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Mobsters, Gangs, Criminals and Crooks – Allie "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum
He was thin (140 pounds – tops) and strikingly handsome. Yet Allie Tannenbaum, who started out as a worker at his father’s Catskill hotel, became one of Murder Incorporated’s most successful hitmen. Tannenbaum also became a rat, helping to put his boss, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, in the electric chair.
Tannenbaum was born on January 17, 1906 in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. When Tannenbaum was only two years old, his father Sam moved the family to Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In New York, Sam Tannenbaum, as in Pennsylvania, ran a store. As a teenager, Allie Tannenbaum had a 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 raised enough money to buy Loch Sheldrake Country Club, in the Catskills of upstate New York. When his father bought the country club, Allie was already a senior in high school (he also attended college a few semesters later). 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 jobs, some legal and some not so legal. Using his son’s abilities, Sam Tannenbaum employed Allie at his hotel, either waiting tables, or setting up lounge chairs on the lake. Despite the early grunts he imposed on his son, Sam Tannenbaum was grooming Allie as his eventual replacement. However, it was not to be.
The Loch Sheldrake Country Club was a posh establishment and housed many wealthy Jewish families for their summer holidays. Jewish gangsters also frequented the country club. Among them were Harry “Greenie” Greenberg, Louis Lepke and his partner Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. Shapiro was a big-chested gorilla of a man, who provided the muscle for many of Lepke’s illegal enterprises. Whenever Shapiro was angry, which was often, his catchphrase was “Get out of here.” Still, with his gravelly voice, the phrase sounded like “Gurra dahere.” Therefore, his friends nicknamed Shapiro “Gurrah”.
Allie Tannenbaum met several country club patrons, including Shimmy Sales, who was Lepke’s racquet case, Curly Holtz, a working racketeer, and even Lepke himself. As the owner’s son, the Jewish gangsters invited Tannenbaum to all their parties. Tannenbaum, per agreement with his father, did not receive a dime until the end of the summer, which basically ended the resort season. As Tannenbaum walked around his father’s resort dead broke, he noticed that all the Jewish gangsters had plenty of money to spread around. This made him a likely suspect to be drawn into their world of organized crime.
In the late summer of 1931, Tannenbaum was walking 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 might do one, if it’s worth it,” Tannenbaum said.
Schacter smiled. “This is for Lepke. You know what it’s going to be like.”
Tannenbaum shrugged and said he would do whatever it took to make some fancy money.
Tannenbaum began working for Lepke, initially for $35 a week. His job included general tasks such as pushing, breaking up strikes and throwing stink bombs where needed. Tannenbaum later graduated to more important duties, such as “slamming,” which meant “slamming” or breaking the heads of union workers who did not toe the Lepke line.
As his work output increased, so did Tannenbaum’s salary. In the end, Tannenbaum, who by then had been involved in six murders and helped dispose of the body of the seventh murder victim, was earning an impressive $125 a week. Due to Tannenbaum’s summer location in the Catskills, his work mainly involved murders and extortions in upstate New York. Tannenbaum was a valuable asset to the Lepkes in Sullivan County, as Tannenbaum was familiar with the back roads and numerous lakes where bodies could be hidden. During the winter, Tannenbaum and his family vacationed in Florida, where Tannenbaum worked as a strongman at several of Lepke’s casinos.
Tannenbaum’s biggest blow to Lepke was the 1939 assassination of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, who was suspected of talking to the government about Lepke’s activities. Tannenbaum was assigned to kill Greenberg by Lepke, through one of Lepke’s go-betweens (to insulate himself from any connection to the murder, Lepke never himself issued orders to his assassins).
Tannenbaum stalked Greenberg, first to Montreal, then to Detroit, before finally cornering Greenberg in Los Angeles. On November 23, 1939, Tannenbaum and Bugsy Siegel were waiting in front of Greenberg’s apartment building. When Greenberg showed up, 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 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 took a train to New York and went to the home of Charlie “Bub” Workman, another of Lepke’s biggest killers. The reason for Tannenbaum’s visit was that he was asking Workman for funding to go on a lam to Detroit. Fortunately, 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 to find Tannenbaum there as well.
Tannenbaum refused to scream at first. When Tannenbaum was questioned by police over a three-day period, he repeatedly said, “I refuse to answer based on my constitutional rights.”
However, District Attorney Dekelman suddenly slapped Tannenbaum with an indictment, charging Tannenbaum and “Pittsburg Phil” Strauss with the 1936 murder of Irv Ashkenaz, a cab owner who had told the cops about Lepke’s cab in Manhattan. Ashkenaz’s body was found near the entrance to the Catskills Hotel, riddled with sixteen bullets.
“We have enough on you to put you in the chair,” District Attorney Dekelman told Tannenbaum.
Suddenly, Tannenbaum, living up to his nickname “Tick Tock,” began talking non-stop. Tannenbaum told Dekelman about all the murders he was involved in and how they were connected to Lepke.
On the witness stand, during Lepke’s trail, Tanenbaum put the final nail in Lepke’s coffin, when he testified about the day he heard Lepke order the killing of a candy store owner named Joe Rosen. Lepke was always cool 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 conveyed to Tannenbaum through an intermediary close to Lepke.
However, in 1936 Tannenbaum was ordered, through Mendy Weiss, to kill Irv Ashkenaz. However, Tannenbaum was told by Weiss to report directly to Lepke when the deed was done. After disposing of Ashkenaz, Tannenbaum went to Lepke’s downtown office to tell Lepke that Ashkenaz was indeed dead. Upon entering Lepke’s office, Tannenbaum encountered an enraged Lepke, who was screaming at Max Rubin, one of Lepke’s closest confidantes.
Tannenbaum testified on the witness stand to District Attorney Burton Turkus: “Lepke yelled that he gave this Joe Rosen money to leave, and then he snuck back into the candy store after telling him to stay away. Lepke yelled, ‘ There’s one son of a bitch who will never go 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 that before.’ He says ‘This is the end. I’ve had enough of that son of a bitch.’ He says, ‘I’ll take care of him too.’
Tannenbaum testified that two days after meeting with Lepke and Rubin, in Lepke’s office, he read in the newspaper that Joe Rosen had been shot 16 times while opening his candy store in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Tannenbaum’s testimony, regarding the Rosen murder, corroborated that of Abe Reles and was the fatal blow to Lepke. It took a jury just four hours to convict Lepke of first-degree murder, which landed Lepke in the electric chair four years later. For testifying against Lepke, Tanenbaum received a short prison sentence, a light slap on the wrist for a man who committed at least six murders.
Little is known about what Tannenbaum did for the rest of his life. He seemed to disappear from the face of the earth, except for the moments when he reappeared to testify against his old murderous friends. In Rich Cohen’s book “Difficult Jews,” Cohen says that in the 1950s, Tannenbaum worked for a time in Atlanta as a lampshade salesman.
In 1950, Tannenbaum came out of the woodwork and testified in the murder trial of Jack Parisi, another Murder Incorporated hitman who had been on the loose for ten years. Despite Tannenbaum’s testimony, the 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.
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