hwe had helped kill Joe "The Boss" Masseria for Luciano. And Lucky was not about to let Reles bury his friend.
Abe Reles was in protective custody on the 7th floor of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. He was the only occupant on the floor, and possibly that whole wing of the hotel, except for his police guards. Reles either fell, jumped or was pushed out the window [bed sheets which would have gotten him to the 5th floor were tied to the radiator]. Luciano later mentioned that Reles had cost him 50 grand to fix. But with Reles' death, Anastasia was in the clear.
Murder, Inc. died not with a bang, but a thud.