12. The Mafia’s Lethal Murder Enterprise
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Italian-American mafia set up a contract killer system that worked so smoothly it came to be known as “Murder Incorporated”. It was broken into two subgroups and organized along ethnic lines – Italians and Jews. The hitmen of each group usually, but not always, were sent after targets of their own ethnicity. The lethal system was run at first by Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a ruthless Jewish labor racketeer in charge of the Jewish section, until his arrest in 1936. The Italians were headed by Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, who eventually ran all of Murder Inc. after Buchalter’s downfall.
Lepke Buchalter (1897 – 1944), the initial head of Murder Incorporated, rose to prominence in New York City’s criminal underworld as a labor racketeer. The son of a Russian immigrant father who owned a hardware store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Buchalter lost his father when he was twelve-years-old, and consumption forced his mother to move to Arizona’s dry climate. She left him in NYC with his elder sister, but she was unable to control him, and he drifted into crime.