Saturday, December 30, 2006

1884 - 1908

Very little is known about Max Zweifach's past and his path taken from juvenile troublemaker to professional gunman. Born in Austria , he was another Brooklyn transplant seduced by the Lower East Side, he climbed the ranks quickly within Monk Eastman’s mob, ascending to Lieutenant, and historical references only offer sketches of a very short and violent life. Joining the Eastmans was the logical step for most delinquent young Jews with its offer of protection from the roving Irish and Italian mobs at a time when ethnic lines were sharply divided.

Zweifach was proved his worth when he held ground during the battle of Rivington Street when it exploded in September 1903, playing a pivotal role in the affair. Thanks to Zweifach’s tenacity, Monk Eastman was able to join up with his struggling gang members with a back up of fifty hoodlums at his heels to confront the Five Pointers.

Zweifach picked up the leadership torch in early 1904 when Eastman was sent to Sing Sing. The Eastman gang had split up into supporting factions due to an inner struggle for leadership, and blood was spilled as a result with a high ratio of Jews committed violence on each other for the first time.

With leadership finally under his control, Kid Twist continued to run Eastman's former affairs, furnishing protection to brothels, casinos, stuss parlors and dabbled in early forms of labor racketeering. He also kept the army of ' voter repeaters' for Tammany Hall in check. In some ways, Kid Twist was ushering in a new era in the way things operated, which would be soon perfected by his successor, Big Jack Zelig. He proved to be a persuasive and smooth talking leader, having a definite advantage over the burly and thuggish Eastman. He also managed to establish a very lucrative celery tonic monopoly in the neighborhood, a mixture of syrup and carbonated water that was a favorite among Jews at the time. He supplied all cafes, candy stores and restaurants, boasting proudly to his clients
“ No Irish or Italian would rule the Lower East Side of New York!”

The lights went out on Max Zweifach on May 14, 1908 in an age-old tale of being involved with the wrong girl. Though a wife and child waited for him nightly in Brooklyn, he was also sidestepping with a Canadian dancer named Carroll Terry. The problem was Ms. Terry was also seeing a hotheaded Five Pointer called Louis ‘The Lump’ Pioggi. Zweifach knew Carroll was the Lump’s gal, and probably relished the idea. Max’s charms must have worked as Carroll Terry dumped The Lump, preferring the company of the Kid. Suffice to say, Pioggi didn’t take too well to losing his sweetheart to a Jew, let alone a dirty Eastman.

A few days later Zweifach celebrated his romantic victory with his bodyguard, Samuel Teitsch, a Jewish circus strongman known as 'Cyclone Louie’, at a Surf Avenue saloon in Coney Island. Kid Twist was in high spirits as his girl was meeting him shortly, and the couple was set to hit Luna Park to share cotton candy and kisses. A note was delivered telling him Carroll Terry was waiting outside. As the two exited the saloon, the Kid probably whistled without a care as he headed out into the warm spring afternoon sun. The Lump was waiting, armed with two revolvers. Before even realizing an ambush was in place, Zweifach was shot point blank through the temple and died instantly. Cyclone Louis almost lived up to his reputation, taking five bullets before finally stumbling and succumbing a few yards away. In the midst of all the ensuing chaos, lady Terry had just arrived to find her beau face first on the pavement with a bullet in his brain. Before she even had a chance to gather her wits and let out the proverbial scream, Louis The Lump shot her through the hip in a panic. In a somewhat fitting and wryly operatic finale, Terry fell over top her murdered suitor as The Lump scrambled off.

On the surface, Zweifach’s killing seemed like the violent end result a personal vendetta, but something more complex than a simple murderous love triangle was probably at hand. Kid Twist was shot in broad daylight on a crowded street where witnesses were of no concern, and the police handled the affair lightly. It was the assassination of a rival leader; a powerful message sent from the Five Pointers, some of who were seen lurking around Surf Avenue minutes before Zweifach was killed.

Thanks (again) to author Rose Keefe in providing Zweifach's year of birth and proper spelling of his last name.


Dominic Bugatto said...

Interesting story , and great portrait to boot.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for the credit. The year of birth is actually 1884, not 1888 ;)


Pat Hamou said...

oops - changed and thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Actually, according to The Encyclopedia of American Crime, Twist was born in 1882 not 1884.

Additionally, The New York Times article reporting his death [Friday, March 15th, 1908], has his name spelled Zweibach not Zweifach.

This article is available in PDF format here:

I realize that newspapers have often printed incorrect information, but I thought I'd at least post actual citation. (As outlandish as that seems...)

Anonymous said...

Max Zweifach was my grandfather. According to my father,now deceased, Zwifach is the correct spelling.

Sadie, his legal wife, had the name legally changed to Fox in 1918. My father was born October 17, 1908.

I'm hoping someone will have other pics/information about him.

Anonymous said...

Max's sister was my great-grandmother. Her marriage license spells it Zweifach -- so I think this is just a standard case of assimilation confusion, where different folks adopt/impose different spellings.

Would love to get in touch with the person who is Max's grandson...

How can we get in touch?

Pat Hamou said...

You should reach out to author Rose Keefe - she presently working on a Monk Eastman / Kid Twist book and is in touch with members of the Zweifach family...