Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato - Hollywood Homicide

Hollywood's Hoods

Drawn by the lure of easy money, the criminal element moved west to Hollywood shortly after Nestor Studios began making movies on Sunset Boulevard in 1911. Los Angeles itself was already an immigrant town, and where there were immigrants, there was poverty, and where there was poverty, there was crime.

Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel (AP)
Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel
Hoods of high and low standing were attracted to Hollywood for the same reasons that people from all over came: to be part of the action. Ben Bugsy Siegel was the first racketeer to gain a foothold in the movie industry when he took over control of the extras union and started extorting money from actors and studios.

Siegel would shake down his friends by threatening to pull the extras off the set unless the star or the studio coughed up dough. He had the power to do it and he had the backing of the national syndicate. For some strange reason, the Hollywood community not only accepted Siegel, they liked him.

Siegel was a handsome man and was well connected in Hollywood thanks to his lifelong friendship with actor George Raft and his relationship with actress Ketti Gallian. Everyone wanted Siegel at their parties, even while he was twisting their arms for a couple grand in protection money. Siegel was gunned down in southern California in 1947 and no other hoodlum would come close to living as high in Hollywood as Siegel.

Jack Dragna controlled the Los Angeles rackets, dubbed the Mickey Mouse Mafia because of its proximity to Disneyland and because of their bumbling methods, under the direction of the East Coast syndicate. Dragna, who had been bumped down in status when Siegel came west, chafed under the syndicate's direction, but he knew which way the wind blew, shaped up and followed orders.

However, Siegels wire service and other operations were taken over by his protege, Mickey Cohen, who was at war with Dragna. The diminutive Cohen was a media darling who lacked Siegel 's style but not his propensity for violence. While he interacted with the Hollywood elite, Mickey didn't enjoy the same level of entrée that Siegel did. Siegel would be invited to the parties at the stars' homes, but Mickey was not. It was only through his nightclub ownership that Mickey rubbed elbows with studio powers.

The West Coast mob may have been considered "Mickey Mouse" by the rest of the syndicate, but Mickey Cohen was a tough man. He survived five attempts on his life and was reputed to have the police department in his pocket. He was the real deal with all the trappings of a mobster. If there was a chance to make a buck, legal or otherwise, he was in. Cohen was a driving force in bringing tragedy into Lana Turner's life when he took Johnny Stompanato into his gang.