Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bugsy Siegel

The End

The Flamingo managed to limp through the early part of January, leaking money the way a Murder, Inc. victim drips blood, before Bugsy gave up. Siegel ordered the resort closed until the hotel could be finished. Fortunately for Ben, his staunchest allies remained Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, who continued to believe that money could and would be made in Las Vegas.

Bugsy devoted all of his waking hours to making sure the Flamingo was ready for its grand reopening in March. Lansky had managed to buy him a few more months, and Ben made sure that he didn't waste it. He shuttled back-and-forth among Miami (where Meyer was living), Los Angeles (where his wife and mistress were ensconced), and Las Vegas.

The casino reopened in March, even though it wasn't 100 percent complete. By May, it appeared that Bugsy's dream would come true and that once again, he had tempted fate and come away a winner. The resort reported a profit of over $250,000 for the first half of 1947, including the disastrous month of January.

Doc Stacher and Meyer Lansky were lobbying hard on Siegel's behalf, trying to calm the nervous investors. When the Flamingo went into the black in May 1947, they were quick to point out that Bugsy was right after all.

In mid-June, Ben had begun to relax himself. He sent a wire to his girlfriend (according to Doc Stacher, Benny and Virginia Hill were married in Mexico in April) in Paris, telling her to return to California. Virginia came back to the Golden State, but quickly she and Bugsy had one of their world famous spats Hill reportedly smacked a female patron of the Flamingo in the face with a bottle and she left again for Zurich.

On the evening of June 20, 1947, Ben Siegel was at home in the bungalow he and Virginia shared in Hollywood. He had just returned from an evening haircut and manicure and was lolling about on Hill's chintz sofa in front of an open window reading the evening papers. Gabbing with Siegel was another West Coast mobster, Alan Smiley. Upstairs, Chick Hill, Virginia's brother, was romancing his girlfriend, Jerry Mason. Things were finally looking up for Ben. His daughters were on their way out from the East Coast to spend the summer with him and it certainly looked like the Flamingo had turned the corner.

Bugsy Dead (POLICE)
Bugsy Dead (POLICE)

At about 10:30 p.m., a fusillade of bullets crashed through the living room window. The first shot hit Bugsy in the head, blowing his eye 15 feet from his body. Four more bullets fired from a .30-06 crashed into his body, breaking his ribs and tearing up his lungs. Three other shots missed their mark, but the damage was done. Bugsy Siegel, 42 years old, was dead. Even though Bugsy's slaying was front-page news across the country, just five people all relatives attended Ben's funeral. Meyer Lansky was in Havana and couldn't make it back in time; Virginia Hill was in Zurich; and none of Ben's Hollywood buddies managed to make it to the services.

Who killed Bugsy Siegel has never really been answered, but there are no shortage of theories.

A lmost before the law was called to Hill's Hollywood home, two of Meyer Lansky's top operatives, Maurice Rosen and Gus Greenbaum, walked into the Flamingo and announced that the Syndicate was taking over. Rosen and Greenbaum had worked for Lansky in his casinos in Miami, Havana and New York, which led many to believe that Meyer had finally succumbed to mob pressure and ordered his friend killed.

Uri Dan, who had the opportunity to question Lansky extensively about Siegel's last days, reported that Meyer told him, "if it were in my power to see Benny alive, he would live as long as Methuselah."

Another popular theory is that Siegel's other Las Vegas investors had him killed because his involvement was making it difficult for them to get legitimate financing. These co-investors included Greenbaum, an Arizona bookie; Willie Alderman and Davie and Chickie Berman, guys who had run carpet joints in Minneapolis. These investors had all made a nice chunk of change with Siegel and Lansky in an earlier Vegas casino, only to reinvest it in the Flamingo and watch their cash disappear.

Siegel's Las Vegas attorney, Lou Weiner, was one of the most vocal proponents of the Vegas partners theory. His conclusion is supported by another Lansky chum, Harold Conrad.

"Benny had spent a lot of their money," Conrad said. "And money was what counted with those guys."

The Las Vegas that Bugsy Siegel knew doesn't really exist anymore. The hotel chains and developers moved in and made offers to the mobsters that they couldn't refuse. For many years, the Flamingo flourished as one of the top hotels in Vegas, and with more than 3,500 rooms, is the fourth-largest hotel in the world. But the Flamingo of Bugsy disappeared for good in the 1980s, when the current owner, Hilton Corporation, tore down "the Bugsy bungalow," a fortified cottage with 3-inch thick concrete walls.

Even the memory of Bugsy Siegel is anathema to the current owners of the Flamingo. In 1997, Hilton celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the hotel with nary a word about Ben (although they did issue a limited edition chip with his picture on it).

Bugsy at the end (CORBIS)
Bugsy at the end (CORBIS)
"The Bugsy image was not something that was particularly endearing to the Flamingo or Hilton," said a spokesman for the hotel. "This was not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. We're talking about a robber, rapist and murderer. Those are not endearing qualities."

And that's probably the lesson that the life of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel imparts on us: a killer with a good idea is, after all, just another bum.

 

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