Albert Anastasia

"Lord High Executioner" of Murder, Inc.

"The Mad Hatter" graduated from his role as "Lord High Executioner" of Murder, Inc. to head his own Mafia Family


This Knol written by Jon Hopwood

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In the early 1930s, Jewish-American labor racketeer Louis Buchalter and Italian-American gangsters Charles 'Lucky' Luciano and Johnny Torrio, the former boss of the Chicago Outfit and mentor of New York native Al Capone, allied themselves together. Luciano's Jewish-American associates Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky formed "Murder, Inc.", a group of button men who would be on call 24/7 to handle any "problems" that afflicted la Cosa Nostra. Murder, Inc., originally was a group of mostly Jewish-American hit-men from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Operating out of the back of a candy store, they proved highly effective in maintaining mob discipline and eliminating problems such as eye-witnesses and recalcitrant marks. The band of brothers-in-arms eventually were used to fulfill most murder "contracts." As Siegel and Lansky (the latter widely regarded as the financial brains of organized crime in America) had moved on to other, larger pastures, control over Murder Inc. was ceded to Buchalter and Albert Anastasia, who was known in underworld circles as "The Mad Hatter" and, more ominously, "The Lord High Executioner".

The group of killers was credited with carrying out many contract killings throughout the country, including the slaying of Jewish-American bootlegger and northern New York State crime boss Dutch Schultz at the Palace Chophouse, on October 23, 1935. The Schultz killing was a major event for Anastassia and Murder Inc., signaling their arrival as a major force in organized crime. (Louis Amberg was murdered by the group the very same day.) Murder Inc. may have been responsible for as many as a thousand contract killings nationwide, carried out by such button-man as future canary Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles (played by Peter Falk in the movie Murder, Inc. (1960), which brought him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod) and Frankie Carbo, who later established himself as "The Czar of Boxing". (The Mafia, via Anastasia, Carbo and Carbo's partner, Mafiosi Blinky Palermo, took over the sport of boxing and manipulated the odds and fixed the fights according to abet their bookie operations. Carbo ran New York boxing, which WAS boxing until the 1960s - when he and Palermo were convicted and sentenced to prison - from his New York bookie operation.) The Federal Bureau of Investigation (whose director J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of the Mafia until 1957, possibly as he may have been open to being blackmailed due to his alleged homosexual proclivities), managed to hook Buchalter on a narcotics trafficking charge in the mid-1930s, after he had successfully avoided arrest due to the bribing of federal judges and the Mafia's political connections. (Until the Nixon Administration, the Mafia was associated with the Democratic Party. Gore Vidal, in one of his essays, estimated that organized crime provided approximately 15% of the Democratic Party's budget in the 1960s. In mobbed-up cities like Chicago, a Democratic Party ward headquarters was synonymous with local Mafia headquarters/clubhouse.) Murder, Inc. was also investigated by New York City special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, as one of the many targets of the "Syndicate" that Dewey was dedicated to obliterating. Fearing the implacable Dewey (who would use his fame as the country's most successful crime-buster, the man who put away Lucky Luciano and other organized crime bigwigs, to the state house in Albany and two bids for President as the Republican nominee in 1944 and '48), Buchalter surrendered to the federal authorities on a narcotics trafficking charge, stipulating that he would not be turned over to Dewey. Convicted, he was sent to Leavenworth for 14 years, later extended to 30 years on account of Lepke's involvement in union racketeering. From his jail cell, he was still able to co-control Murder, Inc. and his other fiefdoms.

Anastassia and his now-incarcerated partner Buchalter became the focus of an investigation by New York City District Attorney William O'Dwyer, who planned to run for mayor. Targeting Anastassia's Murder, Inc. underlings, O'Dwyer had "Kid Twist" Reles picked up for murder. Facing a date with "Old Sparky", the electric chair at the State Penitentiary in Ossining (the fabled "Sing Sing"), The Kid turned informant for New York State in 1940 and fingered Buchalter for four murders. Anastassia escaped prosecution, but The Kid informed the Grand Jury that he overheard Lepke ordering the 1936 murder of Brooklyn candy store owner Joseph Rosen, a former garment industry trucker. The trial of Murder, Inc. co-boss was scheduled for November 12, 1941, and Lepke was transported from Leavenworth to New York City to stand trial. Anastassia, fearful for his own skin lest Kid Twist spill the beans on the witness stand and implicate The Mad Hatter, put a $100,000 bounty on his head. On the morning of the trial, Reles - who was being by guarded by six police detectives in Room 623 of the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island - did spill his guts, after falling from the sixth floor window of the hotel to his death. The detectives said it was a suicide, but the angle of trajectory of Kid Twist's body indicates that had been pushed or thrown out of the window. It was widely believed that Mafia boss Frank Costello, who oversaw organized crime as the heir apparent of incarcerated "Capo di tutti capi" ("Boss of Bosses") Luckly Luciano, "touched" the detectives guarding The Kid, bribing them to ensure that he would never get to the courtroom to testify. What is known is that Kid Twist, the would-be "stool pigeon", became known after his death as "The canary who sang, but couldn't fly."

Lepke had run out of luck, however. O'Dwyer obtained a conviction based on the testimony of another Murder, Inc. turncoat, Albert Tannenbaum. In December 1941, the jury convicted Buchalter of first degree murder, and Buchalter was sentenced to death by electrocution in the electric chair. In October 1942, the conviction and sentence was upheld by the New York State Court of Appeals, and New York City requested that Buchalter be turned over by the federal government for execution of sentence. Lepke managed to put off execution of sentence for another year and a half, but the 47-year old Buchalter was finally executed at Sing Sing on March 4, 1944.

After his conviction, Albert Anastassia became sole boss of Murder, Inc. However, with the post-World War II deportation of Lucky Luciano, he moved up in the Mafia ranks, eventually taking over the Magano Family (later known as the Gambino Family), after the family don, Anastassia's nemesis, Vincent Mangano, disappeared. Although it was unusual for an out-and-out killer like Anastassia to become a boss, he was confirmed as head of the Magano Family by the Commission (the mob's ruling body) with Frank Costello's support, but only after successfully arguing that he had had Mangano hit in self-defense as the don was determined to kill him. Costello wanted Anastassia as a don in order to counter the ambitions of Vito Genovese, the real-life model for Don Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, who believed it was he and not Costello who should have assumed the power of Luciano's family after unlucky Lucky had been incarcerated.

As a boss, Anastassia's brutal ways eventually undermined him. In 1952, Anastasia violated a cardinal rule of the Mafia against killing outsiders, ordering the murder of a Arnold Schuster, a young tailor's assistant, after seeing Schuster on television taking credit for fingering fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton (the man who said he robbed banks as "That's where the money is"). In a rage, Anastasia ordered the hit, telling his men, "I can't stand squealers! Hit that guy!"

The murder of an outsider opened up the Mafia to unwanted public scrutiny. Genovese used the incident to begin undermining Anastassia and Costello, who had refused to discipline The Mad Hatter for his behavior. However, Genovese's power was limited by the antagonism between himself and Meyer Lansky (the inspiration for character Hyman Roth in the 1974 movie The Godfather: Part II. In time, though, Anastassia' own ambitions led to the loss of his life.

Anastassia alienated Lansky, one of the true Mafia kingpins, when Anastassia horned in on Lansky's highly lucrative Cuban gambling operations without permission. An enraged Lansky gave Genovese permission to eliminate the interloper, which Genovese arranged as part of his greater plan to retire Frank Costello (who was considered "the Prime Minister of the Mob" due to his central position from his connections with every ranking power in organized crime) and establish himself as "Capo di tutti capi" ("Boss of Bosses"), the first since Lucky Luciano was jailed for pandering by Thomas Dewey back in 1936.

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia was assassinated in the barbershop of the Park Sheraton Hotel (now the Park Central Hotel), on 56th Street and 7th Avenue) in New York City by two men wearing scarves. Anastasia's bodyguard was not on the scene, having decided to go for a walk after parking the boss's car in an underground garage. After absorbing a fusillade of shots, the don allegedly still had enough life in him to go after his attackers. However, they were but the reflections of the hit-men in the barbershop windows, and he died on the floor that morning. The Anastasia hit was carried out with an efficiency of which the Lord High Executioner himself surely would have approved, had he not been its victim.