Sweet Old Uncle Willie

They said he had the coldest eyes, but I never really saw him much. Willie worked at night and slept during the day. He owned the Flamingo with Davie Berman and Meyer Lansky. This, of course, was after Bugsy was killed.

Willie and Millie Alderman moved in two doors down from our house on Park Paseo when I was about 12 years old, back in 1951. I babysat their son, Billy, and played with their nieces, Carol and Betty, each summer when they came to visit. I babysat Susie Berman, too, Davie’s daughter.

We would go swimming at the Flamingo pool, and sometimes Millie would take us to see a floor show. It was always last minute, but we had the best seat in the house.

One day, Carol said Auntie Mil was acting weird ever since the magazine came out. I think it was Look, but I can’t quite remember. Carol wondered why Millie had hidden this particular issue, because they always read it together. Curiosity got the better of me, so I piped up and said, “Let’s go down to the drugstore and look at it.”

It sounded like a good idea at the time, so we walked to the drugstore on Fifth Street, just two blocks north of Sill’s Drive-In Theatre. We didn’t have money to buy the magazine, so we just read it off the rack.

Lo and behold, there was this article about mobsters in Las Vegas. And there was Willie Alderman. We stood in awe as we read that his nickname was Icepick Willie because he sidled up to the bar and stabbed his victims in the ear with an icepick and then walked away before they keeled over.

Carol exclaimed, “Sweet old Uncle Willie! No, that can’t be right. Uncle Willie could never do anything like that!”

When Millie found out what we did, she wasn’t a happy camper, but what could she do? I’m just amazed that I was still allowed to play with the girls. My parents were surprised, but no one really talked about the article. Even though his past was laid bare in the magazine, Willie continued to live and work in Las Vegas like nothing ever happened. He left that violent chapter of his life behind when he moved to the desert from Minneapolis.

You have to understand that in the ’40s and ’50s, Las Vegas was a haven for mobsters. The easiest jobs back then were sheriff and chief of police, because the mob kept the town clean. Unlike back East, mobsters in Vegas could go out in the light of day and live like regular citizens. Years later, however, the law finally caught up with Willie. The IRS got him on tax evasion and he went to prison. He was let out right before he died, and my husband and I saw him a couple of times at the Fremont Hotel coffee shop when we went for cheesecake. He always sat in a big corner booth by himself. It’s funny that people nowadays say they don’t really know their neighbors. Back then, you really didn’t know who lived next door.

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