In 1941, Louis Buchalter, the underworld boss of Murder, Inc., the Mafia’s enforcement wing, stood trial for murder. The case was unusual in that a boss had almost never faced a capital charge. Well educated as he was in risk avoidance, such people build layers of bureaucracy between themselves and the violence that makes them rich and powerful.

Plausible deniability is the order of the day. That’s why the feds had to get Al Capone on tax evasion. That’s why Vincent Gigante was known as “the Chin.” His name was never spoken by underlings. If the order came from the top, you were to point at your chin. But Buchalter, who had a big ego and a bad temper, let his name be spoken and his picture be taken, and followed the whims of his psychosis, and so he remains the only Mob boss ever executed by the federal government. When he was electrocuted, at Sing Sing prison on January 21, 1944, house lights flickered in the Hudson Valley.