After considering the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance in January and the death of actor George Reeves last month Earl is back today to consider who killed Bugsy Siegel.
HISTORY’S RICH WITH MYSTERIES
When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.
BUGSY SIEGEL - HIS KILLER FINALLY ID'D. . .MAYBE
by Earl Staggs
Benjamin Siegel, born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 28, 1906, died on June 20, 1947, in Beverly Hills, California, from multiple gunshot wounds. Police were unable to pinpoint with certainty who pulled the trigger.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Siegel began a life of crime early. As a teenager, he extorted money from vendors and peddlers for “protection.” For a fee, he and his cohorts guaranteed those who paid would not be bothered by other gangs in the neighborhood. He eventually moved into bootlegging and gambling, and he and Meyer Lansky established a group of assassins which eventually became known as Murder, Inc. Siegel was credited with participation in the assassination of a number of top mobsters. He built a reputation as a tough guy, and his erratic behavior and violent tendencies earned him the nickname “Bugsy.” He hated the name and preferred to be called Ben. Even though he was Jewish, he become a solid member of the organization headed by Mafia boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
In 1937, Lansky and Luciano assigned him to tighten up their West Coast operations. Ben obliged and moved his operations to California where he added prostitution, narcotics, and bookmaking to his portfolio. He bought an extravagant estate in Beverly Hills and partied with Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, and Frank Sinatra. Ben's pal, Moe Sedway, also moved to the West Coast with his bride, seventeen-year-old Beatrice (“Bee”). Bee and Ben became close friends. He fed her caviar for the first time, bought her Agatha Christie novels, and called her his “little lunatic.”
Bee Sedway loved the high life in Beverly Hills and could not understand why Ben and her husband spent so much time talking about a tiny place in Nevada called Las Vegas. She saw it as nothing more than a barren stretch of sand with no paved roads, a few gambling clubs and dives, and a small red light district. Las Vegas was an unlikely tourist destination. It was in the middle of a scrubby wasteland, had no airport, and was five hours from Los Angeles by car. She didn't see the potential they saw there. Gambling was legal in Nevada, and Ben and the mob bosses back east wanted to capitalize on it. In 1945, Ben and his mistress, Virginia Hill, moved to Las Vegas, and he began working on building a gambling mecca in the Nevada desert.
He and other mob investors bought a small casino in the city, but local officials were wary of his criminal background and thwarted his plans to expand it. When Ben heard that a hotel being built outside the city limits had run out of construction funds, he sought out the owner and bought the place with mob money.
Construction began anew on the project with Ben in charge and Moe Sedway as his business partner. Ben teased his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, about having long slender legs like a flamingo and named it after her. It would be known as The Flamingo Hotel and Casino.
The eastern crime syndicate provided a budget of $1.5 million, but construction costs quickly soared to more than $6 million. Meyer Lansky, by now a top boss of the mob, attributed the overruns to Ben's theft and mismanagement, and he was not happy. His source of information was Moe Sedway, who was more loyal to Lansky and the mob than to Ben.
They opened the 105-room hotel – the Las Vegas Strip’s first luxury resort—in 1946, the day after Christmas. Guests included movie stars Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and more. After a slow start for the first few months, in May of 1947, the Flamingo posted a $250,000 profit.
Less than a month later, on June 20, 1947, just after 10:45 p.m., Ben was brutally killed when bullets from a 30 caliber military M1 carbine crashed through the living room window of Virginia Hill's rented home in Beverly Hills where he was staying. Within minutes of the shooting, three of Lansky's people entered the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, announced that Ben Siegel was dead, and that new management was taking over. Lansky denied responsibility for the hit, but most everyone assumed the order came from him.
Nick Pileggi, writer of the movies Goodfellas and Casino and a renowned expert on everything related to the Mafia, offered other prime suspects. He said Chick Hill, a former Marine and brotBodyher of Siegel's girlfriend Virginia Hill might have been the trigger man. He was reportedly very upset over a beating Bugsy gave his sister. Pileggi also suggested that Frankie Carbo, a boxing promoter and gunman for Murder, Inc., might have been behind the assassination.
The most interesting story, however, came from Robbie, oldest son of Moe and Bee Sedway. When he was 16, he asked him mother if she knew who killed Bugsy.
She said, “Moose.”
She added, “Don’t ever tell anybody.”
“Moose” held a special place in the Sedway family. While her husband was busy taking care of mob business, Bee met and fell in love with a crane operator named Mathew Pandza. Because of his huge size, he was known as “Moose.” One evening when Moe was home, Bee told him she had fallen in love with another man and wanted to marry him.
Rather than get upset, Moe, who had several mistresses of his own, said he wanted to meet the man. Bee invited Moose to come for dinner. The two men talked privately and decided they would share her. Moe told his dinner guest, who stood more than a foot taller than him, he had only two conditions. When Moe was home, Bee would be his, and Moose had to promise that when Moe died, he would marry her.
The men shook hands, Moose moved into the Beverly Hills house with them, and their marriage became a threesome. Over the next several years, Moe and Moose became the closest of friends.
When Ben learned Moe had snitched on his misuse of mob funds to Meyer Lansky, he decided Moe had to go and made plans to have him killed. “I’ll have Moe shot,' he said, “chop his body up, and feed it to the Flamingo Hotel’s kitchen garbage disposal.”
Bee learned of Ben's plan and told Moose. According to Bee's story, Moose shot Ben to save Moe's life.
Less then five years later, in January 1952, Moe boarded a plane in Vegas bound for Miami. Just before landing, he was stricken and died of coronary thrombosis. Moose held up his end of their agreement and married Bee.
In 1990, Warren Beatty hired Bee as a consultant on his film Bugsy. Reliving the events of those days prompted her to decide to tell her secret. She felt she was the only person alive who knew the solution to one of America's most famous unsolved murder cases. She planned to write a book telling all,which she would call Bugsy’s Little Lunatic. The book was never written, and Bee Sedway passed away in a rest home in 1999 at the age of 81.
We now have three suspects for the shooting of Bugsy. Meyer Lansky could have assigned the hit to one of his assassins, Virginia Hill's brother may have pulled the trigger, or the carbine might have rested in the arms of Frankie Carbo.
We'll never know for sure who killed Bugsy Siegel, often called “the father of modern Las Vegas.” All the people who knew have passed away. Of all the possibilities, I prefer Bee's story about Moose doing it. I don't think she made it up. Nearly fifty years after it happened, I think she felt the truth should come out. Unfortunately, she passed away without writing her book.
Moose's motive was not money or mob revenge. He did it for love. He loved Bee, of course, and Moe had become his best friend. He knew Bugsy planned to kill Moe and probably figured Bee might also be killed.
This will always be one of my favorite unsolved mysteries. It has all the basic ingredients of a good mystery story – money, mobsters, and murder. But this one is special. This one is also a love story.
Earl Staggs ©2016
Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIEDACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.
He invites any comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
He also invites you to visit his blog site at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com to learn more about his novels and stories.