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Benjamin "Bugsy" SIEGEL






A.K.A.: "Bugsy"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Siegel was known as one of the most "infamous and feared gangsters of his day"
Number of victims: "Numerous"
Date of murders: 1920s - 1940s
Date of birth: February 28, 1906
Victims profile: Men (members of rival gangs)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: New York/New Jersey/California, USA
Status: Never convicted of murder. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot dead at the Beverly Hills home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill. No one was charged with the murder, and the crime remains officially unsolved

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Benjamin Siegel (February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947) was an American mobster with the Luciano crime family. Nicknamed "Bugsy", Siegel was known as one of the most "infamous and feared gangsters of his day". Described as handsome and charismatic, he became one of the first front-page-celebrity gangsters. He was also a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip.

Siegel was one of the founders and leaders of Murder, Incorporated and became a bootlegger during Prohibition. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, he turned to gambling. In 1936, he left New York and moved to California. In 1939, Siegel was tried for the murder of fellow mobster Harry Greenberg. Siegel was acquitted in 1942.

Siegel traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada where he handled and financed some of the original casinos. He assisted developer William Wilkerson's Flamingo Hotel after Wilkerson ran out of funds. Siegel took over the project and managed the final stages of construction.

The Flamingo opened on December 26, 1946 to poor reception and soon closed. It reopened in March 1947 with a finished hotel. Three months later, on June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot dead at the Beverly Hills home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.

Early life

Benjamin Siegel was born in 1906 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to a poor Jewish family from Letychiv, Podolia Governorate of the Russian Empire, in modern Ukraine. However, other sources state that his family came from Austria.

His parents, Max and Jennie, constantly worked for meager wages. Siegel, the second of five children, vowed that he would rise above that life. As a boy, Siegel dropped out of school and joined a gang on Lafayette Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He committed mainly thefts, until he met Moe Sedway. With Sedway, Siegel developed a protection racket where pushcart merchants were forced to pay him a dollar or he would incinerate their merchandise. Siegel had a criminal record that included armed robbery, rape and murder dating back to his teenage years.

Bugs and Meyer Mob

During adolescence, Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky, who formed a small mob whose activities expanded to gambling and car theft. Lansky, who had already had a run-in with Salvatore Lucania, saw a need for the Jewish boys of his Brooklyn neighborhood to organize in the same manner as the Italians and Irish. The first person he recruited for his gang was Ben Siegel.

Siegel became a bootlegger and was involved in bootlegging within several major East Coast cities. He also worked as the mob's hitman, whom Lansky would hire out to other crime families. The two formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, which handled contracts for the various bootleg gangs operating in New York and New Jersey – doing so almost a decade before Murder, Inc. was formed. The gang kept themselves busy hijacking the booze cargoes of rival outfits. The Bugs and Meyer mob was known to be responsible for the killing and removal of several rival gangdom figures.

Siegel's gang mates included Abner "Longie" Zwillman, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, and Lansky's brother, Jake; "Doc" Stacher, another member of the Bugs and Meyer Mob, recalled to Lansky biographers that Siegel was fearless and saved his friends' lives as the mob moved into bootlegging:

“Bugsy never hesitated when danger threatened," Stacher told Uri Dan. "While we tried to figure out what the best move was, Bugsy was already shooting. When it came to action there was no one better. I've never known a man who had more guts.”

He was also a boyhood friend to Al Capone; when there was a warrant for Capone's arrest on a murder charge, Siegel allowed him to hide out with an aunt. Siegel first smoked opium during his youth and was involved in the drug trade. By age 21, Siegel was making money and flaunted it. He was regarded as handsome with blue eyes and was known to be charismatic and liked by everyone. He bought an apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a Tudor home in Scarsdale. He wore flashy clothes and participated in the night life of New York City.

Marriage and family

On January 28, 1929, Siegel married Esta Krakower, his childhood sweetheart and sister of contract killer Whitey Krakower. They had two daughters. Siegel had a reputation as a womanizer and the marriage ended in 1946. His wife moved with their teenage daughters to New York.

Murder, Incorporated

By the late 1920s, Lansky and Siegel had ties to Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello, future bosses of the Genovese crime family. Siegel, along with Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, Vito Genovese, and Joe Adonis, allegedly were the four gunmen who shot New York mob boss Joe Masseria to death on Luciano's orders on April 15, 1931, ending the Castellammarese War.

On September 10 of that year, Luciano hired four trigger men from the Lansky-Siegel gang (some sources identify Siegel being one of the hit men), to murder Salvatore Maranzano, establishing Luciano's rise to the top of the U.S. Mafia and marking the beginning of modern American organized crime.

In 1931, following Maranzano's death, Luciano and Lansky formed the National Syndicate, an organization of crime families that brought power to the underworld. The Commission was established for dividing Mafia territories and preventing future wars. With his associates, Siegel formed Murder, Incorporated.

After Siegel and Lansky moved on, control over Murder, Inc. was ceded to Buchalter and Anastasia. Siegel continued working as a hitman breaking the law eight times. His only conviction was in Miami. On February 28, 1932, he was arrested for gambling and vagrancy, and, from a roll of bills, paid a $100 fine.

During this period, Siegel had a disagreement with associates of Waxey Gordon, the Fabrizzo brothers. Gordon had hired the Fabrizzo brothers from prison after Lansky and Siegel gave the IRS information about Gordon's tax evasion. It led to Gordon's imprisonment in 1933.

Siegel hunted down the Fabrizzos, killing them after their assassination attempt on Lansky as well as Siegel himself. After the deaths of his two brothers, Tony Fabrizzo began writing a memoir and gave it to an attorney. One of the longest chapters was to be a section on the nationwide kill-for-hire squad led by Siegel. The mob discovered Fabrizzo's plans before he could execute it.

In 1932, Siegel checked into a hospital and later that night sneaked out. Siegel and two accomplices approached Fabrizzo's house and, posing as detectives to lure him outside, gunned him down. According to hospital records, Siegel's alibi for that night was that he had checked into a hospital. In 1935, Siegel assisted in Luciano's alliance with Dutch Schultz and killed rival loan sharks Louis "Pretty" Amberg and Joseph Amberg.


Siegel had learned from his associates that he was in danger. His hospital alibi had become questionable and his enemies wanted him dead. In the late 1930s, the East Coast mob sent Siegel to California. Since 1933, Siegel had traveled to the West Coast several times, and in California, his mission was to develop syndicate gambling rackets with Los Angeles crime family boss, Jack Dragna.

Once in Los Angeles, Siegel recruited gang boss Mickey Cohen as his chief lieutenant. Knowing Siegel's reputation for violence and that he was backed by Lansky and Luciano who, from prison, sent word to Dragna that it was "in [his] best interest to cooperate", Dragna accepted a subordinate role. Siegel moved Esta and their daughters, Millicent and Barbara, to California. On tax returns he claimed to earn his living through legal gambling at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Siegel took over the numbers racket. He used money from the syndicate to help establish a drug trade route from the U.S. to Mexico and organized circuits with the Chicago Outfit's Trans-America Wire service.

By 1942, $500,000 a day was coming from the syndicate's bookmaking wire operations. In 1946, because of problems with Siegel, the Chicago Outfit took over the Continental Press and gave the percentage of the racing wire to Jack Dragna, infuriating Siegel. Despite his complications with the wire services, Siegel controlled several offshore casinos and a major prostitution ring. He also maintained relationships with politicians, businessmen, attorneys, accountants, and lobbyists who fronted for him.


In Hollywood, Siegel was welcomed in the highest circles and befriended stars. He was known to associate with George Raft, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, as well as studio executives Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner. Actress Jean Harlow was a friend of Siegel and godmother to his daughter Millicent. Siegel led an extravagant life, he bought real estate, and threw lavish parties at his Beverly Hills home. He gained admiration from young celebrities, including Tony Curtis, Phil Silvers, and Frank Sinatra.

Siegel had several relationships with actresses, including socialite Dorothy DiFrasso, the wife of an Italian count. The alliance with the countess took Siegel to Italy in 1938, where he met Benito Mussolini, to whom Siegel tried to sell weapons—and German leaders Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. Siegel took an instant dislike to the Nazis and offered to kill them. He relented because of the countess's anxious pleas.

In Hollywood, Siegel worked with the crime syndicate to form illegal rackets. He devised a plan of extorting movie studios; he would take over local unions (the Screen Extras Guild and the Los Angeles Teamsters) and stage strikes to force studios to pay him off, so that unions would start working again. He borrowed money from celebrities and didn't pay them back, knowing that they would never ask him for the money. During his first year in Hollywood, he received more than $400,000 in loans from movie stars.

Greenberg murder and trial

On November 22, 1939, Siegel, Whitey Krakower, Frankie Carbo and Albert Tannenbaum killed Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg outside of his apartment. Greenberg had threatened to become a police informant, and Lepke Buchalter, boss of Murder, Inc., ordered his killing.

Tannenbaum confessed to the murder and agreed to testify against Siegel. Siegel and Carbo were implicated to have shot and killed Greenberg, and in September 1941, Siegel was tried for the Greenberg murder. Whitey Krakower was killed before he could face trial.

The trial gained notoriety because of the preferential treatment Siegel received in jail; he refused to eat prison food and was allowed female visitors. He was also granted leave for dental visits. Siegel hired attorney Jerry Giesler to defend him. After the deaths of two state witnesses, no additional witnesses came forward. Tannenbaum's testimony was dismissed.

In 1942, Siegel and Carbo were acquitted due to insufficient evidence but Siegel's reputation was damaged. During the trial, newspapers revealed his past and referred to him as "Bugsy". He hated the nickname (said to be based on the slang term "bugs", meaning "crazy", used to describe his erratic behavior), preferring to be called "Ben" or "Mr. Siegel". On May 25, 1944, Siegel was arrested for bookmaking. George Raft testified on Siegel's behalf, and in late 1944, Siegel was acquitted.

Las Vegas

Siegel wanted to be a legitimate businessman, and in 1946, he saw an opportunity with William R. Wilkerson's Flamingo Hotel. Las Vegas gave Siegel his second opportunity to reinvent himself. In the 1930s, Siegel had traveled to Southern Nevada with Meyer Lansky's lieutenant Moe Sedway on Lansky's orders to explore expanding operations. There were opportunities in providing illicit services to crews constructing Hoover Dam. Lansky had turned the desert over to Siegel. But Siegel had turned it over to Moe Sedway and left for Hollywood.

Lansky asked Siegel to watch Wilkerson's desert development. Siegel, who knew Wilkerson and lived near him in Beverly Hills, was the obvious choice as a liaison, but Siegel wanted no part in the operation that would take him back to Nevada. It meant leaving Beverly Hills and his playboy life. But at Lansky's insistence, Siegel consented.

Siegel accepts

In the mid-1940s, Siegel was lining things up in Las Vegas while his lieutenants worked on a business policy to secure all gambling in Los Angeles. Throughout the spring of 1946, Siegel proved useful. He obtained black market building materials. The postwar shortages that had dogged construction were no longer a problem.

At first Siegel seemed content to do things Wilkerson's way. His desire to learn about the project took precedence over his sportsman lifestyle. It subdued his aggression. Under Wilkerson's tutelage, Siegel learned the mechanics of building an enterprise. However, Siegel began to feel intimidated and paranoid. He grew resentful of Wilkerson's vision for the desert.

Tom Seward, a business partner of Wilkerson, described Siegel as "so jealous of Billy [Wilkerson] it drove him crazy". Siegel began making decisions without Wilkerson's authority. Informing work crews that Wilkerson had put him in charge, Siegel ordered changes which conflicted with the blueprints.

The problem came to a head when Siegel demanded more involvement in the project. To keep the project moving, Wilkerson agreed that Siegel would supervise the hotel while Wilkerson retained control of everything else.

In May 1946, Siegel decided the agreement had to be altered to give him control of the Flamingo. With the Flamingo, Siegel would supply the gambling, the best liquor and food, and the biggest entertainers at reasonable prices. He believed these attractions would lure not only the high rollers, but thousands of vacationers willing to lose $50 or $100. Siegel offered to buy out Wilkerson's creative participation with corporate stock – an additional 5 percent ownership in the operation (Siegel later reneged).

On June 20, 1946, Siegel formed the Nevada Project Corporation of California, naming himself president. He was also the largest principal stockholder in the operation, which defined everyone else merely as shareholders. (William Wilkerson was eventually coerced into selling all stakes in the Flamingo under the threat of death, and went into hiding in Paris for a time.) From this point the Flamingo became syndicate-run.

Las Vegas' beginning

Siegel began a spending spree. He demanded the finest building that money could buy at a time of postwar shortages. Each bathroom in the 93-room hotel had its own sewer system (cost: $1,150,000); more toilets were ordered than needed (cost: $50,000); because of the plumbing alterations, the boiler room was enlarged (cost: $113,000); and Siegel ordered a larger kitchen (cost: $29,000). Adding to the budgetary over-runs were problems with dishonest contractors and disgruntled unpaid builders. As costs soared, Siegel's checks began bouncing. By October 1946, the costs were above $4 million. In 1947, the Flamingo cost was over $6 million (around $62,500,000 in today's money).

The first indication of trouble came in November 1946 when the syndicate issued an ultimatum: provide accounting or forfeit funding. But producing a balance sheet was the last thing Siegel wanted to do. Siegel waged a private fundraising campaign by selling nonexistent stocks. He was in a hurry so he doubled his work force, believing the project could be completed in half the time. Siegel paid overtime. In some cases, bonuses tied to project deadlines were offered as a way to increase productivity. By late November, the work was nearly finished.

Under pressure for the hotel to make money, Siegel moved the opening from Wilkerson's original date of March 1, 1947 to December 26, 1946 in an attempt to generate enough money from the casino to complete the project and repay investors. However, Siegel generated confusion with the opening date. On a whim, he decided a weekend would be more likely to entice celebrities away from home. Invitations were sent out for Saturday, December 28. Siegel changed his mind again and invitees were notified by phone that the opening had been changed back to the 26th.

According to later reports by local observers, Siegel's "maniacal chest-puffing" set the pattern for several generations of notable casino moguls. Siegel's violent reputation didn't help his situation. After he boasted one day that he'd personally killed some men, he saw the panicked look on the face of head contractor Del Webb and reassured him: "Del, don't worry, we only kill each other."

Other associates portrayed Siegel in a different aspect; Siegel as an intense character who was not without a charitable side, including his donations for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. Lou Wiener Jr., Siegel's Las Vegas attorney, described him as "very well liked" and that he was "good to people".

Defiance and devastation

Problems with the Trans-America Wire service had cleared up in Nevada and Arizona, but in California, Siegel refused to report business. He later announced to his colleagues that he was running the California syndicate by himself and that he would return the loans in his "own good time". Despite his defiance to the mob bosses they were patient with Siegel because he had always proven to be a valuable man.

The Flamingo opened on December 26, 1946. The casino, lounge, theater, and restaurant were finished. Although locals attended the opening, few celebrities materialized. A handful drove in from Los Angeles despite bad weather. Some celebrities present were June Haver, Vivian Blaine, George Raft, Sonny Tufts, Brian Donlevy, and Charles Coburn. They were welcomed by construction noise and a lobby draped with drop cloths.

The desert's first air conditioning collapsed regularly. While gambling tables were operating, the luxury rooms, that would have served as the lure for people to stay and gamble were not ready. As word of the losses made their way to Siegel during the evening, he began to become irate and verbally abusive, throwing out at least one family. After two weeks the Flamingo's gaming tables were $275,000 in the red and the entire operation shut down in late January 1947.

After being granted a second chance, Siegel cracked down and did everything possible to turn the Flamingo into a success by making renovations and obtaining good press. He hired future newsman Hank Greenspun as a publicist.

The hotel reopened on March 1, 1947,—with Meyer Lansky present—and began turning a profit. However, by the time profits began improving the mob bosses above Siegel were tired of waiting. Although time was running out, at age 41, Siegel had carved out a name for himself in the annals of organized crime and in Las Vegas history.


On the night of June 20, 1947, as Siegel sat with his associate Allen Smiley in Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills home reading the Los Angeles Times, an assailant fired at him through the window with a .30-caliber military M1 carbine, hitting him many times, including twice in the head. No one was charged with the murder, and the crime remains officially unsolved.

One theory posits that Siegel's death was the result of his excessive spending and possible theft of money from the mob. In 1946, a meeting was held with the "board of directors" of the syndicate in Havana, Cuba, so that Luciano, exiled in Sicily, could attend and participate. A contract on Siegel's life was the conclusion. According to Stacher, Lansky reluctantly agreed to the decision.

Although descriptions said that Siegel was shot in the eye, he was actually hit twice on the right side of his head. The death scene and postmortem photographs show that one shot penetrated his right cheek and exited through the left side of his neck; the other struck the right bridge of his nose where it met the right eye socket. The pressure created by the bullet passing through Siegel's skull blew his left eye out of its socket.

A Los Angeles' Coroner's Report (#37448) states the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage. His death certificate (Registrar's #816192) states the manner of death as a homicide and the cause as "Gunshot Wounds of the head."

Though as noted, Siegel was 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 nevertheless became popular in Mafia lore and in movies, and was called the "Moe Greene special" after the character Moe Greene—based on Siegel—was killed in this manner in The Godfather.

Siegel was hit by several other bullets including shots through his lungs. According to Florabel Muir, "Four of the nine shots fired that night destroyed a white marble statue of Bacchus on a grand piano, and then lodged in the far wall."

The day after Siegel's death, the Los Angeles Herald-Express carried a photograph on its front page from the morgue of Siegel's bare right foot with a toe tag. Although Siegel's murder occurred in Beverly Hills, his death thrust Las Vegas into the national spotlight as photographs of his lifeless body were published in newspapers throughout the country. The day after Siegel's murder, David Berman and his Las Vegas mob associates walked into the Flamingo and took over operation of the hotel and casino.


In the Bialystoker Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side, Siegel is memorialized by a Yahrtzeit (remembrance) plaque that marks his death date so mourners can say Kaddish for the anniversary. Siegel's plaque is below Max Siegel's, his father, who died two months before his son.

On the property at the Flamingo Las Vegas, between the pool and a wedding chapel, is a memorial plaque to Siegel. Siegel was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

In popular culture

  • Siegel was the basis for the character and personality of the Moe Greene character in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather (1969). In the 1972 film adaptation, he is portrayed by Alex Rocco.

  • Sergio Leone's film Once Upon a Time in America (1984) is loosely based on the lives of Siegel and Lansky.

  • In the movie Atlantic City, the real-life mobsters and gangsters that central character Lou (Burt Lancaster) said he knew, or had worked for, were Dutch Schultz, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Al Capone.

  • Bugsy (1991) is a semi-fictional biography of Siegel, featuring Warren Beatty as the mobster.

  • The 1991 crime drama Mobsters, depicting the rise of The Commission, features Richard Grieco as Siegel.

  • The Marrying Man (1991) has Armand Assante playing the role of Siegel.

  • Tim Powers imagined Siegel as a modern-day Fisher King in his novel Last Call (1992).

  • He is portrayed by Michael Zegen in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

  • He is a central character in Frank Darabont's television series Mob City, portrayed by Edward Burns.

  • In the 12th episode of the second season of Sliders, Siegel has succeeded in making a gambling empire in California and the mob controls most of the state. In the season four episode "Way Out West", Siegel's grandson Ben "Bugsy" Siegel III (Jay Acovone) planned to turn Las Vegas into a Mecca for gamblers in the same manner as his grandfather did on Earth Prime. The universe in question is approximately 150 years behind Earth Prime in terms of technology and the United States resembles the Wild West into the late 1990s.

  • Siegel was one of the primary foes of Greg Saunders, DC Comics' first Vigilante.

  • He is portrayed by Jonathan Stewart in AMC's series The Making of the Mob: New York, a docudrama focusing on the history of the mob with the first season about Charlie "Lucky" Luciano's life story.

  • In the Stephen Hunter novel Hot Springs, Siegel plays a major role. He is a partner of crime boss Owney Maddox and gets into a physical confrontation with former Marine Sergeant turned Detective Earl Swagger after Swagger lights Virginia Hill's cigarette. Swagger attempts to avoid confrontation with Siegel but beats him in a fist fight, earning his wrath. Later Swagger's former subordinate-turned-CIA agent Frenchy Short assassinates Siegel with an M1 carbine, paralleling the real-life murder.



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.

He hated the nickname, Bugsy (said to be based on the slang term "bugs", meaning "crazy", and used to describe his sometimes erratic behavior), and wouldn't allow anyone to call him that to his face. His extraordinary partying earned him the title "King of the Sunset Strip."

The beginning

Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a poor Austrian Jewish family, one of five children. As a boy, Siegel joined a street gang on Lafayette Street in 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, forming a small gang whose criminal activities expanded to include gambling and car theft. Siegel reputedly also worked as the gang's hit man whom Lansky would sometimes hire out to other gang bosses.

In 1926, Siegel was arrested for raping a woman who had turned down his advances in a speakeasy, but Lansky coerced the victim not to testify against Siegel.

In 1930 Lansky and Siegel joined forces with Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Siegel became a bootlegger and was also associated with Albert Anastasia. Siegel was used for bootlegging operations in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

During the so-called Castellammarese War in 1930-1931, they fought the gang of Joe Masseria; Siegel reputedly had a hand in Masseria's 1931 murder in Coney Island and later had a part 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 were briefly allied with Dutch Schultz and killed rival loan sharks Louis and Joseph Amberg in 1935.

To California

In 1937 the East Coast mob sent Siegel to California to try to develop Syndicate gambling rackets in the West alongside Los Angeles mobster Jack Dragna. Siegel also recruited Jewish gang boss Mickey Cohen as his lieutenant. Siegel used Syndicate money to set up a national wire service to help the East Coast mob quicken their returns.

Siegel married his childhood sweetheart Esta Krakow, sister of hit man Whitey Krakow, on January 28, 1939. He eventually moved her and their two daughters to the West Coast after his bosses had sent him there, but kept them in the dark about his many extramarital affairs.

Four of his mistresses were actresses Ketti Gallian, Wendy Barrie and Marie "the Body" MacDonald, and Hollywood socialite Dorothy DiFrasso. With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle and is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios.

He thereafter always lived in extravagant fashion, as was his reputation, and on his tax returns Siegel claimed to earn his living through legal gambling at the Santa Anita racetrack near Los Angeles.

Siegel became enamored with a sharp-tongued moll and courier, Virginia Hill. They began a torrid affair. Hill helped Siegel establish contacts in Mexico. The Alabama-born Hill was wealthy in her own right and had bought a mansion in Beverly Hills from Metropolitan Opera baritone Lawrence Tibbett, where Siegel frequently stayed. Hill became Siegel's paramour.

Later, there were rumors that they had secretly married in Mexico. Their affair, however, did not keep Siegel from continuing his compulsive womanizing. Hill's reaction to Siegel's infidelities is unknown, but the long-suffering Esta finally reached her limit; she went to Reno and obtained a divorce in 1946.

On November 22, 1939, Siegel, with his brother-in-law Whitey Krakow and two others, killed Harry Greenberg, who had become a police informant, on the orders of Murder, Inc. boss Lepke Buchalter.

Siegel was arrested and tried for the murder (by that time, he had also killed Krakow). He was acquitted, but newspapers referred to him for the first time by his nickname "Bugsy." Siegel was not pleased, especially when his gangland past was revealed.

On one return trip to the East, Siegel drove through the small town of Las Vegas, Nevada. Legend has it that Siegel suddenly had a vision of turning Las Vegas into a gambling mecca. Others said he had merely stopped there for a call of nature.

Las Vegas venture

According to popular myth, Bugsy envisioned building a large casino and hotel to which gamblers would flock. His vision was fueled by the fact that Nevada had legalized gambling in 1931.

In Las Vegas, gambling was concentrated in downtown casinos along Fremont Street, whose clientele largely consisted of members of the construction crew building the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River 48 km (30 miles) to the southeast.

Bugsy came to Las Vegas in 1941, backed by Al Capone to establish the Trans America race wire service.

Back in the East, Siegel captivated his fellow mobsters with the idea of building a gambling mecca in the Nevada desert, complete with a casino, hotel and entertainment. Siegel returned to the West Coast and began working on his dream to construct a hotel-casino complex on what later would become known as the Las Vegas Strip. Siegel called the place "The Flamingo", his pet name for Virginia Hill.

The Flamingo fiasco

However, Siegel knew little about construction; many of his 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.

The Del Webb company, which was in charge of construction, is alleged to have driven building materials onto the site before simply driving them out the back gate and billing Siegel for the work, though materials shortages owing to the recently-concluded Second World War also increased costs.

When Webb told Siegel of his fears that he would come to harm, Siegel reputedly joked: "Don't worry, Del. We only kill each other."

The Mafia members on the East Coast who had invested in Siegel's project began to suspect that Siegel was stealing money from them. Because Hill had been making frequent trips to Zurich, the mob worried that Siegel might be putting the money into Swiss bank accounts.

In December 1946, several of Siegel's business and crime partners flew to Havana, Cuba, for a meeting with Luciano, who was now directing American Mafia operations from Italy after being paroled from prison in the United States and deported. One of the main topics for discussion at the Havana Conference was whether they should order a hit on Siegel, who was kept in the dark about the meeting.

Lansky, who remembered fondly how Siegel had saved his life on various occasions when they were young, took a stand against the hit and asked them to give Siegel a chance by waiting until after the casino had opened.

Luciano, who believed that Siegel could still make a profit in Las Vegas and pay back what he owed the Mafia investors, agreed to cancel the hit.

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, and the casino closed after only two weeks in order to complete construction.

The fully operational Flamingo re-opened in March of 1947. That spring, the casino's gangster investors once again met in Havana to decide whether to "liquidate" Siegel. But, luckily for Siegel, he had turned a profit for the month of that second meeting, so Lansky again spoke up in support of his old friend and convinced Luciano to give Siegel one last chance.

The last act

Eventually, Siegel's business venture in Las Vegas failed. Hill stole the money Siegel owed the mob and fled to Paris, then Sweden. Even Siegel's boyhood friend Lansky now abandoned him.

Hill was not at home on the night of June 20, 1947, when, at 10:45 p.m., a mob hitman, allegedly Eddie Cannizzaro, hid outside the couple's mansion at 810 N. Linden Drive in Beverly Hills and shot Siegel several times with a U.S. military M1 Carbine as he sat near a window reading the Los Angeles Times.

The force of the gun's heavy-hitting .30-caliber ammo blew Siegel's eye 4.5 meters (15 feet) from his body. The assassin got away with it, since no one was ever charged with this bloody murder.

Apparently the matinee-idol handsome 41-year-old Bugsy Siegel died instantly. 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.

Other references to this form of demise come from The Sopranos, where the character of Brendan Filone is also executed with a bullet through the eye.

Cultural references

  • In 1991, the life of Bugsy Siegel was the subject of the highly fictionalized motion picture Bugsy, with Warren Beatty in the title role.

  • Also in 1991, there was a film, Mobsters, about the early years of Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello starring Christian Slater as Lucky and with Richard Grieco as Bugsy.

  • The character of Moe Greene in The Godfather, who was murdered by a clean shot to the eye, was based on Siegel.

  • Siegel was also portrayed by Harvey Keitel (who himself appeared in the Bugsy film as Mickey Cohen), in the 1973 TV movie The Virginia Hill Story and by Armand Assante in the 1991 film The Marrying Man.

  • The title of the song Mr. Siegal by Tom Waits refers to Bugsy Siegel.

  • In the show The Sopranos, Brendan Filone is also executed with a bullet clean through the eye.

  • In the movie Once Upon A Time In America (1984), the character of Joe Minaldi (Burt Young) is killed after being shot in the eye, similar to Siegel (the death scene was based on a postmortem photograph of Bugsy). Also, the character of Max (James Woods) reacts violently whenever someone calls him "Crazy", similar to Siegel's reaction to his nickname of Bugsy. There is also a minor character named Bugsy (played by James Russo).

  • Tim Powers imagined Siegel as a modern-day Fisher King in his award-winning novel Last Call.

  • In the 1981 NBC mini-series, The Gangster Chronicles, Joe Penny was cast as Bugsy Siegel.

  • The 1999 HBO made-for-TV movie, Lansky, the character of Bugsy Siegel as a adult was played by Eric Roberts.

  • In the DC Comics universe Siegel killed the young partner of the first hero called The Vigilante and was pursued by him for years; it was Vigilante who finally shot him dead.


Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel
Syndicate Leader and Victim

In superlatives about members of organized crime Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel certainly stands out in the most precocious category.

When he was 14 years old he was running his own criminal gang and soon became a power on the Lower East Side. He teamed up with Meyer Lansky and the two formed the Bug and Meyer Mob, which handled contracts for the carious bootleg gangs operating in New York and New Jersey - doing so almost a decade before Murder, Inc., was formed to handle such matters.

The Bug and Meyers also kept themselves busy hijacking the booze cargoes of rival outfits. While Lansky clearly was the brains of the operation, Siegel was no flunky and stood on equal footing with him. Siegel frequently bowed to Lansky's wishes out of a genuine affection and high regard in which he held Lansky.

By the time Siegel was 21 it would have been hard for him to mention any heinous crimes he had not committed. He was guilty of hijacking, mayhem, bootlegging, narcotics trafficking, white slavery, rape, burglary, bookmaking, robbery, numbers racket, extortion and numerous murders.

Along with Lansky he hooked up with some rising Italian mobsters - Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Tommy Lucchese, Vito Genovese and others - and with them would become one of the founding members of the national crime syndicate. Along the way, Siegel carried out a number of murders for the new combination to bring it to fruition. (Siegel was one of the gunmen who cute down Joe the Boss Masseria in a Coney Island restaurant in 1931.)

Siegel was always a man of the gun, feeling that a few homicides could clear up most any problem. And he was a "cowboy." Years later a deputy district attorney in California explained why Siegel almost always had to lend a hand personally in mob murders: "In gangster parlance Siegel is what is known as a 'cowboy.' This is the way the boys have of describing a man who is not satisfied to frame a murder but actually has to be in on the kill in person."

In the 1930s Siegel was sent from New York to California to run the syndicate's West Coast operations, including the lucrative racing wire to service bookmakers. The Los Angeles Mafia was bossed by Jack Dragna. Siegel soon made it clear who was in charge. Considering Siegel's reputation for violence and the fact that he had the backing of Lansky and Luciano who, from prison, sent word to Dragna that he had best cooperate, Dragna had to accept a second fiddle role.

Just because Siegel was a bit of a psychopath didn't mean he want a charmer. As the saying went, he charmed the pants - and panties - off Hollywood, while at the same time he functioned as a mob killer. He was so enthused about killing, he was called "Bugsy," but not in his presence.

Face to face, he was just plain Ben. A suave, entertaining sort, Siegel hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities, including Jean Harlow, George Raft, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Wendy Barrie (who once announced her engagement to Bugsy and never gave up hoping) and many others, some of whom put money into his enterprises.

Siegel could be at a party with his "high class friends" and then slip away for a quick murder mission with a longtime murder mate of his, Frankie Carbo (who later became the underworld's boss of boxing). Siegel played his cowboy role in 1939 when he knocked off an errant mobster named Harry Greenberg on orders from New York.

While a busy man about Hollywood, running the mob rackets and committing murder, Siegel still had time for some truly bizarre stunts. There was the time he and one of his mistresses, Countess Dorothy diFrasso, traveled to Italy to peddle a revolutionary explosive device to Benito Mussolini. While staying on the diFrasso estate, Siegel, the wild little Jew from New York's Lower East Side, met top Nazis Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.

Underworld legend has it that the Bug took an instant dislike to the pair, for personal rather than political reasons, and planned to bump them off. He only relented because of the countess's anxious pleas. The explosive device proved a failure and Bugs and his lady returned to Hollywood where he took on the added mob chore of setting up a narcotics smuggling operation out of Mexico.

In the early 1940s Lansky had Siegel scout out Las Vegas as the possible site for a lavish gambling casino and plush hotel. At first Siegel thought the idea was loony, regarding Las Vegas as little more than a comfort station in the desert for passing travelers.

However, the more Siegel looked at the possibilities the more he liked the idea, and he became the enthusiastic booster for a legal gambling paradise. He talked the syndicate into putting up a couple of million dollars to build a place, and the figure soon escalated to $6 million.

Siegel dubbed the place the Flamingo, the nickname of another Siegel mistress, Virginia Hill. At one brief time after the Flamingo opened Siegel had four of his favorite women lodged in separate plush suites. They were Virginia Hill, Countess diFrasso, and actresses Wendy Barrie and Marie McDonald. Whenever she saw Wendy, Virginia went wild and once at the Flamingo punched the English actress, nearly dislocating her jaw.

However, woman trouble was not Bugsy's main worry. The syndicate was upset about its $6 million. When the Flamingo first opened, it proved a financial disaster. Reportedly, the mobs from around the country demanded their money back. What really upset them was the accurate suspicion that Bugsy had been skimming off the construction funds, as well as some of the gambling revenues, and having Hill park it in Switzerland for him.

The syndicate passed the death sentence on Siegel at the famous Havana conference in December 1946. Despite his later denials, the key vote was cast by Meyer Lansky and affirmed by Luciano. Siegel knew he was in deep trouble but got what he though was an extension of time to turn the Flamingo around. By May 1947, it was making a profit and Bugsy started to relax.

On June 20, Bugsy was sitting in the living room of Virginia Hill's $500,000 mansion in Beverly Hills. Virginia was in Europe at the time. Siegel was reading the Los Angeles Times when two steel-jacketed slugs from an army carbine tore through a window and smashed into his face. One crashed the bridge of his nose and drove into his left eye. The other entered his right cheek and went through the back of his neck, shattering a vertebra. Authorities later found his right eye on the dining room floor some 15 feet away from the body.

Some thought Jack Dragna, nursing his longtime hatred for Bugsy, had carried out the hit personally, but this was almost certainly not true. The most informed guess was that Frankie Carbo handled the chore on direct orders from Lansky, who doubtless grieved that such an old and dear friend had to go.

In the grim months before Siegel's murder, construction tycoon Del Webb had expressed nervousness about his personal safety with so many menacing types around the Flamingo. In a philosophical mood, Bugsy told him not to worry. He noted he himself had carried out 12 murders, all of which had been strictly for business reasons. Webb, Bugsy said, had nothing to fear because "we only kill each other."

That was certainly true in the Bug's case.


Bugsy Siegel

"Bugsy" was a common nickname in certain circles around the end of the 19th century.

It was often used as a term of endearment and respect within criminal communities.

But if you dared to called infamous American gangster Benjamin Siegel by his nickname Bugsy then you would more than likely end up getting severely hurt, or worse.

To the people of New York he was Bugsy Siegel, but to his face it was always "Ben" or "Mr Siegel" for fear of provoking his wild temper. Bugsy earned the name because of his short temper, or tendency to 'go bugs' when angry or thwarted. In fact it's an irony that the name he loathed so much was the one that he would be remembered by in history.

Like many famous gangsters, Bugsy was a handsome charmer with a violent, remorseless nature. He was born into poverty and moved up through the criminal underworld to hold court between two strangely linked worlds of showbiz and organised crime.

Born to Russian immigrant parents in the deprived Hell's Kitchen area of Brooklyn, NY in 1902, Benjamin Siegelbaum watched as his parents scraped for every cent they could get to survive, and he swore that he would not end up the same way.

Early on in his life, Bugsy learnt that in his part of the world, crime was the most lucrative path to follow. At a very early age, Bugsy and his friend, the weak-willed Moey Sedway, were running protection rackets on the local street vendors.

There are many urban myths surrounding the where and when that Bugsy Siegel met Meyer Lansky, but when they did finally meet they joined forces to form a gang of killers, which would eventually become one of the most notorious national crime syndicates in the US.

Both Siegel and Lansky were of similar age and background, and together they had big plans for their future. Bugsy was gaining a reputation amongst his criminal peers, and he appeared to be almost fearless. Tales of him rushing into gun battles without a thought, his sheer nerve in the face of danger, and the fact he often saved their lives, was enough to impress the members of his mob.

The first step

Bugsy's first murder was a revenge killing he carried out for an associate of Meyer's. Lansky had become something of a link between the Jewish and Sicilian mobs, primarily because of his friendship with Charlie Luciano. When Luciano went to prison for drugs charges, both Bugsy and Lansky knew a debt had to be paid.

The son of an Irish policeman had been responsible for Luciano's drug charge, and when he was released from prison he wanted revenge immediately. Lansky didn't want to act so quickly and told Charlie to leave the matter for him and Ben to deal with. A year after Luciano was released, Lansky suggested that he go away for a short holiday, and while he was away, Bugsy and Meyer took revenge.

The short holiday turned out to be the perfect alibi for Luciano, and after an extensive manhunt, the body of the 19 year-old son of an Irish policeman was never found. A local woman even claimed that she had information on the killing and threatened to go to the police.

Siegel, Lansky and Luciano savagely beat the women into remaining silent, but were caught in the act by the police. The women never showed up for the subsequent court case and Bugsy and his boys walked free.

You would have thought that was the end of the matter, but over eight years later, the woman bumped into Bugsy in a bar, and she began mocking him for being such a young thug. Not one to let a slight go unpunished, Bugsy followed the woman home and brutally raped her in an alley. He was arrested for the attack, but after a private word from Mr Siegel the woman dropped the charges.

Empire building

The gang kept a relatively low profile for the years following the murder of the policeman's son, but they remained a menacing threat on the streets.

Always careful with their money and keen to build a criminal empire, the trio of Lansky, Siegel and Luciano looked for ways to raise capital to fund their plans. Unwilling to trust their money in poorly secured local banks, the gang struck upon the idea of how easy it would be to rob them rather than save with them - so they overpowered a security guard and got away with $8,000.

The life they lived was a risky one, and sooner or later they knew they would be caught. So they decided to branch out into different markets. Gambling was the key to their success, but it was also dominated by much more powerful New York gang bosses than Bugsy and Lansky.

This didn't deter Bugsy, and in typical gung-ho style he set about challenging these bigger gangs. Siegel made his mark by sending in his two dozen-strong group into a battle with a rival gang consisting of two hundred or more. Although he was arrested on a public misdemeanour charge, he had sent out a very clear message to the other New York gangs.

Speakeasy money

The 1919 Prohibition laws that banned the sale of alcohol were just the excuse Bugsy needed to make a profit from the illegal distribution of booze in New York. Alcohol was sent underground and hundreds of illegal drinking establishments called 'speakeasies' and 'bathtub gin bars' appeared across New York.

Huge amounts of illegal alcohol were smuggled across the USA and rival gangs often hijacked each other's cargos. And whilst Bugsy was helping supply alcohol to New York, Al Capone was doing much the same in Chicago.

The two notorious gangsters had been childhood friends, and Capone once sought refuge with Bugsy whilst hiding from a murder investigation. The two cleverly networked their areas together in a way that was mutually profitable and a great alliance was formed.

By this time, Charlie Luciano had joined the rival Masseria gang, but he still remained friendly with Bugsy and Lansky. The Masserias were at war with another gang, the Maranzanos, because the leader of each gang wanted to be the "capo di tutti capo" or "the boss of bosses" and gain absolute power.

In order to help their friend, Siegel, Lansky and Luciano hatched a plan to bring Luciano to power. Luciano met his boss for lunch and a group of men, headed by Bugsy, walked in and shot Masseria to death. Luciano swiftly rose to become head of the Masseria gang, and went on to become the head of his rival gang by shooting Sal Maranzano in a 'kill or be killed' pre-emptive strike.


Although Bugsy was a hotheaded character, he also had the ability to be incredibly clinical in some of his executions, and almost foolhardy in his recklessness and total lack of fear.

As their reputation grew, so did the number of their enemies, and before long a contract had been put out on Bugsy and Lansky. The first serious attempt to cash in on this was made by the Frabrazzo brothers, who planted a bomb in Bugsy's house.

Just before it exploded, Bugsy discovered the bomb and somehow managed to throw it out the window. Despite being injured by the blast, Bugsy still managed to track down Andy and Louis Frabrazzo. Fearing for his own safety, another Frabrazzo brother, Tony, attempted to save himself from a hit by claiming to have written his memoirs. If he died, these would be released to the authorities and would contain information on everyone. He wanted to make it necessary that he remain alive.

The source of the largest chapter in Tony Frabrazzo's book was Bugsy, and he caught wind of this plan before Tony even had chance to write the first page. The traumatic nature of the bomb blast made it feasible that he should check into a hospital a few days after the event. He sneaked out of his room and met up with gang members and murdered Tony Frabrazzo in front of his elderly parents. He was then driven back to the hospital where he climbed back through the window unnoticed.

Frabrazzo's murder was a mistake for Bugsy and his alibi soon began to lose credence. He was forced underground whilst his relationship as second in command to Lansky was beginning to frustrate him. They were still as close as brothers and even the deranged Bugsy could not contemplate the usual route of extinguishing the previous boss to rise to prime position. So Bugsy was happy to accept a new job on the West Coast.

The Hollywood Connection

Bugsy and his family moved into a 35-room mansion in Hollywood. He looked up some of his old contacts and whilst the previous kingpin of the area, Jack L Dragna continued to run the gambling side of things, he reluctantly allowed Bugsy to move in on the unions.

Bugsy fitted easily into the glamorous society. His good looks and dangerous air charmed men and women alike, but he used his union influences to get "loans" from movie stars. Bugsy now had the power to shut down the whole cinema industry, which would have been even more costly to the actors than the ten thousand dollar protection money he regularly exhorted.

In an ill-judged business move, Bugsy set up a hotel called The Flamingo, but it seemed that his Midas touch had left him. The hotel was not complete when it was opened and had to be closed for business a few months later.

The syndicate was not pleased with Bugsy, but his friends, Lansky and Luciano bailed him out and managed to get him more time. Bugsy worked hard and finally had the hotel ready. It was a success, and the hotel made a profit and had cleared its debts by May 1947.

By that summer it seemed that things would be working out for Siegel. He was out of trouble with his bosses and the hotel was doing fine, but there was to be no such easy life for Bugsy Siegel.

At 10.30pm on June 20th 1947 whilst he was relaxing at home, Bugsy Siegel was shot four times in the chest. He died almost instantly, aged only 42 - a victim of a gangland assassination.

Bugsy's death was nationwide news, but just five of his relatives went to the funeral. Not only was his most trusted friend, Meyer Lansky, too busy to attend, but it was widely suspected that he had followed syndicate orders and arranged to have Bugsy wiped out. Lansky strenuously denied this and no one was ever convicted of the murder.

BBC - Crime Case Closed


Who Killed Bugsy Siegel?

On June 20, 1947, gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was slain in Beverly Hills, his body riddled with bullets. One family claims to know who did it. Is one of the nation’s most famous cold cases heating up?

Amy Wallace - Los Angeles Magazine

September 29, 2014

This is not your Ozzie and Harriet family, needless to say,” Robbie Sedway tells me one afternoon in May. We are sitting together in the dining room of his Pacific Palisades condo. In front of him is a cardboard box, and he is riffling through its contents: photos of made men, murderers convicted and otherwise, even a bona fide movie star. For Robbie, this is what passes for family memorabilia. Adjusting his glasses, he pulls out a posed portrait of his mother, Bee. Once she was a gangster’s wife. She married Jewish mobster Moe Sedway when she was 17 and he was 41, and soon she became the confidant of Sedway’s old friend and business partner, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Robbie, a 71-year-old realtor, hands me a sheaf of yellowed newspaper clippings about his dad, Moe (“Czar of Vegas,” reads one headline). A treasured business card is embossed with Moe’s name and a glossy red bird. “The Flamingo,” it says. “Vice-president.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Bee and Moe lived a glamorous L.A. life. They had a huge Beverly Hills mansion with maids upstairs and down, a Cadillac custom painted to match Bee’s copper hair, a 5-carat diamond that hung on a chain around Bee’s neck. Now Robbie’s parents and their fortune are long gone, and he is the keeper of the artifacts they left behind.

His second wife, Renee, joins us at the table as he pulls out a taped two-hour interview that his mother granted to documentary filmmakers in 1993. Most of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor, but there’s good stuff there, Robbie says. Next he offers me a ragged Xerox copy of a 79-page typewritten book proposal, which his mother called Bugsy’s Little Lunatic. The book was not written; the proposal never went to market.

In 2007, Robert Glen Sedway was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he beat. It’s been dormant, but suddenly it’s back. His build is still solid, and he has most of his thick silver hair, but he has begun moving more slowly and wipes his eyes often with a tissue. The time is right, he’s decided, to tell me the story he’s heard again and again but that has never been repeated outside his family.

There is no one left to tell him no. Not his father, whose heart failed in 1952 while on a cross-country flight to Miami when he was just 57. Not his mother, who died in a Corona rest home in 1999 at the age of 81. Not Robbie’s only sibling, Dick, a sometime heroin user with multiple sclerosis who died in 2002, when he was 65.

“I’m at a point in my life where my health is not good,” says Robbie, shrugging when I ask him, Why break your silence now? “Everyone’s been wondering for 67 years. I mean, why not?”

That’s about the moment when the front door of the condo pops open, swinging wide. Robbie’s wife is startled and gets up from the table. After 20 seconds, the door shuts again, seemingly of its own accord, and Renee goes to see if there’s anyone outside. There’s not. Renee turns to her husband. “Your mother was here,” she whispers to him. “Bee just entered the house.”

Everyone knows that the longer a case remains unsolved, the harder it is to crack. That’s why most of us raise an eyebrow whenever someone steps up decades after the fact and announces that they can identify the Zodiac Killer, say, or take you to the exact spot in the Bermuda Triangle where Amelia Earhart’s plane is rusting away.

Today Robbie is that someone. He says he knows who killed Bugsy Siegel. He says he can close the Beverly Hills Police Department’s most famous open case—a murder that, except for perhaps the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, is America’s greatest unsolved Mob mystery. Contrary to speculation, he says, Siegel wasn’t killed in a dispute over money. He was killed for love. “It’s a love story,” Robbie says. And his mother, Bee, was at the center of it all.

More than 50 years ago, Robbie says Bee told him the identity of Siegel’s killer. Several weeks ago he promised to tell me. Since then, I’ve been striving to temper my excitement with skepticism. So when Robbie’s wife insists that 15 years after Bee died, she remains a ghostly presence in their house, I try not to roll my eyes. Renee and Robbie may believe that Bee is as domineering in death as she was in life, but I’m not so sure. Still, I have to admit: I feel as if I’ve been chasing phantoms.

Returning to Renee and Robbie’s condo a few weeks later, I tell them that I’ve stumbled across a photo of Bee, taken backstage at the Paradise Cabaret in New York in the mid 1930s. I found it during that most mundane of reportorial exercises (a Google search) after I set out to envision the world that the teenage Bee inhabited when she was a vaudeville dancer. I didn’t think I’d find Bee herself—just images of the Paradise, where she performed two shows a night. But then in an uncaptioned photo there she was, bright-eyed and bare shouldered, a grinning sprite of a 17-year-old girl. When her face appeared, I tell Renee with a laugh, I was a little spooked, as if Bee were reaching out from the other side. I’m joking, and I almost expect Renee and Robbie to roll their eyes. But instead Renee nods solemnly.

“That’s why you’re here,” she says, reminding me of how, during my last visit, she felt Bee’s presence enter the room. “I believe Bee brought you here.”

Door, opened.


Nobody killed Ben over money,” Bee says. She is 75 years old when the documentary film crew brings her into focus, a tiny lady in a flowered housedress who lives in a ranch house way out in Corona that swarms with rescued cats. Once she was married to the Mob. Now she’s a widow twice over, living on bologna sandwiches, two-for-one hot dogs from Der Wienerschnitzel, and the pull of her memories.

“I still love him—not like a lover, but I miss him,” she says as tears wet her eyes. She is thinking of Ben Siegel—the azure-eyed rogue, part charmer, part sociopath, and the father of modern Las Vegas. Half her lifetime ago, on the night of June 20, 1947, he was shot dead in his girlfriend Virginia Hill’s rented Beverly Hills home on Linden Drive, just south of Sunset Boulevard.

At about 10:45 p.m., as Siegel sat on a floral couch reading the Los Angeles Times, an unidentified gunman fired a .30-caliber military M1 carbine through the living room window, hitting him several times in the head and torso. One bullet penetrated his right cheek and exited through the left side of his neck. Another struck the bridge of his nose and blew his left eye out of its socket. He was 41 years old.

Bee and Ben had been close, she says, remembering how he’d fed her caviar for the first time, bought her Agatha Christie novels, and called her his “little lunatic.” Her curls are dyed a dull red. She has arthritis in her hands. To look at her, you wouldn’t suspect that she knows the answer to a question that has confounded historians and law enforcement agencies for decades: Who killed Bugsy Siegel?

In the top drawer of her nightstand, Bee keeps her first husband Moe’s .32 revolver. Nearly two decades later, her son Robbie will donate it to the Mob Museum in downtown Vegas, where it will join dozens of other artifacts devoted to the Jewish Mafia and, in particular, to Siegel’s unsolved murder. Every year 250,000 people pay as much as $19.95 apiece to visit the museum. Some plunk down another $24.99 for a “Wanted” T-shirt featuring Siegel’s mug shot, which is among the museum store’s best-selling items. “Bugsy is definitely who our guests first think of when they think of the Mob and Vegas,” store director Sue Reynolds tells me.

Partly that’s because of our limitless curiosity about gangsters—the complicated men, so brutal and yet so tender, that we know from some of the most lauded films and TV shows ever made. Partly, too, it’s due to our abiding fascination with the gory, real–life details of Siegel’s final night, captured in iconic black-and-white police photos: Siegel slumped backward, his head lolling to the side, his face ravaged and oddly incomplete; a bloody close-up of the empty socket where his left eye used to be; his face, cleaned up at the morgue, with cotton covering his eyes and plugging his wounds; his body on a slab, the big toe of his right foot looped with a tag: “Homicide,” it reads, his last name misspelled with the e before the i.

Back on the video, Bee reaches for a photograph of herself and Warren Beatty. While he was shooting his film Bugsy in 1990, Beatty invited Bee to visit his Hancock Park set to help him capture Siegel’s mannerisms. Her role as a consultant on the movie led to many interviews—TV’s 20/20, for one. It also attracted the documentary team that has put their camera in her dining room.

Later, when they are assembling Loyalty & Betrayal: The Story of the American Mob, the filmmakers will include several snippets of Bee’s memories of her Mafia pals. But the unused footage reveals something striking: Though she never names the triggerman in the Siegel murder, Bee seems bent on implying that she knows who he is.

It has long been presumed that Siegel’s massive overspending on the Flamingo—the Vegas hotel-casino that he and Bee’s husband built on behalf of a handful of other Mafia investors—led Mob boss Meyer Lansky to order Siegel’s execution. In this video interview, Bee says that’s not right. “He would have never been killed for money,” she says. “Never.” More than once she hints that she knows the real reason for the hit. Which is why she’s writing a book, she says. All she needs is a publisher, the sooner the better, because when Bee dies—“which could be any day,” she says urgently into the camera—“who else is going to tell the truth?”

Bee would die, all right, but not until six years later and not before her son Robbie shut down her book project. He’d grown up nagged by a rumor: Clinton H. Anderson, the longtime Beverly Hills police chief who directed the investigation of the Siegel murder, was known frequently to say, “If you want to know who killed Bugsy Siegel, talk to the Sedways.” But just because everyone suspected Bee had answers, Robbie felt that didn’t mean his mother should go public. Not yet. According to H. Read Jackson, the journalist turned TV producer who collaborated with Bee on her book proposal, Robbie contacted him and said Bugsy’s Little Lunatic was too dangerous to publish: The Mob might take revenge.

Door, closed.


It was the mid-1940s when Bee Sedway, 80 pounds and a hair shy of five feet tall, gazed for the first time on the deserted, dusty landscape that would become the Vegas Strip: no paved roads, just grooves where the tires slashed the dirt; a train station on Main Street; a tiny dive, the Las Vegas Club, with only three gaming tables; a lunch counter, a liquor store, and “a little red light district with maybe like 20 little cubicles made out of logs,” as she recalled it. Why in the world, she wondered, would her husband and Ben Siegel bet a fortune on a hellhole like this?

The answer, of course, was opportunity. Gambling was legal in Nevada, and Siegel and the Mob wanted to establish a foothold. In late 1945, Siegel and several other Mob investors bought a club in the city, the El Cortez, but his attempts to expand were foiled by local officials who were wary of his criminal background. So when Siegel heard that a hotel outside the city limits had been stalled midconstruction for lack of funding, he tracked down the owner and bought a two-thirds stake.

Siegel would preside over the completion of the Flamingo Hotel & Casino (named for Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, whom he called “Flamingo” because of her long, slender legs). He had bankrolled the project by persuading several underworld associates to invest, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher: Vegas was clearly not a tourist destination; it was in the middle of a scrubby wasteland, with no airport. Even with a heavy foot, the drive from L.A. could take five hours in 1946. Luring the glitzy clientele Siegel envisioned (who would in turn lure average folks) wasn’t going to be easy. No wonder his investors worried as Siegel blew through between four and six times his $1 million budget.

With Moe as his day-to-day managing partner, Siegel opened the 105-room property—the Strip’s first luxury resort—in 1946 the day after Christmas, with movie stars including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and Joan Crawford giving the celebration A-list clout. But the hotel was unfinished, and Siegel soon shut it down to complete the job, running up more costs. Some in the Mob suspected he was stealing money.

“There was no doubt in Meyer’s mind,” Charles “Lucky” Luciano recalled in his memoir, referring to Lansky, “that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his buildin’ budget, and he was sure that Siegel was preparin’ to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him.” Nevertheless, Luciano—the Sicilian architect of the American Mafia—wrote that at a meeting of Mob kingpins in Cuba, it was agreed that if the Flamingo were a success, Siegel would be allowed to make amends. Despite its bumpy start, success seemed within Siegel’s reach in May 1947, when the resort posted a $250,000 profit.

According to Bee’s book proposal, however—and to the handful of people she told this story to before she died—two months earlier, in March 1947, Siegel had done something that angered Lansky: He had threatened the life of Bee’s husband, Moe. “Moe was the point guy to keep track of the money Lansky was fronting for running the casino and other businesses,” Bee’s proposal says. “He reported all the numbers to him. The take from the tables. The cost of the construction. Moe knew where every dime was, how it was spent…. It was his job. Ben had grown weary of being watched. Being treated like a kid.”

Siegel called a March meeting in Vegas, Bee explains, of all his associates except Moe. “I want Moe out,” he announced. “Gone.” As some of those present later told Moe, “the discussion became heated as some of the boys tried to calm Ben down.” But Ben seemed to have thought the hit through. “Simple,” he said, when asked how he’d cover his tracks. “I’ll have Moe shot, chop his body up, and feed it to the Flamingo Hotel’s kitchen garbage disposal.”

Many at the meeting were frightened, according to Bee’s book proposal. If Ben were crazy enough to take out his childhood friend—an affable man who was known to offer help to those who’d fallen on hard times with the phrase, “How much do you need?”—then they were all in danger. So someone alerted Moe to Ben’s threat, and Moe immediately called Bee. Come to Vegas, he said. After she arrived in her big red Cadillac, they headed into the desert, parked the car, and walked into the night to ensure they wouldn’t be overheard. A seemingly resigned Moe told Bee he might not be around for much longer. But Bee was having none of that.

“I’m calling Moose,” Bee said. “He’ll stay with you day and night.”

Moe was surprised. He knew all about Moose Pandza. Moose was Bee’s lover. “Will he do that for me?” Moe asked.

“He will do it for me!” Bee responded.

Door, opened.


Robbie was four years old when his father’s best friend, Ben Siegel, was gunned down, signaling the beginning of the end of the era of the glamorous Hollywood gangster. But Robbie remembers his childhood being punctuated with reminders of what had come before—reminders who traveled in pairs. “One guy would ask my mom questions about the case,” says Robbie, recalling the FBI agents whose home visits came about once a year. “The other guy would watch the faces of myself and my brother.”

We are back at the condo in early June, sitting upstairs in a whitewashed bedroom. The cancer has weakened Robbie so much now that he spends much of his time in bed. Today he’s sitting on top of the covers in shorts and a T-shirt. He looks handsome, if depleted, when I ask about Moose.

After Moe Sedway died in 1952, Bee’s lover, Mathew “Moose” Pandza, did the honorable thing: He married Bee. A truck driver and crane operator, Moose never sought to take Moe’s place, but as Robbie grew up, Moose taught him manly things, such as how to shoot a gun and how to win a fight. “Hit him first,” Moose would say. “And if you get him on the ground, don’t ever let him get up.”

Once, when a Beverly Hills High School administrator told Robbie’s brother, Dick, “We don’t like your gangster tactics here,” Moose went down to the office and gave the man a stern talking to, Robbie recalls. “He never bothered my brother again.” Moose “treated us like we were his children,” Robbie says. “He was my mother’s guy. There was a trust there. He would have done anything for this family. Anything at all.”

Bee had inherited half of Moe’s estate, which was worth $382,000 and included a 39.5 percent share in the Flamingo Hotel. Also among Moe’s holdings were numerous other pieces of property in Vegas—lots up and down the Strip that would soon be worth millions. Bee didn’t need to work, but she opened a store on North Beverly Drive called Beatrice Sedway Originals, where she sold tchotchkes and little decorated straw purses that she and Moose assembled together. A 1955 directory lists Mathew Pandza as the store manager.

Robbie was 12 then and already a good-looking young man. He was proud of being a Sedway, but he knew that some people—not just those FBI agents—found his family suspicious. He’d heard from some kids that their parents prohibited them from visiting his house. Beverly Hills was, and is, a small town. People talked, and Robbie heard the chatter just like everyone else. So one night when he was 16, he asked his mom whether she knew who killed Bugsy Siegel. “She said, ‘Moose.’ And I’m like, ‘Moose?’ She said, ‘Don’t ever tell anybody.’ ”

Door, closed.


When Bee Kittle was growing up in the Finger Lakes area of New York, she wanted to dance like they did in the movies. Her father, a sometime housepainter and assembly line worker, didn’t make much, but as often as he could, he’d take Bee to the pictures. Eleanor Powell and Ruby Keeler, best known for partnering with Dick Powell in the 1933 Warner Bros. musical 42nd Street, delighted her. “You’re as good as they are,” said her father, who saved his lunch money to buy his daughter tap shoes. Bee believed him.

In 1935, when she was 17, she packed a suitcase full of shoes and costumes and bought a $9 train ticket to Hoboken, New Jersey. The ferry to Manhattan cost another nickel. She arrived in the Bowery with 95 cents and the name of a photographer, who she hoped could help find her work. When she visited him, he told her about the Paradise Cabaret.

The Paradise was in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district. Landing a gig there, where famed Broadway producer Nils T. Granlund booked the acts, was an established route to stardom, and Bee was determined to make the most of her audition. Gesturing to the bandleader, she told Granlund, “If that gentleman can play ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart,’ I can even do it on roller skates.” Bee nailed her routine, and Granlund put her in the show that night, saying he would hire her “if you get a hand.” Bee got a standing ovation. The $40-a-week job was hers.

What Bee didn’t know was that the Paradise was a favored hangout for mobsters. Two men often sat at a table on one side of the cabaret: “Fat Irish” Green, an aide to Ben Siegel, and Israel “Icepick Willie” Alderman, one of Moe Sedway’s top lieutenants. When Bee made her debut, Moe—the five-foot-two co-owner of the club—was in Europe, but his underlings told him about the new “little bitty” girl in the show.

At their first meeting, he teased Bee about her clothes and her dime-store jewelry. She lost her temper and fled the restaurant for the apartment she shared with another chorus girl. Moe, on her heels, begged for forgiveness. A lifelong bachelor, he was smitten by the teenage beauty with the smart mouth and the impish smile. Soon he was sending Bee roses after every show.

Six weeks into their courtship, Bee said Moe told her, “I want you to meet one of my best friends in all the world.” Bee recalled being taken to an office near the Paradise where she encountered Siegel. “His eyes just fascinated me,” she said. “Such a beautiful blue.” But this introduction, too, would be a bust, as Siegel was quick to hurt Bee’s feelings. “Moey, she’s so pretty, but she’s got that little hairline space between her teeth,” Bee remembered Siegel telling her beau. “We’re gonna get that fixed, and she will be gorgeous.” Bee lost her temper again. “I could feel my face get red. I got up from the chair and I said to Moey, ‘How dare you let him talk to me like that!’ And I said to Ben, ‘I’m going to find out who your mother is, and I’m going to tell her how bad mannered you are.’ And I ran out.”

Few dared to address Siegel like that. But Bee’s feistiness seemed to intrigue him. He followed her, with Moe right behind him. “Moey kept saying, ‘My God, apologize to her! Say something to her! I want to marry her!’ That shocked me. Because he’d never asked me to marry him,” Bee would recall. “And then Ben says to Moey, ‘Let’s take her up to Meyer.’ ” Next thing Bee knew, she was in the apartment of Meyer Lansky, another childhood buddy of Ben and Moe. He was a kingpin in the Jewish Mob and, as such, their boss.

The three men’s friendship had been forged on the streets of the Lower East Side. Moe, born Morris Sidwirtz in Poland in 1894, lived in Brooklyn, but he and Siegel had made their first money in the Bowery, extorting street vendors in exchange for protection. “The Jewish kids charged the pushcart dealers a dollar to keep all the other gangs from stealing,” said Bee, adding that even then, Siegel was the most fearsome. “Moey said Ben was the protector, the first one to fight. They all had to fistfight—you had to prove yourself. But Ben was always saving everybody’s back.”

Joining this pack of shtarkers (Yiddish for tough guys) was Lansky, a scrawny boy who’d emigrated from what was then White Russia in 1911. Their pack became known as the “Bugs and Meyer Gang,” and during Prohibition, they often rode shotgun for “Lucky” Luciano to prevent hijackings of beer and liquor shipments. “Moey and Ben and Meyer were the closest I think of anybody,” Bee would say. But Siegel—who at nearly six feet tall towered over his friends—looked the most like a leader.

Bee had fallen in with Murder Inc., the name the press had given to the enforcement arm—part Jewish, part Italian—of the American Mafia. Before the group was exposed and prosecuted, it is believed to have been responsible for as many as 1,000 contract killings. But to Bee, this was hardly cause for concern.

One night she, Moe, and Ben were at a restaurant with Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the leader of Murder Inc., when a car rounded a corner and machine gun fire strafed the window. Ben yelled, “Down!” and he and Moe tipped the table up, crouching behind it. Bee slid on her stomach to take cover in the restroom. By the time Moe came to the powder room door minutes later and said, “Honey, you can come out now,” the table was reset with a new plate of antipasto as if nothing had happened.

On Thanksgiving Day 1935, Moe and Bee married at the New York City courthouse. Their honeymoon was a luxury cruise on the S.S. Lurline to Panama. Ben Siegel came with them, because Lansky wanted Siegel and Moe to continue on through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles to expand the Mob’s reach on the West Coast. On the ship Bee and Moe conceived their first child, Richard. But it was Ben, not Moe, who had the perfume shop deliver $400 worth of the finest scents to Bee’s stateroom. More than anyone else, Ben seemed determined to instruct Bee on how to be a Mafia wife.

“Ben taught me things,” Bee told the documentarians, remembering the distinctive way he’d walk through a door. “He used to say, ‘Whenever you walk into any room, you hold your head high and hesitate a little and look all around like you own the place. If you walk in like that, they’ll figure you’re someone important. But if you walk in all hunched up and embarrassed, that’s how you’re going to be treated.’ ”

Siegel had first come to L.A. in 1933 to visit the actor George Raft, another childhood friend. A natty dresser, suave if not classically handsome, Siegel was immediately seduced by the movie industry. But when he initially moved his wife and two daughters from Scarsdale, New York, to Beverly Hills, he had other things on his mind. Asked by Lansky and Lucky Luciano to revamp the Mob’s westernmost outpost, Siegel brought discipline to its disorganized ranks. He expanded its illegal gambling interests as well as its legal ones: the S.S. Rex, a floating casino just off Santa Monica’s shoreline.

Open 24 hours a day, the ship had a crew of 350, including waiters, chefs, a full orchestra, and an armed security force. Though owned by a bootlegger and ex-con named Tony Cornero, it was controlled by the Mob, and Siegel made sure it appealed not just to high rollers but to the middle class with the promise of overnight riches. It was the same business model he’d soon seek to put into place in Vegas.

Bee and Moe and their newborn son, Richard, had moved west as well, and soon Moe was spending a lot of time in Vegas. That was all right with Bee. For her, Los Angeles was a year-round holiday. She didn’t let her husband’s frequent absences—or his mistresses, whom she knew about—get in the way of her own good time. Bee loved to entertain and go out on the town. Eventually that would put her in the path of the man who would change not just her life, but—if her account of Siegel’s murder can be believed—the course of history.

It was a Friday night at Marco’s, a club on “the bad end of L.A.” that she’d begun to frequent. “I used to take all the wives with me,” she told the documentary makers. “I used to dance with this fella named Johnny—no love interest or nothing, just good dancers we were. So one night the swinging doors open and this handsome guy walked through. And he had boots on. Brown boots. And he had light tan pants and a big trucker’s belt with a buckle in the front. He had rolled-up sleeves, and he had muscles. He was huge. So I said to the guy, Johnny, that I was dancing with, ‘God, look at what that guy looks like!’ He said, ‘Would you like to meet him? That’s my brother.’ ”

Moose was a native Angeleno, born in 1920 to Yugoslavian immigrants. He stood six feet three and was about 250 pounds, with a physique made hard by manual labor. He and Johnny had grown up in Chavez Ravine, part of a group of Slavic immigrants who would soon come to dominate the city’s construction professions. Yet for all his physical power, Moose tended to hang back. The night he walked into Marco’s, he sat down at the end of the bar, and Johnny took Bee over to say hello. “I said to him, ‘Don’t you want to dance with me?’ ” Bee recalled. “And he said, ‘Not really.’ He was very shy. Later I found out he wasn’t really that good a dancer.”

Moose had other talents. He was a great cook, just like his father, who more than one person told me had worked at the historic Brown Derby restaurant. An experienced hunter and an admired crane operator, Moose had an instinct for how machines worked. He was quiet, sure, but Bee was vivacious enough for the both of them. For months they saw each other secretly, but this wasn’t a dalliance for Bee. It was love. Never one to avoid confrontation, Bee told her husband.

She and Moe, whom she called “Daddy,” were in their living room: he in his favorite wingback chair, she kneeling at his feet. She put her chin in Moe’s lap and looked up at him. “I’ve met somebody, and we want to get married,” she said. Moe was stunned. Still, he said, “I want to meet him.”

Bee arranged a home-cooked meal to introduce her lover to her husband, and at one point that evening the two men retired to the den. There Moe told Moose they would share Bee. “When I’m around, she will be with me,” Moe told his dinner guest, who stood more than a foot taller than him. “And if you really love her, you will let us stay together.” Then Moe added one more condition: “I must have your promise that you will marry her when I am dead.” The men shook hands, and soon Moose moved into the Beverly Hills house.

Door, opened.


Man, you’re digging up tombstones here,” says H. Read Jackson, seated at a table at the Corner Bakery in Calabasas. For him, Bee’s story is the one that got away.

Jackson, now 69, was a journalist turned TV producer when Bee entered his life. He’d worked on segments for 60 Minutes, World News Tonight, and 20/20, and he had a nose for a good yarn. He and Bee had been introduced by a mutual acquaintance, and Jackson says the first time they spoke, Bee cut to the chase: “I know who killed Bugsy Siegel.”

Bee said that she’d been inspired to tell her story after working with Warren Beatty on Bugsy. Seeing the movie floored her. She couldn’t stop crying. “It is one thing to remember your life,” she told Jackson. “It’s another thing to see someone bringing it back to life.” She had a closet filled with boxes of photo albums and newspaper clippings, and one night she found herself drawn to it. Suddenly, her book proposal says, “she understood what she would do with her remaining days.” It was time, Bee told Jackson, “to right some wrongs.”

“She was a ballsy lady, smart and a little scary,” he tells me. “I kind of had the feeling that she could bump you off if she didn’t like you. Just a tingly Spidey sense that if she said she did this, what else had she done? What else could she do?”

They sat around his kitchen for months, talking, listening, writing. “I was hooked,” he says. “I’d wake up at night and say to my wife, ‘I’m driving to Vegas.’ And she’d say, ‘What for?’ ‘I’ve got to take the road Bee took.’ And she’d say, ‘But it’s night.’ ” He’d be out the door, “hauling,” just like Bee once had. “Doing it in record time.”

Jackson’s efforts to confirm Bee’s story were stymied by two things. Already, in the early ’90s, most of the players who might have had independent knowledge of the crime were dead. The Internet had not yet evolved into the research tool it is today. He found himself in the library, scrolling through microfiche, looking for clues that might bolster Bee’s story but feeling as if he were searching for gold coins in a sand dune. He was tortured by doubt: If Bee and Ben Siegel had been so close, why couldn’t he find any photos of them together? Should he take Bee at her word? Was that enough?

Before he could decide, Jackson says, those questions were made moot when Robbie shut down the project for fear of reprisals (a detail that Robbie omitted when talking to me). Retribution from the Mob seemed unlikely, Jackson admits, but not out of the question. He argued with himself, imagining the headlines. “I thought, ‘Los Angeles Writer Breaks the Bugsy Case.’ Then ‘Los Angeles Writer Killed by Bugsy’s Murderer,’ ” he says.

And yet, Jackson says, “I would have kept going if the son didn’t say stop.” He was disappointed but consoled himself with the idea that Bee had exaggerated her role and that he was avoiding publishing something that would potentially obscure the truth, not reveal it. “I kept saying, ‘This is a romantic glory-day memory of an older woman that somehow expanded,’ ” he says. “But then I’d think, ‘What if it’s not?’ ” More than glory, Jackson tells me, he sometimes thinks Bee “was looking for forgiveness. Or absolution of guilt.”

He still worries that he gave up too soon. “Did I walk away from it and chicken out?”

Door, closed.


They must have made quite the pair, Moose and Moe, the Slav giant and the diminutive Jewish mobster, the latter under threat of death at the hands of his lifelong friend. After being summoned to Vegas by Bee in early 1947, Moose became Moe’s shadow—“as close as two fingers on one hand,” says Bee’s book proposal. Bee would kid Moose that she had lost him to her own husband. “Well, you put me there,” he’d say.

From the start Bee had bossed Moose around. Robbie’s niece, Mindy, lived with Moose and Bee in the ’70s. “Moose was soft-spoken, the gentlest soul,” she says. But Bee? “My grandmother was very controlling. She flew off the handle. She scared the shit out of all my friends. She would stomp and yell.” Moose often bore the brunt. “He would do something wrong in the kitchen, and she’d get mad and not talk to him for days on end. He would beg her to talk to him. He would have done anything for her.” When she says it, I hear the echo of Robbie: “Anything at all.”

According to Mindy—and the other family members Bee told her secret to—Moose not only would have done anything for Bee, he actually did. Three months after Ben Siegel is alleged to have publicly threatened Moe Sedway’s life, Bee said that another meeting of the Las Vegas Mob was held. This time Ben was the only one not invited. Moe had decided he couldn’t continue to live in fear. “Moose, he’s got to be gotten rid of,” Moe told Bee’s lover, who had become his trusted friend. “What other answer is there?”

Meyer Lansky had been consulted and had given his blessing to the hit, Bee said. At the meeting, though, Moe told those assembled that Lansky had one request: Nobody within the “family” could be involved. Moose, seated close to Moe, listened quietly, then spoke up. A Slavic crane operator with no criminal record would never be suspected, he told the group. As for the shooting, “Well, that ain’t such a hard thing,” Bee recounted him saying. “I can shoot. I always went hunting and things with my father.”

He practiced shooting targets in the sand dunes of El Monte, borrowing a gun from a friend who had just returned from the war, Bee’s book proposal alleges. Then in the final weeks leading up to the appointed day, Robbie says his mother told him Moose monitored police patrols on Linden Drive, charting the 30-minute intervals in which the cars typically made their rounds.

On June 20, 1947, Moose picked up Siegel’s trail and followed him first to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Siegel bought a newspaper and a Chapstick in the hotel shop. When Siegel drove to the rented house on Linden Drive, Moose was not far behind. Arriving at the elegant Spanish-style home, he waited for Siegel to get settled. Then he walked up the driveway and around the side of the house. It was dark as he stepped through the flowerbeds, rested his carbine on the windowsill, and framed the famous mobster’s head in his sights.

It didn’t take long to fire nine rounds. As Siegel slumped forward on the couch, his tie red with blood and a few of his eyelashes plastered on a nearby doorjamb, his killer was already on his way back to the car. Police would later say the only evidence they uncovered related to the killing was a sketchy report of a black car that “headed north on North Linden toward Sunset.” Bee claimed that Moose didn’t stop driving until he pulled into an alley in Santa Monica, where he broke down the rifle. He tossed the barrel into the ocean, the butt on a rooftop. “It is probably still down there on top of one of the buildings,” Bee’s proposal says.

In the coming days Moe asked Bee to take Ben’s widow, Esther, and their two daughters under her wing. She did, at one point escorting Siegel’s daughters to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy dresses to wear to his burial. The funeral at what is now called Hollywood Forever Cemetery was a small affair, held in secrecy. Bee did not attend.

Immediately after the killing, Moe was put in charge of the Flamingo. That made him a prime suspect: a man with a motive. For months Moe would be brought in for questioning every time he came home to Los Angeles. Once the interrogations were over, Moose and Bee would go to the Beverly Hills station house to pick him up.

Moe had a weak ticker and would soon suffer a series of heart attacks. In January 1952, he boarded a plane in Vegas for Miami. Just before landing, he was stricken and died of coronary thrombosis. Mindy says Bee told her Moe was traveling with his mistress at the time. Robbie remembers his mother screaming when she got the phone call that Moe was dead. His body was flown back to Los Angeles, where he was entombed in a silver-plated copper casket covered in red roses and orchids. Bee and her two young sons placed a ribbon with the inscription DADDY on top.

The honorary pallbearers included entertainers (Danny Thomas, Frankie Laine, the Marx brothers) who’d been regulars at the Flamingo; the Clark County sheriff, whose territory included Las Vegas; Nils T. Granlund, the producer who’d hired Bee at the Paradise; and George Raft. The pallbearers who did the heavy lifting, however, were men far closer to home, among them “Icepick Willie” Alderman and Moose.

With Moe gone, Bee went on an extended bender. “Scotch or bourbon, she was drunk every day for a year,” remembers Penny Neal, who was then dating Dick, Moe and Bee’s eldest son (she would soon marry him and give birth to their daughter, Mindy). It was during that miserable period that Penny remembers Bee saying to her, “You don’t ever want to fuck around with Moose.”

Penny says Bee had never before insinuated that Moose killed Ben Siegel, but when she spoke those words, “she made this face where her lips were like a smile but they went downward. And that kind of scared me when she did that. I kind of put two and two together.” They didn’t speak of it again, and after a year of hard drinking, Bee got sober for good. “She never touched another drop of liquor again,” Penny says. That part of Bee’s life was over.

Door, closed.


I don’t think Moose was the triggerman,” John Buntin says.

I’ve called the writer of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City one morning at his home in Nashville. Buntin’s book is the definitive history of the rivalry between mobster Mickey Cohen and L.A. police chief William Parker, so I’m asking Buntin to help me envision the city Bee encountered when she moved here from New York. I’m also hoping he’ll fortify me, writer to writer, with a pep talk. I’m struggling over what to believe.

Here’s the problem: Bee Sedway is my only primary source. Every person I’ve tracked down who believes Bee’s story—her son Robbie; his wife, Renee (and her son Adam); Bee’s granddaughter, Mindy; the list goes on—heard this story only from her. Her book proposal, too, is her account. On top of that, almost everybody I’m writing about is long gone, so it’s impossible to run down all the leads.

I’d also called Nick Pileggi, who in addition to writing the movies Goodfellas and Casino also wrote the Mob documentary in which Bee briefly appeared—the one whose raw interview footage Robbie has given me. Pileggi is a renowned expert on all things Mafia related, and while he doesn’t want to be quoted, he advises caution when it comes to Bee’s story, which he suspects is a self-serving fantasy drummed up to get attention. If he had to put money on who killed Siegel, he says, he’d probably go with Chick Hill, the brother of Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia—a Marine who was said to be livid over a beating Siegel had given her.

Now I’ve got Buntin on the phone, and I’m feeling a little desperate. Have I been spending months going down a rabbit hole? Maybe, Buntin says, adding that he favors a different theory from Pileggi’s: that Frankie Carbo, a onetime boxing promoter and gunman with Murder Inc., engineered Siegel’s killing. Siegel and Carbo were tight (they are believed to have committed the 1939 murder of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg together in L.A.), but many think Carbo was tapped to rub out Siegel. “I’m more inclined to believe that, but with this great caveat,” Buntin tells me, and what comes next is delivered with the force of a coach exhorting his quarterback to rally in the middle of a bruising game: “The past really is past. And sometimes the truth is impossible to uncover. That’s why history is an act of re-creation. It involves imagination in a big way. That sounds bad, but it’s true.”

My best chance at verification might rest in the archives of the Beverly Hills Police Department. Early on I told my tale to Lieutenant Lincoln Hoshino, who handles media inquiries. He was polite, if a little weary sounding. I told him I wasn’t quite ready to spill the beans about my suspect, which is when he made me a promise: “If you can provide us with a name, we can tell you if he was a suspect or is a suspect.”

Several weeks later I call back and am referred to Sergeant Max Subin. He, too, is polite, and he, too, says that if I e-mail the name of the alleged triggerman, he will let me know whether Moose was ever a suspect. I send the e-mail minutes after we hang up, asking, among other things, “Was Mathew ‘Moose’ Pandza ever questioned about the killing or considered a suspect?” Almost two weeks pass before Subin calls back.

This time he says that, contrary to our earlier agreement, he will not be providing any information at all. He acknowledges that he’s reneging on something both he and Hoshino offered. But now, with my suspect’s name in hand, he’s run it up the chain of command and been told to be quiet. I’m left to wonder: Limited resources? Or am I on to something? “We thought we could sit down with you,” he says, but he’s been told he can’t. “It’s in the best interest of the city of Beverly Hills not to speak to you.”

Door, slammed.


From the minute I learn Moose’s name, I start looking for his relatives. His brother, Johnny—the one who introduced Moose to Bee—died in 1995. After some searching, I find Johnny’s son, John Steven Pandza Jr., who lives in Yucaipa. Steve, as he’s known, buys and sells used construction equipment now, but he spent many of his 63 years in the same profession that his father and uncle mastered before him: crane operator. The Pandza men, it turns out, have a knack for making iron bend to their will. “Anybody can get on a piece of equipment and make it move. But not everybody can get on a piece of equipment and make it do things you didn’t think it could do,” says Steve, adding that, in a similar vein, both he and his father were skilled marksmen. “It’s an instinct. It comes down to understanding limits. And a little bit of no fear.”

Steve confirms that his father was, indeed, an excellent dancer, just like Bee said. Steve remembers his dad saying that Moose spent time in Las Vegas at one point. And he knows Johnny and Moose loved to visit nightspots together. “They were construction workers by day, party animals by night,” says Steve. However, there was a key difference between his dad and Moose: “My dad was a womanizer, but I remember him telling me, ‘Moose has been a one-woman man all his life.’”

Little-bitty Bee, whom Steve remembers meeting when he was a boy, was that woman. “I remember my dad telling me that Moose was deathly afraid of Bee,” Steve told me. “My dad said, ‘Dynamite comes in small packages.’”

When I tell Steve that his uncle is alleged to have murdered Siegel, he doesn’t flinch. He’s long suspected his family had secrets, he says, adding that his father once told him, “One of these days we’re gonna have to sit down and talk about your family history, because there are some interesting things that went on in L.A. that your family was involved in.” That conversation never happened, Steve says, but “I took it as dark history.”

Steve, who stands six feet four, remembers that his Uncle Moose was a “monster of a man,” with hands “three times bigger than mine and fingers like sausages.” And yet he had a sweetness to him. “So this story, that he’s the one that took out Bugsy, is really odd,” he tells me. Barely a beat later, though, he says, “But you know, you do things for love that you wouldn’t do for other things.”

If Moose had kids, of course, I’d be talking to them. Which is a thought I share with Penny Neal, the ex-wife of Robbie’s brother, Dick, when I reach her a second time. She and I have been talking about her memories of the Sedway family. She’s said that Bee told her the engagement ring that Dick gave her was “hot”—someone handed it over at the casino when they ran out of money. Penny is a colorful talker, and when I mention Moose’s lack of offspring, I’m just filling the spaces in the conversation like reporters sometimes do. But the minute I say it, there is silence on her end of the telephone. Wait, I say, did Moose have kids?

That’s when another secret drops: Penny believes that Robbie is Moose’s son. “It was so obvious,” she says. “He looked nothing like his father. He looked nothing like his brother. He was a horse of another color. He was a great big kid. Like Moose.” Even though he is diminished by illness, I have noticed how tall and square shouldered Robbie is—five feet ten. It’s odd, especially given how tiny his parents were. In photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, Robbie is striking—blond, rugged, not unlike a young Robert Redford. Dick wasn’t handsome like that, Penny notes. Neither was Moe Sedway.

I soon learn that Penny is not alone in her suspicions about Robbie’s connection to Moose. Mindy, too, remembers noticing that her uncle and Moose had the same hands: large and strong, the kind that dwarf your own in a handshake. Hurriedly I get in touch with Adam, Robbie’s stepson, saying there’s one more thing I need to ask Robbie. I know Robbie’s health is failing. The last time I saw him, I sat next to him on the bed in his and Renee’s sunny bedroom near the ocean. He was alert and articulate, but I noticed he was constantly struggling to clear his throat.

Now, Adam tells me, things have taken a sudden turn. Robbie’s gone into hospice. The next day, on July 6, just 48 hours after Penny has revealed that Moose may be Robbie’s father, Robbie passes away.

When I visit Renee several weeks after her husband’s death, she tells me that she, too, suspected Moose was Robbie’s real father. She even raised the topic with her husband once after she and her sons noticed the resemblance. “He said, ‘No one’s ever told me. I have my own suspicions, but I’m leaving it at that,’ ” she recalls. “I never pushed it.”

I reflect on a conversation I had with Robbie about the benefits of being a Sedway. For years after Moe passed away, when Robbie was a young man, he’d go bet on the greyhounds at the Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana. His mom still kept in touch with Johnny Alessio, who helped run the place. So when Robbie arrived south of the border, he’d invoke Moe’s name, and Alessio would appear from the back office, ready to help. “We’d give him a program, and he would mark each race,” Robbie told me with a smile. “We always went home a winner.”

Indeed, there were perks that came with the Sedway name. Bee enjoyed them, too, even after her fortune was squandered, her lots on the Strip given away too cheaply, her Beverly Hills mansion lost to the highest bidder. Even after marrying Moose, she did not change her name to Pandza. She was a Sedway to the end.

I think about how H. Read Jackson, Bee’s would-be co-author, told me her book project was her attempt to gain forgiveness or to absolve her guilt. But now I wonder whether there was another secret Bee wished she could share. Maybe Moose left not one indelible mark on the world but two. It is possible, at least, that Mathew “Moose” Pandza eliminated one man from this earth and also that he helped create another.

Maybe what Bee felt remorse about was not merely the role she said she’d played in a mobster’s death. Maybe it was also the fact that she had never acknowledged Moose’s other legacy, the one that would outlive him: Robbie. And maybe, without meaning to, an unwitting Robbie led me to that realization, too, just before dying himself.

He opened the door. And it’s still open.


Siegel, Benjamin


AKA: Bugsy


DATE(S): 1920s-40s

VENUE: New York/New Jersey/California

VICTIMS: "Numerous"

MO: Psychopathic racketeer; insisted on personal involvement in murders even after elevation to "boss" status.

DISPOSITION: Murdered for embezzling mob money, June 20, 1947.



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