The Naked City Nov 23 2010
WAITING FOR LEPKE
Sing-Sing the body electric.


This True Detective from November 1939 features a cover painting of mobster Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, whose flight from authorities had taken him from the U.S. to Mexico, and then to Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Cuba, and across the ocean to England, France and Germany. Buchalter had begun his career in organized crime by shaking down pushcart operators in Brooklyn, and had risen through the ranks of the criminal-controlled fur industry by doing every type of dirt imaginable, from issuing threatening phone calls to garment union activists to throwing acid in a competitor’s face. Eventually he was running a criminal empire that stretched to both coasts, and was acting as head of the infamous assassination squad Murder, Inc.

In 1936 Buchalter went into hiding after he became aware that criminal charges were being prepared against him. Not long after he dropped out of sight, he was indicted for smuggling an estimated $10 million in heroin into the U.S. from Hong Kong. The FBI printed a million posters and displayed them in every post office, police station, and federal building in America. All this attention was a problem for U.S. mob bosses, and so with characteristic unsentimentality, they decided Buchalter had to surrender. Convincing him was not difficult. While he undoubtedly had the flair and intelligence to dodge the feds indefinitely, living in another country away from the old neighborhood and away from the hundreds of underlings who respected him was not his style. Buchalter was a mobster through-and-through. To him, an anonymous existence, even in a tropical paradise or cosmopolitan foreign capitol, was little different from being in prison.

Buchalter’s associates got word to him that if he came back to the U.S. he would be able to surrender personally to J. Edgar Hoover. Surrendering to the Feds meant he would not face a more serious group of charges brought by Manhattan D.A. Thomas Dewey. But it was wishful thinking. The federal charges were rapidly followed by Dewey’s charges and Buchalter earned a fourteen-year jolt in the pen. His legal team hoped tohave the sentence reduced via appeals and procedural maneuvers, but when a snitch fingered Buchalter for ordering the murder of a candy store owner named Joe Rosen, he was tried for the killing, convicted, and sentenced to execution. By some estimates Buchalter had been responsible for a thousand murders as head of Murder, Inc., but all it took was one to seal his fate. Louis "Lepke" Buchalter was electrocuted in Sing Sing prison's famous "Old Sparky" electric chair on March 4, 1944, perhaps while realizing life on a beach in Costa Rica hadn’t been so bad after all.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 22
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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