Murder Incorporated

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Louis "Lepke" Buchalter

Buchalter was the only mob boss ever to die in the electric chair. He started out as a push cart shoplifter and ended up as one of the most powerful Jewish gangsters ever.

Lepke was nasty. The kind of guy who runs out and stomps on the head of an unconscious man. To that end, he became the master of the protection racket. He started by using his mastadonic friend Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro to rough up union delegates in the garment district of Manhattan; unions which had only just been formed ten years earlier. Lepke used the unions to threaten strikes, and demanded weekly payments from factory owners. He also raided the union bank accounts through his puppet delegates.

Kalvin Klein With a Blow Torch and a Tommy GunAfter a few years of working over the sweatshop owners in the garment district, Lepke was pulling in the cash like a gardener raking in fall leaves. Soon, he branched out into a more general protection racket. Other gangsters worked this angle all over New York. What made Lepke stand out was his intolerance of those who wouldn't pay protection money. In someone else's territory, if a mark didn't pay up, they'd get their legs broken. But with Lepke, if someone didn't pay, they were simply killed. No one got a second chance. Not only would Lepke's boys kill shopkeepers, but they'd usually set the places on fire after the owners were disposed of, and sell off the merchandise to their friends.

No one knows exactly how many people were killed or how many businesses were burned on Buchalter's orders. It's said that he sentenced thousands to their demise during prohibition. His eventual undoing was a stool pigeon who said that Buchalter was behind two out of every three arsons in Manhattan.

Buchalter's protection scheme shot him to the top of the crime world. By 1929, he attracted the attention of Salvatore Maranzano Maranzano coveted the stacks of cash Lepke was pulling in each week and wanted to move in on the operations with full force. So Buchalter went to talk to an old friend: Lucky Luciano.

First, Luciano sent Bugsy Siegel, Joe Adonia, Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia to kill Maranzano's rival, Joe Masseria. Then he took out Maranzano. Then, he took over the world.
Board Member ExtrordinaireFor his support, Buchalter was awarded an honorary seat on the board of the National Crime Syndicate (despite Luciano's open minded policies, no Jews could actually sit on the board). He was also allowed to keep ahold of his protectorate. By the middle 30's, Lepke's rackets were pouring in cash and no one in New York dared to cross him. His reputation for comissioning hits made him a terror.

Lepke started attracting a lot of attention from the feds during the early 30's. He usually got off thanks to bribed federal judges, but in 1939, he was fingered by former Murder Inc. employee Abe Reles. Reles turned state's evidence after he was bagged for a murder he couldn't shrug off. He immediately began singing, and fingered Lepke as a major player in 4 murders.

Buchalter hid out in New Jersey in a specially made safe house filled with trap doors and false walls. The place was owned by a woman named Mrs. Walsh, and it was built in the 20's by her husband who used it to hide from Lepke Buchalter. Mrs. Walsh took care of Lepke in 1939 because she never knew that he was the man who had ordered her husband's death.
In 1940, Albert Anastasia began lobbying with Buchalter to surrender to federal authorites to answer on federal narcotics charges that were being brought against him. The plan was to fix the federal trial and avoid the charges of murder in New York.

It didn't work. He was handed over to the New York police immediately following his surrender. Abe Reles sang like a canary in court, and Lepke was sent to the electric chair. Once his appointed date of demise came, he stormed into the chamber, thumped himself down in the chair and didn't move or say a word after. He died in two minutes, covering himself in drool in the process.


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