Gangsters in America – Louis "Lepke" Buchalter: the only mob boss executed by the government
He was bad to the bone since he was born. He swindled, armed himself strong, and killed men with delight. In the end, for his many crimes, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter became a toast in Sing Sing’s electric chair.
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 a quiet life as a child. He often walked through the Williamsburg Bride with his father to accompany him to work. His mother affectionately called him “Lepkeleh”, which is Yiddish for “Little Louis”. His childhood friends shortened him 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 distraught over her husband’s death that her health began to seriously deteriorate. Doctors told him that he needed a change of weather to regain his health, so Lepke’s mother left for Arizona, leaving Lepke in charge of his older sister. Lepke, deeply resentful of being abandoned, was impossible for his sister to control. He soon dropped out of school and started walking the streets of the Lower East Side, looking for problems and mostly finding them. He connected with older gangsters, who taught him how to rob and rob, and how to kidnap old women for their valuables. In 1915, Lepke was caught robbing a store and sent to live with an uncle in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There he continued his thieving ways and was eventually sent to a children’s reformatory in Cheshire.
A few months later, Lepke, now just 16 years old, was back wandering the streets of the Lower East Side. He started stealing handcars and one day, he tried to steal a handcart that was already being stolen by another street thug named Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. The two quickly became friends and began a relationship that would last for the rest of their natural lives. Lepke and Shapiro teamed up and were the threat from the downtown pushcart owners. They tried to scale the latter 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 bully, 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 by selling “protection” to bakeries throughout New York City. Other criminals called them “The Gorilla Boys,” and Lepke and Shapiro convinced big companies like Gottfried’s, Levy’s, Fink’s and California Pies that they could stop “crazy immigrants” from setting their bakeries on fire. Of course, the crazy immigrants were the “Gorilla Boys” themselves, and those who didn’t pay protection actually set their bakeries on fire.
The next step for “The Gorilla Boys” was as slammers or legbreakers for the unions. Under their boss, Little Augie Orgen, Lepke and Shapiro made a living by keeping union members from the garment district at bay. Orgen was upset by the competition from Dopey Benny Fein, who was entering Orgen’s union territories. So Orgen sent Lepke and Shapiro to right Fein with bullets. The duo cornered Fein in a Bowery bar, but were only able to wound him, while Shapiro was shot in the back. Orgen himself took over Fein shortly after, consolidating his control over the unions. But then Lepke and Shapiro had the brilliant idea to take care of their boss the same way Orgen did Fein. And that’s what they did, filling Orgen with lead on a Lower East Side street, while Orgen’s bodyguard, Jack “Legs” Diamond, was around, not doing much to protect his boss.
Orgen’s murder propelled “The Gorilla Boys” in a big way. They instantly became stars in the underworld, hooking up with mob greats like 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 homeowners into paying protection and charging union members high fees, while squeezing out a good chunk of the top of a growing pot of union cash. Industries like the poultry business, the garment center, restaurants, and cleaning and dieting businesses, paid Lepke and Shapiro, who had more than 250 thugs working for them, an estimated $ 10 million a year just to stay in the business. business. 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 businesses such as Raleigh Manufacturing, 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 even 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 mad Anastasia as his deputy chief. They expertly ran what the press called “Murder Incorporated.” Lepke employed gunmen like Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, Happy Maione, and Dasher Abbandando, among others, to travel where needed, to straighten out anyone in need of grooming.
Trouble came for Lepke on behalf of special counsel Thomas E. Dewey, who had already incarcerated Luciano on a fabricated prostitution charge. Dewey went after Lepke for his extortion deals at the bakery, but Dewey was tougher with the hammer when he got the Federal Narcotics Bureau to build a case involving Lepke in a massive drug smuggling operation. Assuming he was facing a big moment in the slammer, Lepke ran away. Anastasia hid it in various Brooklyn hideouts, while another union member tended 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, said that Lepke was “the most dangerous man in the world.” As a result, a $ 50,000 reward was offered 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 against the bullies.” Things got so bad that a message was sent to Luciano, who was cooling his heels on the can, for 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 give himself up and face the music.
The trick was to convince a man, who was facing 30 years in life in prison, to turn himself in and take his medicine like a man. Luciano, always the cunning fox, came up with a plan whereby Moe “Dimples” Wolensky, a man Lepke trusted, convinced Lepke that a deal had been made with Hoover, that he would only be tried for narcotics and They would put him in jail for five years. , 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 in the deal, told Lepke, “This deal sounds crazy. As long as they can’t catch you, they can’t hurt you.”
On August 5, 1940, gossip columnist and radio host Walter Winchell received a phone call at his nightly lot, the Stork Club, at 3 East Fifty-Third Street. A hoarse voice on the other end of the line said, “Don’t ask who I am, but Lepke wants to come in. Contact Hoover and tell him that Lepke wants a guarantee that he won’t be harmed if he surrenders to Hoover.”
The next day, Winchell got on the radio. He said, in his usual choppy tone, like a mouth-fired machine gun: “Your reporter is reliably informed that Lepke the fugitive is on the brink of surrender, possibly this week. If Lepke can find someone in whom you can trust, I am told you will come in. I am authorized by the G-men that Lepke is assured of safe delivery. “
On August 24, 1940, Winchell received a phone call telling him to go to a pharmacy on Eighth Avenue and Nineteenth Street and to sit in a phone booth in the back. At 9 p.m., a customer casually approached Winchell and told him to call Hoover and tell Hoover 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, 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 headed for 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 said to Hoover, “Nice to meet you. Come on.”
Almost immediately, Lepke knew he had been misled. Within days, Hoover told Lepke that there had been no conditional agreement for his surrender. Lepke was tried for narcotics and sentenced to 14 years. But then the roof fell 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 ordered killed in 1936. Rosen was killed because he threatened Going to Dewey and telling him that Lepke had stolen Rosen’s trucking business. As a result, the Lepke boys fired 17 bullets at Rosen. At Lepke’s murder trial, a rat bitten, including Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, testified that Rosen was killed on Lepke’s orders. After a brief jury deliberation, Lepke was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Lepke lost appeal after appeal for a full four years, and was scheduled to be executed on March 2, 1944. Then suddenly, on the day he was to be executed, Lepke dropped a bomb when he requested a meeting with the city’s district. from New York. Attorney Frank Hogan. Lepke told Hogan that he had information on political corruption reaching the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lepke obtained a 48-hour clemency and Hogan went to see 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 president, turned a deaf ear to Lepke, sealing his fate.
On March 4, 1944, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, knowing that his best friends had toughened him up and without a trace of emotion or remorse, was executed in the electric chair in Sing Sing Prison.