On March 4, 1944, mobster Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, was executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York. Lepke was the leader of the country's largest crime syndicate dubbed “Murder, Inc.” throughout the 1930s. His downfall came when several members of his notorious killing squad turned states witness for the government. Buchwalter began his criminal career robbing pushcarts as a teenager. When he met Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro while trying to rob the same pushcart, the two quickly became a formidable team. With Shapiro's brute strength, the two established an extortion business, forcing pushcart owners to pay for protection. He and Shapiro then joined Jacob "Little Augie" Orgen's Lower East Side gang and turned their attention to bigger enterprises. They took over control of the garment unions and forced kickback payments from both the members and the employers. In the 1920s, they added liquor bootlegging and gambling and later began importing heroin and other narcotics.
He assembled a large team of hired killers to enforce his control. At one time, this team may have included as many as 250 hit men. Buchwalter also began to coordinate operations with the other mob bosses around the nation. With Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz, he virtually controlled organized crime throughout the country. In 1933 he started Murder, Inc. which was authorized to kill anyone (approved by the syndicate) for a profit.
His downfall started on September 13, 1936, when men acting on his orders, gunned down Joseph Rosen, a Brooklyn candy store owner. Although no proof exists that Rosen was cooperating with District Attorney Thomas Dewey, Buchalter nevertheless believed it to be true. Then on November 8, 1936, he and Shapiro were convicted of violating federal anti-trust laws. While out on bail, both Buchalter and Shapiro disappeared. On November 13, both men were sentenced while absent to two years in federal prison. On December 1, 1937, the fugitive Buchalter was indicted in federal court on conspiracy to smuggle heroin into the United States. On April 14, 1938, Shapiro surrendered to authorities in New York. However, Buchalter remained a fugitive.
Over the next two years, an extensive manhunt was conducted in both the United States and Europe. On July 29, 1939, Thomas Dewey requested that the City of New York offer a $25,000 reward for Buchalter's capture, citing a string of unsolved gangland murders. On August 24, 1939, Buchalter surrendered to FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in New York City. After his conviction on the federal narcotics trafficking charges, federal authorities turned him over to New York State for trial on labor extortion charges. On April 5, 1940, he was sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison on those charges. On May 9, 1941, Buchalter was arraigned in New York state court on the 1936 Rosen murder along with three other murders. After only four hours of deliberation the jury found him guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to death. He was executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison on March 4, 1944.
Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the author of numerous books that include Murder and Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California, 1849-1949. The book can be purchased at Amazon through the following link: