Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bugsy Siegel: A Love Story

A good story well told.
From Los Angeles Magazine, September 29, 2014:

On June 20, 1947, gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was slain in Beverly Hills, his body riddled with bullets. One family claims to know who did it. Is one of the nation’s most famous cold cases heating up?
This is not your Ozzie and Harriet family, needless to say,” Robbie Sedway tells me one afternoon in May. We are sitting together in the dining room of his Pacific Palisades condo. In front of him is a cardboard box, and he is riffling through its contents: photos of made men, murderers convicted and otherwise, even a bona fide movie star. For Robbie, this is what passes for family memorabilia. Adjusting his glasses, he pulls out a posed portrait of his mother, Bee. Once she was a gangster’s wife. She married Jewish mobster Moe Sedway when she was 17 and he was 41, and soon she became the confidant of Sedway’s old friend and business partner, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Robbie, a 71-year-old realtor, hands me a sheaf of yellowed newspaper clippings about his dad, Moe (“Czar of Vegas,” reads one headline). A treasured business card is embossed with Moe’s name and a glossy red bird. “The Flamingo,” it says. “Vice-president.” In the 1930s and ’40s, Bee and Moe lived a glamorous L.A. life. They had a huge Beverly Hills mansion with maids upstairs and down, a Cadillac custom painted to match Bee’s copper hair, a 5-carat diamond that hung on a chain around Bee’s neck. Now Robbie’s parents and their fortune are long gone, and he is the keeper of the artifacts they left behind. His second wife, Renee, joins us at the table as he pulls out a taped two-hour interview that his mother granted to documentary filmmakers in 1993. Most of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor, but there’s good stuff there, Robbie says. Next he offers me a ragged Xerox copy of a 79-page typewritten book proposal, which his mother called Bugsy’s Little Lunatic. The book was not written; the proposal never went to market.

In 2007, Robert Glen Sedway was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he beat. It’s been dormant, but suddenly it’s back. His build is still solid, and he has most of his thick silver hair, but he has begun moving more slowly and wipes his eyes often with a tissue. The time is right, he’s decided, to tell me the story he’s heard again and again but that has never been repeated outside his family. There is no one left to tell him no. Not his father, whose heart failed in 1952 while on a cross-country flight to Miami when he was just 57. Not his mother, who died in a Corona rest home in 1999 at the age of 81. Not Robbie’s only sibling, Dick, a sometime heroin user with multiple sclerosis who died in 2002, when he was 65.

“I’m at a point in my life where my health is not good,” says Robbie, shrugging when I ask him, Why break your silence now? “Everyone’s been wondering for 67 years. I mean, why not?”
That’s about the moment when the front door of the condo pops open, swinging wide. Robbie’s wife is startled and gets up from the table. After 20 seconds, the door shuts again, seemingly of its own accord, and Renee goes to see if there’s anyone outside. There’s not. Renee turns to her husband. “Your mother was here,” she whispers to him. “Bee just entered the house.”

Everyone knows that the longer a case remains unsolved, the harder it is to crack. That’s why most of us raise an eyebrow whenever someone steps up decades after the fact and announces that they can identify the Zodiac Killer, say, or take you to the exact spot in the Bermuda Triangle where Amelia Earhart’s plane is rusting away. Today Robbie is that someone. He says he knows who killed Bugsy Siegel. He says he can close the Beverly Hills Police Department’s most famous open case—a murder that, except for perhaps the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, is America’s greatest unsolved Mob mystery. Contrary to speculation, he says, Siegel wasn’t killed in a dispute over money. He was killed for love. “It’s a love story,” Robbie says. And his mother, Bee, was at the center of it all.

More than 50 years ago, Robbie says Bee told him the identity of Siegel’s killer. Several weeks ago he promised to tell me. Since then, I’ve been striving to temper my excitement with skepticism. So when Robbie’s wife insists that 15 years after Bee died, she remains a ghostly presence in their house, I try not to roll my eyes. Renee and Robbie may believe that Bee is as domineering in death as she was in life, but I’m not so sure. Still, I have to admit: I feel as if I’ve been chasing phantoms.

Returning to Renee and Robbie’s condo a few weeks later, I tell them that I’ve stumbled across a photo of Bee, taken backstage at the Paradise Cabaret in New York in the mid 1930s. I found it during that most mundane of reportorial exercises (a Google search) after I set out to envision the world that the teenage Bee inhabited when she was a vaudeville dancer. I didn’t think I’d find Bee herself—just images of the Paradise, where she performed two shows a night. But then in an uncaptioned photo there she was, bright-eyed and bare shouldered, a grinning sprite of a 17-year-old girl.....MUCH MORE