|Born||July 27, 1899/1904
Newark, New Jersey, United States
|Died||February 27, 1959
West Orange, New Jersey
Abner "Longy" (or "Longie") Zwillman (July 27, 1899 or 1904 - February 27, 1959), known as the "Al Capone of New Jersey", was an early Prohibition gangster, founding member of the "Big Seven" Ruling Commission and a member of the National Crime Syndicate, who was also associated with Murder Incorporated.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Zwillman was forced to quit school in order to support his family after his father's death in 1918. Zwillman first began working in a Prince Street cafe, the headquarters of a local Third Ward alderman. However in need of more money, Zwillman was eventually forced to quit, later selling fruit and vegetables in his neighborhood with a rented horse and wagon.
Unable to compete with the cheaper Prince Street pushcarts, however, Zwillman moved to the more upper class neighborhood of Clinton Hill, where he began selling lottery tickets to local housewives. As Zwillman saw much more money being made selling lottery tickets than produce, he began selling lottery tickets through local merchants and, with the help of hired muscle and others, Zwillman controlled most of the numbers racket by 1920.
At the start of Prohibition, Zwillman began smuggling whiskey through Canada, with several World War I armored trucks, into New Jersey. Zwillman used this revenue to greatly expand his operations in illegal gambling, prostitution, and labor racketeering, as well as legitimate businesses, including several prominent night clubs and restaurants.
By the late 1920s, Zwillman had an estimated income of $2 million per year. In 1929, Zwillman helped organize the Cleveland Conference, one of the first meetings between Jewish and Italian organized crime leaders, later resulting in the establishment of the Mafia Ruling Commission and eventually the National Crime Syndicate, to which he would be admitted to the following year.
Zwillman dated actress Jean Harlow at one time and got her a two-picture deal at Columbia Pictures by giving its head, Harry Cohn, a huge loan. He also bought Harlow a jeweled bracelet and a red Cadillac. He referred to her in derogatory terms to other mobsters in secret surveillance tapes. He later married Mary Mendels, the only daughter of Eugene Mendels—a founder of the American Stock Exchange (then known as the Curb Exchange).
After Dutch Schultz's death in 1935 Zwillman took over Schultz's criminal operations as the press began calling Zwillman the "Al Capone of New Jersey". However Zwillman often sought to legitimize his image, offering a reward for the return of the Lindbergh baby in 1932, and contributed to charities, including $250,000 to a Newark slum clearing project.
Shortly after taking over Schultz's operations Zwillman would became involved in local politics, eventually controlling the majority of local politicians in Newark for over twenty years. During the 1940s Zwillman, along with long time associate Willie Moretti, dominated gambling operations in New Jersey, in particular the Marine Room inside Zwillman's Riviera nightclub The Palisades.
During the 1959 McClellan Senate Committee hearings on organized crime, Zwillman was issued a subpoena to testify before the Committee. However, shortly before he was to appear before the Committee, Zwillman was found hanged in his West Orange, New Jersey residence on February 27, 1959. Although Zwillman's death was ruled a suicide, police found bruises on Zwillman's wrists, supporting the theory that Zwillman had been tied before being hanged.
While the death was ruled a suicide because of his intractable Income tax problems, it is often speculated that Vito Genovese had ordered Zwillman's death. Others have alleged that Meyer Lansky, suspecting that the elderly gangster had agreed to become a government informant, gave permission for the Italian Mafia to take action against Zwillman.The theory that he was hanged was also supported by deported mobster Lucky Luciano who allegedly told journalist Martin Gosch in Italy that the suicide theory was nonsense and that Zwillman's hangmen had trussed him up like a pig before hanging him. Martin Gosch's biography (which he co-authored with Richard Hammer) of Charlie Luciano is somewhat controversial and considered fictional by many mob experts.However the authors have claimed that the contents are entirely based on interviews with Lucky Luciano, who died before the book was published.