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Bugsy Siegel
February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947
 



Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was an American gangster, who was behind large-scale development of Las Vegas.
 

 

Early life

Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a poor Jewish family from Letychiv, Podolia Governorate of the Russian Empire (today's Ukraine). As a boy, Siegel joined a street gang on Lafayette Street on the Lower East Side and first committed mainly thefts, until, with another youth named Moe Sedway, he devised his own protection racket: pushcart merchants were forced to pay him five dollars or he would incinerate their merchandise on the spot.

During adolescence, Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky, who was forming a small crew whose criminal activities expanded to include gambling and car theft. Siegel reputedly also worked as the crew's hit man whom Lansky would sometimes hire out to other Jewish and Italian-American crime families.

In 1930 Lansky and Siegel built close ties to Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello, both future bosses of the Genovese crime family. Siegel became a bootlegger and was also associated with Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Siegel was also heavily involved in bootlegging operations in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. During the so-called Castellammarese War in 1930-1931, they fought the gang of Sal Maranzano; Siegel reputedly had a hand in Maranzano's murder and later in the formation of Murder, Inc. In 1932 he was arrested for gambling and bootlegging but got away with only a fine. Lansky and Siegel assisted with Luciano's brief alliance with Dutch Schultz and killed rival loan sharks Louis "Pretty" Amberg and Joseph Amberg in 1935.


California

In 1937, the East Coast mob sent Siegel to California to develop syndicate gambling rackets with Los Angeles mobster Jack Dragna. Once in LA, Siegel recruited Jewish gang boss Mickey Cohen as his lieutenant. Siegel used syndicate money to set up a national wire service to help the East Coast mob quicken their returns.

On January 28, 1929, Siegel married Esta Krakow, his childhood sweetheart and sister of hit man Whitey Krakow. Siegel eventually moved Esta and their two daughters to the West Coast. However, Siegel was the least faithful of husbands; four of his mistresses included actresses Ketti Gallian, Wendy Barrie, Marie "The Body" MacDonald, and Hollywood socialite Dorothy DiFrasso.

With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle, allegedly using his contacts to extort the movie studios.

At this point in his career, Siegel started living in extravagant fashion; on his tax returns Siegel claimed to earn his living through legal gambling at the Santa Anita racetrack near Los Angeles.

Siegel soon started an affair with Virginia Hill. the Alabama-born Hill owned a mansion in Beverly Hills that she had bought from Metropolitan Opera baritone Lawrence Tibbett. Siegel became a frequent guest at the Hill mansion. There were rumors that the couple had secretly married in Mexico, where Hill helped Siegel establish drug dealing contacts. However, Siegel's relationship with Hill did not deter Siegel from his compulsive womanizing. In 1946, Hill went to Reno and divorced Siegel.

On November 22, 1939, Siegel, Whitey Krakow, and two other gang members killed Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg. Greenberg had become a police informant and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, boss of Murder, Inc., ordered his killing. Siegel was arrested and tried for the Greenberg murder. Whitey Krakow escaped prosecution because Siegel had previously murdered him. Siegel was acquitted on the Greenberg murder, but his reputation was in ruins. During the trial, the newspapers revealed Siegel's sordid past and started referring to him as "Bugsy". He hated the nickname, Bugsy (said to be based on the slang term "bugs", meaning "crazy", and used to describe his sometimes erratic behaviour), and wouldn't allow anyone to call him that to his face.


Las Vegas

Siegel came to Las Vegas in 1941, backed by the Chicago Outfit to establish the Trans America race wire service. In 1945, Siegel became a minority owner of the El Cortez Hotel, along with Meyer Lansky in the City Of Las Vegas, Nevada proper, impressed by the success of the El Rancho Vegas casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Siegel purchased the Flamingo Las Vegas from Billy Wilkerson.


Death

On the night of June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot while at home in Beverley Hills. No one was ever charged for the murder, and the crime remains unsolved to this day.

In the Bialystoker Synagogue on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Siegal is memorialized by a Yartzheit (remembrance) plaque that marks his death date so mourners can say Kaddish for the anniversary of his passing. Siegel's plaque is right below that of his father, Max Siegel, who died two months prior to his son's murder.
 


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Benjamin Hymen Siegel was born in New York City on February 28, 1906. He was one of five children living in a small tenement house in Brooklyn with their Jewish-Austrian parents. Early on, the children sought to escape their poor conditions. But while his brothers and sisters worked in the classroom, Benjamin chose another route. He turned to the streets. By the time he was nine years old, he was already playing confidence games. He first watched others before playing the games himself.

By his late teens, Benjamin was tough. His main source of income was from running craps games in the street. As far as organized crime went, he was a nobody until he met Meyer Lanksy. He was fighting another man over a handgun one day when Lansky broke it up. Lansky hurried him away before he could be arrested. They became life-long friends after that.

The two decided to start their own gang, which became known as the Bugs and Meyer gang. By that time, Benjamin had become known as “Bugsy” because he was thought to be “crazier than a bug.” They started out with a series of burglaries. Then, they fenced the things that they stole. But their big “break” (if there can be such a thing for criminals) came with prohibition. Arnold Rothstein supplied large amounts of illegal liquor. Bugsy and Lansky were just two of many who worked delivering liquor for Rothstein. The job benefited Bugsy in another way because Rothstein bought off anybody who tried to hang a rap on Bugsy.

By age 21, Bugsy was making a good deal of money, and he flaunted it. He bought a fancy apartment at the Waldorf Hotel. He wore fancy clothes. He bought a Tudor home in nearby Scarsdale. He was good looking and charming, and in 1929, he was able to convince Esther Krackhauer to marry him. They had two daughters.

Soon after this, Bugsy began a long association with Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Luciano was the leader of the Italian mob who wanted control of the New York mob. Luciano had already arranged a fight between the two ringleaders, Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Macaria. When Macaria was gunned down, that left only Maranzano to deal with. Luciano hired bodyguards, one of whom was Bugsy, before going to take care of Maranzano. When the smoke cleared, Maranzano was dead. Now Luciano was at the helm.

Bugsy became one of several hired assassins for Luciano. The press labeled them Murder Inc. But in 1935, Thomas Dewey, special prosecutor for the attorney general, began a crusade against organized crime. Luciano was arrested for extorting prostitutes. Bugsy was worried that the law was getting too close. He left New York and moved his family to Hollywood. It wasn’t long before he had control of the bookmaking. Then he took over the prostitution and narcotics rings.

While there, Bugsy met his old friend George Raft. Ironically, Raft made a living playing gangsters in movies. Raft introduced him to many Hollywood stars, including Jean Harlowe and Clark Gable. Bugsy had his own influence in Hollywood; he had control of a union that represented extras, and he frequently called them out on strike.

In November 1939, Harry “Big Greeny” Greenburg showed up in Los Angeles. He had given up information on other gangsters to save himself, but he needed a place to hide. Unluckily for him, Bugsy was in Los Angeles. It was only a matter of time before Bugsy killed him. But this time, Bugsy was charged with the crime and couldn’t buy his way out of it. He was astonished when he found out that one of the state’s witnesses was his wife’s brother Whitey. Whitey had actually participated in the crime. Bugsy arranged for his death and that of one of the other witnesses. Upon their deaths, the state had to let Bugsy go free.

About this time, Bugsy met Virginia Hill. She had been sent to Los Angeles by mobster Joe Adonis to recruit gamblers for the Chicago mob. She found Bugsy very charming and was instantly infatuated. The fact that he was married didn’t change a thing for her. They started some joint ventures in which they ran numbers rackets and drug smuggling. But by 1941, Bugsy needed to get away from the charges that still haunted him in Los Angeles.

He went with Mo Sedway to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal. Most of the casinos had wire services that reported the daily horse races. Bugsy and Sedway immediately took control of the wire services. But Bugsy’s real dream was to build a luxurious hotel and high class casino. He would soon have his opportunity.

Just outside of Las Vegas, Billy Wilkerson was building a new casino called the Flamingo. But by January 1945, he was deeply in debt. Bugsy stepped in to finance the project with the mob’s money. Bugsy, Sedway, and Gus Greenbaum became partners with Wilkerson. He promised his investors that the hotel and casino would open on December 26, 1946. But Bugsy really knew nothing about construction, business, or casinos. A series of construction disasters made it impossible for him to meet his deadline. By December 26, only the casino, restaurant, and showroom were ready. His mob partners wanted him to wait until the hotel was ready too, but the grand opening proceeded as planned. Other problems caused him to close the casino on February 1, 1947, to fix some structural problems. About the same time, his wife asked for a divorce, which he eagerly granted.

The Flamingo reopened in March, this time with the new hotel. It began making money right away. But Luciano suspected that Bugsy and Virginia were skimming off the profits. He decided he would have to kill Bugsy. On June 20, 1947, Bugsy returned to Los Angeles while Virginia was sulking in Paris. After his business was concluded, Bugsy went to Virginia’s Beverly Hills mansion with some friends. That night, as he sat down to read the paper, a hail of bullets came through the window. Though nine shots were fired, only two hit Bugsy. He died at approximately 10:30 pm at the age of 41.

Bugsy was buried in a $5,000 silver-plated casket. There were only five mourners at his funeral: his ex-wife, daughters Barbara and Millicent, his brother Maurice, and his sister Bessy. Bugsy’s murder was never solved.


 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 16 December, 2008