Mobsters in America – Louis "lepke" Buchalter: the only mob boss to be executed by the government

He was mean to the bone from birth. He cheated, coerced, and killed men with relish. In the end, for his many crimes, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter became toasted in the electric chair of Sing Sing.

Louis Buchalter was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on February 12, 1897. His parents were Russian Jews, and his father owned a hardware store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Buchalter led an uneventful life when he was a child. He would often walk the Williamsburg Bride with his father to accompany him to work. His mother affectionately called him “Lepkeleh”, which in Yiddish means “Little Louis”. His childhood friends shortened it to Lepke, a name that stuck with him for the rest of his life.

Lepke’s life took a turn for the worse when he was 13 years old. Her father died unexpectedly and her mother was so upset by the death of her husband that her health began to seriously deteriorate. Doctors told her that she needed a change of climate to restore her health, so Lepke’s mother left for Arizona, leaving Lepke in the care of her older sister. Lepke, deeply resentful of being abandoned, was impossible for his sister to control. He soon dropped out of school and began walking the streets of the Lower East Side, looking for trouble and, above all, finding it. He hung out with older mobsters, who taught him how to rob and rob, and rob old ladies of their valuables. In 1915, Lepke was caught robbing a store and sent to live with an uncle in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There he continued his practices as a thief and was eventually sent to a children’s reform school in Cheshire.

A few months later, Lepke, now just 16, was back roaming the streets of the Lower East Side. He started stealing pushcarts, and one day, he tried to steal a pushcart that was already being stolen by another street thug named Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. The two became fast friends and began a relationship that would last for the rest of their natural lives. Lepke and Shapiro teamed up and were the threat to downtown forklift owners. They tried to move the latter up to higher scores, but in 1918, Lepke was caught robbing a loft downtown and was sent to Sing Sing Prison with a five-year sentence as a result.

Lepke’s time in prison was the equivalent of a college education for criminals. When he was released in 1923, at the age of 25, he was now a hardened thug, with the knowledge to succeed in a life of crime. He teamed up again with his old friend Shapiro and they decided they could make a mint selling “protection” to bakeries all over New York City. Other thieves called them “The Gorilla Boys,” and Lepke and Shapiro convinced such top organizations as Gottfried’s, Levy’s, Fink’s, and California Pies that they could stop “crazy immigrants” from burning down their bakeries. Of course, the crazy immigrants were the “Gorilla Boys” themselves, and those who didn’t pay protection actually burned down their bakeries.

The next step for “The Gorilla Boys” was as schlammers or leg breakers for the unions. Under the direction of their boss, Little Augie Orgen, Lepke and Shapiro made a good living keeping the garment district union members in check. Orgen was upset by competition from Dopey Benny Fein, who was trespassing on Orgen’s union territories. So Orgen sent Lepke and Shapiro to shoot Fein straight. The duo cornered Fein in a Bowery bar, but were only able to wound him, while Shapiro took a bullet to the back. Orgen himself took over Fein soon after, cementing his control over the syndicates. But then Lepke and Shapiro had the bright idea to take care of their boss the same way Orgen did Fein. And so they did, dousing Orgen with lead on a Lower East Side street while Orgen’s bodyguard Jack “Legs” Diamond stood nearby, not doing a great job of protecting the boss from him.

Orgen’s murder propelled “The Gorilla Boys” to the big time. They became instant stars of the underworld, befriending such top mobsters as Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Dutch Schultz, Tommy Lucchese, and Lucky Luciano. His specialty was working on both ends of union agreements; blackmailing landlords into paying protection and charging high fees to union members, while getting a nice chunk for themselves from the top of an ever-growing pot of union cash. Industries such as the poultry business, the garment center, restaurants, and cleaning and dyeing businesses paid Lepke and Shapiro, who now had more than 250 goons working for them, an estimated $10 million a year just to stay in business. business. In order to show the government some legitimate income to justify their lavish lifestyles, Lepke and Shapiro—no longer called the “Gorilla Boys” but the “Gold Dust Twins”—acquired legitimate companies like Raleigh Manufacturing, the Pioneer Coat Factory, and Greenberg and Shapiro. .

Lepke, along with Luciano, Schultz, Lansky, Siegel, Costello, Anastasia, and Lucchese formed a national crime syndicate, which controlled all illegal activities in the Northeast and as far as the Midwest. Of course, for such an operation to continue to prosper and grow, sometimes dissidents, inside and outside the group, need to be “straightened out,” or in other words, killed. The syndicate put Lepke in charge of the murder department, with Anastasia, a crazy killer, as his underboss. They expertly ran what the press called “Murder Incorporated.” Lepke employed gunslingers like Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, Happy Maione, and Dasher Abbandando, among others, to travel wherever needed, to fix anyone who needed to be fixed.

Trouble came for Lepke on behalf of special counsel Thomas E. Dewey, who had already jailed Luciano on a trumped-up charge of prostitution. Dewey went after Lepke for his bakery racketeering deals, but Dewey fell the hardest when he got the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to build a case involving Lepke in a massive drug smuggling operation. Assuming that he was facing the big time in jail, Lepke went on the run. Anastasia hid him in various Brooklyn hideouts, while other syndicate members took care of his rackets.

Lepke’s actions had an adverse effect on the rest of his friends. J. Edgar Hoover, obviously unaware that Hitler and Mussolini were wreaking havoc around the world, called Lepke “the most dangerous man on earth.” As a result, a $50,000 bounty was placed on Lepke’s head. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia added to the heat when he ordered his police commissioner, Lewis J. Valentine, to start a “war on thugs.” Things got so bad that he sent a message to Luciano, who was chilling in the can, for some sage advice on how to handle the Lepke affair. Luciano decided that, for the common good, Lepke, after almost four years on the run, had to turn himself in and face the music.

The trick was how to convince a man, who was facing between 30 years and life in prison, to turn himself in and take his medicine like a man. Luciano, always the cunning fox, concocted a plan, whereby Moe “Dimples” Wolensky, a man Lepke trusted, convinced Lepke that a deal had been made with Hoover, that he would stand trial only on the narcotics charge and he would receive five years in prison. , at most. And if Lepke were to surrender directly to Hoover, Dewey would be completely out of the picture. Lepke had his doubts, and when he asked Anastasia for advice, Anastasia, who was obviously not involved in the deal, told Lepke, “This deal sounds crazy. As long as they can’t get you, they can’t hurt you.”

On August 5, 1940, gossip columnist and radio host Walter Winchell received a phone call at his all-night venue, the Stork Club, at 3 East Fifty-Third Street. A gruff voice on the other end of the phone said, “Don’t ask who I am, but Lepke wants in. Contact Hoover and tell him that Lepke wants a guarantee that he won’t be harmed if he turns himself in to Hoover.”

The next day, Winchell spoke on the radio. He said, in his usual breathy speech, like a machine gun firing from his mouth: “Your reporter is reliably informed that Lepke, the fugitive, is about to surrender, possibly this week. If Lepke can find someone he can trust, I’ve been told you’ll be coming in. The G-men authorize me to give Lepke the assurance of a safe delivery.

On August 24, 1940, Winchell received a phone call telling him to go to a drug store at Eighth Avenue and Nineteenth Street and sit in a phone booth in the back. At 9 p.m., a customer casually approached Winchell and told him to phone Hoover and tell him to be at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street at 10:20 p.m. Winchell himself was told to drive immediately to Madison Avenue. and Twenty Third Street. Winchell did as he was told, and at 10:15 a.m., Lepke, wearing a mustache as part of his costume, got into Winchell’s car. Minutes later, the two men got out of Winchell’s car and walked to a black limousine. Hoover was sitting alone in the back seat.

Winchell opened the back door of the limo and said, “Mr. Hoover, this is Lepke.”

Hoover said to Lepke, “How are you?”

Lepke told Hoover, “Nice to meet you. Come on.”

Almost immediately, Lepke knew that he had been tricked. Within a few days, Hoover told Lepke that there had been no conditional agreement for his surrender. Lepke was tried on the narcotics charge and sentenced to 14 years. But then the roof caved in on Lepke when, after his first trial, Hoover turned Lepke over to Dewey, to stand trial for the murder of an innocent idiot named Joe Rosen, whom Lepke had ordered killed in 1936. Rosen was killed because He threatened to go to Dewey and tell him that Lepke had robbed Rosen’s trucking business. As a result, Lepke’s guys fired 17 bullets at Rosen. At Lepke’s murder trial, a rat bite, including Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, testified that Rosen was killed on Lepke’s orders. After a brief deliberation by the jury, Lepke was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Lepke lost appeal after appeal for four full years, and was scheduled to be executed on March 2, 1944. Then suddenly, on the day he was to be executed, Lepke dropped a bombshell when he requested a meeting with the district of the New York City. Attorney Frank Hogan. Lepke told Hogan that he had information on political corruption that reached back to the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lepke was granted a 48-hour reprieve, and Hogan went to Dewey, who was now Governor of New York and the only one who could stop Lepke’s execution. Hoover told the story of Dewey Lepke. Dewey, who would later run unsuccessfully for the presidency, turned a deaf ear to Lepke, sealing his fate.

On March 4, 1944, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, knowing he had been set up by his best friends and without a trace of emotion or remorse, was executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison.

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