• U.S.

National Affairs: Leopard Hunt

5 minute read

Thomas Edmund Dewey, leading candidate for the G. O. Presidential nomination next year, last week canceled plans to visit his mother in their hometown of Owosso, Mich, and to attend the Shiawassee County Fair. “Certain matters” postponed this trip, which was to have begun his attempted march to the White House. As District Attorney of New York County, young Mr. Dewey was hot on the trail of quarry which, if he caught it, would plaster the newspapers once more with heroic Dewey headlines. Last week Mr. Dewey found the trail uncomfortably crowded. Trotting along at his side were all the human bloodhounds of the F. B. I., headed by John Edgar Hoover himself, and with Franklin Roosevelt’s Attorney General Frank Murphy whipping them on. Overnight, national politics made a national figure out of their common quarry: a big-nosed, big-eared, Russian-Jewish underworldling named Louis (“Lepke,* the Leopard”) Buchalter, 42.

Graduate of the Connecticut Reformatory (at 20) and Sing Sing (at 21), Buchalter developed from a small-time loft burglar into the wealthy boss of “protective corporations” in Manhattan’s fur, garment, painting, trucking and other trades. His gorillas slugged, knifed, threw lye in the eyes of merchants who did not pay up. Murder, if necessary, did not bother Lepke, the Leopard. When he went in for financing heroin smugglers in a big way, he had already become quite used to having people rubbed out. Two years ago he dropped out of sight, jumped bail after being indicted with his partner, Jake (“Gurrah”)* Shapiro, on racketeering charges. People who knew about him began disappearing, also. Two were murdered (one just up the street from Police Commissioner Valentine’s home in Brooklyn). Last month a harmless Bronx inhabitant was murdered, apparently mistaken for another man whose knowledge the Leopard would not consider harmless (TIME, Aug. 7). Up started a hue & cry against Tom Dewey for not protecting his prospective witnesses.* Thereupon Tom Dewey had the city post a $25,000 cash reward for Lepke, dead or alive, in addition to $5,000 offered by the Federal Government. Pat came announcement of a nationwide crime drive, “the greatest ever” by the F. B. I., through the office of Tom Dewey’s neighbor and contemporary, U. S. District Attorney John T. Cahill, friend and protege of Franklin Roosevelt’s Janizary, Tommy (“Uncorkable”) Corcoran.

Last week with much fanfare Mr. Cahill began presenting to a secret Federal Grand Jury indictment evidence from a 500,000-page “encyclopedia of crime” compiled by the F. B. I. over the past two years. Some illuminating chapters in this opus were supplied by porky, paretic “Scarface Al” Capone, who gets out of the Federal Correctional Institution on Terminal Island (Los Angeles) next November. Mr. Cahill’s tactics, under orders from Mr. Murphy, were to go after all relatives, friends and business acquaintances, past & present, of Lepke, the Leopard, to make the U. S. too hot to harbor him. Against the high-geared Federal machinery, Tom Dewey pitted gangland’s greed. He offered protection and immunity to anyone who would come forward and collect his $25,000. Stories flew last week that: 1) Lepke was dead, murdered by pals who considered his fame undesirable publicity; 2) Lepke was bargaining between Messrs. Dewey & Cahill, offering to surrender to the one who offered him the most lenient terms; 3) Lepke was right up Tom Dewey’s sleeve, to be popped out at a strategic moment.

This week, Mr. Cahill’s jury indicted five persons charged with harboring Lepke and Mr. Dewey’s men brought in Joe (“Strawberry”) Amoruso, head strong-arm man for Lepke.

Meantime the F. B. I., which usually considers it undesirable to dignify Public Enemies by listing them, issued a list of ten most wanted, most dangerous criminals. Tom Dewey’s Leopard, whom he had built up as No. 1, appeared only as No. 4. Ahead of him came Irving Charles Chapman, Texas bank robber, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe* bank robbers, who escaped from Alcatraz two years ago. No. 5 was Paul Cretzer, 29, another bank robber.

Callers on District Attorney Dewey last week were J. Richard (“Dixie”) Davis, underworld lawyer whose “squealing” testimony won the Hines case for Dewey, and Hope Dare, the redheaded showgirl, long his mistress, whom he married last fortnight. After posing protrusively for newscameras, Davis, whom Dewey detectives still guard night & day, denied helping Dewey try to find Lepke, complained: “Everybody is looking for Lepke and finding me! I want to go away with Hope to some small town and write fiction.”

*Yiddish diminutive of Louis.

*When Shapiro propelled a pushcart on the Lower East Side, “Gurrah” (get out) was what Shapiro snarled at East Side pushcarters to whom he first sold “protection.” Those who did not “Gurrah” got their carts pushed over.

*Fortnight ago Mr. Dewey was sued by a housewife, who averred that her home at White Plains, which Mr. Dewey rented as a hideaway for witnesses in his case against Tammany Boss Jimmy Hines, suffered $11,368.10 worth of defamation and physical damage when witnesses lived there and one of them killed himself. She complained that Mr. Dewey’s agents deceived her into believing the lessees were a private family.

*Not to be confused with Good Citizen John Doe’s cousin Richard Roe.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com