October 2003

Michael Farrelly

nonfiction

Murder Inc.: The Story of the Syndicate by Burton B. Turkus

The Sopranos made me sick. Not the acting, which is superb, or the writing, which borders on brilliant, but rather the plot of one of the episodes I saw recently. In this show a “made man” becomes involved with a stripper from the mafia nightclub “Bada Bing." He uses her, and then when she becomes pregnant the mobster brutally beats her to death in back of the nightclub she worked at. His penalty? Nothing. In fact, he gets another mobster in hot water for lashing out at him in meek defense of the dead girl. A girl who is repeatedly called a “Hoo-er” through the whole season. It’s brutal television. I can remember not sleeping very well after watching the brutality of this crime.

Mobsters are thugs. Vicious criminals who disrespect the law, decent behavior and even the standards of civilization in favor of their own brutal justice. Everything that romanticizes them is blithely ignorant of the lives that are daily annihilated by mobsters. Don Corleone and the Goodfellas look cool and suave, till they are beating your wife to death to get your gambling debt back, or threatening your children to force you to pay up on your “insurance.”

That all said, Murder Inc. is one cool book. It’s a reprint of Burton B. Turkus's 1951 tome and it features all the staples of the true crime genre, lurid prose, crude deaths and clever twists of fate for the main characters. It was written by an Assistant District Attorney with a penchant for turning a noir phrase.

The main characters here being the most ruthless and infamous mobsters of the 20th century, collectively known as “The Syndicate." The group included people like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello. The Syndicate was their collective name for their criminal enterprises. The idea was to have a single group so as to avoid bloodbaths when territory was grabbed for or enterprises (prostitution, gambling, loan sharking) argued over. The result was quite the opposite. The ruling council of crime just put these guys in closer quarters, and like rats they just starting going at each other.

Again, this book is so very cool that even that name, “The Syndicate," gives one chills. These bastards maimed and killed more people than I’ve met in my lifetime, but they did it with such style and brazen callousness that you can’t help but stand gob-smacked.

Just a short listing of the death methods employed by the syndicate: shot, hung, strangled, drown, beaten to death, bombing, poisoning, neck-breaking, pushed from windows, forced to commit suicide, buried alive, thrown from moving vehicles, run over by moving vehicles, hit by moving vehicles, stabbed, denied heart medication, limbs cut off and then bled to death, and forced to eat a live rat.

And there is even room for humor, black as pitch, but still humor. Take for instance the story of Tootsie. Seems that Tootsie was a good fellow, but he ended up getting all kinds of dead, for some misstep. His wife received an envelope full of money from her husband’s killers, who felt bad for the necessity of Tootsies’s dispatch.

That’s just off the top of my head.

Murder Inc. is a catalog of crime, a compendium of the bad, awful, horrible things that humans do to each other over sex, money and power. If this book does not abuse you of ever really wanting to pursue a life of crime then you’re just doomed for a shallow grave in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Mobsters have often been called the flip-side of the American Dream, the American nightmare of greed gone wild and desire run rampant. Murder Inc. is a book that proves that theory on every bloody page.

Murder Inc.: The Story of the Syndicate by Burton B. Turkus
DaCapo Press
ISBN: 0306804751
498 Pages