The Glamorous Life and Gory Death of the Father of Sin City Bugsy Siegel, the M1 Carbine, and Murder Inc.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a gangster’s gangster. Charming, handsome, and utterly ruthless, Siegel attained success in the mob the good old-fashioned way. He murdered his way to the top.

Bugsy Siegel ultimately fell prey to a hitman wielding a GI M1 Carbine.

What particular attributes did it take to attain the pinnacle of success in organized crime back in its heyday? Some were charming, quite a few connected, and others were ruthless. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, however, was simply a cold-blooded killer.

Crime was part of Siegel’s DNA. He traded school for the streets at a young age.

Born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn in 1906, Siegel got started early. Teaming up with another miscreant named Moe Sedway, Siegel dropped out of school and started hustling. His first racket was threatening to set fire to vendor’s pushcarts if they failed to pay him a dollar. By the time he finished his adolescent years he had a criminal record for armed robbery, rape, and murder.

Crime was part of Siegel’s DNA. He traded school for the streets at a young age.

During his teens Siegel developed a friendship with another Jewish mobster named Meyer Lanksy. Together they expanded their operation into gambling and car theft. Siegel worked as a bootlegger during Prohibition until he found his true calling. Bugsy Siegel was a born hitman.

Siegel hated the name Bugsy. It stemmed from his reputation for being crazy as a bug. Fellow gangster Joseph “Doc” Stacher once said, “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.”

Siegel befriended Al Capone early in his career, providing him a place to hide with his aunt at a critical time.

Siegel was a childhood chum of Al Capone, and he helped hide Capone once when Scarface was in a bind. Bugsy made money through prostitution, gambling, drugs, and murder, and he wanted people to know he was rich. He maintained the nicest apartments, wore the best clothes, and socialized with all the finest people. Bugsy Siegel had all the right connections.

In the 1930’s Siegel and Lansky formed Murder, Inc., a nationwide kill-for-money organization that took life on behalf of anyone willing to pay. They gunned down Joe Masseria at the behest of Luciano Costello. Later they killed Salvatore Maranzo for Costello as well, cementing his position atop the regional mob hierarchy. Siegel murdered two Fabrizzo brothers after their failed effort to kill him. In response, the third brother, Tony Fabrizzo, threatened to release details of Siegel’s operation to the public.

Siegel once used a hospital stay as cover for a murder.

In 1932 Ben Siegel checked himself into a local hospital after feigning an illness. Once the activity died down that evening he crept out of the facility. Bugsy then made his way to Tony Fabrizzo’s house with two associates. They knocked on the door claiming to be police detectives. Once Tony came outside they gunned him down and Siegel returned to the hospital, using his hospitalization as an alibi.

Go West, Young Man

Siegel’s hospital story was flimsy, and the list of those wishing him ill on the East Coast had become substantial. Intent on making money, Siegel headed west to California with the blessing of his well-heeled criminal associates. By 1942 Siegel’s West Coast bookmaking was bringing in $500,000 a day for the East Coast mob. In addition to this lucrative racket, Siegel ran prostitution rings and offshore gambling boats.

 

A young Tony Curtis was one of Siegel’s pals.

Frank Sinatra ran in Siegel’s circle for a time.

With money of this magnitude, Bugsy Siegel set himself up in a state of opulence. He was a known associate of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Gary Cooper as well as a young Tony Curtis and Frank Sinatra. Despite his marriage, it was a poorly-kept secret that Siegel was also intimately familiar with more than a few Hollywood starlets.

Bugsy Siegel met Italian dictator Benito Mussolini socially and got along famously.

In 1938 Siegel toured Italy and met Benito Mussolini, offering to sell him guns if he needed them.

Siegel had plans to kill Herman Goering at one point but was dissuaded by a lady friend.

He also met Nazis Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering but was immediately soured by them, perhaps because of his Jewish heritage. He later offered to kill them both but subsequently relented when an Italian countess-friend personally intervened.

The bloody trail of corpses Siegel and his associates left in their wake is too extensive to catalog here. Suffice to say Bugsy had no compunction about pulling the trigger to secure business interests, eliminate competition, or even just keep himself comfortable. Siegel’s’ quest for ever-greater sources of illegal revenue eventually took him to a sleepy little desert town called Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Father of Sin City

Bugsy Siegel was really the architect of Las Vegas as a gambling town.

Bugsy Siegel saw potential in these arid desert wastes and began by offering paid female companionship for the work crews building the Hoover Dam. From there he joined William R. Wilkerson as a business partner building the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Siegel eventually grew weary of sharing and forced Wilkerson out under threat of death. Wilkerson fled to Paris and went into hiding.

Siegel’s Flamingo hotel was purportedly named after his mistress Virginia Hill, whom he supposedly called by that name.

Siegel insisted on the best of everything in his new hotel and costs soon exploded to $6 million in 1946, most all of which had been fronted by the East Coast mob. This is the modern-day equivalent of around $60 million and was hardly front pocket change. Siegel’s real-world arrogance established an archetype that has subsequently been replicated in countless Hollywood movies.

The Flamingo is obviously thriving today, but it struggled financially early on.

Pressured by the money men and desperate to turn a profit, Siegel opened the casino early before the hotel was complete. This allowed gamblers to make their winnings and leave without coming back to the casino to lose their money the following day. Within two weeks the Flamingo was more than a quarter million dollars in the red and forced to shut down. Two months later the Flamingo reopened with a new business plan and was indeed financially successful, but Siegel’s East Coast criminal benefactors had had enough.

Killing a Killer

Bugsy Siegel once alarmed an employee by casually mentioning some of the men he had killed. Siegel smiled and said, “Don’t worry. We only kill each other.”

Siegel returned to Beverly Hills with a feeling that all was not well. He had done enough professional killing himself to pick up on the subtle signs. Regardless, on June 27, 1947, Siegel found himself at the home of his lover Virginia Hill along with an associate named Allen Smiley. While Siegel was typically tactically savvy, for some reason this evening he left the window shades up. This would be his last mistake.

The M1 Carbine shown here is a late model version with an adjustable rear sight, bayonet lug, and 30-round magazine. These variants saw very limited service at the very end of World War II.

This Rock-Ola early war Carbine was typical of the WWII genre with its flip-adjustable rear sight and 15-round box magazine.

The M1 Carbine was a common military surplus arm in the years following the Second World War.

An unknown assailant crept through Hill’s flowers and fired nine rounds from an M1 Carbine at close range through the living room window.

Bugsy Siegel met his gory end while paying a call on his long-time mistress.

Siegel’s gruesome head wounds spawned a gangster legend.

The .30-caliber Carbine round, shown here between a 9mm Parabellum on the left and a .45ACP on the right, was brutally effective at close range.

Four .30-caliber bullets struck Siegel in the back through a sofa and perforated his lungs. One round struck his right cheek and exited the left aspect of his neck. A sixth projectile struck the right side of Bugsy’s nose where it met his eye socket. The subsequent overpressure forcefully ejected his left eyeball. Part of his eyelid, eyelashes still attached, was found in a doorway across the room.

Bugsy Siegel died as he lived, in a hail of gunfire.

Bugsy Siegel was dead where he lay. He was 41 years old. No one was ever charged with his killing.

Alex Rocco’s character Moe Greene from the movie The Godfather died with a bullet to the eye. The real-world killing of Bugsy Siegel inspired this big screen murder.

While Siegel was not shot through the eye per se, his character and his death served as inspiration for the murder of the fictitious gangster Moe Greene in the movie The Godfather. An execution-style killing via a bullet through the eye has subsequently come to be called a “Moe Greene Special” in gangster lore.

Ben Siegel’s murder was front-page news across the country.

Four of the nine shots fired that night went on to destroy a bust of the Roman god of wine Bacchus that was sitting on a grand piano across the room. This seemed a fitting end to the father of Sin City.

The Gun

The M1 Carbine, shown here in its M1A1 Airborne configuration, was a common feature of American forces fighting in all combat theaters in WWII.

We have profiled the M1 Carbine already in a previous GunsAmerica installment. Suffice it to say that the Carbine was the most-produced American rifle of the war with more than six million copies seeing action. At the apogee of production, we were manufacturing 65,000 carbines a day. As a result, the M1 Carbine was a popular veteran bring back weapon.

The M1 Carbine was a light and handy combat implement. This also made it an effective assassin’s tool.

The US military has always been fairly compulsive about weapons accountability, but this is a tough thing to maintain in combat. Untold thousands of GI Carbines came back in duffle bags and sea chests, so they were readily available in 1947 at the time of Siegel’s shooting.

A friend’s dad brought an M1 Carbine home that he found leaning unattended against a bulkhead on a Navy ship during the war.

A friend’s dad found one unattended leaning against a bulkhead in an assault transport ship off the coast of Iwo Jima and appropriated it for his own. Beginning in the late 1950’s the government sold 207,000 Carbines to the American public via the Directorate of Civilian Marksmanship. These guns typically sold for less than $20 apiece. They have never been hard to find.

Denouement

Bugsy Siegel’s ultimate legacy in Las Vegas would have been unimaginable in his day.

When first I tasted Las Vegas myself at the SHOT Show many years ago I came home describing the place as Disneyworld for pagans. The same engine of gambling and prostitution that drove the place in Bugsy Siegel’s day remains prevalent even now. Siegel’s dream of a gambling mecca in the Nevada desert has come to fruition beyond his wildest dreams.

Bugsy Siegel’s influence still lives on in Vegas. Though I have not myself seen it, I am told there is a memorial to Siegel in the Flamingo hotel between the pool and the wedding chapel. Thus memorialized in bronze is a likeness of the pimp, extortionist, thief, and cold-blooded murderer whose thirst for ill-gotten wealth started it all.

Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the replica gear used to outfit our US Army Paratrooper.

***Shop GunsAmerica for your next self defense gun***

About the author: Will Dabbs was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns. Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains). For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi. He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century. He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade. He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Andrew N. April 6, 2020, 6:28 pm

    Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, but Las Vegas isn’t one of them. Not that it stops high-end hookers at some of the exclusive parts of the BIG casinos. They also say there is no more “mob connections” in Vegas. Sure, I believe that. Why would the Mob stay where all the easily “skimmed” cash business is, right?

  • Willie-O September 23, 2019, 8:37 am

    Bugsy died like he lived – fast. As he rose up the mafia “food-chain” by proving himself to be an earner, he no longer had to be the crazy killer and enforcer that had earned him a position in the mob, as well as his nickname. In other words, he got lazy. Or soft. Maybe both. We can all drink too much of our own Kool-Aid. For most of us it’ll lead to losing some money and maybe even a partner/spouse. In his world…..
    Never let your guard down !!!!

  • swimmer March 7, 2019, 6:19 am

    Interesting article

  • Phil March 4, 2019, 3:04 pm

    RE: Frank Opinion, I have a suspicion the feds tolerate the perps and mobsters cause they are either in bed with them or most are informants for the feds and are able to do what ever they like cause the feds are always holding out for the Big Fish or have other ideas such as: Robert Mueller: Unmasked by Louie Gohmert Feds using an informant to do their dirty business.

  • Martin Buck March 4, 2019, 2:14 pm

    The problem with crime is that nice people don’t do crime. So they know absolutely nothing about it, and they are unqualified to do anything about it. All the members of our legal profession and the judiciary are nice people. So they know nothing about crime, or about the criminal justice system. They think they do, but they don’t. None of them have been victims of crime, nor have they been in jail as a result of comitting crime. And yet they write all the training materials for professionals. Real criminals regard them with contempt. They laugh at the softness of sentences, and regard jail as a reunion with their best friends. They are not afraid of jail. Criminal fraternities start as social groups for naughty boys. This is where they learn how to commit actual crimes more effectively. Society has no real answer for this. There are Constitutional guarantees for things such as free speech and freedom of association, which were never envisioned as enabling criminal gangs. But they do. Neither Police nor social workers have the legal powers to separate these evildoers and set them on the right path. For some people, the only right path is a quick bullet to minimise the damage. Again the Constitution intervenes. This creates leaks in our society that spawn the scum that these criminals become. Only life long jail after the first offence will reduce their depradations. They will have no mercy once they are released from any shorter length of jail sentence, as is shown by the crime pages in the newspapers (those that remain). A weak society has no defense against determined criminals. At least we have our guns. Those without have only hope and prayers.

    • Zupglick March 4, 2019, 6:15 pm

      Some of todays worst criminals are in law enforcement or on the bench. Or in politics.

  • Kent March 4, 2019, 12:50 pm

    Always appreciate Dr. Dabbs’ well- researched and entertaining articles. I am glad he has found time in his busy life to share these with us.

  • Paul Wyckoff March 4, 2019, 12:02 pm

    The Flamingo is named after Virgina Hills’ nickname Because Bugsy sad she had long skinny legs like a flamingo

  • SteveinSedona March 4, 2019, 11:04 am

    Luciano Costello???? No such animal.

    • Martin Buck March 4, 2019, 1:59 pm

      Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano, the founders of the modern Mafia, along with Meyer Lansky, and to some extent, Bugsy Siegel himself.

  • Frank Opinion March 4, 2019, 10:16 am

    A very nicely written and interesting article with good photos too! Really, I’d like to make comments about the Mob, street gangs, the drug cartels, and crime in general. I’ve always wondered why our society, government, and the Courts seem to tolerate their existence. Nowadays with advanced technology the government and the FBI must surely know who and where the criminals are. In my opinion, the USA is rotting from within, and our freedoms and liberties are threatened, because we allow these criminal groups to exist and flourish. These groups also spawn low-level criminal activity because real punishment is basically non-existent, and crime does indeed pay, so common crime also increases. I think that these types of known criminal groups and criminals should be eliminated so that our society doesn’t keep decaying. Letting these criminal groups and individuals exist is what the anti-guns groups use to cynically and corruptly justify their gun control policies. If we get rid of these criminals and their organized groups, we will drastically reduce crime and compel other would be and aspiring criminals into becoming more law abiding citizens. If the authorities and the justice system don’t do something soon about really stamping out crime, we’ll eventually lose our rights and liberties and eventually our Country.

  • Marcelino March 4, 2019, 9:11 am

    A very interesting account a blood dream.

  • Mike in a Truck March 4, 2019, 9:08 am

    Crime pays. Until it pays you.

  • Rlee March 4, 2019, 3:56 am

    Ooh rah to the Author. He’s more interesting than ole Bugsy Siegel!!!

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