People have encouraged Wendy Mazaros to tell her story for years. And for good reason. There’s something about the runaway-turned-mob wife that captures the imagination. She’s been the subject of media attention for decades—from ’70s-era newspaper articles to an upcoming spot on the Discovery Channel’s I Married a Mobster to an appearance in a video installation in the new Mob Museum. But there’s a big difference between telling your story and having it told.
With Vegas Rag Doll: A True Story of Terror and Survival as the Wife of a Mob Hitman (Stephens Press, $25), Mazaros and her co-writer, local journalist Joe Schoenmann, have at last told the tale straight from the source. So far, the book has been a success, reaching its fifth printing since its October release. Nevertheless, the writing process turned out to be more difficult than Mazaros had imagined.
The book begins with a Las Vegas family in the late 1960s. The city Mazaros portrays is captivating. We get glimpses of her tying her horse up at Caesars Palace and of racing horses with her friend down the Strip while spectators bet on the victor. “The town back then was filled with Western themes, and flashy guys and cars, cowboys and mobsters,” she recalls.
Mazaros ran away from home in 1970 at age 15. She then spent some time living lavishly in the Binion’s Horseshoe Club with Teddy Binion, son of the club owner, Benny Binion. Over the course of the book, the enchantment of the casino life is replaced with something much darker as Binion forces her to sleep with high-rollers and eventually passes her off to mob hitman Tom Hanley.
Despite a 39-year age difference, Mazaros eventually married Hanley, becoming, as the book describes it, a “silent witness.” In addition to him being suspected of about 20 murders, Mazaros believes that her husband participated in the killing of both President John F. Kennedy and Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The mob life came to a head when Mazaros was arrested for the 1977 murder of Culinary Union head Al Bramlet. Those charges were dropped, but she was then briefly held for conspiracy for the murder of Bramlet, a crime that sent Hanley to jail, where he died a year later.
Mazaros wrote Vegas Rag Doll to help runaways. Not only did she dedicate the book to runaway children, but she has also been a foster parent to a runaway child. “My doors are always open to any child in need,” says Mazaros, who donates to Nevada Diabetes Camp for Kids and National Runaway Month. “If I had enough money, I would be the old woman in the shoe. I would be down on Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, picking up all the kids in need.”
Perhaps it was the glamorous book cover depicting a beautiful woman and a silhouette of a gun, but Mazaros feels she didn’t reach her goal of helping runaways. “There wasn’t enough in the book to scare them,” Mazaros says. “But I was trying to show them what happens if you run away from home. It doesn’t solve your problems. It can put you in the ‘circle of terror.’ My life would have been a lot different if I had not run away from home… Nightlife was glamorous, exciting and kind of romantic, but then I was thrown into the circle of terror, and it was in the deepest, darkest places in Las Vegas, and I couldn’t escape.”
When Mazaros read a rough draft of Vegas Rag Doll, she broke down when she reached the scene of her being sent to Texas to work at a brothel. “I just started crying, and I couldn’t stop,” Mazaros says. “I have more pain than anyone can ever imagine.” That’s when she realized she needed to seek professional help. Mazaros made an appointment with a psychologist, whom she still sees weekly. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Stockholm syndrome (a psychological phenomenon in which the person in a hostage situation feels sympathy for their captor). “These sessions really help me,” Mazaros says. “Some hidden memory will resurface, and I can talk about it with my psychologist.”
In response to the return of her suppressed memories, Mazaros says, “I wish I never would have [written the book].” But since she did, she is moving toward some sort of resolution. Mazaros is determined to finish getting her complete story out there. She feels Vegas Rag Doll is a good starting point, but that there’s much more to be said.
“This is how I intend to heal myself. I’ll dump all of these other memories into another book, and be done with it,” Mazaros says. “My psychologist says it doesn’t work that way. And I do worry. What will this next book do to me? What other memories will come out? I guess I’ll be a patient for a while.”