Most people remember Murder Inc. and their boss, “The Lord High Executioner” Albert Anastasia. Not as many remember remember that Albert had a partner from the Jewish mob who was his equal in ordering the hits. That man was Louis “Lepke” Buchalter who also also sat on Lucky Luciano’s National Crime Syndicate.
Like A Little Lepkeleh
Louis Buchalter didn’t get the name Lepke from his mob days, the pet name “Lepkeleh” was given to him as a little boy by his mother Rose. The name stuck all throughout his childhood, but his American friends altered it to Lepke for short. Lepke’s family was from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He had a sister and three brothers.
The Buchalter family was a very successful clan. Their father Barnett owned a local hardware store and made a good living for an immigrant at the time. Lepke’s three brothers became a college professor, a pharmacist and a dentist. Unfortunately, Barnett died when Lepke was 12 in 1909. The loss devastated young Lepke, although he rarely showed it.
Buchalter did ok for a few years but beginning at 18, he was constantly in trouble with the law. He was first arrested for assault and burglary in 1915 and again for burglary in 1916. He did 2 years in Sing Sing prison before being arrested yet again on burglary charges in 1920. Lepke was proving to be the black sheep of his family and never looked back.
Lepke had a partner in crime, his name was Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. Lepke and Gurrah had met as kids when they butted heads trying to rob the same pushcart vendors. Buchalter was impressed with the kid’s toughness and persistence during the exchange. He knew Gurrah wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that he would have to coexist with him.
Shapiro was a couple years younger but he was a powerhouse, intelligent and fierce. Lepke saw him as someone worthy of partnering up with and together they quickly found more success together. Shapiro already had a reputation around the neighborhood
The Early Racketeers
The team of Buchalter and Shapiro got the attention of Jewish labor racketeering boss Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen. Orgen put the two youngsters to work infiltrating labor unions. Lepke and Gurrah were more ambitious than Little Augie was prepared for. As soon as they saw that they could feasibly take over Orgen’s operations, they killed him.
Lepke and Gurrah were soon very wealthy men. They took 100% control of New York’s garment industry. They could create problems for both unions and businesses, and would extort both. They had very few competitors at this time, even being a non Italian crew. At the time in the 1920’s, Jewish mobsters were just as prevalent as Italians and were often more wealthy.
The pair became friendly and started doing business with a young Italian garment industry racketeer named Tommy “Three Fingers Brown” Lucchese. Lepke was becoming very influential even among the Italian bosses in New York. He was dangerous but engaging and charming at the same time.
The Birth Of Murder Inc.
More and more, guys like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky looked to Lepke as an equal. He was a top level earner and also the guy to call if you want someone killed. He had a small army of killers at his disposal. There was the Brownsville Boys, a young Jewish gang of hitmen led by Abe “Kid Twist” Reles.
Abe Reles had some deadly partners, they were all young in the game but always ready. There was Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, the Murder Inc. member with the most killings, more than 100 and up to 500. “Mendy” Weiss and Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein were two other high ranking Brownsville Boys, Weiss worked for Lepke and was the link between the groups.
He also had the services of “Happy” Maione, Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando and the rest of the Italian hitmen from the Ocean Hills neighborhood in Brooklyn. The Ocean Hills gang and the Brownsville Boys together made a frightening combination, more than a dozen killers on the team. They took their orders from two men only, Lepke Buchalter and Albert Anastasia.
When Lucky Luciano formed the National Crime Syndicate in the early 1930’s, Albert and Lepke were elected. The Syndicate was formed with the idea of organizing all the Jewish and Italian outfits for a greater good. The wars of the 20’s had left hundreds dead and mobsters broke. The job of Murder Inc. was to kill anyone that got in the way.
There were so many “contracts” coming from the Syndicate that Lepke and Anastasia had to work full time fulfilling them. Albert was also the underboss of the Mangano Crime Family and a frightening man. He grew up killing people and now got to give the orders. He loved the power and did not mind the famous moniker “The Lord High Executioner”.
Albert and Lepke got along great however. Lepke and Lucky were the only two guys Albert had any respect for. He rode Lucky’s coattails early on, but definitely carved his own trail beyond that. Lucky used him for many hits in the 20’s, including the murder of Joe “The Boss” Masseria. Albert was originally one of the most feared hitmen in the mob.
Dutch & Dewey
The most powerful gangsters in the country were part of the Syndicate. You had Johnny Torrio and Al Capone from Chicago. You had Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky, Lepke Buchalter, Bugsy Siegel, Abner “Longie” Zwillman and of course bootlegger Dutch Schultz. For the Italians,you had Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Vincent Mangano and Albert Anastasia.
Everything ran smoothly for years until an ambitious young federal prosecutor named Thomas Dewey decided to take on the mob. Dewey went straight for Schultz, who became enraged and ready to take preemptive action. He informed fellow Syndicate members that he planned to kill Dewey. Luciano and the others demanded that he abandon the plan.
Dutch told the other Syndicate members he would kill Dewey with or without their approval. This was the first time a member of the board tried to defy the Syndicate. Knowing it would lead to a massive investigation and tons of press, the other bosses knew they had to take action and kill Dutch Schultz before he got to Dewey.
Murder Inc. hitmen Mendy Weiss and Charles “The Bug” Workman were given the massive contract of killing the dangerous and paranoid Schultz. They killed Schultz and his top lieutenants. Dewey’s distaste for Schultz was well known and the hope was that Dewey would take the one skull and go away happy. They collectively made a terrible assumption.
Instead of backing off, Dewey ramped up his efforts in particular against Luciano and Lepke. By the time he was done, there was no doubt that the Syndicate wished that they had let Dutch Schultz do the job. Luciano, possibly the most intelligent ganster in New York history got caught in a humiliating prostitution case. He got convicted and eventually deported.
Lepke and Jacob Gurrah Shapiro were charged and convicted of breaking antitrust laws in the garment industry rackets. Both guys went on the run after being tipped off early about the oncoming indictments. During this time they were using their Murder Inc. hit team to kill any potential witnesses, like candy store owner Joe Rosen who was suspected of working with Dewey.
The Decimation Of Murder Inc.
While on the run, Lepke was charged with importing heroin to the U.S.A. His contact in these days was his trusted partner Albert Anastasia. Other Syndicate members felt that Lepke being on the run was bringing unnecessary heat on all the other members. They all wanted him to turn himself in, only Albert Anastasia was supportive of him remaining on the lam.
The press covered the disappearance of Lepke, often reporting on alleged sightings all over the world. Dewey offered a $25,000 for information leading to his capture, as he was ready to tie Buchalter to a series of killings. At this point, the other Syndicate members formally requested that Anastasia get his old friend to turn himself in.
Anastasia basically suckered Lepke into thinking that he’d be given a deal where he only served a few years. Gurrah had already grown weary and turned himself in. Lepke went for the deal and was delivered right to F.B.I. chief J. Edgar Hoover. During his time on the run, he had laid low but never left the state of New York.
Then Abe Reles turned canary and ruined any chance that Lepke would ever get out of prison. Reles had the goods on Lepke and everyone else in Murder Inc. He’d gotten caught up in his own murder rap and decided to cooperate with the F.B.I. Reles tied Lepke to multiple murders, including the killing of Joe Rosen. Lepke was found guilty and sentenced to death.
On March 4, 1944, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter was executed in Sing Sing prison’s “Ol Sparky”. Executed with him that day were Murder Inc. killers Mendy Weiss and Louis Capone. The other Murder Inc. members Pittsburgh Phil Strauss, Buggsy Goldstein, Happy Maione and Frank the Dasher Abbandando had already been executed for their crimes.
The only member of Murder Inc. to escape the debacle was Albert Anastasia. Somehow Abe Reles fell out of a 6th story window right before he was set to testify against Anastasia. Kid Twist had been under 24/7 police guard when the incident happened. Anastasia went on to kill his boss Vincent Mangano, before getting killed in his barber’s chair in 1957.
Read more about Murder Inc. at mafiahitters.com