On this date in 1947, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the man who brought organised crime to the West Coast, is shot and killed at his mistress Virginia Hill’s home in Beverly Hills, California. Siegel had been talking to his associate Allen Smiley when three bullets were fired through the window and into his head, killing him instantly.
Siegel’s childhood had been pretty similar to that of other organised crime leaders: Growing up with little money in Brooklyn, he managed to establish himself as a teenage thug. With his pal Meyer Lansky, Siegel terrorised local peddlers and collected protection money. Before long, they had a business that included bootlegging & gambling all over New York City.
By the late 1930s, Siegel had become one of the major players of a highly powerful crime syndicate, which gave him $500,000 to set up a Los Angeles franchise. Bugsy threw himself into the Hollywood scene, making friends with some of the biggest names of the time—Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow. His all-night parties at his Beverly Hills mansion became the hot spot in town. He also started up a solid gambling and narcotics operation to keep his old friends back east happy. Just before World War II began, Siegel traveled to Italy to sell explosives to Mussolini, but the deal fizzled when tests of the explosives did too.
In 1945, Siegel had a brilliant idea. Just hours away from Los Angeles sat the sleepy desert town of Las Vegas, Nevada. It had nothing going except for a compliant local government & legal gambling. Siegel decided to build the Flamingo Hotel in the middle of the desert with $6,000,000, a chunk which came from the New York syndicate.
The Flamingo wasn’t immediately profitable and Siegel ended up in an argument with Lucky Luciano over paying back the money used to build it. Around the same time that Siegel was killed in Beverly Hills, Luciano’s men walked into the Flamingo & announced that they were now in charge. Even Siegel probably never imagined the astounding growth & success of Las Vegas in the subsequent years.
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Featured Image via The Wheels Keep Spinning.