CRIME: Murder in Beverly Hills

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Benjamin ("Bugsy") Siegel was a hood with class. His home outside Beverly Hills was a tourist showpiece. He dined with Barbara Hutton, went yachting with Countess Dorothy di Frasso.

Bugsy was born 42 years ago in New York's dingy Lower East Side. He got his start as a night watchman for a gang of beer runners. Petulant as a small boy he went "bughouse" when crossed, but he was cunning, and he earned the respect of New York City's top crooks. When he hooked up with Meyer Lansky, New York ranked him as one of the "Big Six." He beat raps for rape, carrying concealed weapons, possessing narcotics, and murder. In 1933, Murder, Inc. was branching out. Bugsy, a member, set up western headquarters in Hollywood.

Businessman. Bugsy went right to work. He moved in on the gambling at Redondo Beach, took a cut of the profits at the Agua Caliente race track, muscled in on the numbers racket, cut himself a slice of the offshore gambling fleet and the Culver City dog track.

In 1939, Big Greeny Greenberg, a former associate of Bugsy, was found dead. Police arrested Bugsy. In jail, Bugsy lived fine, arranged for meals of steak and pheasant, and had liquor served in his cell to entertain his women visitors. And things took care of themselves. Two State's witnesses suddenly died: the case against Bugsy died with them.

The war years were good to him. He cornered the $500,000-a-day California bookie business, set up a "milk run" smuggling Mexican heroin into California. In 1946 he opened the swanky $6,000,000 Flamingo Club in Las Vegas. He made the acquaintance of sultry, dark-haired Virginia Hill, 30, who was famed for parties that dazzled even Hollywood. The story was that thrice-married Virginia had a Brooklyn patron, a gang overlord who paid her handsomely to stay out of New York. Bugsy moved his shoes and suits over to Virginia's house.

But lately things had begun to go sour. The Flamingo lost money. From New York headquarters, the boys arrived to talk to Bugsy. A couple of hoods were cut down in the old '20s gangland style. Competition was increasing. The underworld was migrating eagerly into Southern California.

One day last week Bugsy returned to Beverly Hills from Las Vegas. He went to Virginia's house with his sidekick, Al Smiley. Virginia wasn't there; she had gone to Paris. Bugsy settled onto the sofa and glanced at the next morning's papers.

Outside, someone pushed a .30 caliber carbine through a rose trellis, drew a careful bead, put two shots into Bugsy's head, two into his body. A shot that went wild lodged in an oil painting of a nude woman, holding a wine glass.