Ben “Bugsy” Siegel was to many, the poster boy of the New York mafia – but until recently, the identity of his murderer was one of the biggest unsolved crimes in American history. This is his story.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
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Benjamin Siegel was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, in 1906. Raised in Williamsburg – run at the time by Italian and Irish gangs – he was into extortion from an early age, running his own racket on pushcart sellers on the Lower East Side.
Siegel made an early friendship with a young man called Meyer Lansky – and together they started the Bugs-Meyer Gang – an all-Jewish group of mobsters. The gang also ran a contract killing operation – which they called Murder Inc.
As the New York mafia grew, evolved, and became better organised – Bugsy too became a key player. When Charles “Lucky” Luciano set up his national syndicate – established with the aim of killing off New York’s old-school veteran mobsters – Bugsy and his team were tasked with killing Joe “The Boss” Masseria.
As is often the story for Mafiosi, Bugsy bolstered his operations with bootlegged alcohol and gambling – and in the late 1930s he moved these to California. He build a palace in Beverley Hills, and involved himself with the Hollywood elite.
Bugsy began dating Virginia Hill – an actress – and the couple became known for their constant fighting, as well as their good looks.
LAS VEGAS CALLING – THE BEGINNING OF THE END
In 1945, Bugsy and Virginia moved to Las Vegas to begin building the Flamingo Hotel and Casino – one of the earliest casinos in Vegas – named in honour of Virginia’s ‘flamingo-like’ legs. It costs $6million – 4 times Bugsy’s original $1.5m budget – although his investors later discovered this was down theft and embezzlement from Siegel himself. One of those investors – his old friend Meyer Lansky – was less than impressed.
In 1947, Bugsy Siegal was shot through the window of his own home. On the very same day, Lansky’s men entered the casino and announced they were taking over.
Until 2014 it had been taken as read that Bugsy was killed on the orders of the syndicate – but no evidence could be found to put anyone in the frame. A new theory has recently emerged, that instead suggests Lansky was simply an opportunist.
Moe Sedway was the bookkeeper tasked with keeping track of the money invested by Lansky. His wife Bee was a close friend of Siegel’s – and she found out that Bugsy wanted him dead. Desperate to save her husband’s life – she begged her lover, truck driver Matthew ‘Moose’ Pandza, to take Bugsy out.
If the new theory rings true, one of America’s most mysterious unsolved mafia murder cases may finally be about to close.