b. Feb. 28, 1906, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
d. June 20,
1947, Beverly Hills, Calif.
byname of BENJAMIN SIEGEL, New York and Californian gangster who was
the U.S. crime syndicate's initial developer of Las Vegas gambling.
Young Siegel began his career extorting money from
Jewish pushcart peddlers on New York's Lower East Side; he then teamed up with
Meyer Lansky about 1918 and took to car theft and later bootlegging and
gambling rackets in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia; he and Lansky also
ran a murder-for-hire operation, the forerunner of Murder, Inc. In 1931 he was
one of the four executioners of Joe "the Boss" Masseria.
In 1937 the
syndicate leaders sent him to the West Coast to develop rackets there. In
California the handsome gangster successfully developed gambling dens, gambling
ships (offshore beyond the 12-mile limit), narcotics smuggling, blackmail, and
other illegal enterprises and equally successfully cultivated the company and
friendship of Hollywood stars and celebrities.
He developed a
nationwide bookmakers' wire service and in 1945 began realizing his dream of a
gambling oasis in the desert northeast of Los Angeles. In that year he built
the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., originally budgeted at
$1,500,000 but costing eventually $6,000,000, much of it in syndicate funds
from the East.
The cost overruns involved extensive "skimming" by
Siegel, who had his girlfriend Virginia Hill deposit the money in European
banks; he also began writing bad checks to cover construction costs. Such
actions and other duplicities angered Lansky and other eastern bosses. In the
late evening of June 20, 1947, Siegel was killed in his palatial Beverly Hills
home, brought down by a fusillade of bullets fired through his living-room
window. At almost the same moment, three of Lansky's henchmen walked into the
Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and declared that they were taking over.