The Hollywood Gangster
As a young man in New York, Siegel was reportedly already extorting protection money from pushcart vendors when he joined with Meyer Lansky to establish the Bugs and Meyer Gang. They later started working for "Lucky" Luciano. In 1936, he moved to Southern California at Lansky's suggestion, where he organized gambling, prostitution, and narcotics operations, and partied with Hollywood. He is most well-known for the construction of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. He was killed June 20, 1947, by gunfire at his home in Beverly Hills, and Lansky took over the Vegas operation.
PBSBenjamin "Bugsy" Siegel
Vicious and ruthless, he was one of the most infamous and feared gangsters of his day. Born Benjamin Siegelbaum on February 28, 1906, to Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, Ben resented and vowed to rise above the poverty surrounding him. He sought wealth, fame and power, and by the age of fourteen, Ben Siegel, as he had others call him, had already started his own gang.
Crazy as a Bedbug
Fellow gang members nicknamed Siegel "Bugsy" in reference to his notoriously quick and violent temper - he was as "crazy as a bedbug." As one of Bugsy's companions would recall, "He was like a pistol when he got mad." Although the nickname "Bugsy" was meant by his fellow gang members as a compliment, it reminded Siegel of the impoverished youth he had always tried to leave behind and loathed it. Anyone who called him "Bugsy" to his face risked certain bodily harm.
As a teenager, Siegel met and formed an alliance with future Syndicate leader Meyer Lansky. Known as the Bugs and Meyer Mob, the gang operated out of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Working mainly in bootlegging, Siegel and Lansky's gang eventually folded into the Syndicate, a loosely bound organization that unified mobsters from various national gangs. A separate "enforcement" branch of the Syndicate was created simply for carrying out murders. Siegel was one of the founding members and chief operators of "Murder, Incorporated." By some estimates, he murdered more than 30 men, not including those whose murders he arranged, or those he killed in tandem with fellow Syndicate "enforcers."
In 1929 Siegel married Esther Krakower, with whom he had two daughters. Siegel was a notorious womanizer, however, and the marriage would eventually end in divorce. In the mid 1930s, with Murder, Inc. in prosecution, Lansky sent Siegel out of town. In Los Angeles he worked as the bagman, collecting the growing skim for Sidney Korshak in Chicago. He worked with the area's wire services, as well as the Syndicate's enormous narcotics trade route through Mexico, and helped set up new circuits with Al Capone's Trans America Wire service. By 1942 the Syndicate's wire operation was earning them half a million dollars a day.
Among the Stars
While working for Lansky in Southern California, Siegel also pursued his own dreams. He had always wanted to act, and when he arrived in California, he met up with his childhood friend from Brooklyn, actor George Raft. Through Raft, Siegel became friends with many of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time -- actress Jean Harlow was the godmother to Siegel's daughter Millicent -- and he frequently threw lavish parties in his Beverly Hills home.
Flashy and Vain
Siegel was extremely concerned with appearances. "Class, that's the only thing that counts in life," he once said. "Class. Without class and style a man's a bum, he might as well be dead." Famed for his flashy dress, Siegel bought the most expensive, tailored houndstooth jackets and silk shirts money could buy. His hair, which he was deathly afraid of losing, was always perfectly coiffed. At night, Siegel would use face creams and a chinstrap to keep his skin taut and assure that he kept his youthful looks, and he tried every cream and elixir on the market to thicken his increasingly thinning hair.
The Pursuit of Class
In the early 1940s, Lansky had begun to catch wind of the economic possibilities of building in Las Vegas, and he sent Siegel to survey the burgeoning city. Billy Wilkerson, gambler, drunk, raconteur, owner of Ciro's in Los Angeles and founder of the Hollywood Reporter, was planning to build a new resort on Highway 91. He was desperately in need of money, and Siegel, looking to establish a hotel for the Syndicate, took over the construction of the hotel. Using funds pooled by the Syndicate, Siegel imagined a hotel that was a far cry from the frontier-themed resorts that populated Las Vegas at the time. The hotel was designed after the resorts in Havana in which Lansky and the Syndicate had been investing. Siegel's obsession with appearances extended to the construction of his hotel. He was constantly improving the blueprints for the resort, adding extra amenities, more expensive furnishings and even private sewage pipes to each and every room. Siegel's pursuit of "class" knew no bounds.
Gullible and Insatiable
It was soon discovered, however, that Siegel lacked Lansky's business acumen. The contractors he hired to complete the hotel fleeced him, often charging twice for shipments of materials. The combination of Siegel's ambition and business naivete sent the construction severely over budget, blowing up to $6 million. As the costs spiraled, Siegel's superiors in the Syndicate began to get concerned. They suspected Siegel was skimming money, and began put pressure on him. But Siegel assured them that the price of his hotel would soon be overshadowed by the profits he anticipated would come pouring in.
The FlamingoThe extravagant hotel was dubbed the "Flamingo" after a nickname of Virginia Hill, the woman with whom Siegel had his most famous and enduring relationship.
The Hit Man Gets the Hit
He had either killed or had killed a hood named James Ragan who ran a race wire, then tried to divert the profits of a race wire to cover his expenses. On June 20, 1947, an unknown gunman murdered Siegel as he sat reading the evening's newspaper in Virginia Hill's living room. When the police finally arrived at Hill's estate, they found Siegel riddled with bullets, his right eye propelled fifteen feet away from his body. News of Siegel's murder thrust Las Vegas back into the national spotlight, as photographs of his lifeless body were plastered on newspapers throughout the country.
Biography.comWho Was Bugsy Siegel?
Bugsy Siegel built a criminal empire through bootlegging, gambling and ruthless assassinations before setting up shop in Las Vegas. He opened the famous Flamingo Hotel and Casino, the start of his notorious gambling operation in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. In 1947 he was gunned down at his girlfriend Virginia Hill's home at the age of 41.
During the 1920s, Mafia kingpin Charles "Lucky" Luciano and several other Italian gangsters organized themselves into a national syndicate. Nicknamed Bugsy for his volatile nature, Siegel became a prominent player in this newly established group of criminals. With a goal of killing off many of New York's veteran gangsters, Siegel was one of four hitmen hired to execute Sicilian mobster Joe "the Boss" Masseria in 1931.
In 1937, Siegel relocated his bootlegging and gambling rackets to the West Coast. Settling in California, he set up gambling dens and offshore gambling ships, while also consolidating the already existing prostitution, narcotics and bookmaking rackets. Moving his wife and children out with him, Siegel maintained an extravagant lifestyle in Beverly Hills, where he bought a palatial estate, frequented parties and rubbed elbows with Hollywood moguls and starlets.
Las Vegas and the Flamingo Hotel
In the late 1930s, Siegel began dating actress Virginia Hill. They were a striking couple known as much for their violent natures as for their glamorous looks. In 1945, the two moved to Las Vegas, where Siegel began working toward his dream of building a gambling mecca in the Nevada desert. With funding from the Eastern crime syndicate, construction of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino began under Siegel's supervision.
Originally budgeted at $1.5 million, the building project soon proved to be a problem as construction costs soared to more than $6 million. When it was discovered that many of the overruns were attributable to Siegel's theft and mismanagement, Lansky (now a prominent member of the Eastern syndicate) became enraged by his betrayal.
On the evening of June 20, 1947, Siegel was brutally killed, when a fusillade of bullets crashed through Hill's living room window in Beverly Hills where he was visiting. Simultaneously, three of Lansky's cohorts entered the Flamingo Hotel and declared a takeover. Although Lansky denied involvement in the hit, there is little doubt that Siegel was murdered on syndicate orders.
- Birth Year: 1906
- Birth date: February 28, 1906
- Birth State: New York
- Birth City: Brooklyn
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: Iconic mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel built the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas, igniting an era of glamour, gambling and gangsters in the desert.
- Industries: Crime and Terrorism
- Astrological Sign: Pisces
- Death Year: 1947
- Death date: June 20, 1947
- Death State: California
- Death City: Beverly Hills
- Death Country: United States
WIKIPEDIA Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel
(February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947) was an American mobster who was a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip. Siegel was influential within the Jewish Mob, along with his childhood friend and fellow gangster Meyer Lansky, and he also held significant influence within the Italian-American Mafia and the largely Italian-Jewish National Crime Syndicate. Described as handsome and charismatic, he became one of the first front-page celebrity gangsters.
Siegel was one of the founders and leaders of Murder, Inc. and became a bootlegger during American Prohibition. The Twenty-first Amendment was passed in 1933 repealing Prohibition, and he turned to gambling. In 1936, he left New York and moved to California.
HOLLYWOODSiegel was welcomed in the highest circles
He befriended movie stars. He was known to associate with George Raft, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, as well as studio executives Louis B. Mayer and Jack L. Warner. Actress Jean Harlow was a friend of Siegel and godmother to his daughter Millicent. Siegel bought real estate and threw lavish parties at his Beverly Hills home. He gained admiration from young celebrities, including Tony Curtis, Phil Silvers, and Frank Sinatra.
His time as a mobster during this period was mainly as a hitman and muscle, as he was noted for his prowess with guns and violence. In 1941, Siegel was tried for the murder of friend and fellow mobster Harry Greenberg, who had turned informant. He was acquitted in 1942.
Siegel traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he handled and financed some of the original casinos. He assisted developer William R. Wilkerson's Flamingo Hotel after Wilkerson ran out of funds. Siegel assumed control of the project and managed the final stages of construction.
LAS VEGASWith the Flamingo
Siegel would supply the gambling, the best liquor and food, and the biggest entertainers at reasonable prices. He believed that these attractions would lure thousands of vacationers willing to gamble $50 or $100, as well as "high rollers".
Las VegasSiegel began a spending spree
He demanded the finest building that money could buy at a time of postwar shortages. As costs soared, his checks began bouncing. By October 1946, the Flamingo's costs were above $4 million. By 1947, the costs were over $6 million (equivalent to $64 million in 2021). By late November of that year, the work was nearly finished.
According to later reports by local observers, Siegel's "maniacal chest-puffing" set the pattern for several generations of notable casino moguls. His violent reputation did not help his situation. He boasted one day that he had personally killed some men; he saw the panicked look on the face of head contractor Del Webb and reassured him: "Del, don't worry, we only kill each other."
The Flamingo opened on December 26, 1946 in a driving rainstorm, resulting in a poor reception and technical difficulties, and it soon closed. It reopened in March 1947 with a finished hotel, but by then his mob partners were convinced that an estimated $1 million of the construction budget overrun had been skimmed by Siegel's girlfriend Virginia Hill or by both of them. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot dead by a sniper through the window of Hill's Linden Drive mansion in Beverly Hills, California.
DeathOn the night of June 20, 1947
Siegel was sitting with his associate Allen Smiley in Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills home reading the Los Angeles Times, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window with a .30 caliber military M1 carbine, hitting him many times, including twice in the head. Some looked upon it as a cowardly approach, bushwhacking the formidable and weapons-proficient Siegel from a distance. No one was charged with killing Siegel, and the crime remains officially unsolved.