Nowadays there are movies, books, and even TV shows showcasing the Mafia. They all try to take a deeper look at the organized crime lifestyle. And the popularity of these types of entertainment is only growing. People are fascinated with this hidden lifestyle and curious to learn more about it. I am not sure exactly what intrigues the audience, but it might be the hidden agendas, criminal activities, or luxurious lives that some mafia members live. Either way, one thing is for sure about the mafia, they are dangerous and are not afraid to kill to prove a point. But why do these men and some women join a group like this, how did it all begin? Below are 10 of the most notorious mafia hitmen with a little bit of a background story for each one.
1. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles – Abe Reles was a natural-born killer. He was a violent and unpredictable man and also a member of Murder, Inc. This was a notorious enforcement arm of the American and Jewish Mafia believed to have viciously murdered up to 1,000 people in the 1930s and 1940s. Reles was known for using an ice pick on his victims, which he would ram into their brains through their ears. He was angry and used murder as a solution for his anger, murdering a parking lot employee for not bringing his car quick enough. He escaped the death penalty by giving information about fellow high-ranking Murder, Inc. personnel to the cops, but it didn’t go down so well. People in the Mafia aren’t a fan of snitches, and Reles was found dead on the pavement outside his hotel in 1941.
2. Salvatore “Sammy Bull” Gravano – He worked his way up from petty theft and street fighting to become Joe Colombo’s protege in the late 1960s. He was determined to impress his boss, committing several brutal murders which earned him respect. He soon got too big to be a number two, so he set up a trucking and underground smuggling business, and it turns out he was quite the business man. Before long, he turned into a multimillionaire. The good times didn’t last though. When the police came knocking, Gravano sold out his business partner. Despite Gravano’s involvement in at least 19 murders, in 1994 the state sentenced him to just five years in prison. He literally got away with murder.
3. Sam “Mad Sam” DeStefano – He began his career as a petty criminal and enforcer, but it wasn’t long before he joined Chicago’s notorious Forty-Two Gang in 1930. A few years later, he became one of the city’s first loan sharks. He was the definition of a gangster as he would lend money to vulnerable clients, like drug addicts and the needy. When they failed to pay up on time, he would take them to the sound proof chamber in his basement, and sadistically torture them until they died. He took real pleasure in killing his victims. Some say he even foamed at the mouth during his killings. He was arrested for murder but his associate killed him before justice could be served in front of a judge.
4. Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando – He was a ruthless New York based hitman who is said to be responsible for up to 30 murders, but most likely many more. He killed most of his victims by stabbing them in the chest with an ice pick, but he wasn’t afraid to use other objects as well. He was arrested in May 1940, but he failed to grasp the severity of the situation. At one point he even whispered a threat into the judge’s ear. Abbandando didn’t know that Abe Reles (remember him from above?) was on the other end helping police. Abbandando was executed by electric chair in 1942.
5. Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss – He was another Murder, Inc. member. He was easily the organization’s most violent member. Some say he has murdered between 50-100 people. Strauss was arrested 18 times but never convicted until the downfall of Murder, Inc. in 1940. During the trial, his attempted insanity plea failed, and he was executed in 1941 by electric chair.
6. Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera was a hit man for the Bonanno crime family in the 1980s. He was well-known for his fighting skills, and that’s why his name is what it is. Some say he has killed over 60 people throughout his mafia career. He liked to keep trophies like jewelery and clothing from each of his victims, something that is not typical for a mafia member. Pitera was indicted in 1990 and remains in a correctional facility in Pennsylvania. He will die in prison.
7. Joseph “The Animal” Barboza – He was well-known for being a great chef, and even graduated from a French cooking school. But by his mid-20s, Barboza was heavily involved in the New England Mafia. He earned his nickname “The Animal” in an altercation that sounds like a scene out of Goodfellas. While drinking one night he was told to keep it down by an elderly man. Barboza slapped the man and his boss warned him to never touch an elderly person with his hands again. Barboza did the unthinkable and bit his ear off and took a chunk out of his cheek. He was arrested but only served a year in prison after he gave police information on other mafia members. These men have not learned that it’s best not to snitch apparently, because he was found dead outside his house with four shotgun holes in his chest in 1976.
8. Roy DeMeo – He was the leader of the infamous DeMeo crew, a gang of contracted killers. Between 1973-1983, him and his associates murdered between 150 and 200 people, mainly using what some call the “Gemini Method”. He would lure folks to the Gemini Lounge, where one member would shoot them in the head with a silenced pistol, while another would immediately wrap a towel around their head to stop the blood. DeMeo would then stab them in the heart to stop blood flow to the head. Next they would be hung in the bathroom until they completely bled out, and then their bodies were sent to the Brooklyn Dump. He created this method as an easy way to clean up bodies. Because of how well this method worked, the FBI only found a portion of his victim’s bodies. Once they were on to him, he had a fellow member shoot him in his car.
9. Giovanni “The Pig” Brusca – He is a Sicilian gangster who claimed to have murdered up to 200 people. He was nicknamed “The Pig” for his unkempt appearance and savage behavior. He once killed a police informant, who was just 11 years old. He was finally arrested after killing a magistrate court and his wife, as well as two bodyguards, in a brutal attack. He gained special privileges by acting as a police informant and risked the wrath of Italy by claiming that ex-Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, paid the mafia. The Pig is not a very bright man, to say the least.
10. Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinksi – He is one of the most prolific contract killers to ever work for the mafia. Having taken his first life when he just 13, he claimed to have committed over 250 murders. He was known to kill homeless people for no reason, but rather to practice different murder techniques. He earned the nickname of “The Iceman” because he would often freeze the bodies of his victims to confuse the police about their time of death. His crimes caught up with him in 1986, when he was sentenced to several consecutive life sentences and died in prison in 2006.
Sometimes, it is hard to imagine that criminals and awful people like this exist. It also amazes me how many of them got away with some of their brutal murders. These men are scary, dangerous, and not afraid of anything, even if it means severe consequences. The men of the mafia are not ones to mess with, that is for sure.