Murder Incorporated

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Max Zwerbach - The Original "Kid Twist"

Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach was a gangster in the around the turn of the century who belonged to the Eastman Gang. Virtually nothing is known of Zwerbach's early life and origins. He appears to have been the bad seed of an upstanding Jewish family from Brooklyn who fell into a life of crime on the Lower East Side. Zwerbach joined the Eastman Gang. Due to the fact that he possessed a unique mix of brains and brutality, Kid Twist carved out a high position in the gang, becoming Monk Eastman's right hand man.

Zwerbach first fully enters the picture three weeks after the great Rivington Street gun battle between the Eastman and Five Points Gang, which occurred on September 17, 1903. Monk Eastman had been arrested in New Jersey and when Kid Twist learned he was locked up, he gathered up fifty men and led several carriage loads of them across the river, with the intention of storming the jail to free the boss. Cooler heads prevailed and the scheme never came off.
When Eastman was locked up for robbery the next year, Kid Twist found himself at odds with an old pal named Richie Fitzpatrick over the leadership of the gang. The two met in a peace conference in a Sheriff Street saloon on the night of November 1, 1904. Fitzpatrick wound up shot to death by one of Twist's men, Harris Stahl aka Kid Dahl.

Kid Twist maintained the Eastman Gang's supremacy in the New York underworld. His chief aide was a Coney Island brute named Vach Lewis (nicknamed Cyclone Louie) a former wrestler and sideshow strongman who was famous for twisting iron bars around his arms and neck. As a reward for the hit on Fitzpatrick, Kid Dahl was made an active partner in the Suffolk Street stuss game of a Five Points gangster named The Bottler. Some time later, Kid Twist muscled in another friend of his, named The Nailer, and The Bottler finally had enough. Barricading the doors of his game, he loudly dared Zwerbach to try and kill him. One night a short while later, While Kid Twist argued in a police station with a detective, and Kid Dahl was in a restaurant loudly complaining about the food, Cyclone Louie (then unknown on the Lower East Side) entered the stuss hall and shot The Bottler to death in front of twenty players. Both Twist and Dahl loudly mourned the passing of their "friend" and festooned the stuss house with crepe.

Despite having a wife and child at his Williamsburg home, Kid Twist was known as a ladies man around town, and it was this that would prove the end of him. Zwerbach's regular girlfriend was a Canadian dancer named Carroll Terry, who also happened to be seeing Louis Pioggi aka Louie The Lump, an up-and-coming member of the Five Points Gang. In the early evening of May 14, 1908, Pioggi met with Terry in a Coney Island dance hall one last time, when she let him know that she preferred the company of Kid Twist. Burning with jealously, Louie The Lump went to a Surf Avenue saloon and began drinking. As he boozed, in walked Kid Twist and Cyclone Louie. They slid up next to their rival and began viciously taunting him with crude remarks about his failed relationship. When Louie The Lump looked as if he wanted to fight, the Eastmans drew pistols and forced Pioggi to jump out of the second story window. Louie The Lump went out the window, breaking his ankle when he hit the pavement. He staggered off as Kid Twist and Cyclone Louie stuck their heads out the window and laughed uproariously.

Shortly before 8:30 that night, is that the two Eastmans were still in the saloon drinking and chuckling over Louie the Lump's dive, when a young boy delivered them a note, saying Carroll Terry was outside and wanted to see them. The two men strolled out into the night, when Louie The Lump, holding two revolvers, charged forward and opened fire. One bullet struck Kid Twist in the head, and Cyclone Louie was hit five times before he moved a step. Both men collapsed dead in the doorway underneath a large, ornamental horseshoe. Just then, none other than Carroll Terry herself arrived on the scene. Louie shot her through the hip. As the gangster limped away, a police officer yelled for him to halt. Pioggi whirled around and fired one shot, which ripped off the officer's helmet.

After his initial humilation, according to legend (contemporary newspaper accounts make no mention of these events) Louie The Lump got on the phone to Paul Kelly, boss of the Five Points Gang, and told them what happened and asked permission to kill Kid Twist. A trolley car full of Italian gangsters soon arrived at Coney Island, ready for action. It was also said that the anonymous gangsters also did a good deal of shooting, although witnesses and police made it clear that Pioggi did all the killing himself.

Louie The Lump was arrested almost a year later and pleaded guilty, receiving eleven months in jail, sneering that, "I could to that standin' on me head!" After the death of Kid Twist, the Eastman Gang split into factions, continuing their feud with the Five Pointers. Leadership of the largest faction fell to Zwerbach's young protege, Jack Zelig.

Years later, gangster Abe Reles was said to have taken his nickname "Kid Twist" from the long-dead Zwerbach.


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