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Criminals

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel - Gangster/Las Vegas Visionary

Gangster who was both movie-star handsome and a ruthless murderer

Born: February 28, 1906 - Brooklyn, New York
Died: June 20, 1947 - Beverly Hills, California

Ben Siegel At Police Headquarters
Ben Siegel At Police Headquarters
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was a gangster who through a combination of movie star looks, murderous prowess and visionary instincts with respect to Las Vegas, established himself as one of the most enduring figures in American pop culture. He was a crime partner with Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Lepke Buchalter and had business dealings with just about every other major organized crime figure of the early-to-mid 20th Century. As a hit man, he was involved in assassinations with members of Murder Inc. as well as many jobs he completed on his own, such as the killing of Bo Weinberg, Dutch Schultz's former aide-de-camp.

There are many legendary tales about Siegel. One such tale tells of how, in 1939, Siegel was staying at an Italian villa where purportedly he was there to sell weapons to Mussolini. When Siegel found out that other guests at the villa included top Nazis Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels, he immediately hatched a plan to kill them both. It was only through the pleading of his mistress, the Italian countess, Dorothy DiFrasso, that he agreed to spare the men. Had he not done so, how might world events have been altered?

In the early 1940s he became deeply involved in Las Vegas, specifically focusing on the construction and then running of the Flamingo Hotel. He was assassinated in 1947, in a murder which has never been solved, but was widely believed to be committed at the behest of his colleagues in the Syndicate who felt he was stealing from them.

What follows is a reprint of the article written about Siegel by the New York Times on June 22, 1947, the day after his murder.

SIEGEL, GANGSTER IS SLAIN ON COAST
Co-Chief of 'Bug and Meyer Mob' Here Is Victim of Shots Fired Through Window

Los Angeles, Calif., June 21—Benjamin Siegel, 42 years old, former New York gangster, was slain last midnight by a fusillade of bullets fired through the living room window of a Beverly Hills house were he was staying.

Siegel, who with Meyer Lansky, headed a "strong-arm" group that collaborated with Louis (Lepke) Buchalter, Jacob (Gurrah) Shapiro and other underworld combinations, shifted his based nearly a decade ago. It was generally believed here that he was keeping an important finger in the undercurrent of racketeering in wealthy motion picture, sports and gambling circles. He had been one of the principals in the lavish Flamingo Club at Las Vegas, Nev., where many Hollywood notables gamble.

The murder occurred at 810 North Linden Drive, rented by Mrs. Virginia Hill, known in Hollywood and New York night clubs. She had just left for Paris and had turned keys over to Siegel, who came here yesterday from Las Vegas.

Last evening Siegel drove to Ocean Park, a few miles down to the coast, with a long-time associate, Allen Smiley, Mrs. Hill's brother Charles, and his secretary, Miss Jerri Mason. When they returned Siegel and Smiley sat down on living room sofa next to two tall French windows.

The killer, screened by shrubbery, crept up the driveway of the adjoining house and fired an Army-type carbine through a trellis only a few yards from where Siegel sat. At least six bullets ripped into the living room, several narrowly missing Smiley.

Neighbors heard the shots and reported that a car roared down the street a few seconds later. Police have no clue.

Siegel's daughters, Barbara, 14, and Millicent, 16, and their mother were reported to be on the way here by train from New York. Siegel had lived in various rented houses in Los Angeles and lately had been living in Las Vegas.

In 1944, Siegel and Smiley were arrested and fined $250 each in Superior Court for bookmaking.

Ben Siegel 1928 Mugshot
Ben Siegel 1928 Mugshot

In 'Bug and Meyer Mob' Here

Benjamin Siegel was one of the "Big Six" in New York crime when he left here in 1933 to set up headquarters in the West. With his partner, Meyer Lansky, he headed the "Bug and Meyer" mob, one of the confederation of important racketeers that flourished in the early post-prohibition era.

He ran afoul of the law eight times but his only conviction was in Miami. On Feb. 28, 1930, he was arrested for gambling and vagrancy and from a huge roll of bills paid a $100 fine. He was arrested at other times for murder, rape, carrying concealed weapons, and possessing narcotics but all of those cases were dismissed.

In 1939 Federal authorities charged that Siegel was one of the small group of New York gangsters that controlled a national crime organization reaching into most of the cities of America.

As early as 1931 the "Bug and Meyer mob" started to extend its empire from the lower East Side to the West. While their associates, Lepke and Shapiro, who died last week in prison, were branching south the activities of the "Bug and Meyer mob" extended to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Harry (Greenie) Greenberg headed the Philadelphia office before he was transferred to California to help run the lucrative rackets controlled there by the group.

Greenberg last was slain. Siegel was arrested in 1940 for the murder, freed, re-arrested on the same charge the next year and once more released.

Albert Greenberg, 43, a friend of Benjamin Siegel, was ordered held without bail yesterday here for a hearing on charges that he took part in the stealing of jewelry valued at $100,000 in Beverly Hills, April 2.

C.H. Anderson, chief of police of Beverly Hills, who came here to take Greenberg back to California, said Greenberg was a heavy loser in Siegel's club in Las Vegas.

New York Times, June 22, 1947.

See also: Mickey Cohen, Meyer Lansky, Murder, Inc.

Interesting Facts
  • The 1991 film, Bugsy, featuring Warren Beatty as Ben Siegel, was nominated for several academy awards and won two.
  • Siegel was very good friends with Al Capone, who knew each other from growing up together in Brooklyn.
  • As a man about town in Los Angeles, Siegel was known to hobnob with celebrities such as George Raft, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant.
Further Reading
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