Haunted Hollywood: Part 11
Hollywood’s Favorite Gangster
The Ghost of Bugsy Siegel
One of the most tragic underworld figures of his time has to be Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. This mobster has long said to be haunting two places that he knew in life… one of them is a place that he loved and the other is a spot where he left a terrified presence behind.
Siegel was probably the most colorful, and the most charming, of the famous syndicate killers. He was also one of the quickest tempered as well, boasting a manic rage that sometimes boarded on insanity. Regardless, he charmed most everyone that he met, especially in Hollywood, operating as a mob killer at the same time that he was seducing nubile young starlets. Although sent to California to watch over mob interests, many believed that what he really wanted from Hollywood was to be an actor. Some would say that he already was one though, leading a double life that would put many Oscar winners to shame!
Ben Siegel grew up on New York's Lower East Side and by the age of 14, was already running his own criminal gang. He formed an early alliance with a youth named Meyer Lansky, who was already a criminal genius in his teens. By 1920, they had formed a gang that specialized in bootleg liquor, gambling and auto theft. On occasion, Siegel and Lansky hijacked liquor shipments from other operations, before realizing that there was more money to be made by hiring out their gang as protection for the other outfits. Soon they were hooked up with rising Italian mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia and others.
The emerging national crime syndicate assigned Spiegel to carry out numerous murders that were aimed at gaining control of various criminal operations. He became an excellent killer and was so enthused by it that he was called "Bugsy", but never to his face.
In the 1930's Siegel was sent to California to run the syndicate's West Coast operations, including the lucrative racing wire service for bookmakers. It was here that he found his niche. Just because Siegel was probably a psychopath, it didn't mean that he couldn't be charming. He was suave and entertaining and became friends with Hollywood celebrities like Jean Harlow, George Raft, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. Many of them even put money into his enterprises. On one hand, he was the life of the party and on the other, a cold-blooded killer. On occasion, Siegel could be at a party with his "high class friends" and then slip away for a gangland execution, all in the same night.
The mob expected Siegel to arrange to have a killing carried out, not actually do it, but Bugsy couldn't help himself. Los Angeles District Attorney Arthur Veitch would later describe Siegel as a "cowboy". He explained that "this is the way that 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."
Seigel's main business was running the rackets and directing deliveries on the West Coast but in the 1940's, he dreamed up the idea of turning a little waterhole in the Nevada desert called Las Vegas into a legal gambling paradise. He talked the syndicate into coming up with a couple of million dollars to finance the scheme and the figure soon escalated to almost $6 million.
He dubbed the place the "Flamingo", which was the nickname of his mistress, Virginia Hill. At one brief time after the casino opened, Siegel had four of his favorite girlfriends lodged in separate hotel suites. They were Virginia Hill, Countess Dorothy diFrasso, actress Marie McDonald and actress Wendy Barrie, who frequently announced her engagement to Bugsy and never gave up hoping. Whenever she saw Wendy in the hotel, Virginia Hill would go wild and once she punched the actress so hard in the face that she nearly dislocated her jaw.
Unfortunately, Siegel was a man ahead of his time and dame trouble became the least of his concerns. The syndicate was upset about the $6 million they had invested, as the Flamingo, when it opened, was a financial disaster. Reportedly, the mob demanded that Siegel make good on their losses but what they didn't know was that Bugsy had also been skimming from the construction funds and from the gambling profits. Virginia Hill had been busy hiding the money in Swiss bank accounts.
The syndicate passed a death sentence on Siegel at the famous Havana conference in December 1946. His old friend, Meyer Lansky, cast the deciding vote. "I had no choice," he said later. Siegel knew that he was in big trouble but he thought they had given him an extension to get the Flamingo turned around. By May 1947, the casino was making a profit and Bugsy began to relax.
On June 20, Siegel was sitting in the living room of Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills mansion. She was away in Europe at the time. He was reading the newspaper when two steel-jacketed slugs tore through the front window. One of them shattered the bridge of his nose and exited through his left eye, while the other entered his right cheek and blew out the back of his neck. Authorities later found his right eye on the dining room floor, more than 15 feet from his body. Bugsy Siegel was dead before he hit the floor.
Ironically, Siegel even knew that his fellow mobsters had planned the murder in advance. A few months before, construction magnate Del Webb had told Bugsy that he was nervous because of all of the gangsters that were hanging around the Flamingo. Siegel laughed and told him not to worry. "We only kill each other," he told him. And for Siegel, this was certainly true!
But have we really seen the last of Bugsy Siegel? Virginia Hill’s former home, which is a private residence on Linden Drive in Beverly Hills, is reportedly still haunted by the panicked presence of Bugsy Siegel as he scrambles for cover, attempting to hide from the bullets that killed him. His stark fear, as he spotted his killer and knew that the game was up, has left an indelible impression on the house. According to reports, witnesses have been surprised for years by the apparition of a man running and ducking across the living room of the house, only to disappear as suddenly as he came.
A psychic who was brought in to investigate the house claimed that the image was the residual presence of Bugsy Siegel, imprinted on the place in his last desperate moments before death. As the years have passed, Bugsy's ghostly energy here may have faded somewhat, but it has been suggested that his actual spirit may not rest in peace either…
After Siegel was assassinated, the mob continued to support the Flamingo Hotel and eventually saw it grow and prosper. They poured millions of dollars into Las Vegas and it became the gambling mecca that Siegel envisioned in the early 1940's. And it is at the Flamingo where the spirit of Ben Siegel is said to reside today.
Bugsy is believed to haunt the Presidential Suite of the hotel, where he lived for several years before his death. Guests in this room have reported a number of strange encounters with his ghost, from eerie, moving cold spots to items that vanish and move about the suite. They have also seen his apparition in the bathroom and near the pool table. Those who have encountered him say this spirit does not seem unhappy or distressed and in fact, seems content to still be around. Perhaps he is just happy to see that Las Vegas has turned out the way he had planned after all!
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Haunted Places: The National Directory by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
Ghost Stories of Hollywood by Barbara Smith (2001)
Bloodletters and Badmen by Jay Robert Nash (1995)
No Rest for the Wicked by Troy Taylor (2001)
© Ghosts of the Prairie Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.