Tag Archives: Bugsy Siegel

Surviving (and ENJOYING) Jury Duty in Downtown LA!

I recently had the experience of having to do jury duty and…. had a great time!  I am one of those “lucky” people who have actually gotten called for jury duty three times in the last three years.  Yes, I have gotten out of it in the past with legitimate reasons I was unable to serve.  This time, however, I gave it a go.  Okay, I did try to get out of it a few times until it got to the point that trying to get out of jury duty was more of a nuisance than actually serving jury duty.
So, to show off the bright spots of jury duty and to provide you with a jury duty survival guide, I wanted to create this post.  If you’re on this site, I imagine you are interested in ghost stories, local history, crime history, Los Angeles and visiting museums.  If you keep an eye on these themes, then serving jury duty is downright exciting!  I know that sounds like BS, but stay with me here.

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The first part of jury duty and truly the only part that most people experience is being in the “jury pool.”  It’s just a big waiting room full of people hanging out.  Honestly, is that so bad?  Most people keep themselves busy with their iPads, phones, laptops, etc.  There is Wi-Fi, so it’s not a bad way to get some work done.  I, on the other hand, did a lot of reading.  I got deep into a fascinating book on the Prohibition era that deserve its own blog entry.  However, if you are serving jury duty in downtown LA, I would strongly suggest reading “A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption & LA’s Scandalous Coming of Age.”  This amazing book covers the frequently lawless and corrupt age of life in Los Angeles, a town that was growing faster than its infrastructure was ready for. The book covers topics like the Castaic Damn disaster and Clara Bow’s blackmail case.
Back to jury duty.  Each day you get a 90-minute lunch.  That’s crazy!  What’s more crazy is that most people stay local or even eat in the building.  In 90 minutes, you can walk to a lot of great places, taking a nice tour in the process.

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 photo 20150507_121159_zpsu7jdkx7v.jpgAfter giving quite a few tours and frequently losing tour members to Mr. Churro, I decided that this was finally my time to check the place out.  Leaving 210 W. Temple (pictured, top with the white Pico House building visible on the far right) and walking North up Spring Street, you get a lot of great views of the Pueblo de Los Angeles area (pictured directly above).  This is our destination and also where the city of Los Angeles was born.  On your left, you walk past the largest cement military memorial in all of America, a tribute to the Mormon Battalion and the site of Fort Moore (pictured right).
 photo 20150507_120952_zpsazqueuok.jpgCrossing the next overpass gives you a great perspective on exactly how much of the original Moore Hill (specifically the land that was Moore Hill Cemetery) was dug out to make room for the 101 freeway.  Yes, in a tale straight from the movie Poltergeist, a cemetery was moved (said bodies are now located in Rosedale Cemetery in the West Adams neighborhood, by the way).  Yes, there was a school (that crazy stainless steel building) that was built on a former cemetery and yes, that is a haunted building.  Bodies from the original cemetery were found on this site from the original cemetery as recently as 2009.
Continuing down Spring, you’ll eventually make a right at the corner of Spring and Ord.  This is the site where, not all that long ago really, LA was gripped by the possibility that huge quantities of buried treasure was hidden underground throughout LA.  Who put this treasure here?  A now extinct species of 6 foot tall reptiles, of course (this is a true and strange footnote in LA’s already strange enough history).

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Now turning the corner and heading through Chinatown, you get a nice look at the ornate dragons that keep watch over the neighborhood before walking a couple more blocks to Olivera Street.
 photo 20150507_122756_zpsrsl8r5gx.jpgGetting here has only taken about 15-20 minutes out of the 90 minute lunch, so there’s even time to visit the free Old Plaza Fire House museum (pictured left, with City Hall in the background on the right edge of frame), which is really not much of a museum, but you do get to enter one of the original fire stations in LA and see some of the vintage fire fighting gear and impressive photos of the LAFD in action through the years.
To read more about this haunted history of the Pueblo de Los Angeles including Pico House, the Avila Adobe (also a free location to visit) and La Gondoloria Resuaturant, check out my article here.
I grabbed my lunch to go (it did live up to the hype) and walked back to and past the courthouse building to have lunch in LA’s Grand Park.  It’s no Grant Park in Chicago or Central Park in New York, but the city has done a lot to create a gorgeous, large park right in the middle of this portion of the city.  In addition to a nice aesthetic, there are exhibits worth viewing including quotes and pictures from survivors the Armenian Genocide (pictured below, right with City Hall looming in the center of the image and the criminal courts building on the left).
 photo IMG_2695_zps5skjclan.jpgDay 1 ended with me actually getting assigned to a case.  Though most cases are only 1-2 days, this one was estimated to take 6 days if I was selected to the jury.  This was not a lock as I was one of about 50 people to make it to this stage.

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Day 2

My second day of jury duty started around 11am or so and after just 60 minutes of jury duty, it was time for my 90 minute lunch.  It’s amazing anything gets done, really.

Unfortunately, on this day it was raining, so I decided to see what fun I could have in the building. Unfortunately there is no top floor observation deck, but I did find a museum-caliber display covering both the 17th and 18th floor of the building. It’s amazing!
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The displays are floor-to-ceiling and do cover every lady square inch of the walls on the two floors. The display is a timeline of crime in LA (technically, it’s about the district attorney’s office, since we are on the floor the D.A. is on).

 photo 20150508_124844_zpsm7rham6o.jpgThe perspective is interesting, looking at the history of Los Angeles as it relates to crime, from the 1871 Chinese Massacre through the Griffith J. Griffith attempted murder case in 1903, the 1910 LA Times building bombing, Bugsy and Mickey’s Mafia control in the ’30s, the career-ruining Pantages trials the Manson Family trial, through the modern age of the LA Riots and the OJ trial.  Among the more well-known stories are some tremendous events that today are largely forgotten.
Did you know that there were sea battles just a few miles beyond the Santa Monica Pier between authorities and floating casinos?  It’s a saga that went on for years and somehow we haven’t seen a movie based on these events yet(?).  Tony Stralla’s name appears on these walls a couple of times.  Before he went on to create the Stardust Casino on the Vegas strip, he was a prohibition-era bootlegger and casino operator in the soutland.

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This location also ties in beautifully with the afore-mentioned book, “A Bright and Guilty Place,” as pretty much every event covered in the book also appears on these walls, as well as personalities like Dave Clark (an LA City prosecutor who got his hands dirty and bloody more than once) and Burton Fitts.
LA’s DA office is about to move to another building, so this exhibit will not be here forever, so whether or not you have jury duty, this is a public building, so make sure you make time soon to go up and walk these halls.
Another must-do in this area is check out the observation deck on the LA City Hall building located just across the street from the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, named after the first female lawyer on the west coast.
 photo dd5f032c-321b-439a-8a36-385a14e11d60_zpsni4d9tzn.jpgJury duty or not, this location offers some of the best views of downtown LA and is a must visit.  Sadly, the view towards the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory is frequently obscured by smog and other larger buildings in the area block some other ideal sites, but it’s still well worth the visit.  West Hollywood, the Brewery artists lofts and, much closer Broadway and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  This is specifically a way to handle jury duty here in downtown LA, but when it comes down to it, no matter where you are, you can find an interesting way to entertain yourself.  Turn it into an opportunity.  How often do you have 90 minutes to kill away from home?  We’re always in a rush nowadays and you can use this time to your personal benefit.  The fact that you’re also pridefully doing your duty as a US citizen…. also a nice perk.

Bugsy Siegel: An LA (Mafia) Story Part 3 of 3

by Connor Bright and Scott Markus

Join us one last 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.

After a quick lunch break, the LA Hauntings crew jumped back in the truck and headed the short distance to Benjamin Siegel’s home. The Beverly Hills home was built as a swanky stronghold for the mobster to run his operation and host parties. Totally obscured by bushes, it is impossible to see much of the mansion from the street, just the way Siegel would have wanted it. The home is rumored to have a hidden armory, large liquor storage, and an escape tunnel from the master bedroom to the basement. When the police came to Siegel’s hideout to arrest him for the murder of Harry Greenberg, it was said that they found the mobster cowering in the attic. After Ben set his sights on Las Vegas and the Flamingo, he sold his fortress to help with the financing of the hotel casino, and moved in with his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.

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I’ll admit disappointment at not being able to get a view of Siegel’s home, but that disappointment dissipated upon seeing Virginia Hill’s beautiful Tuscan-esque castle of a home! It was at this location on June 20, 1947 that Benjamin Siegel met his end. The bulletproof doors that he had installed at the house did not protect him from the shots fired through the window while he sat talking to his associate Allen Smiley. Although, officially, the murder of Siegel remains unsolved, it’s commonly agreed that Lucky Luciano ordered the hit out of anger with Ben over his handling of the construction on the Flamingo (he refused again and again to hand over expense reports detailing the work). Luciano’s orders were likely carried out by one of Jack Dragna’s men from the driveway next door.

The three bullets fired into the house and into the mobster left a lasting impression on the house. The blood cleaned up, the house sold and resold, but later owners still report feeling panicked in the living room. They occasionally see an apparition of a man attempting to run for cover, perhaps Benjamin Siegel remembering how he met his end and trying to avoid it.

Bugsy Siegel LA Hauntings grave photo siegelbenjamingrave_zps5cffe8f4.jpgOur final stop on our “half-tank tour,” with our gas light blinking, was the same final stop that Siegel had – Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel lies in the far back corner on the right hand side of the Beth Olman mausoleum. The epitaph on his grave simply reads, “From the Family.” Siegel is said to have told one of the contractors building the Flamingo, who was worried about working with the mob, “Don’t worry.  We only kill our own.”

Standing by his crypt I wondered if Ben ever had any idea that his own (Mafia) family would kill him. (As one last parting fact the contractor that Siegel was talking to was Del, the head contractor of the now famous Del Webb developer).

Bugsy Siegel LA Hauntings virginia hill photo VirginiaHill_zps2fe32ebc.jpgBenjamin “Bugsy” Siegel lived and died larger than life.  In truth, he was a perfect match with Virginia Hill, who was certainly no babe in the woods.  Hill entered the mob life during 1933’s Chicago World’s Fair.  The Alabama native quickly became a friendly acquaintance of many higher up members of the (then) Costello crime family, even being romantically linked to boss Joe Adonis.  After Siegel’s death, Hill did comply and testify at the famous  Kefauver hearings.  In 1954 she would flee to Europe to escape income tax evasion charges, only to eventually take her own life with an overdose of sleeping pills in 1966 at the age of 49.  The small town girl, initially emerging from Alabama, certainly lived a life few could imagine and even in death, she is shrouded in mystery.  Did she really extort millions from the NY Mafia?  Most think so, but we are far from certain.  And why did she take her own life?  Many speculate that she continued to scam American and even Mexican crime rings from a distance.  We, personally, would love to track down the site of Virginia’s demise (in Austria) and perhaps this will become another instance where a paranormal investigation and EVP session just may help solve an American mystery.


Bugsy Siegel: An LA (Mafia) Story Part 2 of 3

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.

Bugsy Siegel, Virginia Hill Harry Greenberg Castillo de Lago locations photo CastilloDeLago_zpsb5111564.jpgWe 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.

Bugsy Siegel LA Hauntings photo Harry-Nig-Rosen-Benjamin-Bugsy-Siegel-Harry-Teitelbaum-Louis-Lepke-Buchalter-Harry-Big-Greenie-Greenberg-Louis-Shadows-Kravi_zpsb3129a5b.jpg

(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.

Bugsy Siegel, Virginia Hill Harry Greenberg Castillo de Lago locations photo GreenbergAssassinationSite_zps24b6ba17.jpgShots 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!

Bugsy Siegel, Virginia Hill Harry Greenberg Castillo de Lago locations photo HarryGreenbergDeathLocation_zps7e71d153.jpgOn 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


Bugsy Siegel: An LA (Mafia) Story Part 1

By Connor Bright

 photo Joe_Ardizzone_zpsebe5e2ec.jpgLos Angeles mafia began to put down it’s roots in the early 1900s.  Like the rest of the country, the mob found its strongest period as a result of the 18th amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the 1920s. This opened the door for mafia-run bootleg liquor distribution. During these early days the LA mob had its first boss, Joseph “Iron Man” Ardizzone (pictured, left), the only LA crime boss to have the “honor” of meeting his end at the hands of his own men. It was in the 1940s and 1950s, however, that the Los Angeles mafia was at it’s strongest, under the powerful Jack Dragna, followed by more public east cost transplants Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen.

Bugsy Siegel LA Hauntings photo bugsy-siegel-style_zpsa6548a54.jpgBenjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was born into a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn, and decided at a young age that he would rise above that poverty by any means necessary. Siegel made a name for himself in New York running “Murder, Incorporated,” a hit-for-hire business with friend Meyer Lansky and bootlegging during prohibition.

After prohibition was brought to an end, Siegel set his sights on gambling operations. He was sent to LA by Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1937 on behalf of the National Syndicate, an origination of crime families from NY, Chicago, and New Jersey. Luciano is known as the father of the American mob. He was the mastermind who split New York into its Five Families.

It was also Luciano who advised Jack Dragna, who was the standing mafia boss in LA, that it working with Siegel would be in his “best interest”. Right away Siegel proved Luciano’s words to be true by “talking” all of the local gambling bookies into paying a tribute to Dragna for operating on his turf, adding to Dragna’s considerable wealth.

With the reluctant help of Dragna, Siegel was able to set up a horse racing wire service, known as Trans-America. He also helped the Syndicate set up a drug trade between Mexico and California. In addition, Siegel made money by extorting large film production companies, helping unions organize strikes and then forcing the studios to pay him to get unions working again.

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Always the scammer and skeemer, Siegel would borrow money from celebrities he was close to, knowing that they would never ask the mobster for it back (some estimate taking in $400,000 in these type of “loans” in one year!) Of course, Benjamin had to pay a small tribute to Dragna for working in his territory.

Early Flamingo Hotel Bugsy photo EarlyFlamingoHotel_zps3ea59ca3.jpgDuring Siegel’s stay in the city of angels, he set his sights on the sleepy frontier town of Las Vegas, helping fund (with lots of money from the NY mafia) the first big casino on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, the Flamingo Hotel. The Flamingo was named after Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, who had red hair and long legs that earned her the nickname “flamingo” form the usually fuming crime lord. Unfortunately for “Bugsy”, Virginia might not have been as trustworthy as he believed her to be.  Money started going missing and proper expensise reports were never shared with the Syndicate.  People suspect that Hill was skimming money from the project. The vastly over-budget Flamingo hotel and casino was failing, the New York crime bosses became furious. Three months after the Flamingo’s second opening, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel wad shot and killed at the home of Virginia Hill.