King of the Brooklyn Docks

Good Fortune

Law enforcement continued to have trouble getting charges to stick to Anastasia through the early 1930s.

He was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of Isidore Juffe in 1932, but his role could not be proven in a courtroom. He was arrested twice in August of 1932 – first on suspicion of committing a Brooklyn homicide with an ice pick and then for consorting with known criminals. He was discharged both times. In August of 1933, witnesses identified him as the killer of a Brooklyn laundryman. Those witnesses later changed their stories, and Anastasia was let go.

While the police had a difficult time holding onto Anastasia, a Canadian-Italian woman managed to land him for good.

Elsa Bargneti, who was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1914, entered the United States through Detroit in 1934 and made her way to Brooklyn. She and Anastasia were married two years later, when he was 36 and she was 24. The couple had a son a year later. He was named Albert Jr.

Abe Reles

Abe Reles

The year 1939 turned out to be a troubling one for the leaders of Murder Inc. The murder of Peter Panto, a crusader against racketeer involvement in organized labor, caused much law enforcement energy to be focused on the Mafia’s hit squad. Abe Reles, one of Murder Inc.’s hired killers, was charged with Panto murder and decided to betray his underworld associates rather than fry for the crime.

Reles testimony helped police to more fully understand dozens of previously unsolved murders and the roles of Anastasia and Buchalter. They were able to link Anastasia in particular to the killing of Panto and to the assassination of Teamster union official Morris Diamond.

With Reles as a witness, Brooklyn District Attorney William O’Dwyer was able to win convictions against a number of mob hit-men. Buchalter would eventually get the chair for his involvement in the murder for hire organization.

O’Dwyer felt certain of winning an important conviction against Anastasia as well. His feelings changed, however, when Reles was found dead five stories below his room window at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Reles had been held at the Half Moon under armed guard while awaiting trial. A few tied-together bedsheets draped out the window suggested that Reles might have been trying to escape from police custody. But the distance his body traveled away from the hotel wall indicated that he had been thrown.

Anastasia had managed to get to Reles even while he was guarded by lawmen.

O’Dwyer’s case against the Lord High Executioner collapsed. But the Brooklyn D.A. kept the pressure on. The Mafia commission was forced to disband Murder Inc. and find another means of organizational discipline, and Anastasia was forced to change addresses for a while.

Steps Toward Legitimacy

The beginning of American involvement in the Second World War provided Anastasia with a means to vanish from New York for a while and simultaneously improve his image.

Anastasia is an army sergeant

Anastasia becomes an army sergeant

He enlisted in the armed forces on May 18, 1942. With his experience on the Brooklyn docks, he proved valuable to the military as an instructor. He was made a technical sergeant and assigned to the education of military longshoremen at Indiana Gap. Pennsylvania.

The military turned out to be Anastasia’s route to U.S. citizenship.

He took advantage of a special act of Congress, which granted speedy naturalization to aliens serving in the American armed forces, to become a citizen on June 29, 1943. He didn’t mention any of his previous run-ins with the law on his citizenship application.

At the end of the following year, the army discharged him because he was overage. He was nearly 43 at the time.

In the mid-1940s, Anastasia decided to move away from Brooklyn and follow his longtime friend Joe Adonis to the country setting of Fort Lee, New Jersey. The Brooklyn home held in the name of his wife was sold for $25,000. The Anastasias built a new, 35-room, 5-bathroom house, valued at more than $75,000 at #75 Bluff Road in Fort Lee. The property was put in the name of Albert and Elsa Bargneti. The hillside mansion, just around the corner from Adonis’s home, overlooked rolling hills and the Hudson River.

In October 1945, Anastasia showed the degree of his influence over New York’s longshoremen. A strike, relating to an inter-union power struggle, crippled the city’s docks from October 1 to 22. Anastasia then assembled his Brooklyn allies and brought them back to work. As the Brooklyn docks opened again, the strike collapsed, and the entire New York waterfront was opened for business.