Louis “Lepke” Buchalter was born in 1897 to a Jewish-American family that was living in Manhattan. He was the man at the helm of the infamous Murder, Inc. hit squad.
Destined for Trouble
Almost every family has one of these: the proverbial ‘black sheep’ of the family. This is the only phrase that can adequately describe young Louis because he had three brothers all of whom turned out to be respectable members of the society. Somehow he chose not to follow in their footsteps.
Lepke began his criminal antics when he was just a teen and like many lawbreakers he started with burglary. By the end of 1922, he had been incarcerated in three different institutions and while behind bars he perfected his delinquency.
When he was finally back on the streets again, Lepke went in search of his childhood friend and fellow mobster Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. Together they targeted the garment district by extorting money from factory owners under the threat of strikes.
They harassed unions into playing along and were able to profit from them and the factory owners. The operation was so lucrative that he and his partner in crime could afford to live large and irrespective of what other criminal activities they ventured into, they always kept one foot in the garment business.
During the early 30’s the Cosa Nostra was having trouble getting rid of some people without leaving a trail. This is where Buchalter and Shapiro’s true talent revealed itself as they provided the mob with a solution.
The plan was to have the mob relay their kill orders to Buchalter through his friend and mobster Albert Anastasia. Buchalter and Shapiro would then contract street gangs of Jewish and Italian descent to pull off the hits.
The scheme was pure genius as neither Buchalter and Shapiro nor the Cosa Nostra could at the time be directly linked to the murders. Unknown street criminals were left to take the fall and Louis and his colleague continued to make millions of dollars every year.
So large was this operation that it came to be referred to as Murder, Inc. and it was suspected that the duo had about 250 people on its payroll. What’s more, the hit squad has been credited with the assassination of Dutch Schultz, a well-known New York mob boss.
Buchalter was married to Betty Wasserman who had been previously married and had a child from that marriage. It is believed that he raised the child as his own and adopted him/her.
The Inevitable End
Ironically when things began to fall apart for Louis Buchalter it wasn’t for Murder, Inc. He was convicted of trading in rabbit-skin fur in an illegal manner but he chose to jump bail and live on the run instead of going back behind bars.
While on the run, he was accused of trying to smuggle heroin into the United States but in spite of the gravity of the charges Louis would not give himself up. He lived as a fugitive for almost three years and there was a bounty of $25,000 on his head.
Lepke finally surrendered to the Feds on August 24, 1939 and he was charged with narcotics trafficking and labor extortion. Things got worse for him when he was convicted of first degree murder for the death of candy store owner Joseph Rosen and three other people.
Although he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, the ruling was upheld and on March 4, 1944, he was strapped to the electric chair at Sing Sing prison, New York.