Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a powerful member of the mafia in the early to mid 1900s. He was handsome, had a quick temper and a ruthless personality. Siegel was killed in June of 1947 when an unknown assailant shot him while he was visiting his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.
Siegel's Early Life
Benjamin Siegel was born on February 28, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York. His Russian Jewish immigrant family was poor and lived in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Williamsburg. As a young boy, Siegel became involved with a local gang and began stealing and committing other petty crimes. Later, Siegel began extorting “protection” money from pushcart peddlers in the New York area.
In 1918 Siegel became friends with Meyer Lanksy, another Jewish teen who would also become a prominent member of the mafia. Together they formed the Bugs-Meyer Gang and began extending their crimes to include contract killing, gambling and bootlegging.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
During the 1920’s Italian gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano formed a national syndicate in conjunction with other gangsters. They gave Siegel the nickname “Bugsy” because of his hot temper. According to an article on PBS.org, they said Siegel was “crazy as a bedbug” and was “like a pistol when he got mad.” Although his fellow gang members likely meant the nickname to be a form of compliment, Siegel apparently despised the moniker and few would call him “Bugsy” to his face.
Siegel soon became a key player in Luciano’s group of organized criminals and was one of four hit men from the Bugs-Meyer Gang hired to kill Sicilian mob boss Joe “the Boss” Masseria in 1931. Masseria was gunned down at one of his favorite restaurants on Long Island.
In January 1929 Siegel married his childhood sweetheart, Esta Krakower, who was the sister of hit man Whitey Krakower. They had two daughters together, though the marriage eventually ended in divorce.
Siegel’s Moves to the West Coast, Begins Las Vegas
In the late 1930’s Siegel relocated to California where he setup bootlegging and gambling rackets and recruited mafia member Mickey Cohen (also Jewish) to be his second in command. Siegel led an extravagant life, buying real estate, throwing lavish parties and hobnobbing with the rich and famous of Los Angeles. According to some sources, actress Jean Harlow was the godmother to Siegel’s daughter, Millicent.
Siegel eventually began dating actress Virginia Hill, who was known not only for her beauty but, like Siegel, her temper. She remained his mistress for many years, both during and after his marriage to Esta. During this time of his life Siegel also explored the possibility of become an actor himself.
In the mid-1940’s Siegel and Hall moved to Nevada at the behest of Meyer Lansky. Siegel began working on plans to create a gambling center and eventually built The Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino with funds pooled by the syndicate. At the time, Las Vegas was not a developed gambling center and Siegel envisioned a luxurious resort area where the wealthy could gamble away their money. In this way Siegel, Lansky and other mob members created the original casinos that paved the way for the Las Vegas we know today.
The Pink Flamingo Hotel opened on December 26, 1946 in Las Vegas, Nevada after a total project cost of $6 million. (The original budget was $1.5 million.) Siegel hoped to generate revenue with the casino’s opening but it closed two weeks later. It reopened on March 1st under a new name – The Fabulous Flamingo – and eventually began to turn a profit. However, by this time Siegel was on the bad side of many of the mobsters who had originally funded the project. It was believed the hotel had gone so far over budget and was performing so poorly because of Siegel’s poor business acumen and because he was skimming money for his own personal use.
Bugsy Siegel's Death
Meyer Lansky and other powerful mob figures were enraged to learn of Siegel’s mismanagement and theft of funds that had been allocated for The Pink Flamingo. Perhaps as a result, on June 20, 1947 Siegel was murdered in Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills home. An unknown assailant fired at Siegel through the living room window, hitting him several times. According to his death certificate, he died of gunshot wounds to the head resulting in cerebral hemorrhage.
None of Siegel’s associates attended his funeral. He was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, CA where his body was interred in the Beth Olam Mausoleum.
Bugsy Siegel’s Character on "Boardwalk Empire"
Bugsy Siegel appears as a character on HBO's series "Boardwalk Empire." He is played by actor Michael Zegen and first appears in Season 2.