In a big copper cadillac that matched the hue of her hair, Bee Sedway zipped from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Moe, her husband, had summoned her in March 1947. His underworld partner and longtime pal, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, had just met with the boys, minus Moe. Alas, Bugsy had come to abhor Moe, for his constant scrutiny of the Flamingo’s rising construction costs, and planned to rectify his dilemma.
Bee had met both Siegel and Moe Sedway in 1935 when she was a 17-year-old dancer at the Paradise Cabaret in New York. The azure-blue eyes of the nearly 6-foot Siegel did captivate her, but the 5-foot-2 Sedway captured Bee’s heart with his manners and decorum. He was 41. She soon married the man she called Moey. Bugsy and his family, and the Sedways, would settle in Beverly Hills. Three months after Moey had prompted Bee to Las Vegas, Bugsy Siegel would be dead, eliminated by an assassin’s bullets.
After nearly 70 years of speculation, the homicide remains a mystery, a cold and open case to local authorities. However, revelations in a pair of comprehensive magazine articles—some of whose color is included above—might satiate a curious public. It’s the story of the violent demise of a deranged dreamer whose belief in Las Vegas convinced him, in the early 1940s, to procure 800 acres of dirt and sand behind the land on which his fantasy would become reality.
When Bugsy told Mafia brethren that he intended to feed Sedway to the garbage disposal in the Flamingo kitchen, the others became spooked. If that’s how Bugsy would treat such a lifetime friend, how could they ever trust him?
Bugsy endures in the arid ethos he helped create. Downtown, Siegel’s 1941 restaurant has been a draw in El Cortez since August. Its $12 Bugsy Siegel Burger features grilled onions, tomato marmalade, Dijon mustard and homemade pickles. His profile is etched into a windowpane behind the check-in counter. Three blocks away, inside the staunch, three-story former federal building that has housed the Mob Museum since 2011, two images of Bugsy above the original Flamingo decorate the back of a black T-shirt that sells for $24.99. His sunglasses, dark tints inside opaque-amber frames that were found in actor George Raft’s home, lie in a third-floor encasement. A 2 1/2-hour Vegas Mob Tour includes Siegel.
Behind the Flamingo, a stroll past periwinkles on either side of a pathway leads to an eye-high bronze plaque of Bugsy secured to an 8-foot monument of various-size sandstone, surrounded by a circular bed of white Knockout roses. Limp periwinkles and roses that appear sickly, or have just plain expired, would agitate the green thumb whose flash temper was legend. Countess Dorothy DiFrasso discovered that in Italy in 1939, when she convinced Bugsy not to knock off Goebbels and Göring.
Siegel dressed nattily, and he basked in limelight. A boyhood New York friendship with Raft would fuel an infatuation with Hollywood. Siegel even sought, and received, a screen test. He might have delighted in actor Warren Beatty’s furious portrayal of him—Beatty received tips from Bee Sedway, which helped him garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor—in director Barry Levinson’s 1991 film, Bugsy.
Flamingo expenses would sail from $1 million to north of $6 million. It was not finished when it opened to mediocre reviews, and rain, on December 26, 1946. A flock of flamingos perished in the desert climate, causing Bugsy to cancel an order for 100. He closed the club for two months to complete it for a proper launch. Those expenditures further antagonized associates.
If Los Angeles magazine’s ink is bona fide, however, love—not money—pulled the trigger on Siegel. (The Flamingo did clear $250,000 in May 1947.) In its October 2014 issue, writer Amy Wallace’s impressive two-part feature might have revealed Bugsy Siegel’s killer. She mined formidable detail from Robbie Sedway, Bee’s son, who provided Wallace with access to his late mother’s till-then private 79-page screenplay and her 1993 interview for a documentary that was never made, before throat cancer claimed Robbie in July 2014.
Bee Sedway had become cozy with Mathew “Moose” Pandza, a genial 6-foot-3, 250-pound truck driver, crane operator and experienced hunter who capitalized on Moey’s many trips to Las Vegas. Moose’s devotion to Bee became palpable to Moey. Moose would accept Moey’s invitation to live with them in harmonious triangulation; Bee was Moey’s when he was in town, she was Moose’s when Moey traveled. Moreover, Moey made Moose promise that if anything ever happened to him, Moose would marry Bee. Moose agreed. He became a kind of bodyguard to Moey and rarely left his side, wrote Wallace.
When Bugsy told Mafia brethren, minus Moey, that he intended to feed Sedway to the garbage disposal in the Flamingo kitchen, the others became spooked; if that’s how Bugsy would treat such a lifetime friend, how could they ever trust him?
They informed Moey, who duly summoned Bee to Las Vegas. He guided her on a drive into the desert. They took a walk; Moey had to be certain no rabbit-eared Bugsy loyalists were lurking. According to Wallace, Moey informed Bee of Siegel’s portent. Bee said Moose would take care of it. He’d do that for me? Moey said. “No,” said Bee, “for me.” At a subsequent meeting, minus Bugsy, mob financier Meyer Lansky, vexed that Bugsy would threaten Moey, OK’ed an outsourced strike on Siegel.
Thus, Moose borrowed a friend’s military .30-caliber carbine rifle. He stalked Bugsy on June 20, 1947, a Friday. Bugsy got a haircut and manicure. He dined on trout at Jack’s at the Beach, with three others, on Ocean Park Pier in Santa Monica, the Los Angeles magazine reported. Moose, Wallace wrote, picked up Bugsy’s trail at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the prey bought a Times and a Chapstick. Bugsy drove to 810 Linden Avenue, the residence of his mistress, actress Virginia Hill, who was in Europe. A patrol car cruised by; Moose knew another would not pass for 30 minutes. He tiptoed into a flower bed, resting the business end of the rifle on a sill. Window drapes were pulled back. He sighted Bugsy. It was 10:46, perhaps 10:47 p.m. Bugsy’s buddy Allen Smiley sat at the other end of the couch. Moose emptied the nine-bullet clip in two heartbeats, hitting Siegel twice in the face and twice in his chest. An eyeball popped out. He was 41. A marble Bacchus was another casualty.
Moose strolled to his car and drove to Santa Monica. He tossed the butt of the rifle onto the roof of an office building, the barrel into the ocean. Within 20 minutes after the murder, Moey and associate David “Davie the Jew” Berman sauntered into the Flamingo to take control. “Czar of Vegas,” a newspaper headline labeled Moey, who died in 1952. Moose did marry Bee. He died in 1984, Bee in 1999.
Wallace tapped the Beverly Hills Police Department to gauge what it knew—or cared to know—about Moose Pandza. Ultimately, a higher-up had a minion tell Wallace, “It’s in the best interest of the city of Beverly Hills not to speak to you.” That was more than 21 months ago. On June 27, Wallace, in an email, informed me that she has not heard another word from the department. My phone messages to Lt. Lincoln Hoshino, who handles BHPD media requests, went unheeded. While Wallace’s work is the definition of diligence, a seasoned Las Vegas lawyer told me, as suspected, that it’s also the definition of hearsay: “out-of-court statement[s] by anyone being offered to prove the matter stated.”
Siegel’s ongoing Las Vegas celebrity is perplexing, since the Flamingo was not even his idea. That was Billy Wilkerson, proprietor of Sunset Boulevard nightclubs who published The Hollywood Reporter and envisaged an opulent, Monte Carlo-like resort in the dusty cow town. Wilkerson wisely broke ground south of El Rancho Vegas and the Last Frontier, and on the east side of Highway 91; visitors driving from California would not only see the Flamingo first, but an easy right turn would almost pull them into the property. The Strip was born. When Wilkerson got in too deep, Bugsy snatched the Flamingo reins, which neither lasted long nor ended well.
He did predict the city would have a million residents. Upon his death, his land was deeded to daughters Millicent and Barbara, and an associate, who peered out at that wasteland and recommended selling it. Each received $8,000. In a rare 2009 interview for a Clark County Television documentary, Millicent Siegel Rosen chided herself over that foolish transaction; today, a veteran commercial real estate broker valued those 800 acres at $8 billion.
Millicent declined to participate in the documentary. She has insisted that her loving father would deplore the gaudy, corporate spectacle that Las Vegas has become. Outside the Flamingo, an Elvis impersonator begs to differ. He says the mobster would marvel at the fake Eiffel Tower, ersatz Egyptian pyramid and faux New York City skyline. When pressed, though, he defers to a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. She’s the Bugsy expert, he says. But she pauses. “I only saw the movie.”