Outside of the disappearance and execution of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, the state of Michigan’s most infamous unsolved mob assassination might be the so-called “Siamese Twins Slayings,” the double homicide of notorious Purple Gang hit men Abe Axler and Eddie Fletcher, which took place on a barren suburban Detroit road in the early morning hours of November 27, 1933. A heavily-feared tandem of assassins sporting matching lengthy police rap sheets, Axler and Fletcher were found shot to death around 2:00 a.m. in the back seat of a brand new Chrysler automobile at the corner of Telegraph and Quarton Roads in Bloomfield Twp. Michigan, following a night of partying in the nearby city of Pontiac. Hoffa vanished from a parking lot less than a mile south from where the pair of Purples were killed.

Imports to the Motor City from New York a decade earlier, Axler and Fletcher were generally considered the murderous Purple Gang’s top two strong-arms, known on the streets as “The Siamese Twins,” for their constant companionship and eerie kinship. Purple Gang bosses assigned them the syndicate’s toughest enforcement assignments.

Axler and Fletcher were prime suspects in several area homicides prior to their own deaths and named the Detroit Police Department’s “Public Enemies No. 1 and No. 2” in the months leading up to their grisly demise. When a township employee discovered their bullet-riddles bodies they were placed side-by-side, their hands intertwined – believed to have been a message and a reference to how the pair lived and died as a duo. Nobody was ever charged with the murders.

The Purple Gang was a predominantly Jewish mob, an organized crime faction that controlled their territory in the Midwest during the height of Prohibition with an iron fist. Headquartered out of the Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit, the Purples held underworld interests all over the state of Michigan and accounted for more than 500 vicious murders in a financially-prosperous reign that lasted less than a decade.

The gang even farmed out their services to friends and associates not living in Michigan. Such was the case with Al Capone’s St. Valentine Day’s Massacre in Chicago in February 1929, where according to federal law enforcement records Capone’s reached out to the Purples for aid in setting up and carrying out the bloodletting of seven rivals from the Windy City’s Irish mob. Fletcher, a one-time aspiring boxer in New York in his younger days, was one of the Purples believed to have participated in the mass-murder conspiracy, seen in Chicago in the vicinity of the massacre at the time it occured

Despite quietly disbanding in the years following Prohibition being repealed, the Purples emerged as an iconic symbol of gangland culture and American pop culture in general for decades to come, featured in Elvis Presley songs (Jailhouse Rock), hit television shows (The Untouchables) and James Bond novels (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever and The Man with The Golden Gun).

Paul Kavieff, the preeminent expert on the Purple Gang in Detroit, explains that all was not well with the high-profile group of Jewish mobsters at the time of Axler’s and Fletcher’s slayings.

“The murders of Axler and Fletcher foreshadowed the end of their reign,” said Kavieff, author of three books dealing with the Purples. “They were killing each other off. The conclusion of Prohibition and internal squabbling did the gang in. A lot of the main guys were either imprisoned or getting out of the rackets and retiring. The others started to fight over what was left.”

In the hours before they showed up dead, Axler and Fletcher were seen cavorting at a Pontiac beer garden. They were observed leaving the beer garden around midnight, departing in Axler’s new car with another pair of men, thought by law enforcement at the time to be fellow Purple Gang hit men, Harry (H.F.) Fleisher and Harry Millman.

Informants told police that Axler and Fletcher had fallen out of favor with the Purples’ leadership over their subversive and wild behavior, the final straw being a legitimate business deal that saw them swindle their bosses out of hundreds of shares of stock. According to FBI records, Fleisher and Millman were two of the men thought to be double-crossed in the transaction and were the top suspects in the crime.

Millman, a young, strapping and ambitious protégé of a number of core Purple Gang members (including gang founders, the four Burnstein brothers), was brutally slain himself almost four years later to the day. On the evening of November 24, 1937 (Thanksgiving night), Millman was gunned down in a crowded Detroit tavern, killed by two members of Murder, Inc., the New York mob’s enforcement branch summoned from the east coast to carry out the job by the local Italian mafia, which Millman feuded with after the Purples broke up.

Fleisher, one of the original Purple Gangers, died a free man of natural causes in the late 1970s, having served prison time for crimes unrelated to the Siamese Twins Slayings. In the Purples’ heyday, H.F., a childhood best friend of the Burnsteins’, was one of the organization’s go-to hit men and enforcers.

End Notes: Paul Kavieff contributed to this article, the photo is of Eddie Fletcher (R) and Abe Axler (L) at a court appearance in 1931

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