Louis Buchalter

Louis Buchalter

Louis "Lepke" Buchalter (6 February 1897 – 4 March 1944) was a Jewish-American mobster of the 1930s. He is the only major mob boss ever to have been executed by state or federal authorities for his crimes.

Early career

Born in 1897 to Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Buchalter took on the nickname "Lepke" at an early age. The name was an abridgement of the affectionate diminutive "Lepkeleh" ("Little Louis" in Yiddish) his mother had called him when he was a small boy. By 1919, at the age of only 22, he had already served two prison terms.

Upon his release, he teamed up with his childhood friend, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, gradually gaining control of the garment industry unions on the Lower East Side. He used the unions to threaten strikes and demand weekly payments from factory owners while simultaneously dipping into union bank accountsFact|date=April 2007. His control of the unions later evolved into a general protection racket, extending into such areas as bakery trucking. The unions were an extremely profitable venture for him, and he kept a firm hold on them even after becoming an important figure in the organized crime world.


In the early 1930s, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Lepke, and John "Johnny The Fox" Torrio, (the former Chicago boss and mentor of Al Capone), formed a loose alliance. To take care of any problems that arose, Luciano's associates Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Meyer Lansky formed Murder, Inc. Originally a band of Brooklyn killers, they were highly effective and eventually used to fulfill most murder contracts. Control of the group soon passed to Lepke and Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, as Siegel and Lansky had larger concerns to deal with. Murder, Inc., the name given to it by the media in the 1940s, was credited with carrying out numerous contract killings throughout the country, including the slaying of Dutch Schultz.


As many as a hundred corpses have been attributed to LepkeFact|date=April 2007. Some of the hitmen at Lepke's disposal included Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, Seymour "Blue Jaw" Magoon, Frank "Dasher" Abbandando, Harry "Happy" Maione, Albert "Tick-Tock" Tannenbaum, and Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss (known as "Pittsburgh Phil" despite his having no known connection to that city). The killing of Dutch Schultz on 23 October 1935 was a major killing for the group, as was the murder of Louis "Pretty" Amberg the same day.


right|100px|thumb|DOJ mugshot of Louis Buchalter.

Buchalter's downfall began in the mid-1930s when he went on the run from both the FBI, who wanted to arrest him on a narcotics charge, and from New York City special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, who wanted him tried for his syndicate activities. He was tricked by a childhood friend into surrendering to the federal government in exchange for his not being turned over to DeweyFact|date=April 2007. Buchalter was sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas on a 14 year term for narcotics trafficking. The sentence was later extended to 30 years on account of Buchalter's involvement in union racketeering.

Even more serious legal problems and consequences followed for Buchalter in 1940. That year, the state of New York indicted him for a murder committed over four years earlier, on 13 September 1936. On Sunday morning, a crew of Murder, Inc. killers, acting on Buchalter's ordersFact|date=April 2007, had gunned down Brooklyn candy store owner Joseph Rosen. Rosen was a former garment industry trucker whom Buchalter had forced out of businessFact|date=April 2007. He had aroused Buchalter's ire by failing to heed Lepke's warnings to keep quiet and leave town. Rosen allegedly began threatening to expose Lepke and his vast crime operations to special prosecutor Thomas E. DeweyFact|date=April 2007.

Buchalter's order for the Rosen hit had been overheard by Abe Reles, who turned informant for New York State in 1940 and fingered Buchalter for four murders. Brought back from Leavenworth to Brooklyn to stand trial for the Rosen slaying, Buchalter's position was worsened by the testimony of Albert Tannenbaum. Four hours after they were handed the case, the jury arrived at a verdict at 2:00 a.m. on 30 November, 1941, finding Buchalter guilty of first degree murder. The penalty at the time for such a crime in the state of New York was death by electrocution. Also convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime were two of Buchalter's lieutenants who had participated in the planning and carrying out of the Rosen murder, Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss, and Louis Capone (no relation to Al).


Buchalter's conviction took place in December 1941, and the New York Court of Appeals, upon review of his case, upheld his conviction and death sentence in October 1942. At the time, Buchalter was serving his racketeering sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison, and New York state authorities demanded that he be turned over to them for execution. Buchalter resisted, managing to remain in Kansas and out of New York's hands until finally extradited in January 1944. Buchalter and his lieutenants Weiss and Capone were electrocuted within minutes of each other at New York's Sing Sing prison on 4 March 1944.

In popular culture

The 1975 film "Lepke", starring Tony Curtis, was based on his life story. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, he would also be portrayed by David Stewart in the 1960 film Murder Inc. , Gene Roth and Joseph Ruskin in "The Untouchables" as well as John Vivyan and Shepherd Sanders in "The Lawless Years" tv series.

Further reading

*Messick, Hank. "Lansky". London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
*Kavieff, Paul R. "The Life and Times of Lepke Buchalter: America's Most Ruthless Labor Racketeer", Barricade Books, 2006. ISBN 1-56980-291-2

External links

* [http://crimemagazine.com/buchalter.htm The Last Days of Lepke Buchalter] by Allan May
* [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9017861 Louis Buchalter] at [http://www.britannica.com Encyclopædia Britannica]
* [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAClepke.htm Spartacus Educational: Louis Lepke]
* [http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/louislepkebuchalter.htm Federal Bureau of Investigation - Freedom of Information Privacy Act - Reading Room: Louis "Lepke" Buchalter]
* [http://www.correctionhistory.org/singsing/ronaronsjewsofsingsing/lepke.html Louis "Lepke" Buchalter from Ron Arons' lecture "The Jews of Sing Sing"]

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