Kid Twist, real name Maxwell Zwerbach, was a ruthless killer, who rose up the ranks of the Monk Eastman mob, only to die because he decided to cheat on his wife.
Zwerbach was born in Austria in 1884. His Jewish father Adolf and half-Italian mother Hanna emigrated to New York in 1886 to escape the anti-Semitic riots. They took an apartment on Delancey Street, where Adolph opened a tailor shop. Adolph hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and alter clothes for a living, but Zwerbach, who was now called Kid Twist on the mean streets of the Lower East Side, had other ideas.
Twist started out as a petty thief, but soon he hooked up with the famous Monk Eastman gang, made up of Jews, who were constantly at war with Paul Kelly’s (Paulo Vaccarelli) Italian Five Pointers, over the Lower East Side rackets. Twist killed his way up the ranks, until Eastman installed him as his top lieutenant, along with Richie Fitzpatrick, another killer who took on an Irish last name.
In early 1903, Eastman had the misfortune of getting himself locked up in a Freehold, New Jersey jail, after he beat up a potential witness against a friend of his on the courthouse steps. When Twist heard of his bosses’ predicament, he rounded up fifty of his best thugs, with the intention of driving to New Jersey to bust Eastman out of jail. But before their cars could leave their Christie Street headquarters, a battalion of policemen, led by Inspector McCluskey, descended upon them and beat them with nightsticks back into their club. Twist decided to change tactics, and he contacted Eastman’s cronies in Tammany Hall. The crooked pols used their Jersey connections and Eastman was sprung the following day.
Eastman was not so lucky, when in 1904, he was arrested near Times Square for assault and robbery. This time Tammany Hall refused to come to his rescue. Eastman was tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years in the slammer. Twist thought he was now the rightful heir to Eastman’s throne, but Fitzpatrick had other ideas. Both men argued over who was the new boss. Finally, Twist told Fitzpatrick he had a great idea on how the rackets could be split down the middle, with both men having separate, but equal powers. Fitzpatrick thought this plan sounded just swell and he agreed to a meeting to work out the details.
On November 1, 1904, Twist enticed Fitzpatrick to the back room of the Sheriff Street Saloon, which oddly enough, was located on Christie Street. As soon as Fitzpatrick arrived, the lights went out and so did Fitzpatrick. He was shot twice through the heart by Kid Dahl, real name Harris Stahl, thus installing Twist as the number one man all by himself.
` As a result of Fitzpatrick’s sudden demise, Twist took over all of Eastman’s operations, which included several brothels and stuss card games, which was a variation of the popular card game faro. In a show of bravado, Twist announced to the world that “no wop and no mick would ever rule the Lower East Side of New York.” As a side money-maker, Twist championed his own brand of the popular “celery soda,” which was the only brand of celery soda allowed to be sold in the entire Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Even though Twist has several stuss games of his own, he coveted the one on Suffolk Street owned by the Bottler, which was under the protection of Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers. First, Twist approached the Bottler, and not in a very nice way, told him that he was now his partner, not Paul Kelly. Before the ink was dried on Twist’s verbal contract, he informed the Bottler that he was out completely and that Kid Dahl was now Twist’s partner in the Suffolk Street stuss parlor. This time the Bottler made a stand and refused to comply with Twist’s demands. So Twist imported Coney Islander Vach Lewis, known as Cyclone Louie, a professional circus strongman, who was famous for bending iron bars around his neck, and sometimes, around other people’s necks too.
While Twist was in the Delancey Street police station screaming at the desk sergeant over some trivial matter, and Kid Dahl was in a Houston Street restaurant arguing with the owner over what time it was, Cyclone Louie calmly walked into the Bottler’s stuss parlor and shot him twice in the chest, as twenty customers looked on in shock. With Twist and Dahl eliminated as suspects because of their contrived alibis, a few days later, Dahl strode into the Suffolk Street stuss parlor and announced to all that the stuss parlor was now his and Twist’s possession. All this did not please Paul Kelly too much and he waited for the right time to get back what was rightfully his.
On the night of May 14, 1908, Twist and Cyclone Louie decided to travel to Coney Island, to meet with the supposedly happily-married Twist’s girlfriend, dancer Carroll Terry. They were sitting inside the dance hall Terry performed in, when a kid rushed inside and told them Terry wanted to see them outside. As soon as their feet hit the pavement, they were blasted with bullets fired by Kelly henchman Louie “The Lump” Pioggi. It took only one slug to the brain to finish Twist, but Cyclone Louie, true to his reputation as a strong man, needed five bullets in his torso to render him quite dead.
When Terry showed up seconds later, Pioggi, a jilted suitor of hers, whipped a slug into her hip. She fell face forward, and landed across the body of her lifeless boyfriend, thereby putting a dent in the premise that “true love never dies.”