The notion of “hit men” made famous in movies and television are based on a very real premise. Being a hitman is not a job you will find on LinkedIn, nor will their places of business be included on Forbes “100 Best Places to Work” lists. What you will find are hardened criminals that will kill for money. Some act alone as contracted freelancers while others are part of gangs; both types typically only get paid (or keep their retainer) once the job has been completed.
So who hires these men to kill? Sometimes the Mob needs someone “taken care of” because of money or the need to send a message.
This list has tried to stay away from more of the “famous” guys, but some are pretty well known. Did you know Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson, was an alleged hitman that allegedly killed a US District Judge? These charges were denied (he has since died), but the story goes that a drug dealer hired the elder Harrelson for the job. Whether true or not it goes to show that there may be more people than you realize living the life of killing others for money.
This list has guys from the '20s, '30s and even more recently, the '80s, who have been accused and often convicted of killing others for money. Some turned rat, others deny they ever laid a hand on anyone despite the overwhelming evidence. Regardless of the criminal or moral implications, you have to admit it has to be very exciting to be a hitman. Of course, if you fear being put to death by the electric chair you should consider other work. Here is a list of the 10 most terrifying hitmen of all time and watch out for the shadow lurking. Click Clack, Bang Bang!
10 Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano
"Sammy the Bull" Gravano was a ruthless modern day hitman known mostly for being the rat that brought down John Gotti and a lot of the Gambino New York crime family. Gravano worked his way up through the organization under Joe Colombo, winning approval by committing many murders along the way. Gravano switch teams so to speak and joined the Gambino family where he was a big time money man with interests in trucking and construction businesses. In 1990 he was arrested and ratted out his boss (John Gotti) and detailed his involvement in at least 19 murders. Gravano served one year for his crimes.
9 Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando
Frank Abbandando was a member of a group known as Murder, Inc. He was a hitman responsible for 30 or so murders. Most of his victims were killed using an ice pick or meat cleaver. The ice pick would be stabbed through the chest, the meat cleaver; well that was messier than the ice pick. On top of being a killer, Abbandando was accused of being a rapist. He was also part of one of the Murder, Inc. gang’s most famous crimes; burying a man alive. He was finally caught in 1940 and despite threatening the judge during his trial he was given the electric chair and died in 1942 via execution.
8 Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss
Another proud member of Murder, Inc., Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, was known as the most vicious and violent member of the gang. He also has been linked to a body count of at least 30 people, with some speculating it could be over 100. He used a gun, ice pick and rope, depending on which tool was best fit for the job. The rope was often used to torture his victims before he killed them. Despite his nickname, Harry Strauss never set foot in Pittsburgh, but instead was a native of Brooklyn. He was finally brought down along with Murder, Inc. in 1940. In court he pleaded insanity, but it didn’t work. Strauss was executed via electric chair in 1941.
7 Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera
Thomas Pitera got his nickname due to his obsession with martial arts and fighting skills, but he used more than his hands when he had a job to do. Responsible for as many as 60 killings in the 1980s, Pitera was known to dismember his victims after murdering them and placed pieces of them deep into suitcases (to not get caught by police dogs). He loved to kill drug dealers and then take their products, selling them for money. It was drug dealing and involvement in a lot of murders that eventually got him busted (1990). Pitera is currently serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania. No work on whether he continues to practice martial arts.
6 Roy DeMeo
Roy DeMeo led a crew by his name that worked exclusively for the Gambino crime family during the 70s and 80s. Believed to be responsible for up to 200 murders, this gang invented the “Gemini method”, a way of getting rid of evidence. In summary, the method was to immediately cover a head shot and then stab the victim. The body was then strapped in a bath tub (upside down) to drain. Later the body would be dismembered and sent to a dump in Brooklyn. In 1982 the FBI busted his crew. Roy DeMeo’s body was found in 1983 – he had been murdered.
5 Giovanni “The Pig” Brusca
Giovanni Brusca admitted to killing 200 people. As a member of the Sicilian Mafia, Brusca worked as driver for the Corleonesi family. His nickname was given because well, he looked like a pig. Brusca not only murdered, but also kidnapped and tortured, really whatever it took to get the “job” done. In 1996 he was arrested for the murder of Giovanni Falcone (along with his wife and associates). Brusca turned rat and was an informer for the Italian government. The most disturbing information was his testimony linking a prime minister to the Mafia, a revelation that left members of the Mafia as well as victim relatives up in arms.
4 Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski
Born to be a hitman, Richard Kuklinski came from an abusive family and murdered 250 people in his lifetime. In his youth he committed his first murder at the tender age of 13 and he started killing bullies and then, after working as a hitman for the Mafia, would hunt down the homeless to master his craft of killing. The nickname was due to Kuklinski’s freezing of bodies to throw off the cops on the time of death of his victims. He was arrested in 1986, busted by an agent that was working undercover. Kuklinski died in prison in 2006, right before his scheduled testimony against Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.
3 Christopher Dale Flannery
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Christopher Flannery was known as a “Rent A Killer” hitman for hire. In Australia he worked with major crime figures George Freeman and Arthur Smith, and was known mostly as an ally who liked to kill people. Apparently, Flannery didn’t turn down many jobs, even trying to take down a detective for 50K (the detective survived the hit), but he was always acquitted at trial. Flannery, linked to over 10 murders, disappeared in 1985, presumably killed because that’s what often happens to hitmen; something to be said about the company you keep I guess.
2 Alexander Solonik
Alexander Solonik is the most famous Russian contract killer of all time. He had many nicknames, but the most famous was “Alexander the Great.” Solonik was a former policeman and marksman with the ability to shoot with both hands. Solonik admitted to killing many Russian crime bosses, but never ratted on who hired him. In 1994, police officers attempted to arrest Solonik and a shoot out ensued in which Solonik shot several cops. He would eventually escape custody (something he did more than once). In 1997 a body was recovered that was identified as Solonik, but many were left skeptical. Maybe he’s still out there, maybe the Russian government should take a closer look at their unsolved murders.
1 Abe “Kid Twist” Reles
Abe Reles, another member of Murder Inc., is said to have killed up to 1,000 people. A hitman for both the American and Jewish Mafia, Reles' calling card was his ice pick that he would stick into the heads of his victims. It wasn’t always about money with Reles; stories of murdering people because they didn’t agree with him or brought his car late from the valet are common. In 1940 Reles was arrested but avoided execution by ratting on members of Murder, Inc. In 1941 he was killed (presumably by another hitman and presumably by an ex-member of Murder, Inc).