Murder Incorporated

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Benjamin "Bugsy" Seigel

Benjamin Hymen Siegel was an gangster , popularly thought to be a primary instigator of large-scale development of Las Vegas. He hated his nickname Bugsy and wouldn't allow anyone to call him that to his face.
Siegel was born in Brookyn, NY to a poor Jewish family, one of five children. As a boy he joined a street gang on Lafayette Street in Lower East Side and committed first mainly thefts until, with another boy called Moe Sedway, he devised his own protection racket. He forced pushcart merchants to pay him five dollars or he would incinerate their merchandise on the spot.

As a teenager, Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky formed a small gang with him that expanded to gambling and car theft . Reputedly Siegel also worked as the gang's hitman who Lansky would sometimes hire out to other gang bosses. In 1926 Siegel was charged for rape but Lansky cohersed the victim not to testify.

In 1930 Lansky and Siegel joined forces with Lucky Luciano. Siegel became a bootlegger and was also associated with Albert Anastasia. Siegel was used for bootlegging operations inNY, NJ, and Philly. During the so-called Castallermerse War in 1930-1931, they fought the gang of Joe Masseria and Siegel reputedly had a hand in Masseria's murder in Coney Island and later had a part in Murder, Inc. In 1932 he was arrested for gambling and bootlegging but got away with a fine. Lanskey and Siegel were briefly allied with Dutch Schultz and killed rival loan sharksLouis and Joseph Amberg in 1935.

In 1937 the East Coast mob sent Siegel California to try to develop syndicate gambling rackets in the West alongside Los Angeles mobster Jack Dragna . Siegel also recruited Jewish gang boss Mickey Cohen as his lieutenant. Siegel used syndicate money to set up the national wire service so that East Coast mob would get their cut faster.

Siegel had married his childhood sweetheart Esther Krakow, sister of a fellow hitman Whitey Krakow . He eventually moved her and their two daughters to West Coast after his bosses had sent him there, but kept them separate from his affairs. Siegel had a number of mistresses, including Ketti Gallian , actresses Wendy Barrie and Marie MacDonald and Hollywood socialite Dorothy DiFrasso . With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle. He is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios. He lived in extravagant fashion, as befit to his reputation. In his income tax reports he claimed to earn a living by legal gambling in Santa Anita racetrack.

Siegel also became enamored with moll and courier Virginia Hill. They began a torrid affair. Hill worked for Siegel to establish contacts in Mexico. Hill was wealthy in her own right and had bought a mansion in Beverly Hills where Siegel frequently stayed. Siegel called her his "bait" and she became his more regular mistress. Later there were rumors that they were secretly married in Mexico. Their affair, however, didn't keep Siegel from womanizing. Virgina's reaction to his infidelities is unknown, but the long-suffering Esther had finally had enough; she went to Reno and obtained a divorce in 1946.

In November of 39, Siegel, with Whitey Krakower and two others, killed Harry Greenberg who became a police informer . Siegel was arrested and tried for the murder (by that time, he had also killed Krakower). He was acquitted but newspapers referred to him for the first time with his nickname "Bugsy": he was not pleased, especially when his gangland past was revealed. On one return trip to the East, Siegel drove by the then small town of Las Vegas. Legend has it that, at the moment he had a vision of turning this town into a large gambling spot, he had stopped there for a call of nature.

According to popular myth. Bugsy had a vision where he would build large casinos and hotels where people could go and gamble His vision was fueled by the fact Nevada had legalized gambling in 1931. Siegel returned to the East and convinced his fellow mobsters about the possibilities of building a major gambling mecca in Las Vegas. After convincing his gangmates, Siegel returned and began working on his dream, with the construction of a casino he would name The Flamingo , his pet name for Virginia Hill.

The reality is, the mafia had a presence in Las Vegas casinos going back to at least 1941. The swank Flamingo was conceived and started by Los Angeles businessman Billy Wilkerson, who handed the project over to Siegel only after running short of funds. In return, Siegel allowed Wilkerson to retain a one-third ownership.

However, Siegel knew little about construction; under his oversight, the construction costs ballooned from $1 million to $6 million. Allegedly, the Del Webb company, which was in charge of on-site construction, would drive building materials on site, before simply driving them out of the back gate and billing Siegel for their work. When Webb became worried that he would come to harm, Siegel reputedly joked: "Don't worry, Del. We only kill each other." The Mafia members who invested in Siegel's project became worried back East, and began to suspect that Siegel was stealing money from them. Because Hill had been taking frequent trips to Europe they also worried that Siegel might be putting their money away into a swiss bank account.

In 1946, several of his business and crime partners flew to Cuba for theHavana Conference meeting with Luciano, who had begun to operate Mafia operations from Italy after he was paroled from jail in the U.S. and deported to Europe. One of the main topics for discussion at the conference was whether they should order a hit on Siegel, who was kept in the dark about the meeting. Lansky, who remembered fondly how Siegel had saved his life on various occasions when they were young, took a stand against the hit, and he asked them to give Siegel a chance until the casino opened. Luciano, who believed that Siegel could still make a profit in Las Vegas and pay back what he owed the Mafia investors, decided to cancel the hit.

Siegel opened his casino on a star-studded night, though he did not have as many Hollywood stars with him as he had hoped. Soon the casino ran dry of stars and customers, and the gangsters met once again in Cuba to decide whether they would "liquidate" Siegel. But, luckily for Siegel, he had turned a profit on the month of the second meeting, and Lansky again stood up for his old friend. Luciano decided to give him one last chance.

Eventually, "Bugsy's" business venture in Las Vegas failed. Virginia stole the money he owed the mob and fled to Paris, then Sweden. Siegel was shot in his home by a hidden hitman outside as he read the newspaper.


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