The Short and Deadly Lives of the Shapiro Brothers
John William Tuohy
Gangster family. Meyer, Billy and Irving. Irving, although the youngest, was considered the gangs leader. Although the boy’s parents, Joseph and Anna, raised their sons in a respectable working class environment in Brownsville, (At 691 Blake Avenue the house is gone, replaced by an apartment building) the Shapiro Brothers grew to be labor extortionists and mobsters working mostly in Brooklyn. They controlled large areas of bootlegging, extortion, illegal gambling and prostitution in the late 1920.
They terrified shopkeepers and often beat them with blackjacks at the slightest provocation and hijacked competitor’s slot machines, sending them to upstate New York where they forced other storeowners to take the machines on a 50-50 split basis.
In the early 1930s, the brothers were challenged by gang lords Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter for complete control over the garment industry in Brooklyn. Others argue that the Shapiro brothers sparked the war when they attacked and brutally raped the future wife of Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a hood who worked under Lepke.
Even though Meyer, 25, the so-called “King of the Brooklyn slot machine racket”, was youngest, he was considered the leader of the gang. Handsome and always well dressed, he ran several gambling houses and sidelined as a loan shark.
He was and considered by police to be “the toughest gangster in Brownsville” and impressive assumption considering Shapiro’s competition. He had been in at least 18 life or death altercations, which left him badly scarred. Most of the assaults were stabbings and as a result, Meyer was said to have a deathly fear of knifes.
On June 4, 1930, Meyer Shapiro, Sam Their and Lazar Elliot were shot in front of the Globe Cafeteria at 457 Sutter Avenue in Brownsville at 2 in the morning. A bullet from one of the two cars used in the drive by shooting, caught Meyer in the belly, another grazed their head. All three survived. The shooting stemmed from a dispute over protection money taken from a floating crap game.
On June 12, 1930, at the corner of Glenmore and Lincolnwood Streets in Brooklyn, the Schapiro’s shot Abe Reles and two of his men, Marty Goldstein and Lou Aspetri. Goldstein was shot through the nose. A passerby was also shot. In July of 1930, George DeFeo, who worked for Abe Reles was shot dead by the Shapiro’s.
A month later, Meyer was almost killed when Reles did a drive by shooting of pool hall at 962 Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn that Meyer used as his headquarters. On September 7 1931, there was another attempt on Meyer’s life in another drive by shooting as he walked towards his car on Lotts Avenue in Brooklyn.
A week before, someone had tried to assassinate Abe Reles in a different drive by shooting by missed. The next morning, Reles turned himself into police on a warrant for murder and spent the rest of the fall safely hidden away in jail. On August 28, 1930, a hood and part time professional boxer named Joey Silvers (Joseph Silverstein) who worked for the Shapiro’s, was killed at the corner of Essex’s and Blake Avenue when two men leaped onto the running boards of his car and fired a .45 fired a shot that landed inches away from his heart.
On September 5, 1930, Meyer and Irving murdered a slots operator named Sammy Cohen in East New York in front of a store at 1535 Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn. (Now a warehouse) Earlier in the day, the brothers had dropped by the store and threatened the owner to toss out a slot machine owned by Abe Reles.
A few hours later, they returned when they learned that some of the Reles gang was waiting at the store. The brothers simply walked into the store, shot Cohen. They then shot two of Cohen’s men, George Galfin, who was shot through the stomach and Lou Fisher who was shot through the elbow.
On July 11, 1931, Irving Shapiro, 26, and a friend named Smokie Epstein returned to New York after a brief trip Monticello New York, where the brothers placed the slot machines they stole from around New York City. While Epstein waited in the car, Irving ran into the darkened house to change clothes. The two killers were waiting in a corner in the vestibule.
They fired a series of shots into Irving and then fled to a waiting car. Abe Reles, Harry Strauss (&31 Hinsdale Street in Brooklyn) and Frank Abbonboano (2228 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) were arrested for Irving’s murder but released with charges.
On September 17, 1931, Meyer was found shot to death in the cellar of a lower eastside tenement in Manhattan. He was 23 years old. He had been shot twice behind the ear. A newsboy found his body and fingerprints proved who he was. By then Billy Shapiro was the only one left.
On July 20, 1934, the body of Billy Shapiro, 24, (1845 Sterling Place in Brooklyn) was found about 100 feet off of Flatlands and Conklin Avenue in the marshland of Canarsie. He was found, bound, in the sitting position with a pillowcase over his head. He had been beaten to death by at least three men.
Police suspect that Lepke Buchalter himself ordered Billy’s execution, which was carried out by Abe Reles and the Amberg Brothers. Billy was still alive when his killers buried him a sand pit. His skull was broken but he eventually suffocated to death. Billy’s body was identified by his sister Rose, who ran a pawnshop at 590 Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn (A large apartment house stands on the site today)