Joe Bruno on the Mob – Virginia Hill – Part Four
On June 10, 1947, Hill was summoned by the mob to fly to Chicago. They didn’t tell her the reason, but Hill, being a seasoned mob moll, figured it must have something to do with Bugsy Siegel. Once in Chicago, Hill was ordered to fly straight to France. If Siegel asked any questions, she was to tell him she was going to France to buy expensive wine for the Flamingo, which she had done in the past.
In France, Hill phoned Siegel about her “plans.” It’s not clear if Siegel bought her explanation or not, but he pleaded with Hill to come back to California and stay with him at her home in Beverly Hills. Hill refused, knowing if she was right about Siegel’s eminent demise, she might get caught in the crossfire. Hill was too experienced a mob associate to risk her life for a man who maybe she loved and maybe she didn’t love. Besides, with Siegel gone, Hill figured she’d get more opportunities to make money with the mob. What Hill didn’t know was that the mob didn’t trust her either, but that they figured Hill could be useful to them in the future, even if only for bedtime escapades with the top mobsters she had previously sexually serviced.
On the night of June 20, 1947, a sharpshooter named Frank Carranzo held an army carbine and waited patiently outside the back window of 810 N. Linden Drive in Beverly Hills, a house rented by Hill that once belonged to silent movie star Rudolph Valentino. Carranzo had been laying down on his stomach military style for hours waiting for his prey.
In the upstairs bedrooms of the house was Hill’s brother Chick, bedding down Hill’s secretary Jeri Mason. Also upstairs was a West Coast gangster named Allen Smiley.
Around 10:30 pm, Siegel, wearing a brown pinstriped three-piece suit, turned the key in the lock of the front door. He slipped into the house and sauntered into the living room. Siegel switched on the living room lights and slouched comfortably on the couch; his left profile facing the sniper’s window. He picked up a copy of the local newspaper, and before he could turn a single page, Carranzo fired four .30-06 caliber bullets into Siegel’s body. The first bullet hit Siegel in the left side of the face. The second bullet shattered Siegel’s nose, and the other two bullets broke his ribs and tore apart his lungs. The gangster died instantly.
At exactly 11:00 A.M., Jack Dragna got a call from Carranzo, who said, “The insect was killed.” Without saying another word, Carranzo hung up the phone.
The Los Angeles’ Coroner’s Report (#37448) stated the cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. His death certificate (Registrar’s #816192) stated the cause of death was “homicide- gunshot wounds to the head.”
Even though Siegel’s death made the front page of all the newspapers, the police hardly cared a famous gangster was hit in their jurisdiction
One hardened flatfoot told the nationwide press, “When you stick your finger into a buzz saw you can hardly tell which tooth of the saw hit it. This rat, Siegel, didn’t have a friend in the world outside of a couple of movie stars. He double crossed everybody in the narcotics rackets, not to mention bookmaking and slot machines.
“Who killed him? Well, you might say he killed himself – by degrees. The process started
in New York when he got to be a big shot in a West Side mob. He had a gang that would
break the arm of a man they had never seen for as little as $10; kill a stranger for $50.
“Siegel was the boss, but he wasn’t content to give orders and collect the fee. He had to see the victim suffer, sometimes die. He liked to do the job himself. That’s how he got the name of ‘Bugsy.’ Other mobsters said he was crazy to take such chances, but Siegel seemed to delight in hurting people—as long as he couldn’t get hurt in the process.
“He had a hand in the vice racket and, as a lad, he stole from blind men’s cups. Any one of a thousand persons had a reason for killing him and would have if they could. But if you really want some information, talk to Virginia Hill.”
Yet, certain people saw a softer and kinder side of the man known as “Bugsy.”
Lou Wiener Jr., Siegel’s Las Vegas attorney, told the press, “When Siegel got killed you wouldn’t believe how many employees of the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund broke down in tears (Siegel gave liberally to this fund- with stolen money, of course). He was very generous with the help and very well-liked. He was good to people. He was good to me and my wife.”
Siegel was so well-liked, only five blood relatives attended his funeral. All his mob associates, some of whom had ordered his death, gave Siegel the ultimate insult – they ignored his death.
Within minutes of Siegel’s demise, the mob took over the Flamingo’s operation. Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum, and a mob associate named Morris Rosen, stormed into the Flamingo and announced to everyone that they were the new bosses. Rosen assembled a group of investors, including Sedway, Greenbaum, and Meyer Lansky, to raise $3.9 million to buy the property from Siegel’s Nevada Projects Corporation.
The resort was renamed “The Fabulous Flamingo” and the hotel’s gaming license was
issued to Sanford Adler, who served as operator and “front man” for the mobsters/investors until 1948, when Greenbaum took over the show. With Greenbaum in charge and Siegel not there to skim the profits, and the Fabulous Flamingo showed a profit of $4 million in Greenbaum’s first year as boss.
To add insult to injury, when it was renovated in 1993, the Fabulous Flamingo’s leadership, now the Hilton Corporation, tore down Siegel’s private suite near the pool. In 1997, the Flamingo celebrated its 50th anniversary and not a word was mentioned about Siegel. It was as if Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had never existed.
A spokesman for the hotel explained to the press, “The ‘Bugsy’ image was not something that was particularly endearing to the Flamingo or Hilton. This was not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. We’re talking about a robber, rapist, and murderer. Those are not endearing qualities.”