Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, one of the many organized crime figures that were responsible for putting Las Vegas on the map and a true psychopath.
Born in Manhattan in 1905, by the time he was 14 he was running his own “mini-gang” on the Lower East side. In was during this time that he met up with Meyer Lansky and started a bootlegging operation that proved successful. By the time Bugsy had reached the tender age of 21 he had acquired himself quite a resume. It boasted such crimes as hijacking, the aforementioned bootlegging, narcotics trafficking, white slavery, rape, burglary, robbery, running numbers, and extortion. No resume of this type would be complete without murder so Bugsy managed to throw in about twelve of those for good measure.
It wasn’t long before the two Jewish mobsters caught the eye of the Mafia and they were recruited by such notable crime figures as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Tommy Luchese and Vito Genovese to form a national crime “syndicate.”. He was dispatched from New York in the 1930’s to California to run the “mobs” West Coast operations. It was while in California that “Ben” (nobody would dare call him Bugsy to his face for fear of, well, you can probably guess) got a taste of Hollywood and started hobnobbing with the likes of Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. This was in addition to many other aspiring actresses with whom “Ben” managed to, shall we say, keep company. Other members of Siegel’s “organization” began to take notice of their partners love of the limelight and were generally not pleased. It seems that they liked to conduct their business outside of the public eye.
During the 1940’s the syndicate had new plans for Bugsy. They asked him to go out to Las Vegas and scout out the possibility of opening up a hotel and casino, the likes of which had never been seen before (at least here in the States). At first, Bugsy wasn’t too enamored of the plan since he regarded Vegas as a mere pit stop in the middle of the desert and that nobody in their right mind would make the trip. Upon further consideration (and maybe some “persuasion”) he came on board and was given a couple of million dollars to get the project going. Unfortunately for him, a couple million wasn’t enough – the figure soon capped at around six million dollars. His “partners” were not pleased.
Amidst much fanfare and hoopla, the Flamingo Hotel (named after a nickname of one of Siegels girlfriends) managed to open. It was a disaster. Not long afterward, the syndicate decided that they wanted their money back. They also had a sneaking suspicion that Bugsy was profiting off to the side by skimming construction funds and dipping into the gambling revenues. A definite no-no. That’s all it took for them to pass the death sentence for Bugsy at a conference held in Havana in 1946. Reportedly, his life long partner in crime, Meyer Lansky cast the deciding vote.
Bugsy knew his was in some deep shit. He asked (begged?) for some time to turn things around at the Flamingo. His request was granted and by May of 1947 the hotel was actually generating a profit. Bugsy figured he was now in the clear.
Wrong. On June 20th of 1947 he was relaxing at his girlfriend's mansion in Beverly Hills. Two bullets fired from an army carbine crashed through a window and straight into Bugsy’s face. The first one caught him in the bridge of his nose and wound up under his left eye. The second hit him in the right cheek and went through his neck, breaking a vertebra along the way. When authorities found the body, his right eye had come to rest about 15 feet away. Nobody was ever caught in the murder.
Interesting anecdote. Rumor has it that one of the construction guys working at the Flamingo expressed some concern for his safety. After all, the guys in charge were not exactly pillars of society. Bugsy reportedly told the guy not to worry since “we only kill each other.” How prophetic.