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The Most Notorious Hitmen in the History of Organized Crime


Kid Twist 

Tommy Karate 

Organized crime hitmen love colorful nicknames.

But though amusing, the monsters behind these flashy monikers were responsible for dozens, and in some cases hundreds of murders, many of which involved beatings, torture, stabbings, shootings and dismemberment. 

On that cheery note, let’s take a look at three of the most notorious hitmen in organized crime history.

Roy “Dracula” DeMeo

Even by deranged Mafia assassin standards, the name Roy DeMeo stands alone.   

Posthumously nicknamed Dracula, as a made man in New York’s Gambino crime family, DeMeo and his crew were probably responsible for more than 200 murders.   

Born into a working-class family of Neopolitan descent in Brooklyn on September 7, 1940, DeMeo would go on to head a particularly prolific crew of hardened killers that bore his name.

Shortly after graduating from high school in 1959 – a rarity for mobsters of the era – DeMeo went into the loan sharking and numbers businesses, but he also worked as a butcher’s apprentice where he honed the skills that would later help him dismember and dispose of his victim’s bodies efficiently. 

Known as the “Gemini Method,” the crew’s efficient way of luring victims into the Gemini Lounge and snuffing out their lives became the stuff of legend. 

As the victim stepped through a side door, DeMeo or a crewmember would shoot him behind the ear with a silenced pistol, then wrap a towel around his head to stem the blood flow. 

Then another associate would plunge a knife into his still-beating heart to stop blood from spurting from the original bullet hole. 

Death came mercifully quickly, after which the body would be dragged into a bathroom, stripped, gutted, hung from the ceiling to remove excess blood, then dismembered with hacksaws. 

Finally, the individual pieces would be placed in plastic bags and boxes before being hauled off to the Fountain Avenue Dump, where with a little luck they’d be covered by thousands of tons of refuse and never seen again.

During his early criminal career DeMeo was associated with the Lucchese crime family, which had its tentacles in everything from junkyards and car theft, to drugs, prostitution and extortion. 

Brutal, cunning and entrepreneurial, DeMeo caught the attention of Gambino soldier Anthony Gaggi in the mid-’60s, after which he cut ties with the Luccheses and began working directly for the more powerful Gambinos. 

DeMeo was also responsible for forging an alliance between the Irish Westies and the Italian Mafia, which in the beginning was mutually beneficial to both parties. 

DeMeo immediately began putting together his own crew and delving into particularly distasteful crimes like drug dealing and child pornography, both of which were prohibited under the Mafia’s “code of ethics.” 

When Gaggi learned of DeMeo’s involvement he ordered him to stop immediately. 

Under the threat of death, DeMeo ignored the order and the matter was never brought up again, probably because he consistently sent huge sums of money up the pyramid to his boss. 

Profits continued to roll in, but by the mid-’70s, now with dozens of murders under his belt, DeMeo’s world began to implode. 

Fearing for his life over a car theft dispute with the notorious killer, a garage owner named Andrei Katz began cooperating with the Brooklyn DA, a turn of events that didn’t sit well with DeMeo.   

After learning of the betrayal from an informant, DeMeo set a plan in motion to silence the snitch. 

In 1975 he enlisted help from an attractive young woman named Babette Judith Questel to lure Katz into her apartment with the promise of a steamy romp. 

Once inside however, Katz was beaten unconscious and whisked away to the meat department of a Queens supermarket where he was stabbed multiple times and cut up.  

Katz’ body parts were then crushed in a trash compactor and wrapped in plastic, but the crew got lazy and discarded them in the dumpster out back instead of hauling them off and burying them in a remote area. 

Not surprisingly, a severed leg was discovered nearby a few days later by a local dog walker and the police were called in to investigate.  

Though he and his crew weren’t immediately implicated in the murder, it was one of the first signs of their ultimate unraveling. 

Between the mid-’70s and early ‘80s DeMeo was the subject of multiple Internal Revenue Service investigations, and the NYPD and FBI were constantly breathing down his neck over missing persons who were known associates, many of whom were last seen in the company of DeMeo and his crew at the Gemini Lounge.  

DeMeo and his associates continued killing and raking in millions, but the harried mobster became increasingly paranoid about both law enforcement and being killed by members of his own family. 

It was rumored that he began wearing a baggy leather jacket with a sawed off shotgun hidden underneath, and that he even considered faking his own death and going into hiding. 

He’d never get the chance however, because in early January of 1983 after a routine crew meeting at an associate’s home he failed to show up for his daughter Dione’s birthday party, which wasn’t like him.  

A little more than a week later his Cadillac was found in the parking lot of a yacht club in nearby Sheepshead Bay. 

When it was towed to a local police station and searched, detectives discovered DeMeo’s partially frozen body in the trunk. 

He’d been shot in the head numerous times and once through the hand, the latter of which was probably a defensive wound received when he realized the executioner was about to be executed and put his hand up to protect himself.  

DeMeo’s killing was likely ordered by the Gambinos who feared that he’d rat them out to save his own skin. 

The following year a 78-count indictment was handed down against two dozen members of DeMeo’s crew. 

After a lengthy trial, nearly all were convicted of crimes ranging from extortion and racketeering to murder and drug dealing. 

After the trial, Prosecutor William Mack Jr. called DeMeo and his cohorts “the most violent crew ever prosecuted in federal court.”

Abe “Kid Twist” Reles

Born in Brooklyn in 1906, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles was an infamous Jewish mobster and prolific killer for Murder, Inc.

Abe Reles
Abe Reles

But despite being an unapologetic criminal, in the end as his world spiraled out of control, Reles turned state’s witness and sent many of his cohorts to the Empire State’s electric chair.

The nickname “Kid Twist” may have come from the striped candy he favored as a child. 

Others claim he took it from a neighborhood gangster named Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach whom he’d admired as a child. 

Then again, it may have been the way he strangled his victims – those he didn’t dispatch with an ice pick. 

Whatever the case, Reles was the son of poor Jewish immigrants from Austria. 

Growing up his father worked in the garment trade and even hawked knishes on the street during the Great Depression. 

Reles attended school up until the eighth grade, after which he spent most of his time running small-time hustles and scams with childhood friends Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein and Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. 

Later however, they all became integral cogs in the Murder, Inc. machine, an organization that served as an enforcement entity for Jewish and Italian-American organized crime factions from the late ‘20s through the early ‘40s.

Purported to have carried out nearly 1,000 contract killings, Murder, Inc. was founded by Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, and was headed by Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and later Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia. 

During Prohibition in the ‘20s, Reles and his cohorts worked for the Shapiro brothers, who controlled many of Brooklyn’s most elicit and profitable rackets. 

With his first arrest for a petty crime as a minor, Reles was sent to a children’s rehabilitation center in Dobbs Ferry, New York, but by all accounts, he received little in the way of rehabilitation. 

In fact, though physically small, while there he garnered a reputation for explosive violence. 

But though he kept his mouth shut, Reles was miffed that the Shapiros offered no help or comfort while he was away, and he wasn’t about to let the aloof gangsters get away with such an unforgivable slight. 

When released he reunited with Goldstein and Strauss, and the trio expanded into slot machines, loan sharking and gambling, all of which were strictly forbidden by and in direct competition with the Shapiros. 

However Reles was able to get the blessings of underworld titan Meyer Lansky, who’d been itching to horn in on Shapiro turf for years. 

Despite the constant threat of reprisal, the business ventures flourished. 

Thinking it best to strike first and eliminate their former bosses, late one night Reles, Goldstein and Strauss received a phony tip informing them that the Shapiro brothers were in a particularly vulnerable position away from their fortified East New York stronghold.  

Rushing to the scene to end the feud once and for all, they were ambushed by the very Shapiro hitmen who’d set the whole thing up in the first place.  

Though wounded, they all managed to escape, but to up the ante, a few days later the Shapiros kidnapped, beat and raped Reles’ girlfriend. 

Now it was all out war. 

Enlisting help from fellow Murder, Inc. killers to settle the score, after a few botched attempts they finally caught up with a defenseless Irving Shapiro in front of his Brooklyn home. 

Dragging him into the street, Reles punched and kicked Irving repeatedly before shooting him multiple times and killing him.  

Just a few months later, brother Meyer Shapiro met a similar fate with multiple gunshots to the face.

Then nearly three years later it was Willaim Shapiro’s turn.

After being abducted, beaten and tortured he was stuffed into a sack and taken to an abandoned lot in Canarsie, but while being buried the three were spotted by bystanders and fled. 

The body was later discovered, and the autopsy revealed that William had been buried while he was still alive. 

By 1940 with the proverbial noose tightening thanks to indictments and increasingly being targeted for execution by formerly friendly associates, Reles saw little choice other than to become a government witness. 

Ultimately he implicated more than a dozen colleagues, one of whom was his old childhood friend “Buggsy” Goldstein, who was eventually convicted and executed. 

Reles even agreed to provide testimony against high-ranking Mafia don Albert Anastasia for the murder of a high-profile union official. 

Though there was little actual evidence, prosecutors thought Reles’ testimony would be enough to convict Anastasia, and the trial was scheduled to begin on the 12th of November, 1941. 

Meanwhile, Reles was under police protection at Coney Island’s Half Moon Hotel. 

On the morning of the 12th however, he plummeted to his death from the window of his room on the sixth floor. 

Though it was speculated that he’d been trying to lower himself to the ground with sheets to escape, it’s much more likely that his ‘protectors’ pushed him out the window at the behest of Anastasia. 

It was later alleged that mobster Frank Costello raised $100,000 – nearly 2 million USD today – to bribe the guards to take care of Reles.

During interviews with investigators and prosecutors, Reles admitted to participating in more than 70 murders, many of which he described in excruciating detail. 

Reles is buried in Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, Queens

Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera

As a Bonanno family wiseguy, Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera may have been responsible for nearly 60 killings between the ‘70s and ‘90s. 

Born into a family of Italian immigrants in Gravesend, Brookly in 1954, like many boys of the era Pitera often spent long summer afternoons watching Kung Fu movies in his cramped apartment.  

From an early age Pitera was interested in health and fitness, and in his teens he began studying karate in nearby Sheepshead Bay where he quickly rose to the top of his class.

As an introvert, loner, and outcast, Pitera wasn’t much of a student, but he attempted to fit in by trying out for the school’s varsity baseball team. 

He didn’t make the cut, but he got the last laugh by breaking into the school after hours, stealing the team’s gear, and selling it around the neighborhood for pennies on the dollar. 

Pitera spent most of his time alone lifting weights and reading up on martial arts and Japanese culture, and in what may be the height of irony, the boy who’d go on to become one of the Mafia’s most notorious hitmen was often bullied by classmates for his social awkwardness and girl-like voice. 

But Pitera continued to excel in karate, and after winning a local competition he moved to Tokyo where he lived for more than two years, immersing himself in the culture and mastering the use of traditional weapons like nunchucks and katanas. 

Family members who visited him were impressed with his chiseled physique, dedication and newfound maturity, but by this time Patera considered himself the consummate lone wolf. 

After returning to New York he jumped headfirst into the city’s violent underworld by becoming a soldier in a Bonanno crew headed by capo Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato, made famous in the movie Donnie Brasco starring Johnny Depp.

Involved in everything from extortion and loan sharking to murder and shaking down freelance drug dealers, Pitera quickly became a feared and respected soldier, and was eventually promoted to capo of his own crew. 

During the early ‘80s the Bonannos were embroiled in a bitter and murderous rivalry between competing factions, both within and outside the family.

During this tumultuous time Pitera carried out a particularly high profile hit by killing Wilfred “Willie Boy” Johnson. 

Johnson was a longtime friend and associate of Gambino boss John Gotti, who discovered that he’d been a government informant for more than a decade, and the contract landed in Pitera’s lap. 

Another of Pitera’s most noteworthy hits was that of Tala Siksik, a Middle Eastern drug supplier who he shot numerous times, dismembered and dumped in a secret burial ground in a wildlife refuge on Staten Island. 

Dozens of Pitera’s victims would end up being buried in the wildlife refuge, largely because he thought the damp soil hastened decomposition, and the likelihood of the cadavers being uncovered during construction projects was almost nil. 

In addition, he often interred the heads and torsos of victims in different areas to slow the identification process, and he took the time to bury them deep enough so that tracking dogs wouldn’t be able to locate them by scent. 

By the mid-’90s Pitera’s lengthy reign as a Bonanno hitman was about to end, thanks to multiple indictments for a string of previously unsolved murders. 

While searching his Gravesend apartment FBI agents found more than 50 firearms, assorted knives and swords, and books like the The Hitman’s Handbook and Kill or Be Killed, both of which dealt with assassination and body disposal techniques. 

Things were bad, but Pitera may have beaten at least some of the charges had it not been for fellow mafiosi Frank Gangi who agreed to testify against him to save his own skin. 

Gangi confessed to multiple murders he’d personally committed with Piterato, and his revelations led to some of the victim’s bodies being exhumed for evidence. 

During the trial the chief prosecutor described Pitera as heinous, cruel, depraved, heartless and ruthless. 

Though the prosecution called for the death penalty, Pitera’s defense team urged the jury to reject it on the grounds that he had no criminal record. 

Likewise, only two of the murders Pitera allegedly committed happened after the Federal death penalty had gone into effect. 

A number of Pitera’s immediate family members testified about his character during the trial, but the jury wasn’t swayed. 

On June 25, 1992, Pitera was convicted of murdering six people and leading an expansive Brookly drug ring. 

Though acquitted of the Johnson murder years earlier, Pitera was found guilty on multiple charges, though he was spared the death penalty.

As the verdict was read,he grinned and flashed two thumbs up to court reporters and stunned onlookers before being led away.  

Now nearly 70-years-old, Pitera is serving a life sentence at the United States Penitentiary, near Pine Knot, Kentucky, where he’ll likely die. 

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