"Gee, what an experience I had!" |
--The Man Who Shot Dutch Schultz
THE GUNNER--AND HIS COMMANDING
CHARLIE WORKMAN CAME OUT OF NEW YORK'S TEEMING Lower East Side. He was the second child of Samuel and Anna Workman and besides his older sister he had two
other sisters and three brothers. Charlie was born on September 15, 1908--a date no one else in the large brood would have much occasion to celebrate after a while, because he was the bad one. He was bad from the beginning. He wouldn't stay in public school long enough to go on to high school. He quit in 9A. "At the age of 17," says an old police report on him, "Workman became known as 'Handsome Charlie' and was feared in the neighborhood for his rough tactics." There would never be any doubt about the "rough tactics" of Handsome Charlie, man and boy. The lessons of the hard East Side streets were never lost on him. He followed the familiar pattern, starting off, like Arthur Flegenheimer in The Bronx, with petty thefts. His first arrest, at 18, involved the wholly unglamourous charge of stealing a $12 bundle of cotton thread off a truck on lower Broadway. He got off with probation but within a year he was back in custody, charged with shooting a man behind the ear in an argument over $10 or $20. He beat that case when the complainant developed memory trouble and refused to identify him as his assailant, but he wound up in the New York City Reformatory for violating his probation in the theft case. Out in seven months, he was ordered back for associating with "questionable characters" and failing to find legitimate employment. He was paroled again in three months but then resentenced on the same charge of evil associations. That took another four months out of his youth but he wasn't going behind bars again, not for any length of time, for another twelve years. This, however, did not mean that he was going to be a total stranger to the police. He would beat a gun charge in 1932. He would pay a $25 fine for bashing in the face of an off-duty cop in a traffic argument in 1933, plus the usual $2 fines for items like passing red lights. He would suffer the small inconvenience of a pinch for vagrancy in 1939, hauled in because the cops thought he might know something about Lepke and Gurrah, then on the lam from a Dewey racket indictment; in that pinch, in character, Workman would just turn his fierce black eyes on the detectives and tell them to go to hell. What would he know about those guys?
The fact is, Handsome Charlie knew a lot about the Garment Center racketeers. For all his tender years, he was around the fringes when the strong-arm twins, who got their start shaking down pushcart peddlers on the Lower East Side, made their debut in the big time as muscle men in the summer-long garment strike of 1926. In that classic confrontation, death knell of the sweatshop, the employers called in one set of goons and the labor giants, Sidney Hillman's Amalgamated Clothing Workers and David Dubinsky's International Ladies Garment Workers Union, both beset by hard-line Communists within their own ranks while fighting the manufacturers, called in another. Lepke and Gurrah, interested neither in the labor-management conflict nor in the higher internal politics, came out of it with their eyes opened up to the incredible riches waiting to be plucked in a billion-dollar-a-year industry simply rife for the kind of protection and extortion operations which would become their specialty.
Off his artistic performance as a bruiser for the mob, the little curly-haired Workman was graduated, summa cum laude, to a full-time spot on the Lepke payroll, available at all times to the Brooklyn gun-for-hire ring. The salary was $125 a week, just a mildly lush stipend for the early Thirties, but there were extras. In Murder Inc.--so christened by Harry Feeney, dean of the Brooklyn police reporters--the resident gunslingers enjoyed an interesting fringe benefit. They had the right to sweep out the pockets of their victims, and it's a fair assumption that Handsome Charlie drew many lucrative assignments, because he rapidly became one of the execution cartel's top killers. He was right up there with Abe (Kid Twist) Reles, Albert (Allie) Tannenbaum, Martin (Buggsy) Goldstein, Harry (Pittsburgh Phil) Strauss, Harry Maione, called Happy because he never smiled, and Frank Abbandando, known as Dasher because he showed great speed of foot when he starred in the Elmira prison infield one season. In this incredibly mindless company, something of a Kamikaze troupe without the risks, Workman took a back seat to nobody.
Lepke, who adored the guy, used to say he had so much guts he was "bugs," so after a while he came to be called Charlie the Bug. He was called by some other names too, all highly flattering for a man in his chosen profession. There were some inside the mob who referred to him as The Powerhouse. The author once asked a hardened police inspector how he would characterize the Bug, and the answer was: "The same as a regiment." Burton B. Turkus, who was District Attorney William O'Dwyer's chief assistant in the investigation that stripped the veil from Murder Inc. and spread it across the front pages in 1940, called Workman "one of gangland's most deadly executioners." Allie Tannenbaum, no slouch himself in that league, deferred to Workman as "one of the best killers in the country" and said he was so good that at one time he was on three different payrolls--Murder Inc., the Bug & Meyer mob and, yes, Dutch Schultz's. The plaudits appear to have been well earned.
Turkus, the workhorse in that Augean housecleaning in Brooklyn and the man who took the wrapped-up cases to court and put seven of the Murder Inc. cast in the electric chair, credited the swarthy Workman with no less than 20 hits, coast to coast. In private practice now, Turkus insists that this had to be a conservative figure, because his information was that mobs all over the country made demands on the Bug's lend-lease services. O'Dwyer himself never went beyond the phrase "at least five murders" when he talked about Workman's known accomplishments, but he was confining himself to the cases in which he believed the requisite corroboration existed for conviction in the state courts.
If there ever was any lingering doubt about the measure of Handsome Charlie, the assignment to knock over Dutch Schultz had to dispel it for all time. For sheer magnitude, nothing compared with it but the executions earlier in that decade of the warring Cosa Nostra dons, Joe the Boss Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Those were family affairs, of course, in the struggle for power inside the Italian underworld federation. The case of the Dutchman was quite different; now all the mobs were getting together to dispose of a maverick contemporary who had suddenly become a dangerous nuisance to the whole community of crime.
The Big Six had two and possibly three impelling reasons to vote the death sentence on Schultz. The first--and the best, from all the available information--had to be the man's obsession about killing Tom Dewey to turn off the heat. A second reason had to be the common fear, probably well grounded, that Schultz had turned so irrational that he wouldn't stand up if Dewey managed to nail him for something worse than the old tax rap--say the restaurant racket; the mobs were afraid the Dutchman would trade off some information about their operations--and he had to know a thing or two--to beat any unconscionably long stretch up the river. A third reason was the one advanced by Joe Valachi in the parts of his story that survived the Department of Justice's blue-pencil screening when Peter Maas put together The Valachi Papers in 1968. In this version, perhaps out of ethnic pride, Lucky Luciano rather than Lepke got the credit for disposing of the Dutchman. Valachi told Maas that he had heard about it at the
time from Vito Genovese, who was then so close to Luciano that he was being groomed to step into his shoes if anything bad happened. Valachi said Luciano's motives extended a little beyond any concern over the possible ramifications of a Dewey assassination. He said the Cosa Nostra boss, casting loving eyes on the Schultz policy empire ever since the 1933 tax indictment made something of a lamister out of him, had seized on the Dewey thing as the ideal opportunity for disposing of the Dutchman and taking over. But Valachi, bear in mind, also mentioned the plot on Dewey as one of the irritations bestirring the Big Six and its execution arm, Murder Inc., just before Schultz went on the spot.
While Burt Turkus got the Dewey story from his two favorite blabbermouths, Abe Reles and Allie Tannenbaum, a piece of independent corroboration came from quite a separate source. This was the hulking Seymour Magoon, called Blue Jaw because he practically invented the 5 o'clock shadow, a Reles buddy with an even 25 entries on his arrest record. Even as Reles and Tannenbaum were doing their nightingale act, Magoon happened to be in custody in The Bronx as a material witness in the Brooklyn cartel's slaying of Benjamin (Benny the Boss) Tannenbaum, knocked off while babysitting for a friend because he was the babbling type and he also knew about that super-special Workman mission in Newark. It's all in the book Turkus wrote with Sid Feder in 1951, Murder, Inc., with the new twist--the Luciano policy angle--nailed down 12 years later after the Valachi concert hit the nation's television screens.
The Dutchman began to brood about Tom Dewey when the Special Prosecutor started putting together his airtight case in the restaurant shakedowns (seven men, a combination of Schultz minions and crooked labor leaders, eventually went to prison in that one).
Schultz was so frantic that he slipped into town from his Newark retreat to put the case before the other mobs--an ethical requirement of the breed in an undertaking of such monstrous proportions--but couldn't quite make the case. Turkus said he came away with nothing more than a week's grace while the Big Six agreed to ponder the logistics of the proposed mission and its probable implications.
Reles, Tannenbaum and Magoon all said the man delegated to the on-the-spot study of the Schultz proposal was nobody less than Albert Anastasia, Murder Inc.'s Lord High Executioner. The story was that Anastasia set himself up a four-day stakeout on Dewey's Fifth Avenue apartment house, patrolling the sidewalk in the guise of a neighborhood father taking his small son (on loan, apparently) out for an airing. There was just one variation here. Reles and Tannenbaum said that Anastasia used a boy on a tricycle; Magoon said he had a baby in a carriage.
Either way, Anastasia supposedly satisfied himself that the Dutchman had proposed an entirely feasible hit, apart from the complexities which would surely follow a mission of such awesome proportions.
Dewey followed the same routine every morning. He would leave the house at 8:00 A.M., pick up his bodyguards and Paul Lockwood, his towering assistant, and go around the corner to a drugstore to have a cup of coffee before starting downtown in his car. The guards generally waited outside the store. If a couple of marksmen with silencers on their pistols followed the Special Prosecutor in they might well be able to dispose of him, Lockwood and the druggist--Anastasia never spotted any others customers in the store at that hour--and slip into their getaway car before the Dewey gunbearers knew what had happened.
Splendid, but the Big Six turned thumbs down.
Turkus was told that Lepke had registered the heaviest "No" vote, saying, "This is the worst thing in the world. It will hit us all in the pocketbook because everybody will come down on our heads." Lepke surely was thinking about something well beyond the mob's own extensive local operations. He wasn't the only one in the syndicate who understood that if Dewey were rubbed out the ensuing crackdown on organized crime would have to be devastating all the way from Maine to California--and Murder Inc. itself was handling contracts in a raft of cities between those ocean-to-ocean boundaries.
Elsewhere, Lepke is quoted as having said, "We will all burn if Dewey is knocked off." Beyond this, according to Turkus, the little merchant of mayhem also entertained the confident notion that the mobs did not have to worry too much about Dewey as long as they could keep knocking off any turncoats who were disposed to help him. "No witnesses, no indictments," Lepke was quoted as saying, and there was clearly some substance behind it.
In any case, the oral communique that went out to the Dutchman in Newark said that the underworld, thanks, would rather have a live Tom Dewey to stand off than a corpse that might bring down upon the house of crime the combined law enforcement forces of the city, state and federal governments. "I suppose they figured that the National Guard would have been called out, or something like that, if Dewey had been killed," Frank S. Hogan, District Attorney of Manhattan, told the author, looking back on that time, "and I guess they wouldn't have been far wrong."
No such fears troubled Dutch Schultz, apparently, for the word that came back to the mob was that he was still saying that "Dewey's gotta go" and that he was going to attend to it whether the Big Six wanted a piece of the action or not.
There was one flaw in the story, of course, that had to trouble any thoughtful observer, and that was the use of Albert Anastasia as the man to case the proposed assassination setup. While "Mr. A's" puffy features might not necessarily have been familiar to Tom Dewey or Paul Lockwood, it surely was conceivable that any detectives on the guard detail might well have recognized a familiar underworld map such as that one.
When the story broke, Bill O'Dwyer quickly denied that any Schultz plot to murder Dewey had been unearthed by his investigation, and Dewey himself in turn insisted that he himself had never heard of any such nonsense. Turkus always said, and still does, that he passed the story on to Dewey when he got it; he says he still marvels over the way the man listened to the chilling details without any show of emotion.
The author put the question to Dewey and got this answer:
"I had no personal information about the reported Schultz plot against me but it is interesting that Valachi tells the same story as Burt Turkus with a slightly different emphasis."
You can read that, 28 years after the strong initial denial, as neither a denial nor a confirmation, but Dewey's answer to the question which flowed from it was quite interesting:
|Q. If there was no Schultz plot against your life, what other reason would the Big Six or Syndicate have had for killing him in your view?|
A. The only other [italics, the author's] reason I can think of would be that he was a loud-mouthed bully who became too self-important.
On the matter of Lepke Buchalter's confident "no witnesses, no indictments" dictum, there is a disparity between the O'Dwyer-Turkus researches and Dewey's view. The Brooklyn investigation pointed to a whole flock of spot killings of suspected Dewey informers. O'Dwyer put the figure at seven but Dewey now terms that a "gross overstatement," saying he knew of only two or three. From the number of corpses turned up, O'Dwyer's count always appeared closer.
The fact is that the big heat went on Lepke, still a fugitive in the summer of 1939, 17 months after his indictment on racket charges, because the bodies of witnesses were dropping in too many places. It was at that point that Dewey, by then District Attorney and carrying even more muscle than he had enjoyed as Special Prosecutor, took Police Commissioner Valentine into a hush-hush session with J. Edgar Hoover and Harry J. Anslinger, Federal Commissioner of Narcotics, and laid it all on the line. "If the killing off of witnesses continues," Anslinger quoted Dewey in his autobiography, The Murderers, "there will soon be no one left to testify when we finally catch up with Lepke. If the four of us together can't land Lepke, we might as well turn the job over to the mobs."
It was then that a $30,000 price tag--$25,000 from the city of New York and $5,000 from the FBI--was put on the 42-year-old underworld boss, dead or alive, and a million circulars went out on him. Within the week, Lepke emissaries--Frank Costello? Albert Anastasia?--were on the phone with Walter Winchell setting up the terms of surrender: the columnist delivers Lepke to J. Edgar Hoover, who had called him "the most dangerous criminal in America," so that he can be tried on federal charges and stay out of the clutches of Mr. Dewey, or, maybe worse, Bill O'Dwyer and that Murder Inc. mess.
The reasoning was pretty elementary.
Lepke and the mobs had satisfied themselves by then that the long-time underworld kingpin had to go "inside" because the heat, local and federal, was too much to stand off any longer. What were the alternatives? Lepke had an idea that a spell in a place like Leavenworth--there were ten handy narcotics raps pending against him--might be much more palatable than what he faced on his home grounds. Dewey was talking about a somewhat outlandish sentence like 500 years--a small exaggeration, although he had built up an imposing case in his racket investigations. O'Dwyer appeared to be in a position to ticket the fugitive for one of those perfectly awful three-minute dates in that oversized chair at Sing Sing.
Here Lepke's vaunted cunning abandoned him. He chose what seemed to be the softest alternative, letting Winchell deliver him to J. Edgar Hoover, in the flesh, on a Manhattan street corner on August 24, 1939.
After that, nothing went according to the script.
The FBI Director's prize catch was found guilty of trading in narcotics--his only serious conviction after eleven arrests dating back to 1915--and drew a 15-year federal sentence. Not bad. It meant about ten years in the cooler, hardly a prohibitive price for all the notches on the man's hired guns, but Tom Dewey wasn't buying that at all. He made Lepke stand trial as the Mahatma of the bakery and flour trucking rackets and got another 30 years tagged on to the federal grunt. And then it was Bill O'Dwyer's turn. He brought up the savage 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen (only 15 bullets) in his Brooklyn candy store.
A former garment industry truckman driven out of business by the mob because he was carrying goods to non-union shops in Pennsylvania, which was bad for Sidney Hillman's Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Rosen was another one of those soreheads who wouldn't listen when the Lepke-Gurrah delegates came around and told him to keep his big yap shut. O'Dwyer had evidence that the finger went on him after Lepke had observed, in his soft-spoken way, that "Rosen is shooting off his mouth that he is going down to Dewey." O'Dwyer even had under lock and key the Lepke confederates charged with the actual killing--Louis Capone and Emanuel (Mendy) Weiss. So that case was all wrapped in ribbons when Burt Turkus took it into court in the winter of 1941 and Lepke (his mother called him Lepkeleh for "darling Louis," but he was credited with giving the signal for as many as 80 murder expeditions over the years) was pointed toward the little green door with Capone and Weiss. Capone, no relation to Alphonse, was more than a just a gun hand in the Borough of Churches. He was high up in Murder Inc.'s inner councils. Mendy Weiss was an even more interesting figure, as will be seen, because he knew a thing or two about the assassination of Dutch Schultz.
Lepke and his handymen, as it happened, were not going to sit down in that ridiculous contraption at Ossining for another three years, thanks to appeals and reprieves. And there's some irony there, too. When the matter of life or death came down to the wire, if you'll pardon the expression, the man in the Governor's chair at Albany was Thomas E. Dewey. Think of it: Lepke Buchalter may have saved Tom Dewey's life in 1935 when he delegated Charlie Workman and two helpers--was one of them Mendy Weiss?--to wipe out Dutch Schultz. Nine years later it fell to Dewey to make the ultimate decision about Lepke and Weiss. Should he spare them? Well, the Governor did cling for a long time to the forlorn hope that a living Lepke might turn troubadour and clear up some items of unfinished business in the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
But Lepke either couldn't find the key or decided that he would rather be dead than lose the good name he had built up in his killer's trade--or perhaps he reasoned that the long arms of his confreres, bearing shivs fashioned in the prison metal shop, surely would reach out to him in Sing Sing if he started doing business with the law to save his own backside from getting singed.
The unholy trinity from Murder Inc. finally was set to go on March 2nd but Dewey granted a 48-hour reprieve to give the Lepke barristers time to petition the United States Supreme Court to review the mob king's conviction. Once the new stay was granted, Lepke emissaries slipped the word to Albany that the Death House's all-time celebrity guest felt like talking for a change. This pulsating message was passed at once to Frank Hogan and he lost no time piling into his limousine with Sol Gelb, his Chief Assistant by then, and Joseph A. Sarafite, moved up to head of the Rackets Bureau in the New York County District Attorney's office just the day before. The prospect of a heart-to-heart chat with the doomed five-foot-five-and-a-half-inch giant of the rackets made that trip up the river quite eventful.
Aflush with excitement, Hogan and his men were still putting together questions for the law's imposing new ally when the chauffeur called out, "We're here, Chief."
The way back was--well, kind of flat.
Lepke did want to talk, but he didn't want to say anything, as will be seen here in the first authoritative account of that momentous session ever published.
Frank Hogan dipped back a quarter of a century into an action-filled career to reconstruct that drama-charged afternoon in the Death House.
"We spent two or three hours with Lepke," he said. "We had been given to understand that he would talk about some unsolved homicides, that he would cooperate if he could beat the chair. But actually he had little to offer for us to be at all sanguine about obtaining indictments--not enough, in any event, to merit postponing the execution again. He did mention two or three cases, but they were typical Lepke cases. All we could say was that Lepke talked about those cases but there was no corroboration and no accomplices. They had a technique of knocking off people like that, you know. When we were finished, we couldn't point to anybody and say here, 'Lepke gave us a case, let's go before the Grand Jury with this one.' And we couldn't say that Lepke had given us any information about the other higher-ups of the underworld; he was very careful on that score. We reeled off one name after another and just drew blanks. Lepke knew what he was doing every minute, even though he was two days away from the electric
hair. He did answer some other questions--about the garment racket, for example--but he didn't tell us a thing we could have done anything with. He knew just how far to go--and we knew pretty fast that we weren't going to get anywhere with him.
"We did go over our notes pretty hard when we got out of there. We didn't want to dash all the man's hopes that very afternoon, but there was no basis for recommending another stay to the Governor. We simply had nothing of any substance to go on."
The big question about that closely kept session, of course, had to do neither with any unsolved murders nor with any glittering underworld names on the rarified Lepke level. No, it had to do with the burning whispers--never quite stilled--about Lepke's asserted relationship with Sidney Hillman, co-director of President Roosevelt's wartime Office of Production Management, in the years when the world-famous labor leader was running the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union.
To this day, Frank Hogan won't say whether the gangster mentioned the since-deceased Hillman, "There were so many names," he told the author. "I wouldn't want to single out anyone. It's too far back."
Sol Gelb, in private practice now, was less reticent. "I asked about Sidney Hillman," he said, "and I have a vivid memory of Lepke's answer. He said he hardly knew Hillman. I don't know whether he was telling the truth, but that's what he told us." Gelb said the name of David Dubinsky, head of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union until his retirement in 1966, also came up as the racket titan, chain- smoking nervously, sat across a small wooden table from his interrogators in a Death House reception room. "Lepke mentioned Dubinsky," Gelb said, "In connection with some incident a few years back in which a non-union shop in the garment district had been busted up, but it was an entirely vague reference. It was a tidbit Lepke was dropping on us to whet our appetites, but it was meaningless. He didn't have to tell us about the rough stuff in the Garment Center unless he was really going to open up. We knew there were goons on both sides-goons brought in by the manufacturers and goons working for the
Hillman and Dubinsky unions."
Did the names of any political figures or high police officials come up? Gelb was certain that no police brass had been mentioned but said that Jimmy Hines did come into the conversation. He said that Lepke conceded that he had come to know Hines somewhere along the way but did not say that he had ever done any business with the protector of the Dutch Schultz policy empire.
"I got the impression," Gelb said, "that we were talking to a man who was utterly desperate and frantically trying to save himself but at the same time would only tell us things we already knew. When he did say anything--about a murder, for example--it was always information about people below him, his own underlings. I concluded that he was so high in underworld ranks that he couldn't give us anything because he was the boss. He would have to talk about himself to give us anything and after all he couldn't very well talk about murders he had ordered. He was anything but open and frank on that score. There certainly was no basis for another reprieve."
Joe Sarafite, on the Supreme Court bench in New York for many years now, remembered Lepke as a man "in extremis--scared, worried, frightened, pathetic"--but so crafty that he never even came close to a slip-up. "He talked a blue streak," the Judge said, "but he gave the clear impression that he was telling only what he wanted to tell, not the sort of things we had gone up there to get from him. We were interested in evaluating anything he said in the light of possible prosecution but how much weight could you put on his words without corroboration? He was a tarnished witness. He did so much himself that the only one he could implicate was himself, but he never came forth with anything worth a nickel in any case. He just wandered. He talked about all kinds of people but there wasn't a shred of admissible evidence in any of it."
The Judge, without disputing Sol Gelb, said he did not recall any discussion of Sidney Hillman. "There were so many names," he said.
When Burton Turkus was completing Murder, Inc. in 1951, he submitted a series of written questions to Frank Hogan about the Death House interview. Among other things, Turkus wanted to know whether the condemned man had mentioned an offer of a "deal" from Bill O'Dwyer "or anyone else" in return for talking, whether he had mentioned Fiorello LaGuardia (then deceased) or Sidney Hillman, whether he had talked about Lucky Luciano, Salvatore Maranzano, Frank Costello, Longy Zwillman, Albert Anastasia or such lesser racket figures as Joey Adonis, whether he had mentioned the nationwide purge of the Mafia in 1931, or whether he had talked about any underworld political alliances. Another question dealt with the unsolved 1931 murder, in Brooklyn, of a clothing manufacturer named Guido Ferrari, gunned down while he was undergoing some unpleasantness with the Hillman union. Had Lepke mentioned the case of Mr. Ferrari?
Turkus did not get an answer from Hogan. Instead, he received a letter from Joe Sarafite simply saying this:
"The District Attorney did not request the Governor to grant any reprieve of Buchalter, nor was any other official action taken by him which could be used as a justifiable basis for revealing what Buchalter said. Beyond this statement, we are unable to answer the questions."
In an appendix to his book, Turkus quoted Sarafite's letter and observed, pointedly, that while Hogan had not replied "affirmatively to the queries--neither did he deny them." The obvious inference was that Lepke had indeed reeled off a glittering array of names on both sides of the law when he took that last shot for clemency.
That was seven years after the 1944 Death House session. Why is Hogan still loathe to discuss any of the names that may have crossed Lepke's lips? "It wouldn't be fair," he says. "After all, Lepke had nothing to lose--he could have mentioned anybody he wanted."
For purposes of this book, however, both Sol Gelb and Judge Sarafite went over the Turkus list. Apart from Gelb's saying that Sidney Hillman's name had been mentioned, both men expressed an absolute certainty that none of the other figures cited by Burt Turkus had come up in the limited Lepke songfest.
This should lay to rest, once and for all, the raft of speculative stories which ran in the newspapers during that last 48-hour reprieve of Lepke's. These high-octane accounts covered a great deal of ground.
The Herald-Tribune said that "Lepke made and signed a death cell statement about a 'deal' freighted with political dynamite, which was proposed to him when he was a federal prisoner more than three years ago."
The Sun said that Lepke had "sought to escape the chair by involving a number or prominent persons in his long career of crime."
The Daily Mirror, least shy of the New York gazettes in that time, said that Lepke had named "30 politicians, high police officials and racketeers as principals in alleged offers of 'deals' to save his life. Lepke was said to have declared, many of these individuals sought to induce him to 'frame' others for political purposes."
It stands to reason, of course, that if there was a smidgen of truth in any of those blockbusters, then Governor Dewey, who loved inside stories when he could prove them, might well have found it advisable to stay the executioner's hand one more time. He didn't, and the Supreme Court sounded the death knell for Lepke on Saturday morning, March 4, when it turned down his eleventh-hour appeal. And so at 11:00 P.M., that night--unusual because Sing Sing traditionally staged its electrical lynch parties on Thursdays--the State of New York collected on its long-overdue final payment from Murder Inc. On the long-departed heels of such minor players as Happy Maione, Dasher Abbandando, Buggsy Goldstein and Pittsburgh Phil Strauss, Lepke went to the chair with Mendy Weiss and Louis Capone.
Capone, chewing gum as the guards strapped him into the Empire State's medieval instrument of eye-for-eye justice and applied the cathodes to his legs and shaved head, was the first to go. He said nothing.
Weiss, named as the actual triggerman in the Rosen murder, made a brief statement for the 24 assembled witnesses, exercising the privilege of the doomed. "I'm here on a framed-up case," he said, "and Governor Dewey knows it." On the credit side, Weiss thanked Chief Judge Irving Lehman of the State's Court of Appeals for expressing some reservations in the verdict which upheld the convictions.
Lepke, deemed to be the strongest of the trio and thus the last one to come through the door, did not utter a word. The only sound in the chamber as the triple charges snuffed out his life was the singsong prayer of Rabbi Jacob Katz, the prison chaplain.
But Lepke had taken the precaution to leave behind a last will and testament of sorts--or possibly two--for his underworld cohorts. The Daily News came up with this 45-word statement which it said had been passed out by the condemned man three and a half hours before the execution:
"Louis Buchalter has spoken to Hogan about one particular man and one man only. The man who is responsible and who was in back of several crimes is a high political power and these charges should be given every consideration before it is too late."
The News said Lepke was talking about a labor leader. No name was mentioned, but the only man in the United States who then fit that description--labor leader and "political power"--happened to be Sidney Hillman.
The author, not here as an advocate of the long-time shepherd of the clothing workers, is constrained to note that Frank Hogan says no such thing, that Sol Gelb says that Lepke passed over the name of Sidney Hillman as a mere acquaintance (surely an understatement, considering the warm relations between the mobs and the garment unions), and that Judge Sarafite has no recollection whatever of Hillman's name having come up at all.
So much for the farewell aired by the News. The more consequential Lepke sign-off, which was at variance with the tabloid's 45-word gem, came in something he had dictated to his wife, Betty, on that last afternoon. Carefully recorded on a crumpled piece of yellow scratch paper, this missive said that (a) Louis Buchalter was innocent in the murder of Joseph Rosen, and (b), more important, Louis Buchalter never tried to buy back his life by squealing to Frank Hogan. On that score, all the wheels turning even on the edge of eternity, Lepke said he was "anxious to have it clearly understood that I did not offer to talk and give information in exchange for any commutation of my death sentence."
If that was so, of course, then Hogan and his assistants, all able men, must have been talking to some other guy in the Death House. The simple truth is that Lepke offered to talk and did talk but just didn't say anything, preferring to adhere to the unwritten code of the underworld. He took the secrets of his three decades in crime into the execution chamber with him--and all manner of men, in the inner councils of crime, in politics, in the garment unions, in law enforcement, had to sleep easier that night. As Burt Turkus said, "When Lepke's life ended, life just began for a great many other people he could have named." Don't ever doubt that.
There's a final piece of irony in this saga. If Joe Valachi was right, Lucky Luciano furnished even more inspiration for the killing of Dutch Schultz than Lepke, although it will be seen that Lepke surely did supply the gunbearers, But whatever his role, large or small, the now-dead Luciano deserved to be counted as another of the saviors of Tom Dewey, who lived to have two chances at the White House and then to settle down into a high-powered Wall Street law firm. Fine. Now bear in mind that Dewey was the man who won the conviction of Luciano on 61 counts of compulsory prostitution in 1936. Dewey got the 38-year-old Cosa Nostra boss stuck away on a 30-to-50-year sentence but Luciano, who won his nickname in the early days when he survived a gangland ride in which he had been left for dead on Staten Island, got lucky again. He came out in 1945 when his reputed contributions to the war effort, of all things, earned him a commutation. The story, never fully explained by any of the government authorities
involved, was that Luciano--an American above all, even without the citizenship papers to prove it--had come to the aid of the Navy when it found itself beset by sabotage and other bad things on East Coast docks. From his cell in Dannemora, so it was said, Luciano had graciously passed the word along to his criminal bedfellows on the waterfront to start showing a little less greed and a little more patriotism so that our side could win the war.
The author put the endlessly debated question of the racket king's early release to Tom Dewey when this book was in preparation and got this answer: "In the Court of Appeals one judge dissented from Luciano's conviction on the ground that the sentence was too long. Thereafter, an exhaustive investigation by William B. Herlands established that Luciano's aid to the Navy in the war was extensive and valuable. Ten years is probably as long as anybody ever served for compulsory prostitution, and these factors led the Parole Board to recommend the commutation combined with the fact that Luciano would be exiled for life under the law."
Going back to Luciano and Dutch Schultz, there is ample evidence that for some time preceding the Newark spot murders, the Italian mobster and the Dutchman's man, Bo Weinberg, had become fairly chummy. This accounts for the fact Weinberg's disappearance in September 1935 was attributed to Schultz long before Dixie Davis began to tie the pieces together three years later.
The full details of the Weinberg murder have not come out to this day, of course, and for that matter no corpus delicti ever turned up. In the one this book is about, however, there were hardly any secrets. The inside of the Newark story began to get around even while the Dutchman, Lulu Rosenkrantz, Abe Landau and Abbadabba Berman were still in that excruciatingly vain battle for their lives in the hospital, because for all his vaunted craftsmanship, Charlie Workman proved to have an uncommonly loose tongue once he had made the biggest score of his life.
The Bug came away from the scene of the carnage babbling like a kid off his first heist. He did everything but take an ad in the New York Times to make sure nobody else, especially awful Mendy Weiss, would purloin the credits. He made the case against Charlie Workman all by himself.