this day in crime history: june 20, 1947

On this date in 1947, Bugsy Siegel got whacked. Iced. Taken out. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel — who hated that nickname, by the way — was shot while sitting next to a window in the Beverly Hills house he shared with girlfriend Virginia Hill. According to his death certificate, the cause of death was “cerebral hemmorage” (apparently spelling was not a high priority at the L.A. County Registrar’s Office) due to “gunshots of the head” (neither was grammar, I guess). One shot hit Siegel right near his eye. If he saw it coming, he didn’t see it for long.

The murder was never solved, but theories abound. Who was behind it? Was it Meyer Lansky? Lucky Luciano? Some investors who were less than happy about the profitability of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino? Author Warren Hull has a theory about the identity of the trigger man. Check out this interview with Hull.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Bugsy Siegel

Wikipedia – Bugsy Siegel

Family Secret, by Warren Robert Hull

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this day in crime history: june 19, 1975

On this day in 1975, Chicago mob boss Salvatore Giancana, aka “Momo,” aka “Mooney,” aka “Sam the Cigar,” aka “Sam Flood” and aka “Sam Gold,” was killed in the basement of his Oak Park, IL home. Giancana was due to testify before a Senate panel later that month. He was shot several times, once in the back of the head, and several times in the face.

Further reading:

Gangsters Incorporated: 1975:Murder of Sam Giancana

Find-a-Grave: Sam Giancana (1908-1975)

American Mafia: Sam Giancana

Wikipedia: Sam Giancana

this day in crime history: march 18, 1990

On this date in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA was robbed. It was just after midnight when two men dressed as police officers appeared at the museum’s door, claiming they had received a report about a disturbance at the museum. One of the two guards on duty that night let them in. Minutes later the guards were overpowered, bound with duct tape, and stashed in separate parts of the museum’s basement. The two bogus cops went to work stealing various items, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. The estimated value of their haul: over $300 million. It was the largest art heist in US history. To date, the case remains unsolved, and none of the stolen works of art have been recovered.

Further reading:

FBI – Art Theft program

Boston.com – Secrets behind the largest art theft in history

this day in crime history: march 8, 1952

On this date in 1952, clothing salesman Arnold Schuster was shot and killed outside his home in Brooklyn, NY.  A month earlier, Schuster had been riding the subway home from work when he recognized a fellow rider as wanted bank robber Willie “The Actor” Sutton.  Schuster followed Sutton from the subway to a nearby garage, where Sutton went to work changing the battery on his car.  Schuster then tipped off the police who arrested Sutton.

Schuster’s murder was never solved.  Years later, mob turncoat Joe Valachi testified that mob boss Albert Anastasia ordered the murder after seeing Schuster on the TV show I’ve Got a Secret.*  Anastasia had no connection to Sutton, he just hated “squealers”.  Five years later, Anastasia would find himself on the receiving end of a “hit”, orchestrated by rival boss Vito Genovese, and Anastasia’s underboss Carlo Gambino.

*While researching the 1947 Holmesburg Prison escape, I recently found something that pokes a major hole in Valachi’s story: I’ve Got a Secret premiered in June 1952, four months after Schuster’s murder. If Anastasia saw Schuster on TV, it couldn’t have been on that show.

For more on Sutton’s escape and the murder of Arnold Schuster, check out my true crime short, Over the Wall: The True Story of the 1947 Escape from Holmesburg Prison.

Holmesburg Prison Escape

Further reading:

Find a Grave – Arnold Schuster

Wikipedia – Arnold Schuster

this day in crime history: february 15, 1936

gutterball

On this date in 1936, former Chicago Outfit trigger man “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn was gunned down in a Chicago bowling alley.

McGurn was born Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi in 1902 in Sicily. He changed his name as a teenager while trying to make it as a boxer. McGurn would later go to work for Chicago mob boss Al Capone. He was believed to be the mastermind of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the cops were unable to pin it on him when Louise Rolfe – dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press – claimed that she and McGurn had spent the entire day together.

By 1936, McGurn had been cut loose by the Outfit. His notoriety had made him too hot for the low profile the Outfit was looking to maintain.

A day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, McGurn entered a bowling alley with two men. Another man later joined the trio. After his arrival, a commotion ensued that resulted in Jack being shot dead and the three men leaving the bowling alley together. A Valentine card was left behind bearing the following poem:

You’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your dough;
Your jewels and cars and handsome houses!
But things could still be worse you know…
At least you haven’t lost your trousers!

The murder was never solved. Was it payback from Bugs Moran, whose men were killed seven years earlier? Was it revenge by a relative of one of Jack’s victims? Or was it the Outfit, fearful that Jack’s increasingly loose lips might sink their ship?

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Machine Gun Jack McGurn

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

Wikipedia – Jack McGurn

Mafia Wiki – Jack McGurn

Find a Grave – Jack “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn

this day in crime history: february 2, 1922

On this date in 1922, film director William Desmond Taylor was found dead in his bungalow in Los Angeles. He was originally thought to have died of natural causes, but when the body was rolled over, a single bullet wound was found in his back.

Cash and valuables were found on Taylor’s person, ruling out robbery as a motive. More than a dozen suspects emerged, including Taylor’s valet, his former valet, a studio executive, and several actresses. Police were never able to make a case against any of the suspects. Poor case management led to the loss of much of the physical evidence.

Newspapers of the day featured sensationalized stories and rampant speculation about the identity of the killer and the motive for Taylor’s murder. The murder occurred less than six months after the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and helped shape the public’s view of Hollywood as a hotbed of decadence.

In 1999, it was revealed that Margaret Gibson, an actress who had worked with Taylor, had confessed on her deathbed in 1964 to having killed Taylor. The confession has never been confirmed.

Further reading:

William Desmond Taylor: The Unsolved Murder

Wikipedia – William Desmond Taylor

this day in crime history: january 15, 1947

On this date in 1947, the mutilated remains of a young woman were found in Los Angeles. The woman would soon be identified as Elizabeth Short, an unemployed 22 year old, originally from Massachusetts. The news media would soon dub her the Black Dahlia. The LAPD conducted an exhaustive investigation, but the case remains unsolved.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Black Dahlia

Wikipedia – Black Dahlia