Died (apparent suicide) West Orange, NJ, Feb. 26, 1959.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as Zwillman advanced in rank within the Newark underworld, he had his first brushes with the law. He was arrested by the Newark Police Department on March 8, 1927, for assault and battery. The charge was later dismissed. In November 1928, an additional charge of assault and battery was filed against him, this time by the Essex County Sheriff's Office. Zwillman remained free until December 1930. He was convicted on the charge on Dec. 11, 1930, and was sentenced to six months in Essex County Penitentiary and a $1,000 fine.
Outwardly a fruit and vegetable dealer, Zwillman actually controlled much of the illicit alcohol flowing into the State of New Jersey during Prohibition. Around 1926, he had begun a close association with New York racketers Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, Morris Samuel "Dimples" Wolinsky and Benjamin "Cuddy" Kutlow, and also became acquainted with Mafiosi Willie Moretti, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, "Trigger Mike" Coppola, Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto, Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano, Gerardo Catena and Charles and Rocco Fischetti.
His underworld relationships were not always positive. Press reports discussed a rivalry between Zwillman, de facto political boss of Newark's Third Ward, and Ruggiero "Richie the Boot" Boiardo of the First Ward. At one point, Zwillman's Third Ward Political Club at Waverly and Avon Streets was held up by armed intruders, presumably Boiardo men. There followed a peace conference between the Newark factions, brokered by Mafia leaders.
With the end of Prohibition, Zwillman moved to 120 Hansbury Avenue and later to South Munn Avenue in East Orange from 1936 to 1946. On July 7, 1939, he married Newark native Mary Mendels Steinbach, previously divorced mother of a five-year-old son. The wedding was attended by 300 people, and the press indicated that most of the attendees were racketeers from eastern U.S. criminal syndicates. After returning from a honeymoon lasting 40 days, Zwillman found himself in a federal courtroom. Called as a witness before a Southern District of New York grand jury looking into the disappearance of Lepke Buchalter, Zwillman was asked about his business and business associates. He refused to answer the questions. Judge Johnson J. Hayes found Zwillman in contempt and sentenced him to six months in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal.
The Zwillman family moved to 50 Beverly Road in West Orange in 1946. Costly improvements made to the household in the following years caught the attention of federal investigators, who determined that the improvements could not have been paid for with the meager income Zwillman and his wife reported on their tax returns.
In the summer of 1950, Zwillman appeared before the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee for questioning in its investigation of organized crime in interstate commerce. At that time, Zwillman was regarded as the boss of the New Jersey underworld. His rackets included gambling operations and coin-operated vending and jukebox machines (a racket allegedly shared with Charlie Luciano). His legitimate business interests included Public Service "PS" Tobacco cigarette vending company (shared with Luciano's close friend Michael Lascari), Federal Automatic washing machine company, E&S Trading scrap iron company, A&S Trading machinery company and Greater Newark GMC Truck Sales Co.He was said to have considerable influence in politics and labor unions.
A first effort to prosecute Zwillman for tax evasion failed in summer 1953, when a federal grand jury would not indict. In the spring of 1954, Zwillman was indicted by a federal grand jury in Newark on two counts of income tax evasion. The charges related to tax returns filed by Zwillman and his wife in 1947 and 1948. Trial began before Judge Reynier J. Wortendyke Jr. in January 1956 and concluded with a hung jury on March 1.
In January 1959, an FBI microphone installed at Newark's Supreme Beverage Company overheard Zwillman men conversing about steps that were taken to ensure that Zwillman would not be convicted in the 1956 trial. Federal prosecutors early in February filed charges against Peter Dominick LaPlaca, Samuel "Big Sue" Katz and Edward A. Goodspeed for offering and paying bribes to two jurors in the 1956 Zwillman tax trial.
On Feb. 26, 1959, Zwillman was found dead in his West Orange home. That morning, his wife discovered his lifeless body suspended from its neck by an electrical cord tied to a basement rafter. She told police she recalled her husband getting up in the middle of the night complaining of chest pains. Zwillman had reportedly battled deep depression since Senate investigators recently began examining his role in the jukebox industry.
(See an expanded Zwillman article on the American Mafia website: The Capone of New Jersey - Abner 'Longie' Zwillman.)
- Abner Zwillman FBI files.
- Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee) hearings, Volume 12.
- New York Times archives.
- Washington Post archives.
- 1910 and 1940 U.S. Census.
- 1927 Newark City Directory.