Abe "Kid Twist" Reles (1907 – 12 November, 1941) was a Jewish American mobster who was probably the most feared hitman in the stable of Murder, Inc., the enforcement arm of the National Crime Syndicate.
Abraham Reles, the son of Austrian immigrants, was born in the Brownsville neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York City. Growing up in poverty, it wasn't long before he embraced a life of crime. Stories of successful Jewish gangsters set him on his path of wealth, fame, and ultimately destruction.
Physically, Reles was short, but had long arms that ended in hands with short, stubby fingers. His small size, however, did not at all detract from his ruthless violence. When carrying out hits, his favourite weapon to use was an ice pick (which he would jam through his victim's ear right through to their brain); he became so adept at using it that many a time his assassination victims were deemed to have died of cerebral hemorrhages. He reportedly got the nickname "Kid Twist" after a previous vicious killer in Manhattan's Lower East Side; another theory behind the moniker was that it was the name of his favourite candy.
During the Prohibition days of the 1920s, Reles and friend Martin Goldstein went to work for the Shapiro brothers, who ran the Brooklyn rackets, while they were still teenagers. Soon, the duo were committing petty crimes for the brothers. On one such occasion, Reles was caught, tried, and sentenced to two years in an upstate New York juvenile institution. The failure of the Shapiro brothers to come to the aid of their employee would prove fatal later on.
After his release, Reles resumed his friendship with Goldstein, and together with George Defeo they entered the slot-machine business, the province of the Shapiro racket. Through Defeo's connection with Meyer Lansky, Reles and Goldstein were able to make a deal with the influential crime lord; Lansky did not have access to the poorer neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and thus agreed to the deal. Both parties prospered: Lansky was able to get a sizeable foothold into the Brownsville, East New York, and Ocean Hill neighbourhoods, while Reles gained the backing he needed to keep both his business and himself alive.
The slot-machine business thrived, and soon Reles and Goldstein were on the Shapiros' hit list. One night, the two men received a phone call from a "friend" saying that the Shapiros had left their East New York headquarters. Hopping into their car with Defeo, they headed to East New York, but it all turned out to be a ruse: once they reached the building, they were greeted by gunfire. Reles and Goldstein were hurt; Defeo escaped unscathed. To further add insult to injury, Meyer Shapiro abducted Reles' girlfriend (who was walking down the street) and dragged her out to an open field, where he beat and raped her repeatedly.
"Kid Twist" was hot for revenge. He concocted a scheme to down the Shapiro brothers with the help of fellow Murder, Inc. killers Frank Abbandando and Harry Maione, who also wanted to off the brothers in order to get a piece of their holdings. After several futile attempts by each side to eradicate the other, the Reles band of hoods finally caught up with Irving Shapiro. Reles dragged him from the hallway of his home out into the street, where he beat, kicked, and then shot him numerous times. Two months afterwards, Reles met Meyer Shapiro and was so intent on exacting revenge that he shot his foe right in the head. After three years, the last Shapiro brother, William, was abducted off the street and taken to a gang hideout. He was nearly beaten to death, then stuffed in a sack and driven out to the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, where he was buried. Before the gang could finish their work, however, a man spotted them and they fled the scene. The man began to dig up what the hoods were burying when he found the sack. William's body was exhumed and taken for an autopsy. There, the coroner made a bone-chilling discovery: William Shapiro had sand in his lungs. The Reles gang had buried him alive.
In 1940, Reles was arrested on the orders of Kings County District Attorney William O'Dwyer and implicated in a number of killings. Realizing he would be executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing, he decided to become an informant for the D.A.'s office. The information Reles disclosed on 16 May of that year on the murder of Brooklyn candy store owner Joseph Rosen was enough to send his boss, Louis Buchalter, to his fate in the Sing Sing death house. Slowly but surely, Murder, Inc. began to unravel as O'Dwyer, using Reles' testimony, prosecuted Harry Strauss, Emanuel Weiss, Harry Maione, Frank Abbandando, and even Reles' childhood friend Martin Goldstein, and sent them all to sit upon "Old Sparky" in Ossining, New York. Naturally, the higher-ups of the Syndicate were not very pleased with Reles' decision to turn into an informant.
Following these convictions, O'Dwyer planned a trial for Albert Anastasia, who had been co-chief of operations of Murder, Inc. along with Louis Buchalter, in order to help his campaign to become mayor of New York City. The trial, solely based on the testimony of the Attorney's star witness, Abe Reles, was set for 12 November, 1941. However, in the wee hours of that day, Reles, guarded by six police detectives, mysteriously plummeted to his death out the window of Room 623 of the Half-Moon Hotel in Coney Island. It is not known whether he was thrown or pushed out the window, or if he was just trying to escape. It is believed that Frank Costello paid the detectives guarding Reles to ensure that he did not testify.
Reles was buried in Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in the Glendale section of Queens, New York. Because of his mob status as a "stool pigeon" and the circumstances surrounding his death, he gained another nickname after his passing in addition to "Kid Twist": that of "the canary who sang, but couldn't fly".