Louis “Lepke” Buchalter (February 6, 1897 – March 4, 1944) was an American mobster and head of the Mafia hit squad Murder, Inc. during the 1930s.

In 1936, Murder, Inc. killers, acting on Buchalter’s orders, gunned down a Brooklyn businessman and candy store owner named Joseph Rosen – a crime for which Buchalter was executed in 1941.

Buchalter became the only major mob boss to have been personally convicted and sentenced to receive the death penalty in the United States, after being convicted of a specific murder.

The 1975 film “Lepke”, starring Tony Curtis in the title role, was based on Buchalter’s life.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s the Hollywood.

Here’s the history:

Lepke’s Early Days

Buchalter took the nickname “Lepke” at an early age. The name was an abridgment of the diminutive “Lepkeleh” (“Little Louis” in Yiddish) that his mother had called him as a boy.

After his father died, his mother’s health began to fail. The doctors recommended she move to Arizona to improve her health, and Buchalter was left as his sister’s responsibility.

Immediately after Buchalter’s mother left New York, he ran away from his sister and never saw her again.

Buchalter began, at an early age, to work the streets of New York City.

When arrested as a child for breaking and entering, he was wearing stolen shoes – both for the same foot, and an unmatched pair. He was sent to the Catholic Protectory and labeled incorrigible.

By 1919 – at age 22 – Buchalter had served two terms in Sing Sing Prison.

On The Rise

Upon Buchalter’s release, he started working with his childhood friend, mobster Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro.

Through force and fear, they began gaining control of the garment industry unions on the Lower East Side. Buchalter then used the unions to threaten strikes and demand weekly payments from factory owners, while dipping into union bank accounts.

Buchalter’s control of the unions evolved into a protection racket, extending into such areas as bakery trucking. The unions were highly profitable, and he kept a hold on them even after becoming an important figure in organized crime.

Buchalter and Shapiro moved into new and fashionable luxury buildings at 135 Eastern Parkway.

Murder, Inc.

In the early 1930s, Buchalter joined Charles “Lucky” Luciano and other Mob bosses to form the “National Crime Syndicate.”

Luciano’s associates Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky formed Murder, Inc., the enforcement arm of the organization. Originally a band of Brooklyn killers, they were used to fulfill many Mob murder contracts.

Buchalter and his partner, Albert “the Executioner” Anastasia (a.k.a. “Mad Dog”), would take control over Murder, Inc. when Siegel and Lansky’s business endeavors became national.

Buchalter was responsible for contract killings throughout the country, including that of famous Mob hitman and bootlegger Dutch Schultz.

Lepke’s Downfall

Buchalter’s downfall began in the mid-1930s, when he went underground to elude the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which wanted him on a narcotics charge), and New York City special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, who wanted him tried for Syndicate activities.

Lepke surrendered to the federal government, in exchange for not being turned over to Dewey. An urban legend spread that he surrendered to both the famed news columnist Walter Winchell and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Buchalter was sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas for 14 years, for narcotics trafficking.

After he was convicted on the narcotics trafficking charges, Buchalter was turned over to Thomas Dewey on racketeering charges – which resulted in a sentence of 30 years to life.

Out of the Frying Pan…

Even more serious legal problems and consequences followed in 1940.

The state of New York indicted Lepke for a murder committed four years earlier, on September 13, 1936. On that day, Murder Inc. killers, acting on Buchalter’s orders, gunned down a Brooklyn candy store owner named Joseph Rosen.

Rosen was a former garment industry trucker whose union Buchalter took over, in exchange for ownership of a Sutter Avenue candy store. Rosen had provoked Buchalter’s wrath by failing to heed warnings to leave town.

Although no proof exists that Rosen was cooperating with the District Attorney, Buchalter nevertheless believed it to be true, and sanctioned his death.

Buchalter’s order for the Rosen hit had been overheard by Abe Reles, who turned state’s evidence in 1940 and implicated Buchalter in four murders.

Returned 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 am on November 30, 1941, finding Buchalter guilty of first degree murder – the penalty for which 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 commission of the Rosen murder: Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss, and Louis Capone (no relation to Al Capone).

Conviction and Execution

The New York Court of Appeals, on review of Buchalter’s case, upheld his conviction and death sentence in October 1942, by a vote of 4-3.

The United States Supreme Court granted Buchalter’s petition to review the case, and in a full opinion affirmed the conviction, 7-0, with two justices abstaining. In the Supreme Court, Buchalter was represented by Arthur Garfield Hays, a leader of the trial bar who was general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and had a private practice consisting of wealthy, powerful clients.

At the time of the affirmation of his conviction, Buchalter was serving his racketeering sentence at Leavenworth Federal Prison.

New York State authorities demanded that the federal government turn Buchalter over, for execution. Buchalter resisted, managing to remain in Kansas and out of New York’s hands until extradited in January 1944.

After his last appeal for clemency was rejected, Louis Buchalter was executed on March 4, 1944 in the electric chair a Sing Sing.
On the same day, a few minutes before Buchalter’s execution, his lieutenants Weiss and Capone were also executed.

Louis Buchalter was buried at the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens.

And that was all she wrote.

And all I wrote, for this one.

I hope to see you, for our next story.

Till then.