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Murder, Inc

Nige Tassell tells all the gory details of a mob of hard-asnails hitmen, tasked with bringing down the New York Mafia’s most wanted
MEN IN CHAINS There were no happy endings in this tale of dodgy dealings, deception and death sentences

George ‘Whitey’ Rudnick was a handsome man, all olive skin and Brylcreemed matinée-idol hair. Or at least he was up until one day in May 1937, when his blood-soaked body was discovered slumped across the rear seat of a stolen automobile in Brooklyn. The loan shark had met a grisly end, stabbed no fewer than 63 times with an ice pick. Just to make certain of his demise, his assailants had applied a meat cleaver to his skull.

Rudnick’s savage murder was far from an anomaly. He was merely the latest victim of Murder, Inc, a brutal crew of hitmen-for-hire responsible for hundreds of killings across New York City and beyond during the 1930s. With organised crime tightening its hold on the city during the Prohibition years, these killers were commissioned by mob bosses to wipe out anyone who could undermine their empires, be they double-crosser, police informant or rival mobster stepping on their territory.

Murder, Inc had its roots in the Brownsville neighbourhood of Brooklyn, an area known at the time as ‘the Jerusalem of America’ due to its 300,000 Jewish residents. Its streets were run by the Shapiro brothers, led by Meyer Shapiro, the self-styled ‘boss of Brownsville’. A short, stocky young man called Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles had other ideas, though. Although a go-fer for the Shapiros (he was once shot in the back while standing guard over one of the Shapiros’ slot machines), Reles soon grew tired of doing the dirty work while the brothers feathered their nests. “Why do we have to take the leftovers?” he once moaned.

Together with his partner Martin ‘Buggsy’ Goldstein, Reles formed an alliance with Italian gangsters Harry ‘Happy’ Maione and Frank ‘Dasher’ Abbandando, who ran loan-sharking and gambling activities in the adjacent neighbourhood of Ocean Hill. Their aim was to take out the Shapiros and have Brownsville all for themselves.

Meyer Shapiro survived a full 20 assassination attempts before Reles’s crew targeted his brother, Irving. Acting on a tip-off, they abducted him from a Manhattan speakeasy before executing him in a Lower East Side basement; Reles himself fired the fatal bullet. The Shapiros’ empire quickly crumbled – the Brownsville Boys were the new bosses.

“Rudnick’s savage murder was far from an anomaly”

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

This is the December 2017 issue of History Revealed.