Who murdered Bugsy Siegel?
John William Tuohy
On June 20, 1947, mobster Bugsy Siegel was shot to death as he sat on a sofa reading a newspaper at his girlfriend’s home at 810 North Linden Avenue in Beverly Hills.
At about 10:45 PM, the killer fired 9 shots from 14 feet away, while balancing his rifle, probably a .30 caliber M1 carbine, on latticework in the backyard of the house. Only two shots hit Siegel.
Five entered the far wall on the other side of the room from Siegel and two other bounced off of different objects in the room. Two of the bullets did cut through Siegel’s jacket but did not harm to him.
Three people who were in the house at the time of Bugsy Siegel's assassination: E. S. Lee, the Chinese cook; Charles Hill, brother of homeowner Virginia Hill; and Jerrie Mason, her secretary. The three had retired, leaving only Siegel and Smiley in the living room when the shooting occurred.
The two bullets that killed Siegel were remarkably well placed. One entered his right face cheek and exited the left side of his neck. The other landed on the right bridge of the nose causing enough pressure to send his eye ten feet across the room. “The killer” reported the FBI agent on the scene “almost had to shoot around the corner and he was obviously a very good shot”
Who shot Siegel and why they shot him isn’t known. Ernest Roll, then the Chief Deputy District Attorney in LA said “Frankly this is going to be a tough one to solve, as far as I know, there might have been as many as a hundred people out there who wanted Siegel out of the way”
One theory says the mob-sanctioned the kill because Siegel was stealing money intended as investments in the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas. That explanation has never made a lot of sense.
A recent theory says that Siegel was killed by a man named Mathew "Moose" Pandza, the lover of Bee Sedway, the wife of Moe Sedway, who worked under Siegel. According to that theory, Bee Sedway asked her loved to kill Siegel because Siegel was planning to murder her husband.
Bee Sedway and Moose Pandza
Another theory, an interesting theory, is that disturbed young man named Bob MacDonald, a war hero murdered Siegel. The story is, according to some that Bob and Betty Ann’s son, John was actually the illegitimate son of Howard Hughes as a result of Betty’s wartime affair with Hughes.
The son of Archie A Macdonald, a Minnesotan and Ellen M Macdonald. He was born in LA and grew up in a mansion at 133 North Palmas Avenue, one of three brothers.
The family was wealthy. Archie worked as a high placed executive for Howard Hughes and had interests in the Ekoh Oil Company and Ring and various natural gas holdings. They owned a home in Los Angeles (133 Las Palmas Ave., worth around $5 million today) and retreat on Balboa Island.
In 1940, Bob Macdonald eloped with a 17-year-old socialite named Better Ann Rockwell. Shortly afterward, when Betty Ann was 17 years old, she supposedly had an affair with Archie Macdonald’s boss, billionaire Howard Hughes, and that affair produced a child, John, in 1941.
Howard Hughes, circa 1940
In 1942, Bob Macdonald enlisted in the army air corps and was assigned to the European theater. MacDonald was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with 11 clusters for 81 missions. He also won three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star. He entered the service as a private and left at the rank of Lieutenant. He returned home to a hero’s welcome which included a ride with other war heroes in the 1945 Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena on New Year's day.
But overall, after leaving the army in 1945, he never held a regular job which was one of the many problems the couple had since Betty Ann insisted that he find work. According to police, Macdonald had threatened to murder Betty Ann several times in the past.
Howard Hughes and John MacDoanld
MacDonald is said to have become a drunk, a drug user and a degenerate gambler. He was reportedly violent in his marriage and was under psychiatric care at VA hospital. She had filed for divorce in May of 1946 but the couple reconciled and the filing was canceled
The story is that Macdonald ended up owing LA mobster Jack Dragna $50,000 in gambling debts. Just under $600,000 today) Dragna, who somehow knew that MacDonald owned a carbine rifle, is supposed to have made MacDonald an offer; kill Bugsy Siegel and all debts are forgiven.
In this version of the gangster murder, after shooting Siegel, the story goes, under cover of darkness, MacDonald walked across the Los Angeles Country Club back to his home on 822 Warner Avenue, about 1.6 miles from the murder site. (a six-minute drive)
That was on June 20. On September 13, 1947, Macdonald snapped. At that point in the marriage, Macdonald was sleeping in the den. He woke up just before noon when Betty Ann asked him to move his car so she could drive their son to the dentist. An argument broke out over Betty’s will.
Earlier in the day, Betty Ann called her attorney, Birger Tinglof, and told him to prepare a will in which she left her $70,000 estate to her children, John and Ellen Jay. That call led to a violent argument with Bob. (The value of $70,000 today would be roughly $800,000) The will read that should her husband survive her that should not share in the wealth "for reasons well known to him and myself."
Macdonald either told his wife to go upstairs or shoved her upstairs to their bedroom. The children’s nurse, Constance Baker, said she heard sounds of scuffling, then loud voices and a scream for help. She ran up the stairs and as she neared the upper landing the boy, John, came hurtling out of the bedroom door, as if thrown, and then she heard shots. MacDonald had used a carbine rifle to shoot Betty Ann in the chest shot his wife once in the chest and once in the head. She was 24 years old. He then took the rifle, placed in his mouth and pulled the trigger killing himself. He was 27 years old.
Of all the tales about Siegel’s well-deserved killing, I agree with the original Justice Department theory that Siegel was murdered due to his narcotics activities.
Bureau of Narcotics agent W. J. Craig said that Siegel was killed because the mob found out that he was about to be arrested for his part in massive Mexico t0 Los Angeles dope ring. According to Craig, Siegel arrest warrant was set for the day after he was murdered.
“Bugsy” Craig said “was one of the biggest drug peddlers in the United States. He was financing international deals in various (types) of narcotics …..we expect to have some amazing disclosures soon in this case," Craig said. "This ring, which included such prominent gangsters as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Frank Costello, has been operating with millions of dollars and an army of gunmen from coast to coast. He added that Siegel participated in "big international narcotics deals."…… "We have a heavy file on Siegel"
Joseph Bell, the treasury department chief of narcotics for the west coast said that Siegel was killed because he was blocking Luciano for complete control over the Mexico-to- LA market.
In Washington, Bureau of Narcotics boss Harry Anslinger (Charlie Luciano insisted on calling Anslinger “Harry the ass slinger) called Siegel “A big operator in the narcotics” who bought his dope wholesale from Lucky Luciano.
The day after Siegel was killed Mexican authorities said Siegel was the head of a multi-million dollar narcotics syndicate supplying Hollywood and Eastern markets and that Siegel’s dope ring used airplanes, speedboats, and cars to bring the dope into the United States. They cited one example of a car they said belonged to the gang which had several secret compartments that stashed away 300 cans of opium. Lastly, the Mexicans said that Siegel murder was probably a result of a spat within the gang. That spat, according to the Bureau of Narcotics, in 1946, Luciano was trying to control the Mexican narcotics traffic into the United States.
A high placed federal snitch in Chicago told the narcotics bureau that Luciano’s representatives met with Siegel in Las Vegas in Early June and told him, flatly, they if he didn’t get out of the way, he would be killed.
The feds learned about Siegel’s Mexico to LA dope ring from Mexicali Police Chief Juan Menesen, a key figure In U. S.- Mexican efforts to halt illegal narcotics traffic across the California border. Menesen got his information from a Mexican dope pusher and murderer named Frank Orbe (AKA Frank Galliano and Mexican Frank) a snitch for the Bureau who said that Siegel cheated him out of $62,000 in proceeds from a dope deal. Chief Menesen who investigating it when he was killed on June 23, 1947. He was ambushed and shot dozens of times by a machine gun.
In 1931 Orbe was charged with the attempted murder of US federal Narcotics agent John Anderson during a shoot out in the streets of San Francisco. Two years before, Orbe ad two other men were arrested for drunk driving, resisting arrest and possession of narcotics in San Francisco and told the police that he should be released because he was an undercover agent with the Bureau of Narcotics trying to build a case against the men he was with.
In 1947, Orbe started cooperating with the government and accusing Siegel of cheating him, Orbe was in jail in Tijuana Mexico for the brutal murder of big-time Mexican dope smuggler Enrique Diarte. In November of 1944, Orbe shot through Diarte through the heart, cut his throat and his skull smashed.
Diarte’s murder was related to a massive 1944 dope investigation by the US treasury department that stretched from New York City to the Bahamas, and to California and Chicago. That case was part of a related 1942 case the Treasury Department was building against the 107th Street Mob, AKA the Morello Gang) that dominated dope deal and just about everything else in East Harlem, Manhattan, and parts of the Bronx.
In the 1942 case 17 people were indicted at New York for dealing in opium and heroin from Mexico. Their out west connection was what remained of the Antone "Black Tony" Parmagini gang in Santa Cruz California. (That had originally been financed by Al Capone to do dope deals as a private investment for him)
An undercover Treasury agents named Benedict Pocoroba managed to join the Parmagini operation and collected enough information to bring the entire operation down. Gang leaders Joe "The Eye" Tocco and Sam Maugeri were arrested on dope smuggling charges as they stepped off a train in Chicago with 622 ounces of opium and eight ounces of heroin. Maugeri was given 20 years in prison and Tocco, ten years. The gang's leader, Charlie "Big Nose" LaGaipa, disappeared before he could be arrested although the police suspected that he had been shot to death in his own car and buried out in the desert.
Just less than a month before Siegel bought the farm, his playmate and fellow dope dealer Nick DeJohn was murdered. The FBI wa certain that DeJohn’s murder had some sort of connection to Siegel’s killing, probably through dope, but they weren’t certain what it was.
In the early 1940s, DeJohn, who was not made into the Mafia, was close to Chicago’s mob boss Frank Nitti. Then, in 1943, Nitti killed himself and Paul Ricca, a cold-blooded snake, took over the Chicago Outfit. Ricca’s son was a drug addict, and that, combined with Ricca’s (Who was an illegal alien wanted for murder in his native Italy) complete fear of the federal government which hounded him until his dying day.
Ricca outlawed the Chicago mobs and its associates from dealing in drugs. That was the official ruling. The unofficial ruling was “Don’t get caught dealing drugs.” Of course, by then, the Chicago Outfit had already planted its people in Mexico and by 1958, future mob boss Sam Giancana had an established a solid dope smuggling operation with the help of deported hood named Nick Circella.
Circella AKA Nicky Dean
By 1943, DeJohn, an abrasive thug, was a power on Chicago’s Northside and along Rush Street and was one of the city’s leading bookmakers and casino operators. He was also running dope and high-end prostitutes into Chicago through his considerable connection in Dallas, Kansas City, San Francisco and St. Louis, although Tommy Buffa out of St. Louis seemed to be his primary source for dope.
DeJohn and Calami’s dope operations in Chicago was enormous and, in 1943, with Paul Ricca and the entire Chicago leadership on trial for extortion, DeJohn starting talking about taking over Chicago for himself and, backed by his relative (DeJohn was his nephew) Vincent “The Don” Benevento, who fronted as a cheese importer, made a push to take over Continental, Chicago incredibly lucrative racing wire service.
Ricca ordered his underboss Tony Accardo to deal with the situation. On December 28, 1945, Benevento was working in one of his cheese stores at 1057 Grand Avenue when three hoods entered and fired four shots into Benevento, hitting him in the stomach, neck, e right arm and left armpit. Remarkably, he survived.
On September 21, 1946, Benevento and his wife were laying in bed in a rented cabin about three miles south of Lake Zurich. Three hitmen kicked in the door and fired seven shotgun blasts and few .45 caliber pistol bullets at Benevento, killing him.
Tom Buffa from St. Louis, one of DeJohn’s partners was murdered a year later as he drove through the town of Lodi California.
DeJohn beat it out of town for San Francisco. The mob found him and sent Leonard Calamia to lure him to his death. On May 9th, 1947, DeJohn was seen that afternoon with Leonard Calamia and another hood named John Passantino driving around San Francisco and shopping. Calamia suggested they drop by LaRocca's Tavern on Columbus Avenue, a known mob meeting place. There they met with dope dealers Sebastian Nani, of Brooklyn and Ciro Gallo(Who was rumored to be DeJohn illegitimate son) Somebody garroted or strangled DeJohn using heavy braided fishing line. His body was tossed in a trunk of a black Chrysler Town and Country parked at Laguna and Greenwich Streets.
His killer was more than probably Frank Scappatura, a former Chicagoan who moved to San Francisco and probably held the rank of crew leader in the fledgling San Francisco mob. By the mid-1940s, Scappatura was a millionaire who held interests in Sunland Sales Company (olive oil) and the Coronet Olive Oil Co. in Oroville, California. To fill in the gaps he also ran extortions on local abortion clinic, which were illegal but very profitable. Scappatura and a dope dealing hood named Anthony Lima were identified by an eyewitness as being around the car in which DeJohn's strangled corpse was found. Leonard Calamia, who was also suspected of playing a role in the murder. When the cops arrested Scappatura for the DeJohn hit he told the press "I can beat it". He was right of course, the case against him was dropped in April of 1949.
The Bureau of Narcotics said that the reason Buffa and DeJohn were murdered was because they had refused to give Lucky Luciano the share on dope sales that he demanded from them and instead turned to Siegel for protection and a partnership.
In the end, no one will ever be able to say for certain who murdered Bugsy Siegel