Hard Jews

By Clarence George on October 15, 2014
Hard Jews
Abe Reles went out a window of Coney Island's Half Moon Hotel on November 12, 1941.

“This guy is burning me…the girls in the spaghetti house!” Who’d have thunk that mobsters could be so poetic?

“Then the lobsters came. We ate.”—Abe Reles

That’s “Kid Twist” telling the jury about the shore dinner he, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, who also went by “Pep,” and Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein enjoyed after killing Irving “Puggy” Feinstein.

You can’t come across Puggy without hearing about his days as club fighter. Maybe, but I can’t find any record of it. There were hard Jews who boxed—Abe Attell, Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Al Bummy Davis, among others—but doesn’t look like Puggy was one of them.

And if he was, fat lot of good it did him against Murder, Inc. hitmen Kid Twist, Pep, and Buggsy.

What happened was that Puggy ran afoul of Albert Anastasia by going into the Brooklyn loansharking business. “It was penny-ante stuff, and he foolishly believed Anastasia wouldn’t notice,” writes Edmund Elmaleh in The Canary Sang but Couldn’t Fly. “He was wrong.”

Reles and his boys couldn’t find Feinstein, and couldn’t believe their luck when he walked into Midnight Rose’s, the Brownsville sweet shop where the murderous crew hung out. He wanted to pay off a debt, but couldn’t find the guy. “Glad to help,” said Kid Twist, or words to that effect.

What happens is that Puggy winds up at the Reles home, where the torpedo wakes up his mother-in-law and asks where he can get his thick-fingered hands on a rope and an icepick. She obliges, but wants to know what’s going on. Strauss, rumored to have once dated Jean Harlow and killer of about 100 men, tells her to take a powder. He gets his finger bit struggling with Puggy—“Maybe I’ll get lockjaw!” —but they get the job done. Opting for the ever-reliable “rope job,” Feinstein slowly strangles to death.

The killers take Puggy’s body to a vacant lot near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and set it on fire. That was on September 4, 1939. Thanks to Reles’ testimony, Strauss and Goldstein went to the electric chair on June 12, 1941, despite Pep growing a wild beard and chewing on briefcases, and Buggsy also acting all crazy, coming up with things like, “This guy is burning me…the girls in the spaghetti house!” Who’d have thunk that mobsters could be so poetic? Think of Dutch Schultz’s deathbed ramblings. Born Arthur Flegenheimer, another of these hard Jews, he had this to say while seeing the darkness, “A boy has never wept…nor dashed a thousand kin.”

As for Reles, he went out a window of Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel on November 12, 1941. What compelled him? Who propelled him? Nobody knows, not for sure. But there were a whole lot of guys who didn’t like him much.

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  1. Clarence George 07:34am, 10/20/2014

    And lest we forget:  Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson.


  2. bikermike 10:55pm, 10/18/2014

    ...IF any of you guys knew anything…or anybody….you sure wouldn’t put it on here.

  3. bikermike 10:50pm, 10/18/2014

    To say that gamblers and corruption are not in Boxing…..is like saying all those girls that came to the ‘homes’ to give birth…were immaculate conceptions….

    promoters and commission officials have replaced the CROOKED NOSE GUYS…....but the ring ain’t square

  4. bikermike 10:08pm, 10/18/2014

    in a way…we all know our sport should be cleaned up….from matches to post ring planning for liscenced fighters.

    Mike Tyson….caught ringside…for one of those ‘tuff man ’ kinda fignts….(no biting(..elbows…headbutts..knees ..any kicking and striking blow imaginable….
    He said the reason why folks like this kinda fightins is that is is the best…fighting the best…..

    Got to go back to the seventies….to get that kind of talent fignting each other…  Once a month…on live television….a gathering could see a title fight…and a lot of them were HW title fights….Holmes vs ..a bunchaguys..His bout with Renaldo Snipes….cost me the damage deposit on a house I rented….hooked up the signal…and let cupla stippers loose

    Snipes had ‘Big Cat ’ on his ass

  5. bikermike 09:51pm, 10/18/2014

    Life is hard…....and then we die

  6. bikermike 09:46pm, 10/18/2014

    a little more splash on the photo/intro than was needed…just say’n

    Gamblers ran professional sports for decades…dog and poney shows…..??where do you think that came from…
    Baseball…proven…Boxing..Basketball..called ..shaving points…footbal.ditto..

    It’s been cleaned up to a point…...but \...Boxing still is run by gangsters…..they now call themselves promoters and commission officials

  7. Clarence George 09:29am, 10/17/2014

    Spare my blushes, Kid Blast!

  8. Kid Blast 08:19am, 10/17/2014

    But that all have an angle and CGF always responds to a post. Plus he is a true historian of life—as it were

  9. Clarence George 07:47am, 10/17/2014

    Not known as Clarence “Short and Sweet” George for nothing, Irish.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:54am, 10/17/2014

    Clarence George-No one will ever say that your articles are long, drawn out, and pedantic.

  11. Eric 09:49am, 10/16/2014

    Louis Fratto aka “Cock-Eyed Lou” aka “Lew Farrell” had a son named Frank Farrell who was on board the plane with Marciano, that crashed in Iowa.

  12. Kid Blast 09:34am, 10/16/2014

    If it ain’t made with Fox’s U-Bet, it ain’t an egg cream.

  13. ch. 08:33am, 10/16/2014

    being this is a boxing site it should be mentioned that Pius Lanzetti was gunned down inside “Joe Grim’s” grocery store (726 South Eighth St.) on New Years eve 1936. Yes, the old “Iron Man.”

  14. ch. 08:24am, 10/16/2014

    The notorious five Lanzetti brothers were independent gangsters who ran amuck in Phila. and controlled the narcotics trade, they also took over the “numbers”  and the Italian mob wanted a cut from them and the Lanzetti’s responded by murdering Italian mob boss John (Nazone) Avena and dozens of others. They were finally stopped when Nig Rosen (once allied with the Lanzetti’s) and Marco Reginelli joined forces to stop them. Eventually three Lanzetti brothers (Leo, Pius, Willie) and a few of their henchmen were ‘wacked,” and a peace was restored to the ‘City of Brotherly Love.”

  15. Clarence George 07:39am, 10/16/2014

    Well done on the monikers.  I kinda like “Louie Bagels,” if only because the guy’s an Eyetie—Louis Daidone.  By the way, I know that “Johnny Sausage” isn’t a pornster, but mobster John Barbato.  Pius Lanzetti was one of several South Philly bootlegging brothers from the ‘20s and ‘30s.

    If it ain’t made with Fox’s U-Bet, it ain’t an egg cream.  Probably the best place to get one in Manhattan would be at the Lexington Candy Shop.

  16. ch. 07:12am, 10/16/2014

    From the streets of Philly : Boo-Boo Hoff; Harry (Nig Rosen) Stromberg; “Frankie the Fixer;” “Nazone” (Big Nose) John Avena; Pius Lanzetti; Marco (The Czar) Reginelli; Frederick “Angel of Death” Tenuto; ‘Blinky”; “CooCoo John;” “Crazy Phil” Leonetti; “Nick the Blade;” Skinny Razor;” “Johnny Chang.”

  17. Pete The Sneak 07:10am, 10/16/2014

    Hey kid blast/CG…If you guys want an old school Egg cream when you get together, head over to Red Hook Brooklyn, at a place called Fort Defiance. 388 Van Brunt Street (corner of Dikeman Street & Van Brunt)...Man, it totally rocks and it will bring you back when you taste it…Every ingredient down to the Ol’ Seltzer dispenser and ending in U-BET chocolate syrup…Worth the trip…Peace.

  18. Kid Blast 06:29am, 10/16/2014

    I’m flying to NYC for an egg cream with CG at the Carnegie Deli and to discuss how Jewish boxers evolved to Jewish handball players to Jewish basketball players, mostly because they were not allowed membership in the fancy gentile private clubs. This, few Jewish squash players.

  19. Eric 05:14am, 10/16/2014

    Mobster or Male Porn Star?
    Don Fernando
    Johnny Sausage
    Tommy Pistol
    Whitey Bulger
    John LaRock
    Michael Stefano
    Billy Fingers
    Jack Hammer
    Cock-Eyed Lou
    Joey Silvera

  20. Clarence George 03:56am, 10/16/2014

    An excellent book, NYI, which I read when it came out some 15 years ago.  But Cohen repeats the old canard, writing, “Puggy made his name years before as a small-time prizefighter.”  Really?  If Feinstein boxed, it was under a different—and unknown—name.

  21. Clarence George 03:44am, 10/16/2014

    I note with great pleasure that my humble efforts tend to attract the best people (albeit not, thank God, in the Social Register sense), and the most interesting and incisive comments.  I am not worthy!  (Well, perhaps I am.)  But it hasn’t escaped my attention that no one has yet offered an opinion on Abe Reles’ mysterious death.  I suspect this is because most people assume that he was tossed from the window by the cops guarding him.  In the words of JFK, by way of Vaughn Meader, let me say this about that:  If the cops killed him, their motivation could only have been personal animosity…it wasn’t because of the bounty.  Every single cop present at the time of Reles’ death either remained on the force, living off their salaries, for many years after the event, or did indeed retire after a few years, but had to find other jobs to supplement their pensions.  One became a part-time bank guard, for example.

    The Reles case is more of a puzzler than most people realize.  Inevitable, given that the police investigation was as botched as the one that looked into the death of George Reeves, and that’s saying something.  Was it deliberate, or just plain incompetent?  In any event, I’ve never come across a theory that I didn’t find, at best, imperfect. 

    No repercussions if no one feels like weighing in, which is not to say that I won’t indulge in a massive pout.

  22. NYIrish 03:42am, 10/16/2014

    Tough Jews by Cohen covers some Jewish gangster ground.

  23. Clarence George 07:07pm, 10/15/2014

    Great stuff, Beaujack.  And I think you may very well have been served by Rose Gold herself.  She looked after her boys.  When asked about “Pittsburgh Phil,” she said, “Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco…what do I know about them?  I was never out of Brooklyn in my life.”  I wonder if the joint looked the way they had it in “Murder, Inc.”  Peter Falk as Abe Reles was superb in that—“Whaddya have hands for?  To take.”

    Pete:  What you wrote reminds me that the “Don’t ask me about my business” scene from “The Godfather” is shamelessly lifted from an “Untouchables” episode—“Noise of Death,” with the great J. Carrol Naish.

  24. Pete The Sneak 04:19pm, 10/15/2014

    @kid blast…You’re right about Albert, who was the youngest of the Gallo boys ...Growing up, Joey and his brother Lawrence were the more visible ones of the neighborhood on President Street. Word to us kids at the time was that he (Joey) kept a lion in the basement of his house. Don’t know how true that was, but a lot of folks swore it was true. Larry had a horrific scar on his neck from an attempted strangling by one of Joseph Profaci’s guys. He was lured to a bar type location, however his life was saved when a cop walked in on the attempted hit…Sound familiar? Godfather II, where Frank Pentangali was being strangled in a bar…Peace.

  25. beaujack 03:53pm, 10/15/2014

    Clarence, I would sit at the counter ordering my egg cream. I recall an older lady serving us at the counter. I remember there were many booths on the side and in the back, and at that time thought nothing of the people occupying the booths. I still recall the rumble of the elevated trains above on Livonia Ave…Perfect set-up for private conversations at Midnight Rose. Incidentally Al Bummy Davis whom my dad and I saw many times later on fight, had two brothers in the mob, I recall one called “Little Gangy”, who worked out of Idlewild Airport, later renamed Kennedy Airport….My dad and I saw one of the greatest boxing upsets ever in 1944 when Bummy Davis flattened the 8-1 favorite Bob Montgomery in the first round with a series of left hooks at the old MSG. We in the crowd went bonkers. A few weeks later we saw Bummy Davis hit BeauJack with that left hook on the button in the first round but Beau recovered and proceeded to give Davis a lacing for 10 rounds…
    Ah, wonderful days for me…

  26. Kid Blast 02:46pm, 10/15/2014

    Albert “Kid Blast” Gallo, Jr. is a New York mobster of the Genovese crime family. Born: June 6, 1930 (age 84), Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY

  27. Clarence George 02:35pm, 10/15/2014

    Kid Blast:  Didn’t know that.  Thank you.

  28. Kid Blast 02:31pm, 10/15/2014

    If you came from Red Hook, your name might have been Kid Blast, Crazy Joey’s kid brother.

  29. Clarence George 02:19pm, 10/15/2014

    Beaujack:  Magnificent post, per uje.  Makes me hungry for more.

    Did Rose Gold herself wait on you?  Didn’t Davis have an older brother who was at least connected with Murder, Inc.?  Anyway, your experience must have been prior to August 1939, because that’s when Buchalter foolishly surrendered to J. Edgar Hoover, in the presence of Walter Winchell, somewhere in the East 20s.  He wound up in the electric chair. 


  30. beaujack 01:36pm, 10/15/2014

    Clarence, Interesting article of yours brings up to me so many childhood memories of Brownsville, headquarters of Murder Inc. I am very familiar with Midnight Rose a luncheonette on Saratoga and Livonia Ave, under the El. My best boyhood friend lived across the street on Saratoga Avenue,
    and I would go there numerous times for an “egg cream” oblivious to the potential danger that lurked there… Speaking of Brownsville of those long ago days, my older cousin took me, a young tyke to a gym on Livonia Ave and Williams Ave, called Willie and Charley Beecher’s pool room, where the idol of Brownsville left hook artist Al Bummy Davis was training in the boxing gym in back of the poolroom for a coming bout.
    My dad told my cousin and I to keep our traps shut, as there were gangsters from “Murder Inc” who ran the joint. I recall this was the time that Lepke Buchalter was on the lam from the police.. Nervously my cousin and I paid our admission to get in and walked around the pool tables to the back where, the large room with a boxing ring where Al Bummy Davis was sparring…I still recall men with fedora hats, cigars sticking out of their mouths watching Bummy Davis with his vaunted left hook….We kept our mouths shut, saw the action, went home on the IRT train and arrived home safe and sound…The owners of the gym and poolroom were ex boxers Willie and Charley Beecher whom my dad saw fight in the Benny Leonard era….

  31. Clarence George 01:08pm, 10/15/2014

    Pete:  I remember reading somewhere that if you came from Red Hook, you wound up either a cop or a gangster. 

    If you head over to Midnight Rose’s, don’t do it at, well, midnight—it ain’t Park Avenue.  I’d recommend that you visit the Half Moon Hotel, but they tore it down about 20 years ago.  God knows what godawful glass-and-steel monstrosity, devoid of both history and character, may have taken its place.

  32. Pete The Sneak 12:27pm, 10/15/2014

    CG…Born/lived in Red Hook Brooklyn till I was 13 (talk about Mafia characters, there were plenty around there at that time, especially crazy Joe Gallo and Company) then moved/grew up in the South Bronx…But thanks for the address info on ‘Midnight Rose’s spot…I know exactly where that is!...Peace.

  33. Clarence George 10:38am, 10/15/2014

    Speaking of which, whatever happened to Bambi Woods?  She appears to have pulled a Judge Crater.

  34. Dick Dangler 10:23am, 10/15/2014

    And porn stars.

  35. Clarence George 10:20am, 10/15/2014

    Yes, mobsters and boxers have the best nicknames.  Part of the appeal.

  36. Goombah Paisano 09:56am, 10/15/2014

    Classic mobster names

    Joe Bonanno aka Joe Bananas
    Carmen DiNunzio aka The Cheeseman
    Vincent Gigante aka The Chin
    Harry Riccobene aka The Hunchback
    Philip Testa aka Chicken Man

    Sounds like some sort of Dick Tracy rogues gallery.

  37. Clarence George 09:55am, 10/15/2014

    I think you’ve drawn the correct inference, Robert.  I’m a card-carrying member of Ring 8, and I wonder if that makes me a de facto member of…ahem.  Not being of Italian (never mind Sicilian) ancestry, I could never be made.  Still.

    I see, by the way, that four of Ring 8’s yearly meetings will now take place at Plattduetsche Park Restaurant, while the other six will still be at the Waterfront Crabhouse.  Yum—love German food.  Wives and/or girlfriends can get in for $7, though I snuck mine in earlier this year for free.

  38. Robert Ecksel 08:45am, 10/15/2014

    Clarence—Not too long ago, board member meetings for Ring 8 began with a moment of silence “in memory of John.” I don’t think they were referring to John Barrymore, John Belushi, or John Dillinger.

  39. Clarence George 08:11am, 10/15/2014

    Glad you liked it, Mike.

    I haven’t been to Sparks in some 20 years.  Not because of the hit, but because it’s one of the more overrated steakhouses in the city.

    Hard to believe Castellano bought the farm almost 30 years ago—seems like yesterday.  If I remember right, they made an attempt on Gotti, which failed, and they ultimately let it slide.  Huge mistake, in my opinion.

  40. Mike Casey 07:45am, 10/15/2014

    Love these sort of stories, Clarence! I remember Gotti’s hit on Castellano outside the Sparks Steak House - a huge gamble by Gotti who didn’t get the official blessing to go ahead with it.

  41. Clarence George 06:58am, 10/15/2014

    Irish:  He learned the hard way that he who lives by the guillotine dies by the guillotine.

  42. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:50am, 10/15/2014

    Clarence George-Robespierre too believed that rather than forgiving people, it was just better all the way round to kill them.

  43. Clarence George 06:43am, 10/15/2014

    In fairness, Eric, not all the boys in Murder, Inc. were Jewish—Magoon, Frank Abbandando…

    Jackie Mason did a funny skit about how secretly proud Jews are of Meyer Lansky.  And speaking from personal experience, I’ve disappointed more than one Jewish friend with the 411 that mobster Hymie Weiss was in fact a rosary-carrying Catholic.  I don’t blame ‘em.  After all, Sholem Aleichem provides only so much color.

  44. Clarence George 06:28am, 10/15/2014

    Magoon was another one who turned canary.  Amazing that they were able to identify the skeletal remains.  What happened to other rats of the era—Albert Tannenbaum, Sholem Bernstein, and Mickey Sycoff—is unknown.

  45. Eric 06:27am, 10/15/2014

    The Kosher Nostra. I’ve heard the so-called Russian Mafia is mostly Jewish too.  Always wondered why every time Hollywood decides to make a movie about organized crime they leave out the Meyer Lanskys, the Bugsy Siegels, the Mickey Cohens, etc. Any time we see a movie about the mob, we are always treated to some Italian goons sitting around a table sipping vino and eating spags.

  46. Magoon 06:18am, 10/15/2014

    No relation that I know of to Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon, another Murder Inc. guy. They found his skeleton in the Nevada desert about 10 years go - probably got hit in the 40s.

  47. Clarence George 06:04am, 10/15/2014

    Thanks very much, Pete.

    Yes, Schultz’s ramblings are fascinating, as is the millions of dollars that he hid…somewhere.  Perhaps in the Catskills.  People are still looking for it.  Another tidbit:  He wanted to become a Catholic, and did indeed receive last rites—unlike Reles and the others, he’s not buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    Aren’t you in Brooklyn, Pete?  May interest you to know that Midnight Rose’s (anyway, the building) still exists.  It’s at the corner of Saratoga and Livonia.

  48. Pete The Sneak 05:18am, 10/15/2014

    “The Canary Sang but Couldn’t Fly.”....One of those great book titles that tells you the whole story before you read one iota of the book…Gotta love it…Also loved Dutch Schultz waxing poetically towards his end…One of my favorites: “I am sore and I am going up and I am going to give you honey if I can. Mother is the best bet and don’t let Satan draw you too fast.”...This would have scholars and deep thinkers trying to decipher what exactly Ol’ Arthur Flegenheimer meant by this for years…Nice write up CG, totally enjoyed this…Peace.

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