“I may have done a hundred things wrong, but my conscience is clear.” - Louis Buchalter
Buchalter was born in the Lower East Side section of Manhattan on February 6th 1897. His mother, Rose Buchalter, called him "Lepkeleh" (‘Little Louis’ in Yiddish), which later became ‘Lepke’. Louis Buchalter had one sister and three brothers; one brother eventually became a dentist, another brother a college professor and rabbi, and the third brother a pharmacist. His father, Barnett Buchalter, was a Russian immigrant who operated a hardware store on the Lower East Side and died in 1909 when Buchalter was twelve years old.
In 1910, Buchalter finished elementary school and started a job selling theatrical goods. Soon after, his mother moved to Arizona for health reasons, leaving him in the care of his sister Sarah.
On September 2nd 1915, Buchalter was arrested in New York for the first time for burglary and assault, (at the time of the arrest he was wearing stolen shoes, both for the same foot and an unmatched pair!), however the case was discharged.
In late 1915 or early 1916, he went to live with his uncle in Bridgeport, Connecticut where on February 29th 1916, Lepke was arrested on burglary charges and was sent to the Cheshire Reformatory for juvenile offenders in Connecticut, until July 12th, 1917. Then after a dispute with his uncle over wages, Buchalter moved back to New York City.
In the 1920’s he ganged up with a collection of mobsters engaged mainly in extortion and labour racketeering, but also murder. In 1927, Buchalter and Shapiro were arrested for the murder of Jacob Orgen and the attempted murder of bootlegger Jack Diamond, who was a criminal rival. However, the charges were later dropped due to the lack of evidence.
Buchalter was a quiet man who for years managed to avoid the publicspotlight. OnAugust20th1931hemarriedBettyWasserman, a British-born widow of Russian descent, at New York City Hall and adopted Betty's child from her previous marriage.
Around 1933 he allied with Lucky Luciano in founding the national crime syndicate. He put together his best killer-enforcers, under the command of such gunmen as Albert Anastasia and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, and established as a sideline an organization that would kill, beat or mutilate anyone (except syndicate members) for a price. As an associate would comment, “Lep loves to hurt people.” Buchalter created an effective process for performing contract killings for Cosa Nostra mobsters; it had no name, but the press 10 years later called it Murder, Inc.
None of these contract killers had any connections with the major crime families. If they were caught, they could not implicate their Cosa Nostra employers in the crimes. Buchalter used the same killers for his own murder contracts also. The Murder Inc. killers were soon completing jobs all over the country for their mobster bosses.
In 1935, law enforcement estimated that Buchalter and Shapiro had 250 men working for them, and that Buchalter was grossing over $1 million ($17,000,000 in current dollar terms) per year. They controlled rackets in the trucking, baking, and garment industries throughout New York. Buchalter also owned the Riobamba, a posh nightclub in Manhattan.
On November 8th 1936, Buchalter and Shapiro were convicted of violating federal anti-trust laws in the rabbit-skin fur industry in New York. While out on bail, both Buchalter and Shapiro disappeared which resulted in the federal government offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to their capture one year later. On November 13th, both men were sentenced while absent to two years in federal prison. On April 14th 1938, Shapiro surrendered to authorities in New York. However, Buchalter remained a fugitive.
Not until Aug. 24th 1939, did he surface again, tricked into surrendering to the FBI. Within a month he was convicted of narcotics conspiracy and sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison. The following year he was tried in New York for murder on the testimony of Abe Reles and another former associate. Convicted, he and two of his lieutenants, Mendy Weiss and Louis Capone, faced the electric chair at Sing Sing State Prison.
After the last appeals were rejected on March 4th, Buchalter had his wife read a message from him. It stated that he did not offer to talk and give information in exchange for any promise of commutation of his death sentence. On March 4th at 11:00 PM, Louis Capone was taken to the death chamber, Capone was declared dead at 11:05 PM. Mendy Weiss was strapped to the chair next and died in three minutes. Weiss was declared dead at 11:10 PM. Louis Lepke Buchalter died in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison on March 4, 1944 at 11:16 PM.
Buchalter was the first and only mob boss ever to be legally executed, and is buried at the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens.