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'Hollywood Gangster' Bugsy Siegel Gunned Down

Mugshot Benjamin Siegel (1)

<![CDATA[A shower of bullets killed Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel on the evening of 20th June, 1947. Siegel was sitting in the living room of his mistress Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills house, talking to his business associate Allen Smiley when three bullets were fired through the window, hitting Siegel in the head and killing him instantly. Almost simultaneously with Siegel's death, cohorts of his former partners Meyer Lansky and Charles 'Lucky' Luciano entered the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and declared a takeover. A year earlier, Siegel had commenced work on the hotel with the dream of creating a gambling paradise in the Nevada Desert. Lansky and Luciano's East Coast crime syndicate had helped fund the project, but problems soon arose. Initially forecast to cost around $1.5 million, the construction costs rocketed to over $6 million, and the venture showed little sign of making a profit. Some theories about Siegel's death claim that Lansky and Luciano believed the hotel's struggles were down to poor management and theft on Siegel's part. Although Lansky and Luciano denied any involvement in his killing, the circumstances and timing of the takeover lead some to believe they had become enraged with Siegel's actions, and ordered a hit. As is so often the case with the murky workings of the US underworld in this period however, the involvement of Lansky and Luciano in Siegel's death is just one of several possibilities. Indeed, much of the narrative that provides them a motive is purely speculative. The identity of the shooter is still unknown, making unraveling the murder an impossibility. Some alternative theories have suggested that the assassination was somehow connected to the horse racing wire service that Siegel controlled, or even a love triangle involving another gangster. Siegel was the first 'Hollywood' gangster, as likely to fraternise with movie stars as he was with infamous crime bosses such as Luciano and Lansky. Tied to the criminal underworld of the early twentieth century and the infamous Murder Inc, he was also a frequent visitor to movie sets, moving in the same social circles as Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. The son of Austro-Hungarian immigrants, Siegel was born in Brooklyn, New York in February 1906. He grew up in the crime riddled neighbourhood of Williamsburg, an area blighted by conflicts between Irish and Italian gangs, and he soon found himself involved in the world of crime. As a teenager, he ran a protection racket over street peddlers in the Lower East Side, torching with kerosene the pushcarts of those who refused to pay for his protection. It was while running his protection scheme that Siegel first met Lansky. The two formed the Bugs and Meyer mob, dabbling in robbery, gambling and murder as they strove to escape their impoverished backgrounds. When prohibition took hold in the USA, they partnered Arnold Rothstein in creating a massive bootleg liquor business, selling illegal alcohol along the East Coast. So lucrative was the business that by 1931 Siegel could afford to buy an apartment in the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Tower. In the mid 1930s he moved to Los Angeles, building a criminal empire on the West Coast that included drugs and wire tapping. It was there that he became an increasingly public figure, among other things embarking on a bizarre treasure hunt to Costa Rica with a host of Hollywood aristocrats which triggered a media frenzy. In 1946 he turned his hand to real estate, embarking on the construction of the Flamingo in the hope of capitalising on Las Vegas' growing reputation as a centre of gambling and glamour.]]>

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