Wherever the reader may stand on the issue of capital punishment, do you think death penalty protesters would be out in full force picketing against the execution of Louis Lepke Buchalter if it were to take place today? Without disavowing their principled opposition to capital punishment, might not quite a few of them elect to forgo a public demonstration in the case of the chief Murder Inc. executioner?

Certainly Lepke's criminal history would constitute a challenge putting to the test the faith of death penalty foes that the state and society ought not emulate killers.

Buchalter headed for six years the national crime syndicate's enforcement arm-- dubbed Murder, Inc. by newspapers. The body count reputed directly to Lepke himself has been figured at as many as 100 while the body count attributed to the executioners under his direction has been estimated in the hundreds, perhaps even a thousand. Other estimates put the figures for Lepke personally and Murder Inc. as a group considerably lower yet still horrendous.

Nevetheless, even back in March of 1944, there were a few people -- out of a deeply-held faith, or a sense of professional duty, or a feeling family loyalty and/or love -- who sought to extend Lepke's life beyond the scheduled execution date by gaining a delay, a postponement, a reprieve, or a commutation.

Sing Sing's Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Jacob Katz, had asked the governor to delay the execution at least one more day so it would not fall on the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, March 4. The rabbi said he wanted to be there for Buchalter on Death Row as the condemned man went through his final hours but the scheduled timing conflicted with outside synagogue Sabbath duties. That appeal failed to move Thomas E. Dewey who owed his election as governor in large part to the public image he had built up as a gang-busting DA battling Lepke and other leaders in organized crime.

Ironically, nearly a decade earlier when Dutch Schultz (born Arthur Flegenheimer of Bronx German Jewish parentage) and a few other crime leaders had wanted to contract a hit on DA Dewey, Buchalter counseled against authorizing such a course. Lepke argued that would be counterproductive -- it would bring down too much heat on them all. After the Dutchman vowed he'd have Dewey hit anyway, Lepke had his Murder Inc. crew carry out an authorized hit on Schultz in a Newark diner Oct. 23, 1935.

Lepke's execution would not have come on the Jewish Sabbath except that Buchalter's lawyer, J. Bertram Wegman, two days earlier had gained a 48-hour reprieve. Officially Gov. Dewey granted the brief delay to allow the attorney time to make a final pitch to the U.S. Supreme Court not to permit the state to act until Lepke finished serving a 14-year federal narcotics sentence.

Much speculation as swirled around a Death Row meeting held during that 48-hour reprieve, a meeting that Lepke had asked Warden William E. Snyder to arrange with Dewey's successor as Manhattan DA, Frank Hogan. Figuring prominently in that speculation has been the name of Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a member of President Roosevelt’s administration, and an FDR confidant.

Indeed, the suggestion has been made that Republican presidential candidate Dewey granted the 48-hour reprieve, not for the stated court action purpose, but have Hogan hear what Buchalter, whose criminal activities had included labor rackets, might say about Hillman and any other FDR aides.

While such makes for interesting "inside story" journalism, the bottom line historically is that Dewey made no deal and Lepke was executed.

Indeed, newspapers reported that both Lepke's wife and son pleaded with Buchalter on Death Row to save his own life by cutting a deal with the authorities to provide evidence against other top crime lords but that he refused. It is said he reasoned that such a course would place his family in jeopardy and that at most he'd gain only a temporary reprieve, not a commutation or pardon or an overturned verdict. With the kind of cold logic one would expect of Muder Inc.'s top gun, such a deal was judged not much of a deal.

Shortly after the mid-day Saturday, March 4, U. S. Supreme Court rejection of Lepke's appeal, his soon-be widow Mrs. Beatrice Wasserman Buchalter read to reporters gathered in Ossining's Depot Square Hotel restaurant a statement that her husband in his Death Row cell had just dictated to her:

"I am anxious to have it clearly understood that I did not offer to talk and give information in exchange for any promise of commutation of my death sentence. I did not ask for that! . . ."

Buchalter claim he had sought a review of his conviction on charges he ordered Louis Capone, Emanuel Mandy Weiss, and Pittsburgh Phil Strauss to killed candy story owner Joe Rosen, a former trucker, who could have been a potential witness against Lepke on the crime lord's muscling truck firms. Rosen was gunned down in front of his Brooklyn story Sept. 13,1926. Brooklyn DA and future mayor Bill O'Dwyer in April 1941 announced the indictments of Lepke, Weiss, and Capone for the Rosen murder. By then, Pittsburgh Phil was already on Death Row having been convicted in 1940 in another murder case. Strauss was executed June 12, 1941.

On Nov. 30, Buchalter, Weiss and Capone were convicted and two days later were sentenced to be executed at Sing Sing the first week of January, 1942. Five delays pushed the trio's execution to March 2, 1944.

Escorted by two guards and Catholic Chaplain Bernard Martin, Copone was the first of the three to walk "the last mile," beginning at 11 p.m. Next Rabbi Katz accompanied Weiss and then Lepke who reportedly strided briskly and defiantly toward the chair. The Murder Inc. boss was declared dead at 11:16 p.m.

Louis Lepke Buchalter image from promo card for Ron Arons' lecture The Jews of Sing Sing at Temple

NYCHS webmaster notes beneath image.

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NYCHS board member Judy Berdy, who is administrator at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El, suggested NYCHS website readers might be interested in the subject matter of Ron Arons' April 25 lecture sponsored by the Bernard Museum of Judaica & Stettenheim Library at Temple Emanu-El.

Judy also is president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.

This presentation is a follow-up on her suggestion.

Elizabeth F. Stabler, Temple Emanu-El librarian, provided the photo postcard announcing the lecture.

Ron Arons, who designed the postcard, took the photos of the guard tower and Cell Block A. He credits the "illustrations of the various tortures" and the electric chair photo to "the Ossining Community Center."

The format for this web presentation was designed by the NYCHS webmaster whose own research notes appear on the left below the image.