Born to an immigrant family on New York City’s Lower East Side on February 6, 1897, Louis Buchalter was known to family and friends alike as “Lepke,” a shortened version of his childhood nickname. By the age of 22 he had served two prison terms, but his criminal career was only beginning. Released from jail in 1919, Buchalter reunited with his childhood friend and partner in crime, Jacob Shapiro, and went to work leading a labor slugging gang under Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen. (Labor sluggers provided enforcers to either management or unions during the frequent labor strikes of the early 20th century.) Shapiro and Buchalter eventually deposed Orgen (assassinating him in 1927) and continued to rise up the criminal ranks. Eventually Buchalter and Shapiro took control of Murder Inc., the contract killing arm of the National Crime Syndicate.
By the 1930s, Buchalter had caught the attention of both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey. Buchalter surrendered to the federal authorities to avoid facing prosecution from Dewey. He was convicted for his role in a narcotics trafficking ring and sent to Leavenworth Prison. Unfortunately for Lepke Buchalter, this conviction did not slow down Dewey. The district attorney successfully prosecuted Buchalter for the murder of Joseph Rosen, a Brooklyn candy store owner who had threatened to testify against Buchalter and Jacob Shapiro. Buchalter was extradited to New York in 1944, and on March 4, 1944, he was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison. He remains to this day the only major organized crime boss executed by state or federal authorities.
Louis Buchalter, 2009
Mixed Media Silkscreen on Paper
19″ x 29″