By Connor Bright and Scott Markus
The life of Siegel played out all over town and the other day we at LA Hauntings decided to visit as many locations tied to the mobster as we could in a single day and a half tank of gas. We focused on the highlights, from the beginning to the end, with some amusing or intriguing points in the middle.
We began our day in the hills below the Hollywood sign; it was in the shadow of the monument that Benjamin Siegel set up one of his first operations in Los Angeles. The 20,000 square foot, nine-bedroom, six-bath, Castillo De Lago with all of it’s considerable free space was taken over in the late 1930s by Siegel. It operated as a casino and brothel (our original source also said it was a speakeasy as well, but with prohibition being repelled in 1933, there was no longer a need for secret places to sneak a drink, though we are sure alcohol was a staple here). The house was built in 1926 for Patrick Longdon, a wealthy oil entrepreneur, and his wife. A week after moving in, Mrs. Longdon passed away and a distraught Patrick moved out. Castillo Del Lago remained empty until Siegel’s arrival. Some reports say that it remained empty after the mob left; others report a revolving-door style barrage of tenants with long bouts of abandon. Whatever the case, it was bought and renovated by Madonna in 1993. The pop legend stayed only a few years, after a crazed fan attempted to break into her home and threaten her life. She sold the house at a loss.
Reports of Castillo Del Lago being haunted are commonplace. Visitors to the home are said to feel a “deep sense of foreboding” (Hollywood Haunted, Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wannamaker). A fashion photographer named Tom Murray who used the location in 1998 reported that his crew felt uncomfortable and everything he shot inside the house came out black. Mechanical malfunctions, especially with photographic equipment, are commonplace at haunted locations. Madonna even reported a force in the house that made her feel unsafe. Her caretaker would hear a voice calling his name when he was alone, and doors would close and lock behind him of their own violation.
After taking some pictures of the Hollywood sign and poking around a few of the more lavish Hollywoodland homes, we traveled down the mountain to an unassuming intersection outside of a Best Western.
Where Vista Del Mar Avenue meets Dix Ave is the location where Benjamin Siegel proved his loyalty to the Mafia, killing his childhood friend, Harry Greenberg in 1939. Bugsy was known for his temper and it was during the trial for Greenberg’s death that papers dubbed him “Bugsy,” which came from the slang “bugs” meaning “crazy.” Siegel hated this nickname intensely. People dared not use it in front of him, fearing the result.
There is no better was to incur the wrath of the mafia than to turn snitch and rat to the police. This is exactly what Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg may have done to the members of Murder, Inc. As you can imagine, his story doesn’t end well.
(The above group mug shot shows Bugsy Siegel, second from left with the dark hat and Harry Greenberg in the dead center, wearing a lighter colored coat)
He spent years as an associate of the group as a stink bomb and acid disfigurement specialist. Greenie had lots of information on the inner workings and could name names if he so desired. When investigators crept closer to Greenberg, he fled to Canada to hide. Unfortunately, a letter sent to top Mafia brass asking for cash to continue hiding was met as a possible “pay me or I’ll talk” threat.
Regardless whether or not Greenberg was attempting to extort the Mafia and Murder Inc., Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss, who was now the head of Murder Inc., decided to play it safe. A hit was ordered on the one-time ally.
On November 22, 1939 Harry Greenberg was shot and killed outside of his Vista Del Mar Ave apartment (now part of the Best Western). Big Greenie most likely knew his murderers, who were supposed to have been, Whitey Krakower, Albert Tannenbaum, Frankie Cabo, and Siegel.
Shots rang out, more than two dozen in total, echoing off of the Hollywood Tower Hotel across Franklin Ave. The Hollywood Tower would achieve greater fame later, serving as the inspiration of the Disney ride, Tower of Terror, but also earns a stop on our LA Hauntings tours due to the persistent ghost stories coming from the site. The most frequently given explanation for the hauntings is the Mafia violence of the area. (the aerial shot to the left was taken from the top of the Hollywood Tower Hotel)
After firing at least six of the shots himself, Siegel, always cool, calm and collected, returned to a party he was hosting, ideally building in an alibi for his whereabouts.
Eventually Tannenbaum confessed to the murder and, in exchange for amnesty, agreed to testify against the others. Siegel and Carbo faced charges for Greenberg’s murder. Krakower was mysteriously murdered before he could testify or be charged. Some believe Siegel killed Krakower, a particularly cold move, considering that Siegel’s wife Esta, was Krakower’s big sister. After the death of two witnesses, no other witness would come forward, so “Bugsy” and Carbo were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.
The trial gained attention because of Siegel’s treatment while in prison. He didn’t have to resort to eating prison food, rather, he had food from his favorite LA eateries catered to him. The smooth talker was allowed lady visitors in his cell and he could even leave prison to visit his dentist!
On a side note, Siegel’s lawyer, Jerry Giesler, was known for handling the biggest high-profile cases in Los Angeles. Famously representing Lana Turner, when her daughter murdered mobster Johnny Stompanato, a close friend of Mickey Cohen. Giesler also represented the theater chain owner Alexander Pantages, in a case we talk about on our tour!
Join us one more time for our final installment of this series, we will visit more LA locations that were important in the life (and death) of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the ghost stories associated with these locations. Also, as you can likely imagine based on the photo on the right, you can also follow LAHauntings on Instagram. Click the photo to find us.
Part Three: Click Here