A brotherhood betrayed The man behind the rise and fall of Murder, Inc

Michael Cannell

Book - 2020

"The riveting true story of the rise and fall of Murder, Inc. and the executioner-turned-informant whose mysterious death became a legendary moment in Mob history. In the fall of 1941, a momentous trial was set to begin that threatened to end the careers and lives of New York's most brutal mob kingpins. The lead witness, Abe Reles, had been a trusted executioner for Murder, Inc., the enforcement arm of a coast-to-coast mob network known as the Syndicate. But the man responsible for coo...lly silencing hundreds of informants was about to become the most talkative snitch of all. In exchange for police protection, Reles was prepared to rat out his murderous friends, from Albert Anastasia to Bugsy Siegel-until the morning of the trial, when his shattered body was discovered on a rooftop outside his heavily-guarded hotel room. Was it a botched escape, or punishment for betraying the loyalty of the country's most powerful mobsters? Michael Cannell's A Brotherhood Betrayed traces the history of Murder, Inc. through Reles' rise from street punk to murder chieftain to stool pigeon, ending with his face-down death on a Coney Island rooftop. It resurrects a time when crime became organized crime: a world of money and power, depravity and corruption, street corner ambushes and elaborately choreographed hits by wise-cracking foot soldiers in double-breasted suits and zooty fedoras. For a brief moment before World War II took over everything, America fixated on the delicate balance of trust and betrayal on the Brooklyn streets. This is the story of the one man who tipped the balance"--

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2nd Floor 364.1092/Reles Checked In
New York : Minotaur Books 2020.
First edition
Physical Description
326 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Michael Cannell (author)
  • Prologue: "Something has happened"
  • The rise.
  • Schlammers ;
  • Babylon Brooklyn ;
  • The Commission ;
  • Murder for money
  • The downfall.
  • Twenty against the underworld ;
  • Lepke ;
  • Bill-O ;
  • The wedge ;
  • Long song ;
  • rMr. Arsenic ;
  • The dance hall ;
  • Half Moon Hotel ;
  • Kid Twist's ghost
  • Addendum.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Cannell (Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber and the Invention of Criminal Profiling) provides the definitive account of hit man Abe Reles (1906--1941), who served as the "assassin-in-chief" for the Italian-Jewish mob collaboration known as Murder, Inc.. Reles started his life of crime as a teenager in New York City, as an enforcer for a local racketeer, before his violent nature escalated to homicide. Brooklyn district attorney William O'Dwyer cut a deal with him in 1940 in exchange for testimony against the leaders of Murder, Inc. That bargain provided the prosecutor with a valuable witness who revealed "another America hidden in shadow with its own banks and penal system, its own tax code and law enforcement." But before Reles could testify, he fell to his death from a Brooklyn hotel window while in protective custody. O'Dwyer supported the theory that Reles fell accidentally during an escape attempt, and though that position was widely derided, no conclusive proof was ever found as to who pushed Reles out the window. Cannell dials in the the right level of detail in this grim story of violence, corruption, and the dogged efforts of law enforcement to break organized crime's hold on New York City. Readers interested in a non-sensationalized treatment of a major chapter in American crime will be riveted. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Oct.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Led by Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, a Jewish gangster from Brooklyn, Murder, Inc. was likely responsible for dozens of executions in 1930s and 1940s New York, New Jersey, and beyond. Cannell (Incendiary) expertly interweaves stories of Reles and other gangsters with those of the police, prosecutors, and even Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, whose campaign promises included dismantling Murder, Inc. and prosecuting Reles and company. Reles was responsible for the shockingly cruel deaths of upward of 50 people, described in vivid detail by Cannell. Though well researched, the book suffers at times from an overuse of adjectives, perhaps mimicking the pulp true crime fashionable in the era of Murder, Inc. While it is Italian American gangsters who are most remembered today, Cannell reminds readers of an era when many other first-generation immigrants of different ethnic backgrounds found success in the underworld. His narrative serves as a who's who of prewar Jewish assassins, although the work leans more toward titillation than social anthropology. Cannell also examines the mystery of Reles's death, which would have long-term consequences for the district attorney who convinced Reles to turn state's witness. VERDICT Will resonate with fans of the true crime genre, and mob and crime history.--Bart Everts, Rutgers Univ.-Camden Lib., NJ

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A stool pigeon par excellence takes a dive from a high window and a mystery unfolds. In 1941, writes Cannell, a gangster named Abe Reles was brought to a Brooklyn hotel and sequestered with a few other criminals in protective custody, preparing to testify in the trial of a mob boss named Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. "The police took up a saying: the canary sang, but could not fly," writes the author. Somehow, though, the canary did fly: Reles supposedly fell from a window while trying to escape, but anyone with a lick of conspiratorial inclination knew that the story was more complicated. Cannell follows Reles back to his youth as a Jewish street tough in Brooklyn who crossed paths with the fearsome Shapiro brothers, all three of whom he eventually murdered, infamously shooting Meyer Shapiro, who "worked all the rackets," in the face. To gain permission to move against the Shapiros, Reles had to go to Albert Anastasia, a top-rank Mafioso. He rapidly became one of the most feared hit men for the pre--World War II mob, the era of bootlegging and illicit gambling. In one notorious case, a union organizer trying to remove the mob from the longshoremen's association went missing, courtesy of Reles, who "took other measures to protect Anastasia's hold on the docks." Alas for him, Reles learned that some of his underlings were feeding the police information and followed suit, providing enough information to send Buchalter to the chair--and Anastasia was next. Cannell stuffs his eventful narrative full of murder and mayhem, featuring a cast of hard-boiled and corrupt cops, extremely nasty gangsters, sleazy politicos, and Reles, a true psychopath. "Who killed Kid Twist?" asks Cannell, using Reles' nom de crime. It took years and another mob killer to secure the definitive answer, confirmed by none other than Lucky Luciano. Fans of Mario Puzo--style true crime will revel in Reles' deviant behavior and his comeuppance. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.