Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

Life Without Siegel

Virginia Hill, publicity photo
Virginia Hill, publicity
For years, Bugsy Siegels presence in Los Angeles served as a firewall between Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen. But Ben wasnt going to be around much longer, and when he was gone, Dragna had no trouble finding the courage to feud openly with Mickey. When Ben headed to Nevada with Virginia Hill and a couple million of his mob friends dollars, Mickey stayed in southern California to oversee the Syndicates operations there.

Vegas and I disagreed, so I had to push myself to go there, Cohen wrote. But I had an understanding with the Cleveland people that being out this way, I would make myself available from time to time in Las Vegas for pieces of work.

The day before Siegels 1947 execution, he met with Mickey to discuss the situation in the West. The Flamingos opening had already been a disaster and the casino was limping along woefully, although it was beginning to turn a profit as the law of large numbers caught up with the players and the casino edge began to take hold. Still, Mickey knew that Ben suspected his time was at hand. He asked about the armaments the operation had in Los Angeles and what shooters loyal to him were on hand.

Theres no doubt that Benny felt there was some kind of come-off going to take place, Cohen said. I guess he wanted to be prepared for it, but he wasnt prepared soon enough.

Ben "Bugsy" Siegel's
Before Ben had a chance to set up a defense, he was shot to death as he sat in a Southern California bungalow. The long-range sniper was so accurate, his shot blew one of Ben's eyes clear across the room. No one was ever arrested for the hit, although Mickey had his suspicions of who ordered it and who fired the shot. Because he wanted to stay alive even after retiring from the rackets, Mickey mentions no names in his autobiography, but he suggests that the hit was done without pay as a favor for the men who requested it.

Immediately after the hit, it was business as usual. Moe Sedway and Doc Stacher took over the Flamingo hours after Ben was killed and Mickey received his own orders from the Syndicate.

"I took over from Benny right away on instructions from the people back east," he said. "Naturally, I missed Benny, but to be honest with you, his getting knocked off was not a bad break for me. Pretty soon I was running everything out here."

As the Syndicate man on the West Coast, Mickey began meeting with the movers and shakers of Hollywood and the top politicians of Los Angeles. He did favors for Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Studios and for Frank Sinatra, who was hot for Ava Gardner, but was being beaten out by Cohen gunman Johnny Stompanato. Mickey developed lifelong friendships with men like Sammy Davis Jr., and stepped in to defend Davis when Cohn wanted Frank Costello to have the entertainer whacked for dating Kim Novak. Another relationship, which was to have ramifications much later in Mickey's life was his friendship with William Randolph Hearst, who ordered his Los Angeles Times editors to stop referring to Cohen as a "hoodlum" and to start calling him a "gambler."

But none of the Hollywood types or even the police commission in his pocket could help Mickey when Jack Dragna declared war.


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