“Knadles” is not a fearsome nickname.
It is a German potato dumpling dish.
Sort of funny, in a way.
But Irving “Knadles” Nitzberg was no joke.
Nitzberg was not an especially successful gangster, never rising to more than a button man. Yet he did achieve notoriety in Brooklyn in the late 1930s for a sensational murder.
Nitzberg was Bronx muscle, brought in as a triggerman on a contract killing by the Murder Inc. crew from Brownsville, mainly because Knadles’ mug was not well known in Brooklyn.
The murder drew national media attention. The target was Albert “The Plug” Shuman, an unsavory underworld character. According to the morning edition of The Milwaukee Journal on January 11, 1939, “Shuman was credited with originating the expression ‘Shoot ‘em twice in the back of the neck and they won’t wiggle’.”
And that’s exactly how it went down.
Seated behind Shuman in a stolen vehicle, Knadles plugged “the Plug” with multiple slugs to the back of his head while they were riding together in a car through the streets of Downtown Brooklyn.
Shuman was a hood helping authorities build a racketeering case against gang lord Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. When Shuman got into the front seat of that stolen car, driven by henchman Albert Tannenbaum, he was fully convinced they were heading to pull a score. Instead he caught two bullets to the back of the head fired by Knadles Nitzberg.
Knadles was later arrested and put on trial for the murder, ratted out by former Murder Inc. mainstay Abe “Kid Twist” Reles who was cooperating with federal authorities to escape a death sentence. By the time it came to try Knadles, testimony provided by Reles had already sent several other Murder Inc. contract killers to the electric chair at Sing Sing.
Knadles was now on deck.
Nitzberg received a brief reprieve, and not the kind signed by the New York State governor.
Convicted of first-degree murder on May 23, 1941, Knadles was sentenced to die in the electric chair. However, the New York State Court of Appeals overturned the conviction when testimony used by non-accomplices, who were promised leniency, was brought into question.
In a second trial, the testimony from star witness Abe “Kid Twist” Reles had to be read back to the jury, for a very good reason. Reles had flown the coop, literally. Stashed away at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, Reles mysteriously fell out a window in an attempted “escape.”
At least that’s the story given by the five policemen guarding Reles.
No one was ever held accountable for Reles’ death, but there were rumors. It wasn’t Knadles’ doing. He didn’t have that kind of pull. The most plausible explanation is that the Reles “escape attempt” was orchestrated by Albert “Lord High Executioner” Anastasia, when the Murder Inc. mob boss realized it was only a matter of time before the government sicced the rat Reles on him.
So Knadles beat the case and was unleashed back onto the streets of Brooklyn, where he fell right back into a life of crime, mostly low-level loansharking and thieving before disappearing from the public record.