33 Photos Of Lepke’s Murder Inc., The Mob’s Most Brutal Hit Squad

Published October 16, 2017
Updated April 26, 2024

In 1930s gangland New York, murder was big business — and the hitmen of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter's Murder Inc. were the best in the industry.

In 1930s New York City, murder was big business. And the best killers in the industry were Murder Inc., a ring of murderers-for-hire working as mob enforcers who, in less than 10 years, killed an estimated 1,000 people.

Despite the name, though, Murder Inc. wasn’t just about killing. They would also threaten or maim people, depending on what their employer wanted. It was an “anything goes” business model — one that made them very, very wealthy.

Of course, all it took back in those days was for one domino to fall, and the rest would follow suit. If just one member talked to the police, the whole business could come crashing down. And that’s exactly what happened when Abe “Kid Twist” Reles became a police informant.

And while Reles may have prevented hundreds of murders as a result, it also guaranteed at least one more — his own.

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33 Photos Of Lepke’s Murder Inc., The Mob’s Most Brutal Hit Squad
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The Formation Of Murder Inc.

Murder Inc. was formed by notorious Jewish-American gangsters Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, and run by Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, a New York racketeer who figured out that he could make even more money contracting out killers to Sicilian mobsters.

Lepke set up shop inside of Rosie Gold's Candy Store, a Brooklyn-based storefront that catered to children through the front door and killers through the back.

Of course, this all came out of the formation of the National Crime Commission, a multiethnic group led by some of the most infamous mobsters of the era, including Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Lansky, Siegel, Frank Costello, Vincent Mangano, Joe "Adonis" Doto, Lepke, and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro.

The Commission had been set up in the aftermath of the Castellammarese War as a way of dividing the power and attempting to keep the peace.

Still, on occasion, the dirty work still had to be done — and that's where Murder Inc. came in.

Lepke was put in charge of running the murder-for-hire group, with
infamous killer Albert Anastasia, the "Lord High Executioner," acting as Lepke's right-hand man.

Albert Anastasia Lord High Executioner

Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock PhotoAlbert Anastasia, the "Lord High Executioner" of Murder Inc.

A killer working for Lepke and Anastasia could count on $1,000 to $5,000 per job (as much as $70,000 today), depending on the target. Some made a small fortune off it.

The hit squad's most prolific killer, Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, signed on for at least 100 jobs on his own, making enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life and single-handedly putting a minor dent in the population of New York City.

From Strauss on down, these killers were brutal. They didn't just shoot their targets — they aimed to leave a message. They hacked up the bodies of their victims with meat cleavers and ice picks. One man was set on fire and left in a lot. Another was strapped to a slot machine and left in public view.

Murder Inc.'s reign of terror ran on like this throughout New York City until 1940. By then, they were so bold that they'd pull off their killings in broad daylight, sure that no one would even try to stop them.

Unfortunately, they made one critical error early on that came back to bite them, an error named Abraham Reles.

The Brownsville Boys — Murder Inc.'s Most Notorious Hit Squad

Abe "Kid Twist" Reles came to be a part of Murder Inc. thanks to the recommendation of Louis Capone, an associate of Anastasia's. He had already made quite a name for himself, having taken over nearly all criminal operations in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with the help of his crew — which included Harry Strauss, Harry "Happy" Maione, and Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein.

Together, they came to be known as the Brownsville Boys, and when Lepke and Anastasia were looking to assemble their hit squad, Capone gave them his full endorsement.

Louis Capone In Police Questioning

Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock PhotoLouis Capone being questioned by Detective John Osnato.

And despite the fact that Reles and Maione — considered to be the top brass of the operation — didn't get along, they proved to be highly efficient.

Even better, the methods they employed made it incredibly difficult to trace anything back to them, and especially Lepke and Anastasia. They hired several men for each hit, providing each one with a limited set of information so that they only knew as much as they needed to get their part of the job done.

A getaway driver, for instance, wouldn't know who purchased the guns used in a shooting. Nor would the "finger-man" — the person who pointed out the target — know who the getaway driver was, or who had purchased the guns. That way, if any of the people involved were to get caught, he wouldn't be able to paint a full picture for the police.

And while the Brownsville Boys weren't the only men employed by Murder Inc., they were certainly the most lethal. Harry Strauss alone committed more than 100 murders (though some estimate the number could be as high as 500), and Reles was himself responsible for at least 70.

Unfortunately, Reles also proved to be a problem. He was one of the most feared killers in Murder Inc., but he was also notorious — and he was arrested 42 times, six of which were for murder. He managed to avoid being convicted for any of his hits, but that changed suddenly in 1940 — and then he started talking.

Abe Reles' Confession And The Downfall Of Murder Inc.

Reles proved to be exactly what investigators needed. He was a high-ranking member of Murder Inc., knew the other players well, and, to top it off, he had a photographic memory. This latter fact enabled Reles to point police to the locations of dozens of bodies and other pieces of incriminating evidence.

Understandably, Reles' accomplices didn't receive any mercy when it came to their punishments. Many of them were sent straight to the electric chair, and it was all thanks to Reles' testimony.

Among those implicated by Reles' cooperation with authorities was none other than Albert Anastasia himself, a blow which brought Murder Inc. to its knees. After 10 years of tyranny and 1,000 body bags, Murder Inc. was coming to an end.

It was clear that Reles now had a target on his back. 18 guards were assigned to watch over him in 24-hour shifts at the Half-Moon Hotel on Coney Island. It didn't matter.

On the morning of November 12, 1941, Reles' dead body was found six stories down, crushed and his bedsheets twisted around him with a wire. More wire was tied to the hotel room's radiator, with news reports and police saying Reles had died during an escape attempt while, for some reason, the guards were all asleep.

The Fates Of Murder Inc.'s Remaining Members

Of course, some people think Reles' death was one last message from Murder Inc. — any canary who wanted to sing had better learn to fly. After all, November 12, 1941, was the day the trial against Buchalter was to begin.

What's more, without Reles, Kings County district attorney William O'Dwyer no longer had a case against Anastasia, who had always made sure to keep himself at a distance from the hits he put out. With Reles gone, Anastasia walked free.

Buchalter, Weiss, and Capone, on the other hand, weren't quite so lucky. The evidence had stacked up against them, even without Reles, and all three were put to death on March 4, 1944.

They were the last members of Murder Inc. to be put to death, marking the end of the infamous mob hit squad.

As for Anastasia, he managed to make it another decade before karma caught up to him. His legal troubles piled up. He was under investigation for lying in his naturalization application and tax evasion, and behind closed doors, members of the Genovese crime family started plotting against him.

Albert Anastasia Leaving Court

Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock PhotoAlbert Anastasia (left) and his attorney Anthony Colendra leaving Federal District Court.

Anastasia's reign of terror came to an end on October 25, 1957, when he sat down in the barber's chair at the Park Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. Two masked assassins burst into the room, fired ten shots at Anastasia, and fled before he had time to react.

The assassins were never identified, and Anastasia's body collapsed into a bloody heap on the barbershop floor.

Murder Inc. was officially over.

After this look at "Lepke" and Murder Inc., check out these brutal photos of the Sicilian Mafia by Letizia Battaglia. Then, see inside the violent, flamboyant world of the 1980s Mafia.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
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Cite This Article
Oliver, Mark. "33 Photos Of Lepke’s Murder Inc., The Mob’s Most Brutal Hit Squad." AllThatsInteresting.com, October 16, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/murder-inc-lepke. Accessed May 18, 2024.