Category Archives: Hyman Lebman

Jewish Gunsmith Hyman S. Lebman

Thanks to reader Henry Sapoznik for alerting me to this one.  As loyal readers will remember, today you can indeed send your guns to a Jewish gunsmith, Budd Gardstein. However, back in the 1930′s, you might have visited Hyman Lebman, today’s profile.

From the articles about Lebman it is difficult to discern whether he was a busy gunsmith who happened to have had a minority of customers who happened to be gangsters, or if he was some sort of arms dealer to gangsters.

One article (click here) relates the view of Lebman’s son, Marvin:

Standing on his lawn, Marvin Lebman said his father hadn’t done anything but sell guns to men in nice suits and hats.
“This was an open business, that had doors that were open. And we were a half a block south of City Hall, half a block north of the police department. Across the street from the county sheriff’s office. We did more work with policemen than we did with anybody else.”

Another article discusses (click here) a full-auto 1911 conversion he did, and how it ended up in the hands of two gangsters:

One day in 1933, he met a pair of otherwise charming young men who were in need of some effective firepower.  They portrayed themselves as new money Texas oilmen and gave Mr. Lebman no evidence to the contrary. What the gunsmith did not know was that one of them was a man born Lester M Gillis, but infamous later as “Baby Face Nelson” and the other one John Herbert Dillinger. Both were master outlaws and desperados who raced to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted List. The two even visited the Lebman home and ate dinner with his family.
Lebman started with the standard .45 ACP caliber Colt M1911A1 semi-automatic pistol as used by the US military in World War 1 and made it into something quite different—he modified the action and trigger group to allow for full-automatic fire. The firearm was not select-fire but full auto only with a cyclic rate of 1000-rounds per minute. To help control this little dragon’s flame he added a ported extended compensator to the muzzle that forced the barrel down as it fired.
A Thompson 1928 style finger-grooved fore grip was added just forward of the trigger guard on the bottom of the frame to allow both hands to be used to steady the weapon. With its standard 7-round magazine capable of being exhausted in just the blink of an eye, an extended magazine was fitted that extended about nine inches from the handgrip. Some of these weapons were upgraded in caliber to .38 Super Automatic. The round, invented in 1929, was similar in size to the .45ACP yet pushed a smaller 130-grain bullet at a blistering 1,280 ft/s. The 45ACP versions used an 18-round extended magazine, while the .38 Super used a 22-round version.
Five guns were made and sold to Nelson, who Lebman knew under the alias James Williams.
Nelson and Dillinger both used and abused their Lebman room-brooms. The gang at the 1934 New Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin used one weapon, a .38 Super 1911 S /N 14130 in the shootout. A second Lebman Pistol was recovered from Dillinger later. One more was recovered from Lebman’s shop at 111 South Flores Street in 1935 after the gang had sent it to him for repair.

Although the article mentions Lebman was charged with NFA technicalities, he was never convicted and apparently went on to continue working as a gunsmith until the 1970′s.  Lebman is featured in Ron Franscell’s book, The Crime Buff’s Guide to Outlaw Texas (click here), but again, I have the sense there is not a lot of meat on the bone to the assertion that Lebman was some kind of “gangster’s gunsmith.”  I am certainly not trying to whitewash Jewish involvement in prohibition-era crime, as there definitely were some brutal Jewish gangsters.  But read the articles on Lebman and judge for yourself.  Wikipedia also offers a brief summary.