Abe Reles (1906 – 1941)
Perhaps just to prove that defenestration is neither a peculiarly Bohemian nor a political phenomenon, we will have a look at the demise of Abraham Reles. This Brooklyn born mobster was a nasty piece of work and despite his small stature was a ruthless killer. His preferred MO was to use an ice pick which he would ram through his victim’s right ear into the brain. So adept was he that the cause of death often appeared to be cerebral haemorrhage.
Reles was not a man to get on the wrong side of and it seems he had a particularly big wrong side. In broad daylight he attacked a car wash operative for failing to remove a blemish from his car and on another occasion killed a car park attendant for not delivering his car fast enough. It was dangerous to accept a dinner invitation from him. One guest was wined and dined at his mother-in-law’s and when the woman retired, Reles and an accomplice promptly murdered the poor man and disposed of his body.
During the Prohibition era of 1920s New York gangs proliferated. Reles initially worked for the Shapiro Brothers who were racketeers in Brooklyn but after a spell in chokey during which Reles felt the Shapiros had done nothing to help him, he swore revenge and set up a rival operation controlling Brooklyn slot machines. The Shapiros, wanting to rid themselves of this unwanted competition lured Rees and his associates into an ambush which they escaped, albeit with injuries, but Reles’ girlfriend was kidnapped and raped by Meyer Shapiro.
By now Reles was working as a hitman for the so-called enforcement arm of the National Crime Syndicate, the unambiguously entitled Murder Inc, and with some of his associates proceeded to eliminate the three Shapiro brothers. The job was completed, the third victim, William, being buried alive.
In 1940, though, the long arm of the law had caught up with Reles and he was fingered for a number of murders. Realising that he faced the executioner if convicted, he turned stool pigeon and started grassing on some of his erstwhile mates. His evidence saw the successful conviction and subsequent execution of a number of big names but his downfall was to point the finger at Albert Anastasia, the co-chief of operations of Murder Inc. The problem for Reles was that Anastasia, unlike his other victims, was well connected with the Mafia.
Anastasia’s trial was scheduled for 12th November 1941 and Reles’ evidence was pretty much the case against him. In the lead up to the trial Reles was holed up under police guard at Room 623 of the Half Moon Hotel island. On the morning of the trial, Reles, despite the presence of the police, was found brown bread on the ground below the window of his hotel room.
In an attempt to cover up this defenestration, the malefactors had tied two bedsheets together to give the impression that Reles was trying to climb into the room below. But why would he want to do that? He had shown no inclination to escape police custody and had expressed reluctance to be anywhere that was beyond the sight and hearing of his guards. And the Mafia were reportedly to have put a $100,000 reward for his assassination. Although a grand jury in 1951 passed an accidental death verdict the smart money has always been that this was a Mafia hit.
Reles did at least contribute to one of the world’s greatest headlines, “the canary who could sing but couldn’t fly”