Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Waterfront Cop

Bill O’Dwyer was already a former seminary student when he arrived in America from Ireland in 1910, and he would become a Brooklyn cop with a waterfront beat by the time his new country entered the Great War. This portrait from the New York Police Museum shows young O’Dwyer in his patrolman days, when he encountered the fierce but small-time gangs of that era before Prohibition would make real organized crime possible. Two decades after this picture O'Dwyer was Brooklyn District Attorney when a high-level gangster named Abe "Kid Twist" Reles came to his offices under escort. Reles described the outlines of a secretive national organization called the Combination. With Reles's testimony, O’Dwyer sent seven Combination leaders to death row, most notably, Louis Lepke Buchalter. (Newspapermen called the newly discovered organization 'Murder Inc.') Mysteriously, O'Dwyer never even arrested Albert Anastasia, a Brooklyn waterfront racketeer and Lepke's coordinator for most Combination murders (including the strangling death of dock leader Peter Panto in 1939). When his famous turncoat witness, Abe Reles, plunged to his death from Coney Island's Half Moon hotel in 1941, any case against Anastasia also “went out the window,” O’Dwyer insisted down the years.

Despite the Anastasia omission, O'Dwyer's Murder Inc. prosecutions would make him Mayor of New York in 1945. But it was Mayor O'Dwyer, the ex-waterfront cop, who presided during the scandals caused by Mike Johnson's Pulitzer-prize winning series, "Crime on the Waterfront," which ran in the New York Sun in 1948-49. His failure to prosecute Anastasia while Brooklyn D.A. as well as a wartime visit he'd had with the Mafia leader and Tammany liaison Frank Costello would haunt O’Dwyer's political career, most dramatically on national television in 1951, when he appeared before the Kefauver commission crime hearings in New York.

photo/Dave Attie


  1. Quite a story...has it ever been credibly filmed?

  2. Peter Falk made a terrifying Reles in Murder Inc. (1960), which holds
    up pretty well for a movie made in the very last years of hardboiled b/w gangster films.