Ben Siegel was born on February 28, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York. It was obvious that he had potential as a criminal from the beginning since he found enjoyment in setting fire to vegetable carts whose owners weren’t paying him for “protection”. Soon he was dubbed “Bugsy” for his crazed aggression during fights. However, he despised the nickname and was not hesitant to strike anyone who dared to refer to him as Bugsy in person.
He soon fell in with two other young thugs, Meyer Lansky and “Lucky” Luciano. Meyer and Bugsy became very close friends and formed an unstoppable crime partnership. At one point, Luciano was arrested and sent to prison based on the testimony of one individual. Bugsy later killed the man, but was spotted by a woman who demanded money to keep silent. Bugsy dragged her into the alley, raped her, and threatened to burn her face with acid if she said anything to anyone (and she never did).
Bugsy and Meyer slowly gained power until they eventually controlled the east side of Manhattan with about 40 other gangsters. When mafia figure Joe Masseria began intruding on their territory, the two began stealing his illegal shipments of alcohol and selling them to businesses. Eventually, Luciano convinced Masseria to join him at a restaurant until Bugsy, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Albert Anastasia showed up and shot Masseria to death.
It was with these men that Bugsy formed Murder Inc., a professional hit squad that killed people for money. The service was very profitable and soon the men were gaining power and money. In the meantime, Luciano and Meyer formed the National Crime Syndicate, an umbrella organization of crime families that brought unprecedented power to the underworld. In 1934, Bugsy was hired to kill Bo Weinburg by Dutch Schultz, a well known gangster. Bugsy killed Weinburg and later had Schultz killed for the Crime Syndicate.
In 1933, Bugsy moved west to Hollywood to mingle with celebrities and meet women. He had grown up with George Raft, a popular actor at the time, and easily slipped into the most powerful of social circles. He soon became immensely popular among the Beverly Hills socialites and celebrities.
While at a party one night, he received a call from Murder Inc. ordering a hit on “Big Greenie” Greenbaum, a snitch. He left the party and did the job, but was arrested under charges of murder the next day. The story was on all the newspapers and he was absolutely infuriated that the stories referred to him as Bugsy. It has been said that when he first saw a newsboy selling the issue, he killed him in a fit of rage.
On a trip to Italy, he was invited to a party by Dorothy DiFrasso, an Italian Countess, where he met Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels. Being Jewish, he became enraged at their presence and wanted to kill them immediately. However, the Countess begged him to leave them alone and he eventually decided not to kill them. Had he been allowed to kill them, it might have had a serious impact on the outcome of World War 2.
Back in Hollywood, Bugsy worked with the Crime Syndicate to form unprecedented rackets. He took over local unions and staged strikes in order to force movie studios to pay him off in order to get the union working again. On many occasions he borrowed large sums of money from celebrities and refused to pay them back, knowing that they wouldn’t dare threaten him.
Bugsy also developed a system that alerted horse race gamblers in the east of race results. The system was essentially wired communication and Bugsy made gamblers pay a fee for the right to use it. The Syndicate made millions of dollars from the system and, although Bugsy did not receive much of the money, he did receive funding for his next big idea.
Bugsy had been driving around Nevada and found a place called Las Vegas, which was a dumpy small town. He had a vision of a giant hotel resort with legal gambling that would attract thousands of people. He believed that if he controlled the town, he could control the state, and help the Syndicate on the legitimate side. He developed plans for a hotel called “the Flamingo” and received funding from the fellow gangsters in New York.
Construction began in 1946 and Bugsy worked closely with his mistress, Virginia Hill, to design the operation. She was a blackmail expert who worked in Hollywood by finding wealthy homosexuals and blackmailing them. He loved her for her aggressive attitude and devious mind. However, he was blinded by love and allowed her to handle the millions of dollars for the casino, not realizing that she was spying on him for some people in Chicago.
The Flamingo finally opened after a long series of delays, only to be an absolute failure. Nobody came to the opening ceremony and it had to be shut down, despite the approximately five million dollars spent on its construction. Lucky Luciano called Bugsy on Christmas to find out what was going on, but Bugsy simply insulted him on the phone. The issue was brought to the table of the heads of the Syndicate and Meyer Lansky, despite having a great deal of power, could not hold them back from ordering a hit on Bugsy.
On June 8, 1947, Virginia went to France at the urging of her associates in the Chicago mafia. On June 20th, a hit man named Frankie Carranzo came to Virginia’s house in Beverly Hills, where Bugsy was living, and fired a full clip into a window in the side of the house. Bugsy was hit in the face twice and died quickly. His funeral was attended by only two people: his brother and a rabbi. Virginia later killed herself by mercury poisoning in 1966.
Despite the initial failure of the Flamingo, it ultimately became the template for a huge number of similar casino resorts in Nevada, netting billions of dollars in revenue over the next several decades. Had it not been for Bugsy’s vision, Las Vegas might still be a dumpy small town today.