It really wasn’t too long ago that the Mafia became a major figure in American crime and a major thorn in the sides of U.S. authorities. Nowadays, we see more drug traffickers in t-shirts than we do dapper dons in three-piece-suits. But, the one thing that carries over from yesteryear to today is murder. Whether you think it’s necessary in the bloody business of crime or not, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. However, a boss doesn’t become the boss by chance. The boss doesn’t get his/her hands dirty. On the contrary, they do the intelligent thing and outsource those crimes to willing employees. Contract killing has been a booming business ever since the invention of the enemy and it will continue to be an important position in crime for the upcoming years, at least from what we can tell as of late. It takes a certain type of person to take out a hit. You have to be completely void of emotion. You have to be a calloused shell of a human, hollow inside, while simultaneously being tactical and ready to take out anyone at a moment’s notice. After some research, we’ve found a couple of people that fit the bill. Here are 15 of the most feared hitmen in history:
15. Irving “Big Gangi” Cohen
Remember that scene in Goodfellas when Joe Pesci stabs that guy in the back of the head with an ice pick while they’re all hamming it up in the car? If you haven’t, then I apologize for not warning you about this spoiler. But it’s been like 25 years, what have you been waiting for? Anyway, that’s basically what Irving Cohen was known for. He was a hitman contracted through Murder Inc. and he was hired to kill his buddy, Walter Sage. He lured his old pal into a car, took a seat behind him and used the old ice-pick-in-the-brain technique. The thing was, after Sage took “the big sleep,” Cohen realized he didn’t have the stomach for the murder business and decided to make a career switch. So, he said “so long” to New York City and bought the next bus ticket to Los Angeles to stake his claim in Hollywood’s golden age and he succeeded… well, at least for some time. He was cast to play a police officer, ironically enough, which was a dumb move because when you’re wanted for murder it’s best not to show your face anywhere. The real police saw him and hauled his butt back to the big apple to stand trial where they very promptly found him guilty.
14. Joseph Meldish
Meldish was one hell of a go-getter back in his heyday. He did killings not only for the Luchese and Genovese crime families but for his own brother’s gang, the Purple Gang of Throgs Neck. In total, Meldish is reported to have had his filthy little hands in 40 contracted slayings or more. He first faced a judge when he pleaded guilty of manslaughter in 1976 at only the age of 18. He never hesitated to kill people in broad daylight and even shot a man eight times in a restaurant bar while dining with his wife. Apparently, Meldish just mistook him for another person. What made him extremely deadly was that nobody would testify against him. Everyone would come down with an abrupt case of amnesia until 2011 when he went to trial for another murder, this time putting him away for some time.
13. Wayne “Silk” Perry
Wayne Perry rose to prominence in his home city of Washington D.C. after he met New York City kingpin, Alpo Martinez. In the mid-80’s, Martinez, or “the Mayor of Harlem” as he was known to friends and fiends alike, was looking to expand his operation to our nation’s capital and needed a heavy hand to carry out his, well let’s call them “executive orders.” Perry was known to have no regard for human life. He was rumored to have killed for money, out of anger, and for fun. It didn’t matter if it was broad daylight, in front of witnesses, or even in front of police, if Perry wanted you gone, you’re as good as dead meat. And mind you, he was loyal to a fault. When Martinez was charged with 14 counts of murder in 1991 and became an informant to shave years off of his sentence, he gave Perry over to the cops while the trusted hitman kept his lips sealed. The decision resulted in Martinez serving for 35 years and was reportedly released in 2015 while Perry is serving five consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole.
12. Jorge “Rivi” Ayala
When you’re the right-hand man for the “Queen of Cocaine”, you’re bound to get involved in some less than admirable activities, and those activities may very well go down in history and get you on a list on a website. If you’ve seen the fast-paced true crime documentary, Cocaine Cowboys, then you’re already familiar with Jorge Ayala or “Rivi,” as he was often referred to. Ayala was the go-to hitman for Griselda Blanco, the woman behind the infamous drug war that turned Miami into the bloodiest spring break destination of 1985. Ayala was rumored to have killed approximately thirty-five people in his nearly ten years of employment under Blanco. When finally convicted of three of those murders, he helped turn her over to the police. He has spent the last twenty-five years in prison and failed to make parole in 2015, so he’ll be spending quite a few more behind bars.
11. Harry “The Hook” Aleman
Imagine your high school nickname sticking with you for the next 60 years. You’d have to be a good sport to put up with that your entire life, or a notorious murderer… either one would do the trick. Harry Aleman was known was “The Hook” because of his stint as a boxer back in school. After that, it stuck as a simple way to refer to the Chicago Mob’s top enforcer without speaking his name in case the F.B.I. was listening. Aleman was a doting husband and father of two at home, but on the streets, his mere presence was known to be enough to make men give up whatever they had. Thirteen known times, however, his presence was not enough, and “The Hook” had to use fatal means of persuasion, at least that’s what authorities have speculated. They know for a fact that Aleman shot and killed Teamsters official, William Logan, in 1972 because two others witnessed the murder. But much to their dismay, Aleman was acquitted of the murder only to return to trial a few years later when it was discovered the judge was corrupt, making Aleman the first man to be tried twice for the same crime when he was sentenced to 300 years in prison. The legendary killer died of lung cancer while behind bars in 2010.
10. Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss
When you think about it, Murder Inc. was actually a pretty clever business idea. In a time when Mafia dons were capitalizing on the wants of the blue collar man, these guys were capitalizing on the needs of the Mafia. They were basically a well-formed business of hitmen for hire complete with micromanagement and CEOs, and Harry Strauss (a.k.a. “Pittsburgh Phil”) was one of their top employees. Strauss was rumored to have favored a switch blade as his weapon of choice and could enjoy an exuberant night on the town hours after clubbing a man to death for a few extra dollars. After a couple of years, however, the public and authorities both had enough and when it came time to crack down on the “corporation,” Strauss was one of the first to be taken in. However, he wasn’t going down without a fight. Being the slippery little sucker that he was, he grew a beard and tried pleading insanity, but the judge saw right through his weak attempt at freedom and threw the book at him hard enough to keep him in the clink for decades.
9. Chester Wheeler Campbell
In the late 1970’s, the major players in the Detroit drug trade were trying to separate themselves from the Italian Mob and manage themselves in the streets of the Motor City. They made their own overseas heroin connections, developed their own methods of shipment and distribution, and hired their own hitmen, well, hitman really… because when you’re as good as Chester Campbell you really don’t need any help. A career criminal who served a 13-year sentence in 1955 for second-degree murder, Campbell had a few nicknames, “Dr. Death,” “The Angel of Death” and “The Undertaker.” When he was released in 1968, he quickly became the city’s most feared contract killers. Claiming a body count of 50 and an I.Q. close to 200, he was a cultured man who accepted his heartless ways, often joking that he was “one of god’s unfortunate souls.” He’s most famous for having information on literally every single person of remote importance in the city. I’m talking drug kingpins, corner boys, judges, cops and prosecutors. If you had any potential of ever leaning on Chester Campbell, he was going to make sure you felt it right back. He was even rumored to have had more surveillance equipment in his arsenal than the Detroit Police. Match that with a heart frozen in ice and you have a man that will haunt you… for real. “There aren’t many criminals I still have nightmares about, but Chester Campbell is one of them,” one agent recalled, “he was pure evil.”
8. Jose Manuel Martinez
This is the face of a modern-day hitman. Most of the gents that have graced this list are from the prohibition era or the 1980’s when cocaine exploded onto the scene, but Jose Martinez had been killing all the way up to 2014 when he was arrested for the death of nine people, which is small potatoes if you ask Martinez who claimed to have taken closer to 40 lives. This man had been the main enforcer for the central California cartels since the early 1980’s and whether his body count is accurate or not, police suspect he has information on dozens of murders, including the death of a man who was shot while his children slept in the next room. But if you could imagine, a hitman doesn’t hang onto a career spanning across three decades by gossiping and he’s not about to start now. As of today, Martinez is doing his time according to the code of the streets and keeping his lips cemented shut.
7. Harry “Happy” Maione
I guess he looks like a pretty jolly fella, sure, but he actually got the ironic nickname “Happy” due to his permanent scowl that was pasted on his face. Maione was another member of Murder Inc. and acted as a sort of middleman between the varied Jewish and Italian employees. He also helped Pittsburgh Phil out with quite the gruesome mess. When ol’ Phil stabbed George Rudnick over 60 times with an ice pick, Maione thought it would help if he put a butcher’s knife into Rudnick’s skull before they took off. Authorities eventually caught up with Maione and after a quick trial (in which they can convict accomplices at once) they strapped him to the electric chair where he sizzled right beside one of his buddies.
6. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
Bugsy Siegel was more than just a hitman. He’s credited with building Las Vegas from the first grain of desert sand to the top of The Flamingo Hotel and Casino. But yes, before he was flipping poker chips, he was killing men for money. We all have to start somewhere, and Siegel certainly put in the work to climb the ladder. He was one of those few cases of movie mob bosses that actually pulled the trigger themselves rather than outsource the hits. If you’ve ever heard of “Lucky” Luciano it’s because Siegel was responsible for killing his rivals Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, in 1931. He also helped bridge the gap between Jewish and Italian crooks in New York City that eventually became known as The Commission led by Luciano himself. Eventually, Siegel fell victim to a contract himself when he was shot in his girlfriend’s California home in 1947. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
5. Joseph “The Animal” Barboza
Joseph Barboza’s father was a small-time boxer and his mother was a seamstress–if that doesn’t scream “1930’s Boston” then I don’t know what does (I really wouldn’t because that setting is extremely specific). Barboza was a big boy who grew into an even bigger man who was a top enforcer for the Patriarca crime family of Boston in the 1960’s. He claimed to have killed 26 men during his career and earned his nickname, “the animal,” when he chewed half a man’s face off at the bar after his boss told him that he didn’t want to see him hurt any more people with his hands. Since Barboza had a young daughter whom he loved very dearly, when he was arrested he didn’t think twice about turning witness and testified against his former employer. He did four years and was paroled in the mid-1970’s but his enemies caught up with him and put four shotgun blasts into his torso as he was leaving the grocery store.
4. Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski
Richard Kuklinski is probably the most famous hitman of all time. He’s had HBO documentaries made about him as well as a full-length feature film starring Hollywood heavyweights, and his resumé backs up all the hype. Kuklinksi was a hired killer for all of New York’s five families and claimed to have killed anywhere between 100 to 250 men from 1948 up until his arrest forty years later. He claimed to have learned to kill by practicing on homeless men. He got the name “Iceman” because he favored freezing some of his victims to throw off the authorities when they tried to determine the time of death. After his success in killing, he moved into drug trafficking and international arms dealing all the while making sure his wife and kids at home in suburban New Jersey never suspected a thing, which they didn’t until he was sentenced to life in prison. He said he first killed when he was still an adolescent when he beat a neighborhood kid to death, but never… not even once… did he lay a hand on women or children, because even a heartless killer has to have a code.
3. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles
There are several theories as to the origins of Reles’ nickname “Twist.” Some people think he was simply named after another boy in the neighborhood while others think it was because he had a love for those big colorful lollipops. There were also others who think that it was because he loved to strangle people to death. Reles was known to be Murder Inc’s employee of the month for every single month. This guy was shooting people right in the face in broad daylight on city streets. That’s some downright cold blooded movie s**t. Eventually, he knew his time was coming to an end when he was arrested and was bound to face a sentence the length of a hallway (that means they were going to give him the electric chair). Eventually, Reles decided to give up as much of his crew as he could–a decision which inevitably sent many of them to the chair in his place. However, he made a mistake when he was set to pinpoint the big boss, Albert Anastasia, because while locked in a room guarded by police, Reles “accidentally fell” out of the window and plummeted to his death on the city street below.
2. Alexander Solonik
Solonik’s story is the stuff action movies are made of. He was in the Soviet Army and had some police training before going to prison in 1987. When you have known attachments to law enforcement and you get thrown into prison, you pretty much have a target on your back. So Solonik was put into immediate solitary confinement to avoid being killed and also because he would fight inmates twelve at a time. After two years behind bars, Solonik jumped the walls and took off into the Russian population. Around this time, in the early 90’s, was when Solonik started doing hits for the Russian mob. Known as “Superkiller” in the business, he murdered rival mob figures and thieves across the red nation for years until authorities apprehended him once again. However, they failed to properly search him and when they brought him to the station, he opened fire with the automatic weapon he was hiding in his raincoat. He held off a gaggle of officers and killed at least three of them before they could restrain him, but it didn’t last long. Solonik stuffed a mannequin in his prison bed and escaped a second time. This time, he was able to evade until he was found dead in Athens, Greece in 1997.
1. Giovanni Brusca
This scruffy Sicilian Mafioso had a couple of nicknames, “Il Porco” or “Il Maiale” which means “The Pig” or “The Swine” due to his unkempt presence. But more frighteningly, he was called “lo scannacristiani” which means “the people slayer.” Brusca admitted to killing so many people that he can’t quite remember the exact figure. However, he thinks it’s somewhere between 100 and 200 unfortunate souls. He is known for aiding Sicilian boss, Salvatore Riina, in all of his dastardly doings, including the kidnapping of a potential witness’ 11-year-old son whom he tortured for over two years and eventually dissolved his body in an acid bath. He also bombed many Italian tourist attractions after Riina was arrested, leaving many killed and wounded as well as numerous landmarks permanently damaged. Finally, after years of terror, Brusca was seen eating with his girlfriend by a plain-clothes officer and was arrested by authorities. Soon after that, he began cooperating with the police and started turning in his crew after he realized the state probably wasn’t going to go easy on a guy referred to as “the pig” in the streets who was most infamous for melting a fifth grader.