Bugsy Siegel Biography

Bugsy Siegel

Whilst sitting on the sofa of his Hollywood home, he was shot dead in a drive-by hit. One of the most ruthless killers in Mafia history and the man who 'built' Las Vegas...Bugsy Siegel

Born in 1906 to poor Jewish parents originally from the Ukraine, Benjamin Siegelbaum began his gangster career as a teenager by setting up a "protection" racket. He established a partnership with another young mobster, Meyer Lansky. The "Bug and Meyer" syndicate moved into hot cars, bootlegging, and gambling rackets for which he was arrested in 1932 but got off with a fine.

On 28 January 1929, he married his childhood sweetheart Esta Krakower, who was also the sister of contract killer Whitey Krakower.
Siegel sealed his underworld reputation in 1935 with a contract hit, executing Bo Weinberg, gangster Dutch Schultz's right hand man. He also killed rival loan sharks Louis "Pretty" and Joseph Amberg in the same year.
Things got dangerous for Siegel and he moved to California for a fresh start.

In 1937, Siegel and his family, which included Esta and their two daughters Millicent and Barbara, headed to Hollywood. They rented a lavish mansion, and he looked up an old friend, George Raft, who was a film actor.

Bugsy, who hated his nickname, was soon welcome in some of Hollywood's highest circles. With another legendary Los Angeles mobster, Mickey Cohen, as his underling, Siegel backed illicit gambling joints, including the infamous "Rex", a floating casino on a large yacht.

At parties he was seen with some of Hollywood's most dazzling beauties, especially Countess Dorothy Dendice Taylor DiFrasso. One adventure with the Countess brought Siegel to Europe, where he met Mussolini and German leaders, Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels. Siegel took an instant dislike to the Nazis, and later offered to kill them.

In Los Angeles, Siegel lived a double life. While he was charming Hollywood stars, he took time out to gun down Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg with his brother-in-law. Siegel was arrested and tried for the murder, while Krakower was killed before the trial. He was acquitted but his reputation was ruined. The newspapers reported on his shady past and penned the nickname 'Bugsy', based on the slang for crazy 'Bugs'.

In 1945, Bugsy decided to invest in Las Vegas. He raised $6 million of mob money and began building the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. He was incredibly successful until New York mobster Lucky Luciano asked for $3 million of his investment back. Siegel hesitated. It was a mistake.

On 27 June 1947, Siegel was with his latest girlfriend, Virginia Hill, in her Beverly Hills mansion. Without warning, three shot gun blasts blew Bugsy away. He was 41. No one was ever charged with the murder and the crime remains unsolved to this day.

Rivals quickly moved in on the Flamingo, and Siegel's Hollywood friends found excuses for failing to show up at his funeral. He was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, while the Bialystoker Synagogue erected a memorial plaque to Siegel marking his death date.

Due to his gangster lifestyle and violent death, Siegel has been portrayed in popular culture many times.

In the 1972 film 'The Godfather', the character Moe Green played by Alex Rocco is based on Siegel, while Warren Beatty portrayed the mobster in the 1991 biography 'Bugsy'.

Siegel was then portrayed by Richard Grieco in the 1991 semi-fictitious film 'Mobsters' before being played by Eric Roberts in the 1999 'Lanksy' based on the life of Meyer Lanksy.

Most recently, a teenage 'Benny' Siegel appeared in 'Boardwalk Empire' (2011-present).

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