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Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss - Gangster/Assassin

Murder, Inc. gangster and assassin who dressed as well as he killed.

Born: July 28, 1909 - Brooklyn, New York
Died: June 12, 1941 - Sing Sing, New York

Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss
Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss was the chief assassin and co-leader, along with Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, of Murder, Inc., the Brownsville, Brooklyn based organized crime organization, which along with keeping its own rackets, acted as the hit squad for the commission of the National Crime Syndicate, especially mob kingpins Lepke Buchalter and Albert Anastasia.

Equally adept at using a rope, ice pick, knife or gun, Strauss took immense pride in his craft and often volunteered for jobs just for the sheer pleasure of killing. He was also known as an extremely dappy dresser.

By 1934 he had been arrested seventeen times, in NYC alone, on assorted charges of homicide, assault and larceny but he "had never been convicted of so much as smoking on a subway platform," wrote Burton Turkus, the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted and would eventually send Strauss to the chair. After eluding one such conviction, Police Commissioner Lewis Joseph Valentine said of Strauss, "This man is a paid assassin. When you meet such men draw quickly and shoot accurately."

Targets of assassinations were informants, those who stole from the mob, other gang members or those who crossed Murder, Inc's members at the wrong time.

Strauss was frequently sent out of town to do jobs for regional crime organizations, who correctly reasoned that since he was not affiliated with those hiring him, and a stranger to the local police, they and he would not be linked to the killings. One such job was the 1937 execution of the Purple Gang's Harry Millman in a crowded diner in Detroit. Strauss and another man had entered the establishment with pistol's blasting and along with killing their target wounded five other diners.

In September 1940, Reles turned stool pigeon and began testifying against his former colleagues. Strauss was so irate at Reles's betrayal that he offered to turn state's evidence on the condition that he be left alone with Reles in a cell for 5 minutes. Offer rejected!

Strauss was made to stand trial for the September 5, 1939 murder of Irving "Puggy" Feinstein. Feinstein, a bookkeeper who had run afoul of Annastasia, was killed by Strauss, Reles and Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein in Reles's house, via ice pick and rope. He was then dumped in a lot and set ablaze.

Strauss With Beard At Trial
Strauss With Beard At Trial

At the trial Strauss grew his beard long, stopped bathing and feigned insanity. He babbled incoherently and continuously chewed on the leather strap of a briefcase. The jury was not fooled by his act, and he, along with other members of Murder, Inc., was sentenced to die in Sing Sing's electric chair. Despite maintaining his insanity routine on Death Row, his sentence was never commuted and he went to the chair in June 1941.

During his short but prolific career he was credited with 100 murders although some believe he may have killed 5 times as many.

Other members of Murder, Inc. included Frank "Dasher" Abbandando, Louis Capone, Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein, Harry "Happy" Maione, Allie "Tic Toc" Tannenbaum, Seymour "Blue Jaw" Magoon, Mendy Weiss, and Charles "Charlie the Bug" Workman.

Interesting Facts
  • After discovering that one of his victims, Walter Sage, floated to the top of the Sullivan County lake where his body had been dumped and tied to a slot machine, Strauss forever more would puncture the victim's stomach before depositing bodies in lakes.
  • A meticulous dresser and womanizer, Strauss was known as the "Beau Brummel" of the mob.
  • Strauss was one of several members of Murder Inc. put to death at Sing Sing. Others also executed included Harry "Happy" Maione, Frank "The Dasher" Abbandando, Louis Capone, Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein and mentor Louis "Lepke" Buchalter.
Further Reading
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Copy the text below to cite your paper or article:

Meyer, Daniel. "Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss - Gangster/Assassin." J-Grit: The Internet Index of Tough Jews.