He was rail-thin (140 pounds – tops), and strikingly handsome. Yet Allie Tannenbaum, who started out as a worker in his father’s Catskill hotel, became one of Murder Incorporated’s most accomplished killers. Tannenbaum also became a rat, who helped put his boss, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, into 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 he did in Pennsylvania, ran a general store. As a teenager, Allie Tannenbaum had the habit of always talking, talking, talking. He talked so much, people said he sounded like a clock — hence, the nickname “Tick Tock.”
After World War I, Sam Tannenbaum accumulated enough cash to purchase the Loch Sheldrake Country Club, in the Catskills, in upstate New York. By the time his father bought the country club, Allie was already in his third year of high school (he also later attended college for a few semesters). This was quite an accomplishment, since most boys Tannenbaum’s age, on the Lower East Side, had already dropped out of school after the 8th grade, and were working at jobs, some legal, and some not so legal. Making use of his son’s capabilities, Sam Tannenbaum employed Allie at his hotel, either waiting on tables, or setting up beach chairs at the lake. Despite the early grunt work he imposed on his son, Sam Tannenbaum was grooming Allie as his eventual replacement. Yet, that was not to be.
The Loch Sheldrake Country Club was a ritzy establishment, and it housed many rich Jewish families, for 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-of-a-man, who supplied the muscle for Lepke’s many illegal enterprises. Whenever Shapiro was angry, and that was often, his favorite phrase was “Get out of here.” Yet, with his gravelly voice, the phrase sounded like “Gurra dahere.” Hence, his pals gave Shapiro the nickname “Gurrah.”
Allie Tannenbaum became acquainted with several of the country clubs visitors, including Shimmy Salles, who was a bagman for Lepke’s rackets, Curly Holtz, a labor racketeer, and even Lepke himself. As the owner’s son, the Jewish gangsters invited Tannenbaum to all their parties. Tannenbaum, as per his arrangement with his father, did not get paid a single dime, until after the summer, which basically ended the resort season. While Tannenbaum walked around his father’s resort dead broke, he noticed that all the Jewish gangsters had plenty of cash to spread around. This made him a likely suspect to be drawn into their world of organized crime.
At the end of the summer in 1931, Tannenbaum was strolling down Broadway in Manhattan, when he bumped into Big Harry Schacter, one of Lepke’s underlings.
Schacter asked Tannenbaum, “Do you want a job?”
“I could use one, if it pays,” Tannenbaum said.
Schacter smiled. “This one is for Lepke. You know what kind of a job it will be.”
Tannenbaum shrugged, and said he would do whatever it took to earn some fancy cash.
Tannenbaum started working for Lepke, initially for $35 a week. His job included general assignments like slugging, strikebreaking, and throwing stink bombs where they were needed to be thrown. Tannenbaum later graduated to more important duties, like “schlammings,” which meant he “schlammed,”or cracked the heads of union workers, who were not towing Lepke’s line.
As his work production increased, so did Tannenbaum’s pay. Eventually Tannenbaum, who by then had been involved in six murders, and helped dispose of the body of a seventh murder victim, was raking in an impressive $125 a week. Because of Tannenbaum’s summer location in the Catskills, his job mostly included murders, and extortions, in upstate New York. Tannenbaum was a valuable asset to Lepke in Sullivan County, because Tannenbaum was familiar with the back highways, and numerous lakes, where bodies could be stashed. During the winter, Tannenbaum, and his family, vacationed in Florida, where Tannenbaum worked as a strong-arm-man, in several of Lepke’s gambling joints.
Tannenbaum’s biggest hit for Lepke was the 1939 killing of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, who was suspected of talking to the government about Lepke’s activities. Tannenbaum was given the assignment to murder Greenberg by Lepke, through one of Lepke’s intermediaries (to insulate himself from any connection to a murder, Lepke never gave orders to his killers himself).
Tannenbaum stalked Greenberg, first to Montréal, then to Detroit, before finally cornering Greenberg in Los Angeles. On November 23, 1939, Tannenbaum, along with Bugsy Siegel, stood in wait outside Greenberg’s apartment building. When Greenberg emerged, Tannenbaum and Siegel riddled “Big Greenie” with bullets. This was considered the first “mob killing” in Southern California.
In 1940, Tannenbaum was vacationing in Florida, when he received the news that Lepke had been arrested, and that Murder Incorporated killer, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, was now singing like a canary, about the work of Murder Incorporated. Tannenbaum immediately took a train to New York City, and went to the house of Charlie “The Bug” Workman, another one of Lepke’s top killers. The reason for Tannenbaum’s visit, was that he sought financing from Workman to go on the lam in Detroit. As luck would have it, as 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 too.
At first, Tannenbaum refused to squeal. When Tannenbaum was questioned by the police over a three-day period, he repeatedly said, “I refuse to answer on the grounds of my constitutional rights.”
However, District Attorney Deckelman suddenly hit Tannenbaum with an indictment, charging Tannenbaum, and “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, with the 1936 murder of Irv Ashkenaz, a taxicab owner, who was ratting to the cops about Lepke’s cab racket in Manhattan. Ashkenaz’s body was found near the entrance of a Catskills hotel, riddled with sixteen bullets.
“We’ve got enough on you to put you in the chair,” District Attorney Deckelman told Tannenbaum.
All of a sudden Tannenbaum, living up to his nickname of “Tick Tock,” started talking nonstop. Tannenbaum told Deckelman about all the murders he was involved with, and how they were connected to Lepke.
On the witness stand, during Lepke’s trail, Tannenbaum put the final 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 cool and collected, and careful about what he said in front of anyone. In fact, Lepke never gave Tannenbaum a direct order to kill. This information was always relayed to Tannenbaum through an intermediary, close to Lepke.
However, in 1936, Tannenbaum was given the order, through Mendy Weiss, to kill Irv Ashkenaz. Yet, Tannenbaum was told by Weiss to report directly to Lepke, when the deed was done. After disposing of Ashkenaz, Tannenbaum went to Lepke’s midtown office, to tell Lepke that Ashkenaz was indeed dead. When he entered Lepke’s office, Tannenbaum encountered an irate Lepke, screaming at Max Rubin, one of Lepke’s closest confidants.
Tannenbaum testified on the witness stand to District Attorney Burton Turkus, “Lepke was yelling that he gave this Joe Rosen money to go away, and then he sneaks back into a candy store, after he tells him to stay away. Lepke was hollering: ‘There is one son of a bitch that will never go 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 handle Joe Rosen; he’s all right.'”
“What did Lepke say to that?” Turkus asked Tannenbaum.
Tannenbaum replied, “He says, ‘You told me that before.’ He says ‘This is the end of it. I’m fed up with that son of a bitch.’ He says, ‘and I’ll take care of him.”
Tannenbaum testified that two days after his encounter with Lepke and Rubin, in Lepke’s office, he read in the newspapers that Joe Rosen had been shot 16 times, as he was opening up his candy store in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Tannenbaum’s testimony, concerning the Rosen murder, corroborated the testimony of Abe Reles, and was a deadly blow to Lepke. It took the jury only four hours to convict Lepke of first-degree murder, which landed Lepke in the electric chair four years later. For his testimony against Lepke, Tannenbaum was given a short 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, except for the times when he reappeared, to testify against his old murderous pals. In the book “Tough Jews” by Rich Cohen, Cohen says, in the 1950’s, Tannenbaum worked in Atlanta for a while, as a lampshade salesmen.
In 1950, Tannenbaum came out of the woodwork, and testified at the murder trial of Jack Parisi, another Murder Incorporated hit-man, who had been on the lam 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.