Joe Rosen was a legitimate business man, who never broke the law in his life. But when he was killed in 1936, on the order of Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, it was the first link in the chain that sat Lepke right down into the electric chair.
Joe Rubin, from Brownsville in Brooklyn, had finally hit the jackpot. Through sweat and hard work, he had started a small trucking business, that catering to non-union, tailoring-contact customers in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area. These were solid accounts and they bought Rosen a partnership in the New York & New Jersey Truck Company. But Louie “Lepke” Buchalter, from the same neighborhood as Rosen in Brownsville in Brooklyn, had other ideas. Lepke was a founding partner in Brooklyn’s infamous “Murder Incorporated, but his pal and sometimes partner Max Rubin controlled the Amalgamated Clothing Worker’s Union. In 1932, Rubin and Lepke approached Rosen and demanded that he stop delivering to non-union tailor shops in Pennsylvania.
“But if I lose the Pennsylvania business, I lose everything,” Rosen told them. “I’ve been in the clothing business all my life and now I’m being pushed out of it.”
Which was exactly what Rubin and Lepke did. But as a consolation prize, the gave Rosen a job as a truck driver in Garfield Express, a trucking business that Lepke owned 50% interest in, with his partner Louis Cooper. Eight months later, Cooper fired Rosen and Rosen was out of work for 18 months. He used borrowed funds to open a small candy store in Brownsville, but Rosen was a loud and unhappy camper. Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey was a fierce investigator, concentrating on the labor rackets, and he began making noise about Lepke’s involvement with the Amalgamated Clothing Worker’s Union.
“This is bad,” Rubin told Lepke. “Joe (Rosen) is around complaining he’s got a family and he doesn’t have anything to eat. We got a desperate man on our hands.”
Lepke, in a display of sheer generosity, told Rubin to give Rosen a few bucks, but in return, before Dewey caught a whiff of what he was saying, Rosen had to split town immediately. Rubin met with Rosen in his candy store and said, “Here’s two hundred dollars. Lepke wants you to go away and cool down. You better do what he says.”
Rosen did as he was told, and he holed up with his son, who lived and worked as a coal miner in Reading, Pennsylvania. Less than a week later, Rosen’s wife contacted him and told him his mother was sick. Rosen was sick too; sick of Reading, Pennsylvania. So he hopped on a bus and hightailed it back to New York City. He was back working in his candy store the very next day. This did not please Lepke too much. Lepke usually insulated himself from any direct connection to the scores of murders he ordered. Instead he had a small group of lieutenants, including Rubin, whom he gave orders to, and these orders were passed down the line to the eventual killers. Albie Tannenbaum was one of his killers, but not one of his confidants. Unfortunately, Tannenbaum was in the next room when Lepke blew his top about Rosen.
“I’ve seen enough of this crap,” Lepke screamed at Rubin. “That (expletives) Rosen, he’s going around shooting his mouth off about seeing Dewey. He and nobody else is going any place and doing any talking. I’ll take care of him.”
On September 13, 1936, a band of Lepke’s killers, led by Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, sat in ambush as Rosen opened his candy store at 7:30 am. In an extreme example of overkill, the shooters rushed into the store and emptied seventeen bullets into Rosen’s body; the last four pumped by Strauss after Rosen was already dead.
For the next four years, Murder Incorporated committed hundreds of murders, but not one of them could be traced back to Lepke. Dewey was on Lepke’s trail for slews of other crimes, so Lepke lammed it somewhere in New York City, which is is easiest place to hide, with eight million people milling about, minding their own business.
In 1940, at the urging of his partners Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Lepke tuned himself in to FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, thinking the fix was in and he merely had to do a few years in the can for his crimes. But he was double-crossed by Luciano and Lansky, and also by Albie Tannenbaum and Max Rubin, who had been pinched too, and were looking to make a deal. Both rats agreed on the witness stand that Lepke had ordered Rosen’s killing. After Tannenbaum quoted Lepke verbatim about taking care of Rosen, thereby confirming Rubin’s account, Lepke’s goose was cooked. On November 30, 1941, it took the jury a little over four hours to return a guilty verdict on Lepke for murder.
After several appeals were turned down, on March 4, 1944, Lepke was fried in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, and it was the murder of Joe Rosen, a poor nobody, who just wanted to live a decent, hard-working life in peace, that put him there.
To this day, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter is the only mob boss ever to be executed by the government.