Bugsy Siegel 1906-1947
Bugsy Siegel wasn’t the kind of shy gangster who pulled strings from a smoky back room. Handsome and charismatic, he was one of the first of the front-page mobsters.
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Bugsy Siegel wasn’t the kind of shy gangster who pulled strings from a smoky back room.
Handsome and charismatic, he was one of the first of the front-page mobsters.
The Jewish-American crime boss was a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip and there was little attempt to hide the dealings of another of his sidelines he co-founded – Murder Incorporated.
From humble roots in New York, he partied with the rich and famous in Hollywood before meeting a suitably violent and headline-grabbing death in Beverly Hills in 1947.
‘Bugsy’, a semi-autobiographical biography of Siegel, was released in 1991, featuring actor Warren Beatty in the title role.
The Formation Of Murder Inc.
Born Benjamin Siegel on February 28, 1906 in Brooklyn, he was raised by immigrant Jewish parents in the crime-ridden suburb of Williamsburg.
He extorted cash from peddlers before joining up with fellow gangster Meyer Lansky and forming the Bugs-Meyer Gang, the ruthless Jewish mob that played a key part in the formation of the band of contract killers they called Murder Inc.
Working as a bootlegger during Prohibition, his influence extended to the Italian-American mafia that also held sway over criminal enterprises in New York at the time.
A Dream Come True
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Siegel turned to gambling and eventually zeroed in on the opportunities of a gaming mecca in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Initially he moved to California, setting up gambling dens and offshore gambling ships while muscling in on the drug, prostitution and bookmaking rackets in Los Angeles.
Buying a luxurious Beverly Hills mansion, he lived a flamboyant lifestyle, partying with movie stars and moguls and dating a beautiful actress named Virginia Hill.
In 1945, the glamorous couple moved to Las Vegas to make Siegel’s gambling dream a reality.
Flamingo Hotel & Casino 1945
Image by Kstadelman (CC BY 3.0)
The Moment Of Betrayal
When William Wilkerson, the businessman building the Flamingo Hotel, ran short of funds, Siegel seized the opportunity and took over the final stages of construction using cash from his eastern crime syndicate connections.
However, when the budget ballooned from $1.5 million to more than $6 million, his fellow gangsters became suspicious, believing correctly that Siegel was frittering millions on his extravagant lifestyle. Among those left seething at the betrayal was Siegel’s old partner Meyer Lansky.
On the night of June 20, 1947, Siegel was sitting reading the Los Angeles Times at Hill’s Beverly Hills home when he was killed by a fusillade of bullets fired through the window.
Nobody was charged with the murder and the crime remains officially unsolved, but Siegel’s theft and mismanagement of the Flamingo is said to have sealed his fate.
A meeting of the mob syndicate that loaned him the funds for the hotel – which included Lansky and Charles “Lucky Luciano" – supposedly agreed on the execution and put a contract out on his head.
The day after the “hit” three of Lansky’s team walked into the Flamingo and took over control of the hotel and casino.
Bugsy Siegel Memorial
Image by Jarhed (CC BY 3.0)
Never To Be Forgotten
One other theory was that Matthew “Moose” Pandza, an associate of Siegel’s Las Vegas partner Moe Sedway, killed the mobster as a pre-emptive strike.
Sedway’s wife, Bee, had reportedly learned Siegel intended to kill her husband to prevent him prying further into claims he was stealing from the Mob.
The Flamingo may have been the catalyst for Siegel’s demise but he will not been forgotten at the Vegas landmark. There is a memorial plaque to him at the casino between the pool and a wedding chapel.