Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Myth of Mob Gallantry

Virginia Hill: Girlfriend to the Mob

Virginia Hill
Virginia Hill
No woman personified the mob girlfriend more than Virginia Hill, a.k.a. The Flamingo. A sharp-tongued Georgia peach with enough sass and guts to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Frank Nitti, Al Capone, Joe Adonis and eventually Benny Siegel, Virginia was passed along from mobster to mobster but always managed to keep her status on the A-list of underworld women.

An Alabama native who was already a beauty when she moved to Marietta, Georgia with her mother and two brothers in the 1930s, Hill left Georgia in her teens to seek fame and fortune in Chicago, where she ended up as a dancer at the World's Fair. It was while she was working there that she first fell in with mobsters most notably an accountant in the payroll of Al Capone.

Relationships with the Chicago mob didn't last long, but armed with the connections they provided and the moxie she had honed in their presence, Virginia headed west to Los Angeles to be a star. She never made it to the silver screen, but while in Hollywood, she crossed paths with the one mobster who was as tough as she was Benny Siegel.

Virginia and Ben hit it off famously and fought as hard as they loved. They each had a short fuse and Virginia was one of the few people men or women who would dare stand up to Ben when he went buggy. There are some who say they were only interested in the other for sex and money, but others who knew them said eventually Ben and Virginia got married in a quick Mexican ceremony.

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel
Even before Virginia met Ben, she was one of the few women entrusted with Syndicate secrets. She was known as a courier for the mob, a charge she would later deny, but even the people in her home town of Marietta assumed she was connected. She didn't do anything there to dispel the myth, and locals still talk about the time she bought a house for her family for $11,000 paid for with a wad of C-notes she pulled from her purse.

"She was smart and she knew how to keep her mouth shut," said Bea Sedway, the wife of mobster Moey Sedway and a friend of both Ben and Virginia.

Hill was a jealous paramour, but Benny wasn't a one-woman kind of guy. He was also a man who let his passions rule his life. Once, he had three mistresses staying at the Flamingo at one time: Hill, who fulfilled his need for a lover who could match his physical and psychological intensity, Wendy Barrie, a Hollywood actress who supplied the glamour, and the Countess DiFrazzo, who added class. Virginia and Wendy could barely stand to be in the same city, let alone the same hotel, and when their paths crossed on that trip, Hill went after Barrie with such gusto that she nearly dislocated the actress's jaw.

Money was eventually the downfall of the tragic duo of Benny and Virginia. The story is well-known that Ben seriously fouled up the building of the mob's first big venture in Las Vegas, the Flamingo Hotel that he had named for his lover. Ben was a great gangster, but a lousy businessman. Despite his fierce reputation, the contractors working on the hotel were robbing him blind. What's more, Ben was dipping into the Syndicate's bankroll for the project and using Virginia to get the money put away safely overseas.

After the disastrous opening of the hotel around Christmas 1946, Ben retired to the house Virginia had rented in Hollywood. The place had once belonged to Rudolph Valentino. Virginia wasn't at home the night of June 20, 1947, when the Syndicate evened its accounts with Ben Siegel by shooting him where he sat on Virginia's floral sofa. She and Benny had had another of their knock-down-drag-out fights and in a huff, Virginia hopped a plane to Paris. There are still rumors to the effect that Virginia had been tipped to get out of town, but that's unlikely since she allowed a brother and other friends to remain with Siegel. It's also unlikely that the mob would have given her advance warning because she was as guilty as Benny was of stealing from them.

Notified of Ben's murder while in Paris, Virginia fainted. Later, when she was interviewed by authorities who were trying to solve the homicide, she played dumb, even denying that she was Ben's mistress.

"If anyone or anything was his mistress, it was that Las Vegas hotel. I never knew Ben was involved in all that gang stuff. I can't imagine who shot him or why," she reportedly told the police.

Virginia Hill at Kefauver hearing
Virginia Hill at Kefauver hearing
 

After Ben was killed, Virginia remained active in the Underworld and was one of the star witnesses of the Kefauver Commission hearings. She spent a great deal of time denying any knowledge or involvement with the mob in the public portions of the hearings, but behind closed doors, she admitted that more than one mobster had presented her with money or other gifts. When the straight-laced chairman from Tennessee asked her why mobsters thought so highly of her, she replied that it was because of her unmatched talent for performing oral sex. In typical Virginia fashion, the term she used was much more colorful and was capable of rendering much of the Commission speechless. She gave as good as she got in the Kefauver hearings, but lost her cool as she was leaving the hearing and physically assaulted a woman reporter who was part of the media pack that followed her out of the hearing room.

Eventually, Virginia headed back to Europe, settling in the Alps with her third husband. Even the way she died prompted speculation among mob-watchers.

In 1961, broke, in fear from the mob and the IRS, and no longer the young, sought-after Georgia peach, Virginia Hill swallowed a handful of sleeping pills, laid down in a snowdrift and took the Big Sleep. Some people claim it was the long arm of mob justice, but more likely it was suicide by a woman who had once been on top of the Underworld and couldn't handle the fall from grace.

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