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Tick Tock

John Conway
Posted 11/18/22

It was on November 22, 1939 that the son of a Sullivan County hotel family took part in an historic murder far from the Borscht Belt. 

Tall and wiry Albert Tannenbaum was likely unaware of …

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Tick Tock


It was on November 22, 1939 that the son of a Sullivan County hotel family took part in an historic murder far from the Borscht Belt. 

Tall and wiry Albert Tannenbaum was likely unaware of the significance of the act, but he had just joined Bugsy Siegel in organized crime’s first ever contract killing in Southern California.

Time was that Allie Tannenbaum was much like many other sons of Sullivan County hotel families of the day, working hard all summer and receiving no pay until the season ended, and then not much.

A chance meeting on a Manhattan street corner one day in the fall of 1931 had changed all that, and led Tannenbaum into a life of crime as one of the brutal gang of thugs that became known as Murder, Inc.

Tannenbaum was born in the small town of Nanticoke, in Pennsylvania’s coal country, on January 17, 1906. His father Sam and his mother Anna were hard workers, always looking for something better for their family. They moved first to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and then, when Allie was three years old, to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

Allie was a decent student, though lazy, and reached his junior year of high school before quitting. His father, meanwhile, had acquired an interest in a small hotel in Sullivan County called the Rock Hill Inn, and the family spent their summers working in the mountains. After a few years, Sam Tannenbaum sold his interest in the Rock Hill hotel and purchased the larger and more lavish Loch Sheldrake Country Club.

"It was a big place," Allie once told Brooklyn prosecutors, "with a cabaret and casino, a bar, and a lake for boating or swimming.

And it was where Allie first witnessed the lifestyle to which Brooklyn gangsters treated themselves.

"The Catskills are a paradise of mountains and lakes and trees, annually attracting a cross-section of society...athletes, industrialists, show people, politicians, the girl with an eye out for a husband– and the criminal, as in any resort. The criminal insists he needs relaxation just like the next fellow," wrote Burton B. Turkus and Sid Feder in their 1951 expose on the mob, "Murder, Inc."

"About 1925, a guest at Allie’s father’s place was one Jake Shapiro, a lumbering gorilla who growled orders in snarling bursts of sound. His stock command when annoyed was, ‘Get out of here,’ only it came out, ‘Gurrah da here.’ So, his friends took to calling him ‘Gurrah.’ Through Shapiro, Allie became acquainted with other visitors, like Sammy Salles, who was a bagman, or collection agent, for the rackets, Curly Holtz, expert on labor organization– and Lepke [Buchalter]. 

"Naturally, Gurrah did not introduce them by trade. They spent freely in the cabaret or at the games of chance in the casino. And they made the hotel owner’s son welcome at their parties. Summer after summer they flaunted their affluence in the face of Allie’s empty purse. And pretty soon, Allie was ripe." 

He was walking on Broadway in New York City one day after the 1931 summer season had ended, and ran into Big Harry Schacter, an acquaintance from the mountains. The two struck up a conversation.

"By that time, Allie, naturally, had more than a hazy idea of the trade in which these characters were engaged," Turkus and Feder wrote. "But, by then, he didn’t care."

Schacter mentioned Lepke was looking for help. Allie paid the man who would eventually become the F.B.I.’s public enemy number one a visit, and was hired on the spot as a $35 a week slugger and strike breaker. Soon he was making $50 a week on "specific assignments," taking part in "schlammins, strong-arm strike breaking, and labor union grabs."

Eventually, he worked his way up to a $125 a week killer, with a hand in six contract killings from New York to California, and became the Syndicate’s top man in the mountains.

"Allie’s familiarity with Sullivan County was a valuable asset," Turkus and Feder reported. "He was thoroughly acquainted with the highways and the byways– and deep spots in the lakes where a body might be dumped.

But it was a murder Tannenbaum committed on the West Coast that was of particular interest.

In November of 1939, under orders from Lepke himself, Allie joined forces with Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Frankie Carbo to knock off Harry Greenberg, also known as "Big Greenie," in Los Angeles, in what is generally regarded as the first ever organized crime hit in Southern California. Ironically, Harry Greenberg was the assumed name adopted by the same Harry Schacter who had provided the impetus for Tannenbaum’s life of crime.

Allie Tannenbaum, who was such a smooth talker his friends called him Tick-Tock, was picked up for questioning a number of times over the years, and always managed to talk himself out of trouble. Not so in 1940, when he and four others were indicted by a Sullivan County Grand Jury for a number of murders here, including those of Irving Ashkenas and Hyman Yuran.

Fearing the worst, Allie turned state’s evidence, and along with his erstwhile colleague, Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, supplied the testimony that sent Lepke to the electric chair.

He testified against others, as well, and was released under some murky agreement that he would leave the country, with the stipulation that he could return just once each year. He died somewhere off the coast of Florida in November of 1976.


John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  

Contributed Photo

Albert "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum.


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