Tag Archives: Mafia

The Mineola Resort and the Dead of Winter Paranormal Conference

woodstockoperahouseAt the end of January I was honored to be invited to take part in Chicago Haunting’s 6th annual Dead of Winter event.  The weekend-long paranormal & psychic conference was held in the northern rural town of Harvard, Illinois, a stone’s throw from the Wisconsin border and from the iconic Woodstock square, home of the haunted Woodstock Opera House (featured in the book “Voices from the Chicago Grave” and pictured at right) and the backdrop for the classic comedy “Groundhog Day.”

The festivities kicked off with an evening tour of some of the more historic and haunted sites around northern Illinois, which I was invited to co-host along with author Ursula Bielski and archeologist Dan Melone.

(Pictures, clockwise from top, left: Scott Markus speaking at the Dead of Winter Event, Dan Melone & Ursula Bielski speaking during the tour, Melone and Allison Jornlin of Milwaukee Ghosts attempting a psychic experiment, Markus with Wendy Lynn Staats of the “See You on the Other Side” podcast).

Highlights from the tour have to include going to the Mineola Resort and the Stickney House (which we covered in our first newsletter, viewable here).  It’s always fun to take people to haunted place to be able to tell the history and legends of a place while on site.  It’s even more important to take people to places like this when they are endangered.

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There is perhaps no historic location in the US more endangered than the Minneola.  The building, constructed in 1884 is the largest surviving wood frame structure in Illinois.  While the site is constantly associated with Al Capone as he visited the site on numerous occasions in the ‘20s, it was already an uproarious location decades earlier, around the turn of the century.

As Chicago was trying to clean up the vice-riddled levee district, Fox Lake became the lawless frontier.  Nearly all of the resorts were stocked with slot machines and you just know there was little to no enforcement of prohibition laws.  In fact, the last of the slot machines didn’t leave the building until a raid in 1952.  According to a Chicago Tribune article (cited here), the Mineola was the “most vicious resort” in this burg of depravity.  One can only imagine the stories and characters surrounding the long past of this site.

MineolaHotel3.jpgCan you imagine the residual energy left behind from a place like this?  What phantom sounds and echoes through time are continuing to clutter up the massive structure?

1930 saw the Fox Lake massacre unfold at Manning’s Hotel, likely a retaliatory attack after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre that resulted in five mobsters shot and three dead.  Interestingly enough both Al Capone and his rival, Bugs Moran, had homes on Bluff Lake, a mere seven miles from the Mineola.

There are legends of a ghost boy seen at the Mineola, reported by staff.  However, possible activity throughout the building has been largely unobserved.  Over the years more and more of the building became off limits as demand waned.  The 100 hotel rooms have been closed off to the public since 1963.  After 50 years of neglect, the elements took their toll. The domed ballroom collapsed in the ‘80s.  By 2012 the restaurant/bar and banquet hall was the only corner of the building still in operation when the building was abruptly condemned.

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(Images like the one above are pulled from a drone shoot I conducted in 2015.  I will be posting the full video shortly.)

A 2013 survey of the building showed the the core structure was still strong and therefore salvageable.  However, each passing storm inches this structure closer to obscurity.  There is an organization in place that’s trying to save the site, which is on the National Register of Historic places.  To lend your support and offer to get involved, check out their Facebook here.

As is the case with most visits to the site, we were quickly approached by police officers.  While we weren’t trespassing (we were walking around the building, staying on the road, as opposed to walking on the porch or attempting to enter the building), we were told to kindly be on our way and there was no further incident. Be advised, if you are to visit this site, do so respectfully and get ready to have someone checking in on you in short order.  If you’re not doing anything wrong, you won’t have anything to hide.  If you are thinking of breaking in, you will be stopped.

mineolahotel6The building itself if condemned after all, meaning it’s unsafe to enter.  Of course, damage to the building itself is also a real concern as we all hold out hope that this structure will live long enough for there to be a chance for a comeback with a new, well-funded owner.

Additional recommended reading, including a couple pictures of the interior can be found here at the NW Herald Website.


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.

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(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.


Photos: LA & Hollywood Ghost Tour at night!

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We recently conducted a private ghost tour of LA and Hollywood. During our escapades, these night time photos were taken. The above picture was the result of an impatient photographer (me) who set the shutter to be open far longer than the camera could be held motionless for. However, in all the eerie-ness that is the Knickerbocker Hotel, from love-lost-suicides to Houdini seances, this is a perfect representation of one of the most epically and historically haunted buildings in Hollywood.

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If the Pico House looks imposing in this picture, it should. This area witnessed the tragedies of the Chinese massacre and currently holds a violent and physically active spirit.

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In the heart of Hollywood stands a building that represents Hollywood’s heart. After all, this is where a young Marilyn Monroe did her first photoshoot. Since then, she went all over the world, becoming one of the most iconic actors of all time. However, it is here that she returned. People can still catch a glimpse of her in her personal mirror, now on display for all to see.

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There appears to be a storm gathering over the Jim Henson studios, but the biggest storm was a storm of creativity that happened here after Charlie Chaplin built this lot in 1917. His most well-loved films were shot here including “The Kid,” “City Lights” and “The Great Dictator.” Any place that has housed so much creative energy for 100+ years is bound to house some spirits and this place delivers.

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Hollywood is a town built on passion and dreams and long shots. Unfortunately, that means that it’s also a town built on shattered dreams. One dream died in this lobby when Sam Warner, one of the famed Warner Brothers, collapsed. He died shortly thereafter due to a cerebral hemorrhage that stemmed from an untreated sinus infection. What made the tragedy even more extreme was that his death happened the day before the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” which was the first ever talkie and also cemented his company as a major Hollywood Player

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The Formosa Cafe, which was originally just this train car, holds countless Mafia secrets over the years. Since it’s located across the street from a studio, the clientele was and still is, largely famous actors. Who are the shadow people that now call this location home? Victims who fell on the wrong side of the mob or some of the many people who loved this place dearly in life?

Check out the reservations tab to book your ghost tour today!  You will see all of the sites shown here and dozens more!