8. The Lethal Lepke Buchalter Became the Only Major Mob Boss to Receive the Death Penalty
After a year on the lam, the fugitive Lepke Buchalter was indicted on federal narcotics charges. He stayed on the run, one step ahead of the law, for nearly three years, before he finally surrendered in person to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1939. He was sentenced to fourteen years on the federal charges, and was then turned to the New York authorities. The Empire State’s prosecutors tried and won convictions against him on state racketeering charges, for which he received a thirty-year sentence.
While Buchalter was in federal prison, a Murder Incorporated hitman, Abe Reles, turned state’s evidence and implicated Buchalter in the 1936 Rosen murder, plus three others. Buchalter and his two main lieutenants were charged with the four murders in 1941, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Buchalter appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court, but his sentence was upheld. Buchalter earned the distinction of becoming the only major mob boss to ever receive the death penalty. He met his end on “Old Sparky”, Sing Sing prison’s infamous electric chair, on March 4th, 1944.