(Jul. 26) -- The 1947 murder of Las Vegas mobster and Vegas visionary Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel has never been solved, but there's no shortage of theories. Only one person witnessed the slaying -- Siegel's best friend and fellow gangster Allen Smiley. Now, for the first time, two people who knew Smiley offer their insight into the Siegel murder.
Murder cases don't get much bigger than the Bugsy Siegel's assassination. It's easily the most significant crime in Las Vegas history, even though it occurred in California, because it helped put our town on the map. Now there's a theory about the identity of the killer that has never been publicized before. It comes from the mobster who may have been closer to Siegel than anyone.
In the 1992 film, Bugsy Siegel meets his end while sitting at home, alone, watching movies. In reality, he was murdered in his Beverly Hills mansion while sitting on a couch reading the newspaper. He wasn't alone. On the other end of the couch was Siegel's close friend and fellow mobster Allen Smiley. Very little has been written about Smiley or what he knew about the murder.
Luellen Smiley, Allen Smiley's daughter, said, "They were sitting this close on the sofa, as close as you and I, or closer."
Allen Smiley's daughter Luellen was blissfully unaware while growing up that her dad was a mobster. Visitors to the Smiley home included the likes of Meyer Lansky, Johnny Rosselli, and of course, Ben Siegel. But Luellen had no idea who they really were. The Russian born Smiley had met Siegel in Hollywood where both had studio contacts and business interests. Smiley's cool demeanor was a soothing influence on the mercurial Siegel.
"I think he tried to keep him from killing people. My father was a mediator," said Luellen Smiley.
Like many other mobsters, Smiley owned a piece of the Flamingo hotel. The prevailing view among lawmen and journalists is that Siegel's hidden partners were responsible for his murder, but why?
Many believe syndicate bosses were upset with Siegel because of the huge cost overruns at the Flamingo. Others think it was because Siegel and his girlfriend Virginia Hill were skimming. FBI files on Seigel speculate that the L.A. mob under Jack Dragna wanted Siegel dead because he cut them out of the race wire racket, that Dragna hired out of town hit men for the job.
One name prominently mentioned in the files is that of mob soldier turned boxing promoter Frankie Carbo. Two other lesser known mobsters have claimed they were on the hit team but experts question their version about drivng to the mansion and firing the nine shots before fleeing. Actor Tony Curtis, who knew Siegel and who owned the movie rights to Siegel's story, finds the scenario fishy.
"Someone saw a car drive off with two guys. Wait a minute, what the (expletive) was Ben Siegel doing sitting on a street with cards reading a newspaper. Tell me another fairy tale, " said actor and painter Tony Curtis.
The only person to see what happened was Allen Smiley, who amazingly escaped injury.
Luellen Smiley said, "Very lucky. It went right through his jacket, the bullets. The only reason he was saved is that he acted quickly and dove to the floor."
After the murder, Allen Smiley went into hiding for a year. There were those who thought he might have known about the hit in advance. His daughter doubts it. "Did he know it was coming? No, I don't think he'd be sitting there," she said.
Luellen says her father never talked to her about his business. Smiley told lawmen that it was too dark for him to identify the triggerman. He told a different story to his longtime friend Lem Banker, the Las Vegas sports gambler.
Banker says he confided to him that the shooter was Chick Hill, the brother of Siegel's troubled girlfriend Virginia Hill. Chick Hill was in the house that night, supposedly upstairs. Smiley told Banker that the mob didn't retaliate against Chick Hill because it wanted Siegel dead anyway. It's a blockbuster theory, but does it matter in the end?
Leullen Smiley continued, "It doesn't matter. Ben knew he was gonna go. I don't know that he knew it was that night, but he wasn't surprised."
Dr. Michael Green, Las Vegas historian, said, "It's hard to imagine Bugsy Siegel one day standing where Moe Dalitz did as Mr. Las Vegas, or building Maryland Parkway, but we never got a chance to find out. If Siegel was the first takeover, this was the first hostile takeover."
Luellen Smiley didn't find out about her dad until someone showed her a copy of the book, The Green Felt Jungle. Almost as a means of therapy, she started writing about her family life in a column in the Del Mar Times and now has written a book, but is still searching for a publisher.
Tony Curtis says he still wants to make a Seigel movie. Maybe he could make one about Allen Smiley.
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