Today we’d like to introduce you to one of the coldest gangsters that organized crime in New York City has ever produced: Albert Anastasia. Born in southern Italy at the turn of the century, Anastasia snuck into New York City aboard a frigate and instantly claimed the unionized piers of Brooklyn as his new home. Possessed of a brutal and explosive temper, Anastasia’s natural inclination to kill made him a no-brains choice as an enforcer for the racket lords of the waterfront. He wasn’t a dude to cross lightly, either. During those early years on the docks, he was convicted and sentenced to death on a murder charge of a dockworker. But days before he was going to get the chair, all the witnesses from his trial simply… disappeared. As a direct result, the case was reopened and Anastasia released. And that was that.Now a lot of guys would have quit while they were ahead, but Anastasia was an ambitious man and he soon made hard friends in high places; legendary wiseguys like Frank Costello, Al Capone, and Lucky Luciano. When Prohibition finally ended, these new pals of his started a national crime syndicate and they had a plum job for him: the position of Chief of Murder, Inc. We’re not talking about the record label, either.
For the uninitiated, Murder Inc. was the mob’s hit man division. A department where stone cold contract killers only need apply. And so it was that Anastasia ran Murder, Inc. from 1934 to 1940, until his lieutenant Abe “Kid Twist” Reles turned rat fink. Reles went on record fingering Murder, Inc. for more than 63 murders on the orders of Anastasia. Mind you, he was dead wrong on that number by a mile: during its ten years of operation, it’s estimated that somewhere between 900 and 1,000 murders were committed by Murder, Inc., many of which were never solved. But in the end his allegations didn’t stick, because while in protective custody Reles ended up “falling out a window” under very mysterious circumstances. Once again no case was ever brought against Anastasia, who then joined the Army presumably to help to cool things down. After his service, Anastasia moved to New Jersey (natch) and assumed control of what later became the Gambino crime family.
I’d like to imagine his dad once encouraged him to do what he loved, but Anastasia genuinely loved killing people. And as head of his own mob family, the killing only picked up tempo. He cultivated underground nicknames… warm and fuzzy little monikers, like “The Mad-Hatter” and “The Lord High Executioner.” He reportedly was such a dick that he ordered a witness to a random non-Mob bank robbery executed simply because, “I can’t stand squealers!”But you know how the coda on these stories goes… One bright day, he just orders the wrong guy whacked. A boss man named Frank Costello. Anastasia’s button man fired on Costello and missed. Big mistake. I’ll let the website CrimeRack detail his operatic denouement:
“At 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1957, Anastasia walked into the barbershop of New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel and sat down in the deep leather of chair four. The barber Joe Bocchino, who had been cropping Anastasia’s short, curly hair for years, covered him with the candy striped barber’s cloth and began to clip at the gang boss’s hair while a manicurist sat next to the chair and worked on the Mad Hatter’s fingernails. Jimmy, the shoeshine boy, began to slap brown polish on the gangster’s wing tipped shoes. Two short, squat men wearing fedoras and sunglasses then entered the shop and pulled .38 caliber revolvers, waving the shop people away from chair four. As they scattered in fright, both men began to blast at the seated figure. Anastasia had been dozing in the chair, his eyes closed. They popped open just before the first shot was fired. The gang boss raised his left hand as if to shield his head from the bullet which tore through the palm. Two more bullets smashed his left wrist and entered his hip. Anastasia let out a roar and struggled to get out of the chair, reaching, some reports later said, for a gun that he no longer wore. Bullets crashed into the barber’s shelf in front of the chair, shattering bottles of hair tonic. Another bullet struck Anastasia in the back as he stood upright for a moment, the barber’s cloth still clinging to him. He sank to the floor, and one of the gunmen calmly walked up to the prone figure and fired a bullet into the back of his head. Their gruesome task completed, the two gunmen raced for the door and vanished.”
They were never apprehended. As for Jimmy the shoeshine boy? Your guess is as good as mine.