Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bugsy Siegel

A California First

If Bugsy was in town, murder couldnt be far behind.

While Ben cavorted with the stars, Lepke Buchalter, Bugsys former boss in the Murder, Inc. operation, had become Tom Deweys latest target. With Kid Twist Reles singing in the D.A.s office, Lepke had been forced underground and was waging a war of extermination in an effort to pare down Deweys witness list. One of the Syndicate gangsters who had lammed at the same time was Harry Schacter, a.k.a. Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg.

Big Greenie first headed up to Montreal, but started to run low on funds. He wrote to his friends in Brooklyn, and in a thinly veiled threat, asked them to send him some cash.

Allie "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum
"I hope you guys arent forgetting about me," he wrote, intimating that he had information Dewey would find useful. "You better not." In sending that letter, Big Greenie signed his own death warrant. From where he was hiding in Coney Island, Lepke, through his boss pro tempore, Mendy Weiss, ordered Harry "taken care of."

"We all liked Big Greenie," said Doc Stacher. "But this was disloyalty and Allie "Tick Tock" Tannenbaum was told to bump him off."

Before "Tick-Tock", the Murder, Inc. gunsel assigned to the hit, could get up to Canada, Big Greenie realized the silence that resulted after his letter probably meant he was on Lepkes list. Harry fled to Detroit, where his old friends in the Purple Gang met him.

The Purples, led by Abe Bernstein, gave Harry a warm welcome. The hospitality was designed to keep Greenberg off-balance until Allie could get to the Motor City from New York. But as Burton Turkus, the Brooklyn D.A. who would later send Lepke to the chair, said, "Harry was no doorknob in the matter of brains." Greenberg saw through Bernsteins ruse and fled as far west as he could go straight into the arms of Bugsy Siegel.

The long arm of Murder, Inc. reached out and tapped Bugsy, alerting him to Greenbergs presence in Los Angeles and telling him to help Allie make the hit.

"Its a contract," Mendy told Ben meaning failure wasnt an option. "But were sending you help."

Siegel was pleased that Lepke wanted him to take the job. To Bugsy, it meant that he was the boss in California, and that his operation was on the Syndicates A-list. Bugsy enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, Whitey Krakow, and a West Coast fight promoter named Frankie Carbo. Tick-Tock showed up from the East Coast and completed the crew, bringing weapons supplied by Longy Zwillman. Sholem Bernstein, a loner who did contract work for the various bosses around the country, happened to pay a visit to Bugsy about the same time. Sholems specialties included murder and car theft, and he was told to clip a car. Bernstein, who was on vacation at the time and had just dropped by to share a drink with his fellow New Yorker, reluctantly agreed.

By this time, Ben was too important to the Syndicate to get involved in a rubout. But killing for Bugsy was entertainment and he insisted in being part of the contract. His friends told him in no uncertain terms that this was a mistake, but he wouldnt listen.

"We all begged Bugsy to keep out of the shooting," Doc recalled years later. "He was too big a man by this time to become personally involved. But Bugsy wouldnt listen. He said Greenberg was a menace to all of us and if the cops grabbed him he could tell the whole story of our outfit back to the 1920s."

Bugsy found out that Big Greenie was living at 1094 W. Vista Del Mar in L.A. and in tried and true Murder, Inc. form, he set about stalking the lamster to determine the best way to make the hit.

Bad vibes surrounded this hit from the beginning. Bugsy wasnt supposed to be involved and Sholem didnt want to be, and the two began arguing from the start. Steal a car and put it in the parking lot down the street from the office, Ben told the car thief. Bernstein, who had stolen nearly a hundred cars for similar jobs across the country, disagreed. Usually, the cars were stolen and dropped in an out-of-the-way place like a rented garage. Leaving the car in the open was a serious breach of his code. But Sholem knew better than to argue with Bugsy and did what he was told. In short order, the owner of the car reported it stolen and the cops quickly recovered it.

This time, Sholem politely suggested to Ben that a different tack be tried. True-to-form, Bugsy exploded.

"Who the hell are you to tell me how to do a job!" he shouted. "Out here, it goes my way. And dont you forget it!"

The hell with him, Sholem said to himself. "If Bugsy wants it done his way, he can do it himself." The freelancer got into his car and headed east.

Sholems desertion was a serious violation of Syndicate ethics. Bugsy was forced to find someone else to heist a car, setting the hit back several days.

Meanwhile, Carbo and Whitey reported that Big Greenie was a creature of habit and the hit could be done at any time. Each evening, Greenberg went out for a drive, picked up the paper and returned to his apartment. On November 22, when he went out, the gunmen were waiting for him. As Big Greenie returned with his paper, Tick-Tock emerged from the shadows and pumped several slugs into his old friend. Harry Greenberg has the unlucky distinction of being Murder, Inc.s first California rubout.



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