• U.S.

CRIME: This is Lepke

4 minute read

For two years New York City police hunted halfheartedly for a big-eared little racketeer called Lepke (Jewish diminutive for Louis) Buchalter. But the U. S. public did not become Lepke-conscious until last month, when Presidentially ambitious District Attorney Thomas Edmund Dewey branded Lepke as “probably the most dangerous criminal in the U. S.” and posted a $25,000 reward for his capture dead or alive. Lepke was supposed to have preyed on the fur, garment, painting, trucking and other trades. After that Lepke became a pawn in a political game between Republican District Attorney Dewey, who is grooming himself for a Presidential nomination by racket-busting, and Democratic U. S. Attorney General Frank Murphy, who wanted the glory of busting Lepke himself.

One unforeseen result of Mr. Dewey’s announcement was to scare the living daylights out of Lepke. He figured he would get a lighter rap from the Federals than from zealous Mr. Dewey. Last week Lepke walked into the Federal Building accompanied by the chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Edgar Hoover. As soon as news of his capture leaked out, New York City’s officials got mad.

Racketbuster Dewey interrupted his first political trip (see p. 13) to say that the Federal Government could lock Lepke up for only two years while he could jail him for 500. Thereupon, U. S. District Attorney John Cahill arraigned and indicted sweating Louis Buchalter on ten counts of narcotic smuggling that might tuck him in prison for 164 years. Dewey men cooled their heels in the U. S. Court

House, were told: “Mr. Buchalter is very tired.”

Furious little Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia told off his police, later snarled to reporters: “I didn’t carry any medals down to Police Headquarters.” It turned out that Lepke had strolled the streets of New York City for two years, had done some drinking “downtown,” disguised only by 20 pounds of fat and a thin black mustache.

Mr. Dewey went back to Manhattan, his only hope to pin a murder indictment on Lepke, which would take precedence over Federal charges. It looked as if Frank Murphy was one up on Tom Dewey for the title of No. 1 U. S. crime-crusher.

The story of how G-Man Hoover caught Lepke did not come out until 24 hours later, and then it was a clean scoop for the Daily Mirror’s, Columnist Walter Winchell, who dearly loves to play cops. One night about three weeks ago a mysterious voice hissed to Winchell over the telephone: “Lepke wants to come in.”

“Does he trust me?” asked Winchell.

He did.

“I’ll tell Hoover,” said Winchell.

Winchell telephoned his good friend John Hoover (for whom he withheld the news of Hauptmann’s capture for 24 hours) and G-Man Hoover guaranteed Lepke asylum in a Federal jail. Then for two weeks Winchell was treated to a run-around by Lepke and his men. Finally, one day last week, he was called to the phone again. “If Lepke doesn’t surrender by 4 p. m. tomorrow,” barked Winchell, “Hoover says no consideration of any kind will ever be given him.”

Next evening, two hours after the deadline, Winchell got another call. He was told to drive to a theatre in Yonkers. At the wheel of a borrowed car—because too many people know his—he set out. On the way another car pulled alongside. A man got out, holding a handkerchief to his face. “Go to the drugstore on the corner of 19th Street and Eighth Avenue about 9 p. m.,” said the stranger, and disappeared.

Still undaunted, Columnist Winchell was on hand at the appointed hour. Another stranger appeared. “Tell Hoover to be at 28th Street on Fifth Avenue between 10:10 and 10:20,” said he. Winchell went to a telephone and followed instructions. Then he got into his car and let Stranger No. 2 take the wheel. At 10:15 Stranger No. 2 pulled up at Madison Square and got out. “Just wait here,” he said. Winchell waited. A moment later a third stranger arrived, opened the door and got in. He took off his dark glasses and threw them into the street. Winchell stepped on the gas. He slowed his car up to the curb at Fifth Avenue, got out, escorted Stranger No. 3 to a black limousine, inside which, also in dark glasses, sat G-Man J. Edgar Hoover. “Mr. Hoover,” said Winchell, “This is Lepke.”

“How do you do?” said Mr. Hoover.

“Glad to meet you,” said Lepke.

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