|It is all connected|
By Mike DeLisa
Why the preoccupation with boxing history? What's the compulsion? For me, it is simple. It's all connected. Which allows me to recount the following:
On November 12, 1941, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles plunged to his death from the sixth floor of Coney Island's Half Moon Hotel. Reles, a hit-man for Murder Inc. had been serving as a government witness for Prosecutor Burton B. Turkus. Reles, who was being guarded by several law enforcement officers, was most likely tossed to his death for "squealing." With typical Brooklyn wit, Reles became known as the "canary who could sing but could not fly." No big loss, however, as by all accounts Reles was a squat, repulsive thug whose nickname derived from the pleasure he took in strangling his vicims.
One of Murder Inc's associates was Frankie Carbo, the mob's commissioner of boxing and head fight fixer. Reles's death allowed Carbo to walk on a pending murder rap, leaving him free to corrupt the sport for years after. That's a connection to boxing, right? Well, here's another.
Turkus, already a well-known defense attorney prior to his working for Brooklyn District Attorney William O'Dwyer, used the huge publicity from his work to launch himself into the upper echelon of New York's lawyers.
By 1980, Turkus, then in his eighties, maintained an office off of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in the same building where Star Security placed me after taking me on as a security guard. They had a good pitch -- "you get paid to sleep." I actually stayed awake, as I was studying for the New York State law school entrance exams.
I recall Turkus coming in late one night, alone. He glanced at my books as he sauntered past, then spoke as he entered the elevator.
"Would you like a drink?"
I jumped in as the doors were shutting. Me and Burton Turkus drinking buddies! The elevator opened directly into his office. As I looked around for a wet bar, he pointed to the water cooler.
"Take some whenever you want."
Water! What an insult. Accordingly, I took to rifling Turkus's office every night. I'd move files around, empty the staples from his stapler, and intoxicate myself with his water. Slowly, however, I came to like his office and would spend hours studying at his huge desk.
One wall of his office was covered by polished wooden cabinets. I had glanced through these and was uninterested as they contained "inactive" files.
One day, on the floor, I noticed chips of browned, brittle newspaper. I popped the lock and found several large scrapbooks. These dated from the earliest days of Turkus's career. Seems the old guy was something of a news hound. He saved every scrap of paper that ever had his name on it.
I worked my way through the files, and came across a bound scrapbook from 1931: Burton Turkus, famed defense attorney and prosecutor, got his start representing Mickey Walker's wife in a support proceeding. The now defunct Brooklyn Eagle carried covered the proceedings.
The court record revealed several interesting aspects of Jack "Doc" Kearn's relationship with Walker. For example, although the contract filed with the New York commission called for Kearns to receive 1/3 of Walker's purses, he actually took 1/2, after paying all expenses.
Turkus needed to show the jury that Walker received income over and above what Mickey admitted. This would allow the jury to consider Walker a liar, or at least, someone with sufficient funds to pay a little extra to the ex-wife. His examination of Walker is laughable. Turkus persisted in using legalese to form his questions. Walker, thoroughly confused, appealed to the Judge for help with all the "big words." Admidst all the laughter, Turkus's case was slowly getting away from him.
Yet, when the jury came back from deliberations, they awarded Turkus's client $5,000. On what basis? How could they reach such a result on the basis of the scant evidence they had before them? Well, here is a dirty little secret that has been kept for the past 67 years -- Turkus poisoned the jury.
Amidst the records I found in that scrapbook was a typewritten "summary" of Walker's income. Turkus had prepared the list, making up numbers out of whole cloth. Then, when the jury retired for deliberations, he slipped it to the bottom of the actual Court exhibits.
Walker won the rematch, however. Seems Walker's attorney was smart enough to speak to the jury members, one of whom told him of the "smoking gun" that had actually been drafted by Turkus. His lawyer made a motion to vacate the judgment and the Court duly threw the case out. Turkus escaped with his reputation intact, and by 1940 was one of the most famous men in America.
Nearly 40 years to the day after Kid Twist was sent hurling from his hotel room, I was a foot cop assigned to Murder Inc.'s Brownsville's stomping grounds. By then, few of the local residents knew anything of what had occurred in their neighborhood. On occasion I would walk past a former gas station on Eastern Parkway where years earlier, Kid Twist had chopped up corpses in the grease pit.
That day, as I tried to envision New York of the 1940s, an elderly woman came up to me.
"The face of an angel," she said to herself.
"You remind me of my boyfriend."
"Oh really? Thank you?"
"They made a movie about him. He was played by the guy who is on TV now as Columbo. Did you see that film? You look so much like him."
Peter Falk? I could live with that, although he is no John Garfield, so I asked:
"Murder Inc. My boyfriend was named Abie. Abie Reles."
Like I said. It is all connected. More or less.
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