Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a Jewish –American gangster born on February 28, 1906, in Brooklyn, New York.
Siegel had the infamy of being “one of the most feared gangsters of his day.” He was a charismatic man and had the distinction of being one of the first celebrity gangsters, much in the cadre of Al Capone. He was also instrumental in the development of the Las Vegas Strip, playing a significant role in cementing gambling in Nevada. See more of his life at gclub.
Bugsy was the son of Jewish immigrants and grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As a young man, he extorted protection money from pushcart peddlers in New York City’s Lower East Side.
In 1918, he befriended Meyer Lansky, and they formed the Bugs and Meyer Gang. He was allegedly given the nickname Bugsy because of his explosive temper, which made fellow gang members describe him as “crazy as a bedbug,” though none said it to his face.
Siegel married his childhood sweetheart Esta Krakower, in January 1929.
The California Years
In the 1930s, mob boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano and other Italian gangsters formed a national crime syndicate. Bugsy began working for Luciano and reportedly carried out several hits for him in New York.
Siegel was also one of the founders of Murder, Inc., and became a bootlegger during Prohibition. After the repeal in 1933, he turned to gambling. In 1937, he moved to California and mainly acted as a hitman and muscle.
Siegel began dating Virginia Hill, an actress, in the late 1930s. The relationship was fraught with domestic violence even though they made a striking couple in public. In 1939, Bugsy was tried for the murder of mobster Harry Greenberg, but he was acquitted of the crime in 1942.
Siegel Moves to Las Vegas
In the early 1940s, Siegel relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he financed some of the first casinos on the Strip. He assisted developer William R. Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel financially and took over the project to completion.
The Flamingo opened in December 1946 but closed due to poor reception. It reopened in March 1947.
Siegel used the casino and hotel to build the rackets, set up gambling dens, and facilitate offshore gambling ships. He also dabbled in bookmaking, prostitution, and narcotics.
The New York Crime Syndicate financed the construction of the Flamingo Hotel. However, the project didn’t go well; $1.5 million construction costs went up to $6 million due to him skimming the accounts. This enraged Siegel’s New York financiers.
On June 20, 1947, a hail of bullets crashed into Virginia Hill’s living room window in Beverly Hills, killing Siegel instantly.
Three associates of Lansky then entered the Flamingo and announced that they were in charge.
Lansky always denied involvement in killing Bugsy, but many think it was a syndicate-approved hit.
Another theory speculates that one of the three Lansky gangsters who took over the Flamingo killed Siegel over a love triangle. Yet other speculations point to Virginia Hill’s brother, said to have murdered Bugsy in revenge for the domestic confrontations between him and his sister.
Siegel died from two fatal head wounds, with .30-caliber bullets. His death remains unsolved.