He was slim as a stick (140 pounds max) and surprisingly handsome. However, Allie Tannenbaum, who started out as a worker at her father’s Catskill hotel, became one of Murder Incorporated’s most accomplished killers. Tannenbaum also turned into a rat, which he helped put his boss, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, in the electric chair.
Tannenbaum was born on January 17, 1906, in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. When Tannenbaum was just two years old, his father Sam moved the family to Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In New York City, Sam Tannenbaum, as in Pennsylvania, had a general store. When she was a teenager, Allie Tannenbaum had a habit of talking, talking and talking all the time. He talked so much that people said it sounded like clockwork, hence the nickname “Tick Tock.”
After World War I, Sam Tannenbaum accumulated enough cash to buy Loch Sheldrake Country Club, in the Catskills, upstate New York. When her father bought the country club, Allie was already in her junior year of high school (then she also attended college for a few semesters). This was a great achievement, as most of the children the age of Tannenbaum, on the Lower East Side, had already dropped out of school after the eighth grade and were working jobs, some legal and some not so legal. Using his son’s abilities, Sam Tannenbaum hired Allie at his hotel, either serving tables or setting up beach chairs by the lake. Despite the hard work he put on his son, Sam Tannenbaum was grooming Allie as his eventual replacement. However, that was not the case.
The Loch Sheldrake Country Club was a luxurious establishment and hosted many wealthy Jewish families during their summer vacations. Jewish gangsters also frequented the country club. Among them were Harry “Greenie” Greenberg, Louis Lepke and his partner Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. Shapiro was a thick-chested gorilla who provided the muscle for Lepke’s many illegal ventures. Whenever Shapiro was angry, and that was often, his favorite phrase was “Get out of here.” However, in his deep voice, the phrase sounded like “Gurra dahere”. Therefore, his friends gave Shapiro the nickname “Gurrah”.
Allie Tannenbaum met several of the country club visitors, including Shimmy Salles, who was a bag man for Lepke’s rackets, Curly Holtz, a job con artist, and even Lepke himself. As the son of the owner, the Jewish gangsters invited Tannenbaum to all their parties. Tannenbaum, according to his arrangement with his father, did not charge a penny until after the summer, which basically ended the tourist season. As Tannenbaum walked through his father’s resort with no money, he noticed that all the Jewish gangsters had a lot of cash to hand out. This made him a likely suspect to be lured into her world of organized crime.
At the end of the summer of 1931, Tannenbaum was strolling down Broadway in Manhattan, when he ran into Big Harry Schacter, one of Lepke’s subordinates.
Schacter asked Tannenbaum, “Do you want a job?”
“I could use one, if you pay,” Tannenbaum said.
Schacter smiled. “This is for Lepke. You know what kind of job it will be.”
Tannenbaum shrugged and said that he would do whatever it took to earn some extravagant money.
Tannenbaum started working for Lepke, initially for $ 35 a week. His work included general assignments such as hitting, breaking strikes, and throwing stink bombs where they needed to be thrown. Later, Tannenbaum graduated to more important duties, such as “schlammings,” which meant “schlamming” or breaking the heads of unionized workers, who were not towing the Lepke line.
As the output of his work increased, so did Tannenbaum’s pay. Finally, Tannenbaum, who by then had been involved in six murders and helped dispose of the body of a seventh murder victim, was raising an impressive $ 125 a week. Due to Tannenbaum’s summer location in the Catskills, his work primarily included murder and extortion in upstate New York. Tannenbaum was a valuable asset to Lepke in Sullivan County, because Tannenbaum was familiar with the back roads and numerous lakes, where bodies could be hidden. During the winter, Tannenbaum and his family took a vacation to Florida, where Tannenbaum worked as a strongman, at several of Lepke’s gambling venues.
Tannenbaum’s greatest success for Lepke was the 1939 assassination of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, who was suspected of speaking to the government about Lepke’s activities. Lepke gave Tannenbaum the task of assassinating Greenberg, through one of Lepke’s intermediaries (to protect himself from any connection to a murder, Lepke never gave orders to his assassins).
Tannenbaum stalked Greenberg, first Montreal, then Detroit, before finally cornering Greenberg in Los Angeles. On November 23, 1939, Tannenbaum, along with Bugsy Siegel, waited outside the Greenberg apartment building. When Greenberg showed up, Tannenbaum and Siegel riddled “Big Greenie” with bullets. This was considered the first “mob murder” in Southern California.
In 1940, Tannenbaum was on vacation in Florida when he received word that Lepke had been arrested and that Murder Incorporated’s killer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles was now singing like a canary about Murder Incorporated’s work. Tannenbaum immediately caught a train to New York City and went to the home of Charlie “The Bug” Workman, another of Lepke’s main killers. The reason for Tannenbaum’s visit was that he sought funding from Workman to flee in Detroit. As luck would have it, while Tannenbaum and Workman were sitting in Workman’s living room, Detective Abraham Belsky knocked on the door to arrest Workman. Belsky was pleasantly surprised when he found Tannenbaum there as well.
At first, Tannenbaum refused to scream. When Tannenbaum was questioned by the police over a period of three days, he repeatedly said: “I refuse to answer on the basis of my constitutional rights.”
However, District Attorney Deckelman suddenly attacked Tannenbaum with a formal indictment, accusing Tannenbaum and “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss of the 1936 murder of taxi owner Irv Ashkenaz, who tipped off the police about the Lepke rampage. in Manhattan. Ashkenaz’s body was found near the entrance to a Catskills hotel, riddled with sixteen bullets.
“We have enough on you to put you in the chair,” District Attorney Deckelman told Tannenbaum.
Suddenly, Tannenbaum, living up to his nickname “Tick Tock”, started talking non-stop. Tannenbaum told Deckelman about all the murders he was involved in and how they were related to Lepke.
On the witness stand, during the Lepke trail, Tannenbaum put the last nail in Lepke’s coffin, when he testified about the day he heard Lepke order the murder of a candy store owner named Joe Rosen. Lepke was always calm and collected, and was careful what he said in front of anyone. In fact, Lepke never gave Tannenbaum a direct order to kill. This information was always transmitted to Tannenbaum through an intermediary, close to Lepke.
However, in 1936, Tannenbaum was ordered, through Mendy Weiss, to kill Irv Ashkenaz. However, Weiss told Tannenbaum to report directly to Lepke, when the deed was done. After disposing of Ashkenaz, Tannenbaum went to Lepke’s office in the center of town to tell Lepke that Ashkenaz was indeed dead. When he entered Lepke’s office, Tannenbaum was met by an irate Lepke, yelling at Max Rubin, one of Lepke’s closest confidants.
Tannenbaum testified on the stand before District Attorney Burton Turkus, “Lepke was yelling that he gave Joe Rosen money to leave, and then sneaks into a candy store, after telling him to stay away. Lepke was yelling: ‘There’s a son of a bitch who’s never going to come down to talk to Dewey about me. Max (Rubin) was trying to calm him down. He was saying,’ Take it easy; take it easy Louis. I’ll take care of Joe Rosen; he’s fine. ‘”
“What did Lepke say to that?” Turkus asked Tannenbaum.
Tannenbaum replied, “He says,” You told me before. “He says,” This is the end. I’m sick of that son of a bitch. “He says, ‘and I’ll take care of him.’
Tannenbaum testified that two days after meeting Lepke and Rubin, at Lepke’s office, he read in the newspapers that Joe Rosen had been shot 16 when he opened his candy store in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Tannenbaum’s testimony about Rosen’s murder corroborated Abe Reles’s testimony and was a fatal blow to Lepke. It took the jury just four hours to convict Lepke of first-degree murder, leading Lepke to the electric chair four years later. For his testimony against Lepke, Tannenbaum received a brief jail sentence, a light slap on the wrist for a man who had committed at least six murders.
Little is known about what Tannenbaum did for the rest of his life. He seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth, save on the occasions when he reappeared, to testify against his old fellow assassins. In Rich Cohen’s book “Tough Jews,” Cohen says, in the 1950s, Tannenbaum worked in Atlanta for a time as a lampshade salesman.
In 1950, Tannenbaum came out of the wood and testified in the murder trial of Jack Parisi, another hitman for Murder Incorporated, who had been on the run for ten years. Despite Tannenbaum’s testimony, a judge found Parisi not guilty.
In 1976, unlike most of his contemporaries, Tannenbaum died of natural causes, on an unnamed island off the coast of Florida. He was 70 years old.