Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 – 12:27 PM
By Stuart Sobel
Las Vegas and Beverly Hills are two towns which absolutely thrive on secrets. Both, however, have never been able to solve this seven-decades old puzzle: the killing of 41-year old Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Now that secret is revealed by the person who knew first hand…and you would never guess the dynamics of this mystery if given another seven decades.
From the beginning, boyhood pals grew to young men creating the Jewish mob; Meyer Lansky, Benjamin Siegel and “Little” Moe Sedway. Lansky was the head, Siegel the charismatic killer and Sedway the financial genius who tied it all together.
In the beginning, they had strictly an East Coast presence. The trio, however, wanted to strike out to the West Coast to expand their business holdings. Lansky sent Siegel and Sedway, as well as Moe Sedway’s new bride Bee, to explore. The trio’s destination was to Los Angeles, but then they also took a side trip to a hot dusty town in Nevada called Las Vegas. This is where Siegel had a vision of a gambling and entertainment mecca.
This story is actually a tale of Moe’s wife Bee and Ben Siegel. A more unlikely platonic alliance you’d be hard pressed to find. For some reason their personalities, although opposite, clicked into a lifelong friendship and a commitment of absolute trust. Siegel was the best man at their wedding and the Godfather to their son Dick. He also gave her a mantra for life –“Never betray the family.”
Wanting to build a luxury hotel with top entertainment and accommodations, Siegel was able to take over construction of a hotel already in progress, which would be called the Flamingo, by purchasing the gambling notes of its owner Billy Wilkerson, who had founded and operated The Hollywood Reporter. Siegel said to Wilkerson, “Allow me to introduce myself… I’m your new partner.” But he wasn’t for long.
Using mob money to buy into the deal, Siegel estimated that it would cost $1 million to complete. Against Sedway’s advice, Ben insisted on acting as the “general contractor.” Having absolutely no experience with construction, his cost overruns actually ended up going from $1 million to well over $4 million. Sedway’s job was to give daily reports back to Lansky and try to rein in Siegel’s out-of-control spending.
Siegel became increasingly enraged with Sedway’s “constant meddling.” He finally exploded and confided in a select circle of friends that he was going to make Sedway disappear by personally killing him and grinding his body up in the Flamingo’s industrial garbage disposal. This is really where our story begins. It set in motion the eventual pre-emptive strike on Siegel, which took place on Linden Drive in Beverly Hills. The date: June 20, 1947.
For police suspects; take your pick. Virginia Hill, Siegel’s volatile girlfriend, for one. She was in Europe at the time of the hit. However, if it were she, Meyer Lansky would not have let it pass. He would want the money that she and Siegel allegedly skimmed off the Flamingo building fund and spirited away to a far off Swiss Bank.
Ben’s wife Esta could have been a suspect. She certainly had plenty of reason; given the suspicion that Ben had killed her gangster brother, Whitey Krakow, a founding member of Murder, Inc. His affair with Virginia Hill was also cause as well as a line-up of stars and starlets paraded across the front pages of the daily papers throughout the country.
Virginia Hill’s brother Chick Hill was under suspicion because of a beating he supposedly witnessed that Ben gave his sister. It was established that Chick was on the second floor of Virginia’s house with his girlfriend that fateful night while Ben was on the first floor. It would not seem plausible for Chick to go downstairs, go outside and end up at the site of the shooting in the bushes with a rifle in hand…all the while Ben is calmly reading the evening paper within feet of the shooter? Not likely.
It could have been any number of people who wanted him dead; from Los Angeles mafia boss Jack Dragna to Siegel’s West Coast alter-ego, Mickey Cohen. It could have been hitman Joey Adonis, who was also the former paramour of Virginia Hill when Ben snatched her away. Pick anyone who was ever terrorized or humiliated by this man. Everyone was questioned; everyone except the person(s) involved. Lansky gave his blessing to the killing, and so there was no mob retaliation.
It’s impossible to solve an unsolvable murder. It can only be revealed by the people involved. In this case it was the last one still alive, Bee Sedway. The shooter’s name was Matthew (Moose) Pandza. He was 6-3, 240-pound giant of a man. Moose was Moe’s bodyguard and Bee’s lover. A crack-shot sports hunter with no criminal record and nerves of steel; he had a particular attention to detail. This was his one and only time as a torpedo. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The name won’t mean anything to you without knowing the rest of the story and that is left for another time. Then it will all make sense; how after all these many decades this secret was able to be kept…a secret of two towns, two towns that absolutely thrive on secrets.
This is the ultimate example of when “Karma meets Irony.” Siegel plans to kill Sedway. Sedway, in fact, does have Siegel killed. Now they both lay in repose for an eternity less than a stone’s throw from each other at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Editor’s Note: The Courier’s Senior Editor John L. Seitz, then 11-years-old, spent the afternoon of June 20, 1947 with his parents at the former Hollywood Park race track. Their box was adjacent to that of actor George Raft and during the very afternoon was introduced to Ben Siegel. After leaving the track, the latter dined at Jack’s at the Beach restaurant in Santa Monica before returning to the home on Linden Drive where he met his fate.