Known as Bugsy and today considered one of the founders of the Las Vegas strip, Benjamin Siegel was one of the most violent and feared hitmen in organized crime. He became a bootlegger during Prohibition and eventually ran his own criminal operations but his main focus as a member of organized crime was as a hitman and enforcer. With his partner Meyer Lansky, Siegel formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob in the early 1920s, working with Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Frank Costello. The Bugs and Meyer Mob performed automobile theft, truck hijacking, ran gambling operations as well as extortion and served as enforcers for Costello.
After Luciano organized the National Crime Syndicate Siegel and Lansky formed Murder Incorporated, a name later given to it by the news media, to operate as enforcers for the entire syndicate. Murder Incorporated received contracts for hits from organized crime across the United States. Siegel and Lansky soon withdrew from operation of the killing organization, which was taken up by Louis Buchalter and Albert Anastasia, but Siegel remained on contract as a hitman and enforcer. In 1932 Siegel was arrested in Miami, charged and convicted of vagrancy and gambling, for which he paid a fine. It was the only time in his life he was convicted of anything.
Within the underworld Siegel developed a reputation for violence and for having a vicious streak, making him one of the most feared gangsters in the nation. By the mid-1930s Siegel was being closely watched by the authorities in New York, and Meyer Lansky suggested that Siegel relocates to the West Coast. Siegel went to Los Angeles in 1936, then experienced a boom in growth. Siegel claimed to be a professional gambler, using legal means at California race tracks, but he quickly set up illegal gambling operations, muscling aside the existing underworld operations, protected by his reputation for violence and his association with Luciano.
In 1939 Harry Greenberg, an associate of both Lansky and Luciano, threatened to turn state’s witness and Murder Incorporated hired Siegel and some associates to kill him. Siegel was arrested for the murder and during his trial two state witnesses were killed. In the absence of evidence, Siegel was acquitted. Whether he had anything to do with the deaths of the witnesses was never clearly established. He was after that more closely watched by authorities in Los Angeles and was tried again for illegal gambling in 1944 but was again acquitted. The close scrutiny by authorities and the press led Siegel to try to establish himself in Las Vegas, where gambling was legal.
Siegel spent too much of the mob’s money trying to create his gambling mecca, the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. The mob bosses which he had long served were at the first patient with him, but when loans continued to go unpaid and further debts were run up, their patience wore thin. Siegel opened the Flamingo too soon and the unfinished hotel and casino lost yet more money. In 1947 the syndicate decided to get rid of Siegel and in June, Siegel was killed as he sat in the home of his girlfriend in Los Angeles, Virginia Hill. He was shot from a distance with a rifle by an assassin never identified, a violent end for one of the mob’s most violent hitmen.