At one point or another everyone in the world has thought that being a gangster is pretty cool. You may have never actually wanted to be one, but watching a gangster movie or reading an Elmore Leonard novel and not having at least a momentary twinge of jealousy is absolutely impossible.
You or I, some jerk takes something of ours and what do we do? Maybe we confront them. We complain, we go to the boss or the cops. A gangster decks that fool. Someone tries to have his way with our girlfriend, insults her? We call the cops. We get angry as hell and the cops may not do anything. Ray Liotta in Goodfellas? He smashes the guy's face with a revolver.
It's perfectly natural to want to be a gangster. They take what they want, except for shit off of anyone. They live by their own rules, by their wits and on the adrenaline-pumping knife edge of danger. They're like secret agents, except for themselves and the almighty dollar instead of king and country. They live fast, get rich and die young – they are the epitome of cool. And, of course, they're nothing without their gang.
What makes a gang impressive is much different than what makes a gangster cool. What makes a gang impressive is when they go from being a bunch of thugs to a real business. When criminals organize they accomplish things that only the most ruthless – and not to be too political but lawless – corporations can rival. Here are five of the world's most impressive criminal organizations, starting with the one that would seem like a myth if it weren't so well documented.
5 MURDER, INC
In the 1930s a Jewish gangster by the name of Louis Buchalter realized that he had a surplus of gangsters with a talent for violence. He also realized there were a whole lot of criminals with enemies they'd like dead. Putting two and two together, Louis came to the only logical conclusion: Time to get the hell out of Brooklyn and retire in the Caribbean. Just kidding. He started the Mafia's own murder for hire service and ran it out of a candy store.
Murder, Inc specialized in silent, untraceable killings, contracting nationwide for professional executions. The “Inc” part of their name was hardly ironic. They behaved in many ways like a legal corporation … and were, in many ways, better employers than most legal corporations. Of course, it's easy to be generous when your trade is as booming as murder is within the organized crime world.
I understand that it's not easy to really think about murder as a regular, 9 – 5 job, but Murder, Inc did it. They paid their staff of on-call killers a salary as a retainer. They got bonuses for completed contracts. Their families were paid for the hitman's involvement, as well, and if they should get busted they were given the best, most expensive lawyers available. That's right. Murder, Inc was an honest-to-god corporate killing machine that would make any cut-throat entrepreneur (get it?) envious. And their corporate method was kind of genius. It kind of has to be to get away with up to 1,000 murders in about a decade.
An old police maxim for investigating a crime is, “Remember your MOM: Method, Opportunity, and Motive.” Where Murder, Inc's genius lay was in taking away one, two, or all three of those key investigative landmarks.
Based in Brooklyn, the gangsters would travel nationwide and kill people they had no connection with whatsoever. There goes motive. Unless the gangster was known to be in the area of the murder, opportunity is gone as well. One of the gang's favorite tools was the ice pick, and some of the killers were so adept at slipping it into a victim's ear in their sleep that the coroner would think the poor slob had a brain aneurism and died of natural causes.
How successful was Murder, Inc at its chosen trade? So effective that it wasn't stopped until one of its own, “Kid Twist” Reles turned informant. This despite its most prolific member, Harry Strauss, committing up to five hundred murders for hire for up to $5,000 a pop in 1930s dollars.
Murder, Inc officially vanished after a series of imprisonments and killings got rid of most of its members... but some just vanished, and the Mafia of course still has plenty use for killers. Who is to say that it doesn't still exist in some new incarnation?
4 Vor Y Zakone
Translating to Thieves In Law, the Vor Y Zakone are what many of you would refer to as “The Russian mob.” But comparing them to the Mafia does this group a great disservice. They are, quite frankly, a hell of a lot more frightening and impressive.
The Vors are self professed captains of criminality. Their name comes from the idea that they honor a thieves code. A code which you can imagine can be quite brutal. To get an idea of how extreme the Vors take themselves, consider that a key tenet of their code is to never make any money from any non-criminal activity. They will not touch or accept items from the 'roosters', the lowest caste in the Russian prison system – a rule that belies one of the requirements for becoming a Vor.
You have to have been incarcerated in a Russian prison at least three times. If that isn't a recipe for becoming a Slavic super-villain, I don't know what is. And they take their code very, very seriously: Even language that goes against is is forbidden. For example, they do not use the words that mean to ask for things because that denotes payment for a service rendered, and that is a concept that goes against only taking for a living.
Not convinced the Vor Y Zakone are serious badass motherfuckers? Consider how they rose to prominence: After WW2, the Vors had an all-out prison war with a gang known as the “Sukis.” Suki is Russian for bitch, but these were no normal prison bitches. They were former criminal underground members who were called bitches because they broke the code by fighting for Russia against the Nazis. The Vors annihilated them in prisons all across Russia.
Think about that for a minute – the Vors purposely sought out and picked a war with other hardened criminals that had intentionally went to fight Nazis and survived. They're tougher than Nazi-killing veteran repeat offenders with military training.
Even crazier is that they hold incredible sway over the rest of the Russian criminal underground … and there's supposedly only 500 of them.
3 The Pink Panthers
The Pink Panthers might just be the coolest criminal organization in the world. I know, I know, respectable human beings (and even internet writers) aren't supposed to admire criminals. But, man, it is hard not to respect these guys. Their commitment, their meticulous planning, their dedication to one another and their incredible success rate. They really put the 'organization' in organized crime, and they do it with theatrical panache.
There are plenty of YouTube videos of various Pink Panther heists. They get in, they grab the goodies, they get out … with tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds. That's right, the Pink Panthers go after high end jewelry stores and specifically target diamonds. In just a couple of minutes they make their approach and getaway and, thanks to often months of setups using women to seduce store owners and any number of clever tactics, they usually get away with it.
You may have heard of these guys before. They are the ones who pulled off the widely televised Dubai mall jewelry store heist by driving through a crowded mall on motorcycle, smashing open the store's displays and roaring out onto the highway with military precision.
After getting away, they utilize their vast connections to turn the stolen gems as clean as legit gems. And if they don't get away? Well, two of them have been sprung from prison by helicopter, so I guess you could say getting nabbed isn't a huge concern.
2 Al Qaeda
OK, OK, I know you're thinking, “But they aren't criminals – they're terrorists!” Well I have news for you: terrorism is a crime, and Al Qaeda is synonymous with the term terrorism. Linguistic prejudices aside, Al Qaeda is a global organization that is dedicated to one of the most difficult, dangerous and altogether frightening crimes that exist.
They have no compunction about making virtually every government on earth into their sworn enemy and fighting to undermine those governments at every turn... and that takes a whole lot of dough. Yup, like every criminal organization, Al Qaeda gots to get paid. And how does Al Qaeda get paid? In true gangster fashion, Al Qaeda sells drugs.
Yup, these fundamentalist Muslims get much of their money by controlling heroin production and distribution in their home areas. Making junkies drool and nod might not seem to be the most heavenly calling for a devout follower of Islam, but money's money, right? And everybody in Al Qaeda has to get paid. Their stated purpose might be a global jihad but any organization that uses its muscle to traffic in opiates is obviously all about the Benjamins. Not convinced? One of their other sources of income is supposedly pirated DVDs. Yup, they have the same monetary scheme as that guy on the corner in the van with the expired plates.
But that's not to say that Al Qaeda isn't an organization to be feared. For the last decade or more they've given most of the world's militaries a run for their money and survived the death of much of their upper management. And they still manage to kill people and sew disorder throughout their territory and beyond.
1 Outlaws Motorcycle Club
Any biker club with the word outlaw in its name is trying to send a pretty serious message about itself. If the entire name of the club is Outlaws, well, that ought to tell you something. But what ought to tell you even more is the Outlaws' fearsome motto: ADIOS. That's an acronym. It stands for “Angels Die In Outlaw States.” No, that's not the premise of an emo metal song. By Angels they mean Hell's Angels, the Outlaws' sworn enemies. And anyone who takes the Hell's Angels as an enemy and survives for nearly a century is one bad son of a bitch.
The Outlaws are true criminal jacks of all trades, with arrests on charges as varied as murder, prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion and arms dealing. But their truly fearsome nature comes to light when you realize just how ruthless and violent they truly are. They attack Hells Angels at any opportunity. In 2006, one Outlaw MC member was arrested for killing a man who made the fatal mistake of wearing a Hells Angels shirt.