Joe Bruno on the Mob – Virginia Hill – Part 2
In July 1938, the Chicago Outfit sent Hill, along with her brother Chick, to Mexico to make drug connections for future dealings. No drugs were obtained, but Hill reported to her superiors that her contacts were secure and were waiting for the word, and for the money, to complete the drug transactions that would make her bosses very rich.
While waiting for the word from up top about the Mexican caper, Hill and her brother rented an apartment in the Garden of Allah on Havenhurst Street. Hill passed the time drinking and dancing at the local hotspots, including the Trocadero, the Mocambo, and the Brown Derby. During her regular jaunts, Hill met Hollywood heartthrob Errol Flynn, who was known to hit from both sides of the plate. Flynn liked what he saw in Hill, and soon they were an item – albeit for a very short time (the oft-used phrase “In Like Flynn” – was coined for Flynn’s sexual escapades).
One night, the odd couple got so soused in the Brown Derby, Hill and Flynn wound up in a drunken brawl with another couple, which Hill allegedly started by socking a young lady who looked at Hill, as far as Hill was concerned, not a in proper way.
In late 1938, after she got the word from her bosses in the Chicago Outfit, Hill traveled back to Mexico to complete her drug transactions. Hill was not only a good-looker out for a good time, but the Outfit discovered she was a good earner to boot. And mob bosses love nothing better than having someone in their employ sending substantial amounts of cash up the ladder and into their deep pockets.
Now flush with dough, Hill decided to do a little man-hunting in Brownsville, TX. In December of 1938, Hill hit a few local dives and soon she was seen by Federal agents in the company of Carlos “Miguelito” Valdez. Hill and Valdez went at it hot and heavy for a while, but when Hill found out Valdez was basically broke and looking for a woman to support him, she dropped him like a bad habit.
Hill exited Texas and made her way to Alabama. There she met (in a bar of course) Osgood Griffin, a 19-year-old football player at the University of Alabama. Griffin’s family was one of the richest in the state of Alabama and Hill saw dollar signs flittering in front of her face.
On the night they met, Hill seduced Griffin in her car. The young man was so enamored with Hill’s sexual capabilities, he proposed to her that very night. They soon married on January 13, 1939; one-way liaison where Hill could get her hands on some cold hard cash without having to do the mob’s dangerous work.
With the wedding ring still on her finger and the marriage license locked in a safe place, Hill left Griffin flat in days and traipsed back to Hollywood. There she hooked up with playboy Pasquale “Pat” Deciccio, whose ex-wife, actress Thelma Todd, had died in 1935 under suspicious circumstances.
Todd was the Depression Era “Queen of Comedy” and was known to her friends as “The Ice Cream Blond,” and “Hot Toddy.” However, Todd was a hopeless junkie and New York gangster, Lucky Luciano, a close associate of Bugsy Siegel’s, kept Todd constantly high on amphetamines in order to keep her under his control; or so he thought. By this time, Todd was divorced from Deciccio, but since Deciccio was pals with Luciano, the divorced couple spent considerable time together, at Luciano’s request, of course
Todd was the owner of “Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café” at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway, in Pacific Palisades, between Santa Monica and Malibu. Luciano’s plan was to convert the top floor of Todd’s joint into an illegal gambling palace. One night at the Brown Derby, with Deciccio present, Luciano laid out his plans to Todd.
The “Blond Bombshell” jumped to her feet and yelled, “Over my dead body!”
Luciano smiled, puffed on a cigarette, and said, “That can be arranged.”
Less than a week later, Todd was found dead in her car in the garage of her café. The official report was that she apparently fell asleep in her car and died from carbon monoxide poisoning which was spewing from the tailpipe of her Lincoln Phaeton convertible; top up, of course. There were unconfirmed rumors that she was last seen drunk in the company of Deciccio.
Deciccio and Hill had their short fling, and Deciccio was nice enough to introduce Hill to star actor George Raf,t who was known for his gangster parts and his gangster friends from his old neighborhood in New York City – Hell’s Kitchen. Through Raft, Hill reunited with Siegel and they stared going at it hot and heavy.
For pocket money, Hill rushed through a divorce from Griffin, and Siegel, a true homicidal manic and movie-star handsome, considered Hill his personal property. He called Hill his “Flamingo” (a slightly better nickname than “Tabby”), and even though they were not living together, Siegel and Hill were the talk of the town.
Unfortunately, neither one had the slightest intention of being faithful to the other.
In the fall of 1939, Hill took a leave of absence from Siegel to do a little drug work in Mexico for the Chicago Outfit. Siegel understood Hill was an important clog in the Outfit’s machinery, and besides, he had a few dolls on the side whom he wasn’t giving the attention they required. The ladies Siegel bedded while Hill was on the move included Wendy Barry, Marie McDonald, and Italian Countess Dorothy diFrasso. Even though Siegel was busy keeping his broads happy, just to keep himself from getting rusty, he lusted to do a little killing for his pals on the East Coast.
Siegel got his wish, when in late 1939, on orders from New York City Jewish mob boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Siegel was ordered to arrange the demise of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, an old crony who was singing like a canary to the Feds. A mob rat told Lepke that Greenberg was hiding near Los Angeles, and since Siegel was in the area, Lepke figured Siegel was the perfect man to arrange the job.
Lepke ordered Siegel to put together a team of experts; two men for the actual shooting; one man to steal a car for the hit, and another to drive the “crash car” after Greenberg was toast (The crash car was always a legitimate registered car, so the driver could claim, after a crash either with a police car in pursuit of the killers, or a civic-minded civilian’s car in on the chase, that he had just lost control of his car).
Siegel summoned Frankie Carbo and Allie “Tick Tock” Tannenbaum from New York City to be the shooters. Whitey Krakow, Siegel’s bother-in-law from New York City, was ordered to steal a car for Carbo and Tannenbaum to drive to and from the scene of the murder. As for the crash car, Siegel decided to use his own Cadillac and do the driving himself. This was against the advice of Lepke, but no one could tell Siegel what to do when he made up his mind.
“We all begged Bugsy to keep out of the shooting,” Lepke’s pal Doc Stracher said years later. “He was too big a man by this time to become personally involved. But Bugsy wouldn’t listen. He said Greenberg was a menace to all of us and if the cops grabbed him he could tell the whole story of our outfit back to the 1920s.”
Surveillance on Greenberg’s residence revealed that Greenberg was little more than a recluse. He never left his residence at 1804 N. Vista De Mar Drive in the outskirts of Bel Air, except for his nightly 15-minute drive, each way, to get a newspaper in town. Greenberg told his wife that his little nightly excursion “kept him from blowing his top.”
On Nov. 22, 1939, Thanksgiving Eve, just after dark, Tannenbaum picked up the car Krakow had stolen from a parking lot near Siegel’s office in downtown Los Angeles. Then Tannenbaum drove Siegel and Carbo to Siegel’s home to pick up Siegel’s Cadillac. The two cars, with Carbo in Siegel’s car, drove to a spot a several houses down from the Greenberg residence They watched, as a few hours later Greenberg emerged from his house, looked carefully both ways (missing the two parked cars down the block), got into his car and sped away. Carbo then emerged from Siegel’s car, slithered down the block, and hid in the bushes near Greenberg’s house.
Like clockwork, just over 30 minutes later, Greenberg turned the corner of Yucca Street and headed toward 1804 N. Vista De Mar Drive. Greenberg’s car passed the two parked cars, but both Tannenbaum and Siegel had slid down in their seats so they could not be seen. A spit second later, Tannenbaum flashed his headlights, just for an instant, alerting Carbo, who was waiting in the wings ready to exit stage right into a murder scene. While Greenberg tried to get out of his car, Carbo sped from the shadows and pumped five bullets into Greenberg’s head.
Carbo raced back to the stolen car and jumped in next to Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum sped away; with Siegel in his “crash” Cadillac following close behind. The two cars rushed to a preordained spot where they met with another co-conspirator waiting in a third car. The third chap turned out to be Champ Segal, a small-time criminal who was always willing to help the big boys with whatever. Segal drove Tannenbaum and Carbo to San Francisco where Tannenbaum hopped on a plane back East.
While Siegel was busy with the Greenberg caper and his many lady friends, Hill and her brother Chick made frequent trips between Chicago, Los Angeles and Mexico; shuttling drugs and money back and forth between the three cities. While in Mexico, Hill became friendly with Chato Juarez, the son of the Mexican minister of finance, and Major Luis Amezcua, a noteworthy Mexican politician, who help greased the skids for Hill to safely make her drug ventures in and out of Mexico.
During this same period of time, even though she was still ostensibly Siegel’s girl, Hill bedded down John Roselli, whom the Chicago outfit had sent out west to work under West Coast mob boss Jack Dragna. It was through Roselli that Hill was to relay information about Siegel’s activities in California to Chicago, who in turn relayed this information to Siegel’s partners in New York City. The truth was, neither the Chicago mob, nor the New York mob trusted Siegel, and Hill was their conduit to make sure Siegel was not cutting out his partners, in both cities, of what was rightfully theirs.
On Jan. 20, 1940, Hill married Juarez. Love was the not reason, but rather this marriage allowed Juarez to enter the United States legally, so that Juarez could consolidate his and Hill’s drug alliances.
While still married to Juarez, Hill played heavy beats with drummer Gene Krupa for a short while, and then hooked back up with Roselli. Jack Dragna, through Roselli, ordered Hill to be the Trojan horse in Bugsy Siegel’s camp. Hill whispered the right things into Siegel’s ears, and soon she and her brother Chick moved into a house with Siegel at 250 Delfern Ave.