Jacob Shapiro was born on May 5, 1899, in Odessa, Russia. His family emigrated to the United States, settling in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Shapiro began committing petty crimes in his teens, and met his future partner, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, when both boys attempted to rob the same pushcart. Rather than compete, the two formed a partnership. Buchalter served as the brains of the operation and Shapiro served as the brawn. They moved into the business of labor slugging during the 1920s, eventually wresting control of New York City away from gang leader Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen and his bodyguard and associate, Jack “Legs” Diamond, following the assassination of Orgen on October 15, 1927.
During the 1930s, Buchalter and Shapiro headed the infamous contract murder company Murder Inc. Their primary client was the National Crime Syndicate founded by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. By 1935, Shapiro and his associates came under increasing pressure from New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey. In 1936, Shapiro was convicted of violating federal trade laws and was sentenced to two years in prison. He stayed in hiding for a year, but eventually turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1938. In 1944, Shapiro was convicted of extortion and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He died of a heart attack in 1947 at Sing Sing Prison. His nickname “Gurrah” was derived from his slurred manner of saying, “Get out of here!”
Jacob Shapiro, 2009
Mixed Media Silkscreen on Paper
19″ x 29″