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Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (February 28, 1906 - June 20, 1947) was an American gangster, popularly thought to be the impetus behind large-scale development of Las Vegas.
Benjamin Siegelbaum was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a poor Jewish family from Letychiv ,Podolia Governorate of the Russian Empire (today's Ukraine). As a boy, Siegel joined a street gang on Lafayette Street on the Lower East Side and first committed mainly thefts, until, with another youth named Moe Sedway, he devised his own protection racket: pushcart merchants were forced to pay him five dollars or he would incinerate their merchandise on the spot.
During adolescence, Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky, who was forming a small crew whose criminal activities expanded to include gambling and car theft. Siegel reputedly also worked as the crew's hit man whom Lansky would sometimes hire out to other Jewish and Italian-American crime families.
In 1930 Lansky and Siegel built close ties to Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello, both future bosses of the Genovese crime family. Siegel became a bootlegger and was also associated with Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Siegel was also heavily involved in bootlegging operations in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. During the so-called Castellammarese War in 1930-1931, they fought the gang of Sal Maranzano; Siegel reputedly had a hand in Maranzano's murder and later in the formation of Murder, Inc. In 1932 he was arrested for gambling and bootlegging but got away with only a fine. Lansky and Siegel assisted with Luciano's brief alliance with Dutch Schultz and killed rival loan sharks Louis "Pretty" Amberg and Joseph Amberg in 1935.
Although a successful gangster, Bugsy Siegel knew very little about construction. Many of Siegel's plans were unreasonably lavish, such as his insistence that each room have its own private sewer line. Under his oversight, the construction costs ballooned from $1 million to $6 million. Siegel was also cheated by his contractors. The Del Webb company, which was in charge of construction, allegedly would haul building materials in the front gate of Flamingo work site and out the back gate without unloading. The hapless Siegel was then billed for their delivery. The Flamingo project was also hampered by building materials shortages and increased costs due to the post-World War II building boom. Nervous about the project's problems, Del Webb told Siegel that he was afraid of mob retribution. Siegel reputedly joked: "Don't worry, Del. We only kill each other."
The Flamingo problems were no joke to Mafia leaders on the East Coast. They began suspecting that Siegel was embezzling their money. These suspicions were heightened by Virginia Hill's frequent trips to Zurich, Switzerland, where they worried she was depositing mob money into Siegel's Swiss bank accounts.
In December 1946, the Flamingo problems reached crisis state. Several of Siegel's business and crime partners flew to Havana, Cuba, for a meeting with mob boss Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano had been directing American Mafia operations from Italy after being deported from the US. However, he was making a clandestine visit to Cuba when the Flamingo meeting was called. One of the main topics for discussion at the Havana Conference was ordering a hit on Siegel (who was unaware of this meeting). Meyer Lansky, who several times owed his life to Siegel when they were young, took a stand against the hit. He begged the attendees to give Siegel a chance by waiting until after the casino opening. Luciano, who believed that Siegel could still make a profit in Las Vegas and pay back what he owed the Mafia investors, agreed to postpone the hit.
To placate his investors, Siegel opened his still-unfinished casino on the star-studded night of December 26, 1946 (although he did not have as many Hollywood celebrities with him as he had hoped). Soon the Flamingo ran dry of entertainers and customers; it closed after only two weeks in order to resume construction. The fully operational Flamingo re-opened in March of 1947. Still dissatisfied, the casino's gangster investors once again met in Havana in Spring 1947 to decide whether to "liquidate" Siegel. Luckily for Siegel, the Flamingo had just turned a profit that month. Lansky again spoke up in support of his old friend and convinced Luciano to give Siegel one last chance.
Eventually, the world collapsed around Siegel. The Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, his pet project, failed financially. Girlfriend Virginia Hill stole the money Siegel owed the mob and fled to Paris, then Sweden. Unlike previous occasions, Meyer Lansky could no longer protect his dear friend Siegel from angry mob investors.
On the night of June 20, 1947, Siegel was home alone at the Hill Mansion in Beverly Hills, reading the Los Angeles Times near the front window. Unknown to Siegel, a mob hit-man, (allegedly Eddie Cannizzaro), was hiding outside the mansion. At 10:45 pm the gunman shot through window many times with a U.S. military M1 Carbine, killing Bugsy Siegel. One of the .30-caliber bullets smashed the bridge of Siegel's nose, the impact and pressure blowing Siegel's left eyeball out of socket. The eyeball was intact, 14 feet away from the body. Though there were no witnesses to the shooting, the physiology of the wounds suggests that the 41-year-old Siegel died instantly.
The Siegel killing went unpunished; no one was ever charged with this bloody and much-photographed mob murder (newspaper standards of the time allowed the bodies of "mob" murder victims to be photographed in ways not allowed for the deaths of "respectable" citizens).
Though Siegel was actually not shot exactly through the eye (the eyeball would have been destroyed if this had been the case), the bullet-through-the-eye style of killing became popular in Mafia movies, called the "Moe Greene special" after the character Moe Greene was killed in this manner in The Godfather. Siegel was hit by many other bullets from the 15 round carbine magazine, however, including shots through his lungs. A second bullet to his head which passed through his right cheek and through the back of his neck, would almost certainly have been fatal by itself.
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