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Chapter 2: Bugsy Siegel

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was born February 28, 1906 in Williamsburg, a neighbourhood in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.

The second of five children, Siegel's family was extremely poor with his parents working odd jobs for meagre wages that usually left very little for the family.  As such, at an early age, young Benjamin jumped into a life of crime.  At the age of 12, he joined a street gang and committed mainly thefts - until he met up with fellow future mobster, Moe Sedway.  The pair developed a protection racket; they'd charge pushcart owners a dollar for "insurance" and they didn't pay, Siegel would light their carts on fire.

It was also during this time that Siegel gained the nickname he'd come to hate.  He had a reputation for being short tempered and "crazier than a bed bug"...hence the name, "Bugsy".  But you didn't dare call him that to his face.  His friends called him "Ben", strangers called him "Mr. Siegel" and his enemies called him "Bugsy".

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Mugshot, 1928

Photo Credit: New York Police Department

As a teenager, Siegel had become friends with Meyer Lansky and when Lansky formed a small mob which handled things like gambling & car theft, Siegel was the first person Lansky recruited for his gang.

Bugsy eventually became involved with bootlegging all over the east coast and he worked as the hitman for Lansky's mob.  As a bonus, Lansky hired Siegel out to other crime families.  Together, the pair formed the "Bugs and Meyer Mob" which had a long resume of crime including car theft, protection rackets, extortion, stolen goods and - of course - murder.

Under order of mobster, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Siegel was involved in the killing of two high profile mob bosses including Joe Masseria in April 1931 and Salvatore Marazano in September 1931.

Joe Masseria murder scene, the Villa Tammaro restaurant, April 15, 1931

Photo Credit: National Crime Syndicate website

Salvatore Maranzano murder scene, Park Avenue office, September 10, 1931

Photo Credit: National Crime Syndicate website

Following Maranzano's death, Luciano created "The Commission" - which was established to divide mafia territories & prevent future gang wars.  As such, the Bugs & Meyer Mob was dissolved and, with the help of their associates, Siegel & Lansky created the enforcement wing of the National Crime Syndicate.  Or, what the media dubbed, "Murder Incorporated".

Murder, Incorporated

Photo Credit: Wiki Creative Commons

After Siegel's involvement in multiple gangland murders and a failed attempt on his life, Meyer Lansky suggested a move west - to California - to get out of the spotlight.

Siegel slipped nicely into life in LA.  He teamed up with boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen and set up gambling dens & off-shore gambling ships while consolidating the existing prostitution, narcotics and bookmaking operations.

Bugsy also had his sights set on Hollywood.  He bought a large home in Beverly Hills, he frequented star-studded parties and he was able to become friends with some of the biggest A-Listers of the time including Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (who would go on to become his daughter's Godmother).

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel with actor George Raft

Photo Credit: Wiki Creative Commons

But things in California were about to get tough for Bugsy.

In 1939, Siegel was part of the crew ordered to kill mobster Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg who had threatened to become a police informant.  One of the members of the hit squad, Albert Tannenbaum (who was also a member of Murder, Incorporated), confessed to the murder and agreed to testify against Bugsy.

Article from the November 25, 1939 Detroit Free Press about Harry Greenberg's murder in Los Angeles

Photo Credit: RareNewsPapers.com

Siegel was implicated and the case went to trial in 1941.  However, following the death of two key witnesses, Bugsy was acquitted due to insufficient evidence.

But the publicity was enough to damage Siegel's reputation in California and in 1945, he found an opportunity to reinvent himself by going into business in Nevada.

The CASINO business...