Home   Legal

Pittsburgh Phil (l) with Buggsy Goldstein



Before ‘Murder, Inc.’ was launched. As the roaring 20’s ended, various mobsters came together in an liquor cooperative they called the ‘Big Seven.’

Together, the ‘Big Seven’ controlled all rum running on the Eastern seaboard.  The group had its own ships and trucks, set up offshore loading bases in the Bahamas and had an extensive radio communications network.  Everything; including the price of booze and the bottles that would be used were controlled by the Big Seven.

But, this monopoly would be a far cry from the national syndicate, including Murder, Inc., that would control all aspects of organized crime in later years.

The original ‘Murder Inc.’ was formed in the 1930’s.  The organization was a national underworld cartel that controlled murder, gambling, unions, loan-sharking, and narcotics through the mid 40’s.

At the height of its power, Murder, Inc. was responsible for thousands of killings from coast to coast.  Guns and knives were used, as well as cremation.

Most of the killers affiliated with Murder, Inc. were recruited from gangs in Brooklyn and East New York.  They accepted murder contracts from mob bosses all over the United States.

The killers were paid a regular salary, plus an average fee of $1,000-$5,000 per killing.  Their families also received monetary benefits. If they were caught, the mob would supply the best lawyers.

In the 1930’s, a gangster used Murder, Inc. to murder witnesses and suspected informants.   In another case, four killers hacked loan shark George Rudnick to pieces for the mere suspicion of being an informant.

In 1941, Abe Reles was promised immunity from prosecution.  He informed on many killers and described many of the murders in court.  The syndicate promised a $100,000 reward for his death.  Amazingly, despite being guarded by a dozen policemen, Reles fell from a hotel room to his death.

“Pittsburgh” Phil (pictured above) was one of the most dangerous assassins affiliated with Murder, Inc.  He was also a fashion conscious man who wore silk shirts and designer suits.

Phil was considered a real artist with a taste for blood and a talent for killing.   He was also an expert with an ice pick.

For a long time, Phil didn’t get caught.  He had been arrested 29 times in 13 years and had never been convicted.

That would soon change when an ambitious assistant D.A. took office, he sent Phil to the electric chair.

Before he was electrocuted, Phil confessed to killing more than 30 men in a dozen cities.   He begged for contracts and took great delight in a job well done. He was just another slayer in the stable of killers associated with Murder, Inc.

       Lepke Buchalter


Several years earlier, a mob summit was held, when the idea was presented to form a murder cartel that could dispatch killers, Lucky Luciano and Lepke Buchalter (pictured above) jumped on the idea.

This particular syndicate would work like a corporation of sorts.  There would be a board of directors that would moderate disputes and set general policy. No killings would be allowed unless everyone agreed.

Legendary mobsters, Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Joey Adonis and Lucky Luciano signed on to the new cartel.

Later, meetings would be held around the country and everywhere, the response was the same.  Detroit signed on, Kansas City joined and so did Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis and New Orleans.  The Syndicate went nationwide and operated as a ‘union’ for murder.

Luciano’s national syndicate would gain complete control over the rackets in New York.   Prostitution had been organized as well as hijacking and extortion.

Murder, Inc. was also running at full steam. Luciano sent Bugsy Siegel out to Los Angeles to integrate Jack Dragna’s gang into the syndicate.

Lepke Buchalter would become an instrumental part of Murder, Inc. Lepke also had his fingers in an narcotics smuggling ring, receiving 33 percent of the profits from any drugs brought into the country.

As the kingpin of New York’s industrial rackets, Lepke needed a stable of gunmen to preserve order.  Lepke would eventually assemble an army of more than 200 of the most vicious killers in the city, and kill they did.

Lepke’s overseas buyer Curly Holtz, who once arranged six quick shipments of morphine and heroin and earned his boss $3 million profit in just 10 days, got greedy.   He pocketed part of the buy money on a trip to Europe and tried to cover up the theft by tipping off authorities to the shipment. He was caught by friends and paid with his life.

Lepke would earn the nickname ‘Judge Lepke’ as a result of his seat on the national Syndicate’s tribunal.

When mobster Dutch Schultz threatened to kill the district attorney.  Lepke didn’t want the heat and decided that Schultz had to die.

He contacted a Murder, Inc. hit man named Mendy Weiss.

Weiss was a flashy dresser who liked diamonds and acted as an underboss for Lepke when Lepke had to go underground.

Weiss got a tip that Shultz was dining at a restaurant.  He arrived and didn’t see Schultz, he checked the men’s bathroom and found Shultz washing his hands, Weiss opened fire, Schultz fell to the floor.

It took Schultz 48 hours to die as he raved like a mad man in the hospital.

Lepke would move in and take over Schultz’s operation.

By 1937, the heat was on and Lepke decided to go underground, turning over the day-to-day operations to Mendy Weiss.

In 1939, Lepke ordered more than a dozen hits. Sometimes he would have two Murder, Inc. crews on the road at a time looking for mobsters who might squeal.

Gangsters on the run presented no problem for the gunmen of Murder, Inc. even when the law couldn’t find a hoodlum, Murder, Inc. could track down anyone who was hiding out either from police or fellow gangsters.

The few mobsters who got away, ran straight into the arms of the law for protection.

Lepke’s philosophy was, ‘investigations collapse when no witnesses are around.’

Pretty Levine, was a killer for Murder, Inc. He had been involved in 6 murders by the time he was 23. A newlywed, Levine tried to break from the underworld when his wife gave birth to their first child. Levine had been driving a truck and hauling garbage but he wasn’t rich.  When the hospital demanded payment before it would discharge his wife and child.  Levine was forced to go to Pittsburgh Phil (before his arrest and electrocution) and borrow $100.  He was forced into working back for the gang to stay alive.

Over time, Levine couldn’t make his payments on the loan; he heard Phil was gunning for him.

He went to the police and implicated Phil in a number of slayings. He also implicated Lepke Buchalter.

Lepke was on the run from the feds.  He eventually had a change of heart and turned himself in.

Lepke was convicted and was serving a 30-year sentence.

Another mob informant; would implicate Lepke in additional crimes.

The testimony was good enough for the jury.  Four hours later, the verdict came back against Lepke.

The co-founder of the national syndicate was guilty of first-degree murder.  The penalty for murder in New York was death by execution.

Lepke Buchalter’s last meal was steak, french fries, salad, pie, roast chicken and salad.  He was electrocuted on March 2, 1944.

Lepke’s execution sealed the fate of Murder, Inc.


Sources: Mark Gribben @ ‘The Crime Library’ and ‘Murder, Inc.’ by Burton B. Turkus



return to top