Jimmy Utley: LA’s Utterly Underrated Criminal

James F. “Jimmy” Utley,” alias James Baxter/James Bradley, known “Iowa Jimmy” and “Jimmy the Eel” was anther one of those mystery men like Nola Hahn Slim Gordon found knocking around Los Angeles after Repeal and embraced without question by Hollywood. 

Miscatine Journal 8/7/1922

Born in Connecticut on December 4, 1902, by 1921 he was living in rural Atalissa, Iowa where he manufactured illegal liquor (Iowa had enacted dry laws in 1916, ahead of national Prohibition). He was arrested at his farm in August 1922 after Sheriff’s deputies confiscated a still, found at the railroad depot, addressed to Utley, sent to him by a Chicago manufacturer. The Muscatine County grand jury investigated. and on September 10, 1922, he indicted for manufacture of intoxicating liquor. But on November 24, 1922, the charges against him were mysteriously dismissed.

His wife Mabel divorced him in February, 1923. Married just two years, the union had resulted in one child. On June 8, 1923, he married Lillian Alborg in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Utley was working in Omaha, Nebraska for an “import” company. Mostly what he was importing was liquor to and from Chicago. A daughter, Audrey, was born in Chicago in December 1923. However, this second marriage did not last long, either. The couple divorced by 1930. 

As of 1932, Utley was living in Los Angeles. In 1934 he was running a club in Hollywood, Chateau Madrid, which opened August 31, 1934. Film gossip columnists touted the star-studded gala event. No one asked “Who is Jimmy Utley?”

Hollywood Citizen News 8/31/1934

Ad for the opening of Utley’s Chateau Madrid at 8400 De Longpre Ave. Hollywood Citizen-News 8/30/1934

LA Illustrated Daily News 9/1/1934

Club Madrid in any case didn’t last long; it was raided by the Sheriff’s vice squad in October for asserted violations of the gambling, liquor and zoning laws.

9131 sunset blvd

9131 Sunset Boulevard c. 1935. UCLA photo.

LA Times 2/5/1936

LA Times 2/8/1936

In February 1936, he was running another club, this time right on the Sunset Strip at 9131 Sunset Boulevard. Previously known as the Hangover and The Centaur, the location had an already checkered history of liquor ordinance abuses and Utley was denied a liquor license by the State Board of Equalization (SBE). He continued to operate it anyway and was subsequently raided and arrested by the SBE for selling alcohol without a license.

LA Times 1/25/1937

LA Daily News 1/25/1937

On January 23, 1937, Utley was arrested after delivering a packet of opium to an apartment house at 849 S. Normandie Avenue. He’d walked into a trap. The police had been tipped off that he was coming. Utley was arrested for violation of the State Narcotics Act as well as suspicion of robbery. Curiously, he was also found in possession of a police badge that could be altered to display the name of various major cities, as well as blank arrest warrants and bail bond applications. Even more curiously, Utley soon walked free. No charges were brought. 

On June 29, 1937 he was in trouble again. Another club he operated, at 8230 Santa Monica Boulevard, was raided on orders of George Contreras, then head of the Sheriff’s vice squad. Utley would do a brief stint in the County jail for bookmaking. 

It was around this time that Bugsy Siegel, with assistance from lackies Mickey Cohen and Jack Dragna, was attempting to take over the Los Angeles vice rackets.

The remnants of Charles Crawford’s old “Spring Street gang:” Farmer Page, Guy McAfee, Bob Gans and others, controlled LA’s bookmaking, prostitution and illegal table gambling with many clubs operating on the Sunset Strip, most notably the Clover Club at 8477 Sunset.

Jack Dragna had muscled in on the Spring Street gang’s bookmaking operations shortly after Prohibition ended. Then Bugsy Siegel had come to town and muscled in on Dragna’s rackets, forging an uneasy alliance with (now subservient) Dragna

At the same time cafeteria owner Clifford Clinton, as a member of the 1937 county grand jury, was hearing a lot of criminal complaints about various vice operations. Realizing vice could not operate on that kind of scale without official protection, he tried to get his fellow grand jurists to take action but they had no interest. He formed a citizen group to investigate independently, allying his effort with that previously launched by some religious leaders, including Dr. A.M. Wilkinson (See my post The Angels Take A Bath). Clinton relied on underworld informants to gather data on the city’s vice activity. One of them was Jimmy Utley. Another was Bob Coyne, owner of a nightclub property at 8383 Sunset. Since 1933, Coyne had been complaining to a group of religious leaders and other concerned citizens about vice operating in West Hollywood (then unincorporated) under the protection of the sheriff’s office. George Contreras in turn accused Coyne of fronting for an underworld group that merely wanted to use the sheriff’s office to close up his competition and had “duped” the religious leaders into supporting his effort. That may well have been true! It is also likely that both Coyne and Utley were allied with Siegel in the effort to take over from Page and McAfee, and used Clinton’s sincere efforts for their own purposes. But the old Spring Streeters knew this game. They’d invented it.

In September 1937, the County grand jury did, at last, launch an investigation. Not of vice racketeers but of religious leaders accused of shaking down the vice racketeers! Dr. Wilkinson was accused of accepting $4400 from Guy McAfee. On September 10, 1937, Coyne was indicted by the grand jury on extortion and bribery charges, accused of having shaken down two Huntington Park café owners for $500 each and trying to bribe Santa Monica’s Mayor Gillette and Police Chief Dice into letting him run a bookmaking operation there.

The day before the indictment was handed down, Utley, still serving time in County on the bookmaking charges, swore out an affidavit stating that one of the café owners visited him in the jail and told him that D.A. Buron Fitts’ office was trying to frame Coyne. Then on November 17, 1937- the eve of his trial- Coyne suddenly pleaded guilty. He was not eligible for parole due to having served a prison term in 1896 for the “malicious use of dynamite,” even though he received a pardon for that conviction when another man confessed to the crime.

But if the Spring Street gang thought they had succeeded in silencing Coyne, they were mistaken.

The 1937 county grand jury concluded its service at the end of the year. Clinton’s report on his vice investigations, it seemed, would never see the light of day.

January 14, 1938 changed that. Former detective Harry Raymond was nearly killed in a car bomb, soon traced to the LAPD and the Mayor’s office.

On September 16, 1938, Superior Court Judge Fletcher Bowron defeated Mayor Shaw in a recall election that Clinton had championed.

Many a mayor before him had promised reform. Shaw himself had run on a reform platform. Up until now it had been a joke. Bowron, however, meant it. He was going to clean up the city. Bowron was unaware that his reforms were helping Siegel get rid of the competition. 

The Spring Streeters made a big show of leaving town, but didn’t go quietly. LA Times reporter, Ben Ezra Kendall, formerly a crime reporter from Chicago, got himself hired by the Bowron administration as a “public relations” rep, although his salary was covered by Clifford Clinton.

In March, 1939, the Bowron administration began purging the LAPD of 23 high ranking officers suspected of being on the Spring Streeters’ payroll. As later revealed, Mayor Bowron had secretly (or so he thought) sought the help of ex-bootlegger Tony Cornero in identifying the supposed bad apples within the department. Cornero supplied a list. An investigator for Bowron, Alexander Jamie (whose uncle had been a lawyer for Chicago’s “Secret Six”) followed up and verified Cornero’s allegations.

But, it seemed the Mayor’s office had a mole, who revealed Bowron’s meeting with Cornero to the press in an attempt to make the mayor look corrupt. Kendall was the mole. Having discovered the traitor in his midst, Bowron fired Kendall.

On April 10, 1939, Jimmy Utley was arrested for extortion, accused of shaking down people who’d been arrested at Hollywood night clubs by presenting himself as a “fixer.”

LA Times 4/11/1939

Two days later, D.A. Fitts brought additional counts against Utley, dredging up his old, January 23, 1937, narcotics and robbery arrest, telling reporters that 3 policemen who had a hand in helping secure Utley’s release back then might be questioned. Of course, Fitts had been D.A. in January 1937. It’s unclear why he didn’t pursue the charges himself at the time. Now, Fitts himself was under fire from Clinton for his lack of action in going after the underworld (Fitts had, for example, never followed up on any leads from Clinton’s vice investigations) and would in fact be unseated the following year by the Clinton-backed candidate John Dockweiler

On April 25, 1939 Ben Ezra Kendall was arrested on bribery charges. He used the opportunity to try to smear both Bowron and Clinton, claiming they were beholden to eastern gambling interests.

One of the 23 purged LAPD officers was called as a witness for Kendall, and he too was keen to smear the mayor and his allies. The prosecution noted that the officer had been the one who secured James’ Utley’s swift release following his January 23, 1937 arrest for narcotics peddling and robbery. The officer admitted that he had, but insisted it was only for the robbery charge, and further asserted that Utley had been an informant to the robbery squad since 1936 and as such had helped the department on a number of cases. He claimed Clinton tried to bribe him to leave Utley alone, and it was his “belief” that Utley was using his connections to Clinton to protect 1520 vice resorts in Hollywood for which Utley received a percentage of the payoff. His characterization of Utley as a police informant was later found to be “inaccurate,” a contender for Understatement of the Year.

Utley was nevertheless branded as a rat. Mickey Cohen, long after the fact, would brag in his “as told by” memoir of having delivered a beating to Utley on Vine Street for being a stoolie. 

In July 1939, Utley went on trial for the April 1939 extortion charges and was acquitted by the jury on August 2, 1939. More good luck followed on September 11, 1939 when the narcotics charges against him were quashed in LA Superior Court.

LA Daily News 10/18/1939

Things turned sour for Jimmy on September 20, 1939. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on the same narcotics peddling charges. His lawyer, Bringham Rose (who also represented Clifford Clinton) called the case a frame up engineered by Fitts as payback for Utley having investigated Fitts on Clinton’s behalf. Which it probably was. Nevertheless,this time, the Utley luck didn’t hold and he was convicted. It wasn’t too bleak, though. Utley remained at large, free on $5000 bail, while the case was appealed.

Utley in fact would serve about 2 years. LA Daily News 10/21/1939

Meanwhile, the County grand jury was again investigating Bob Coyne.

As noted earlier, the old Spring Street gang did not go quietly, nor had they removed themselves from Los Angeles as they would have the public believe. For, while Mayor Bowron had been effective in cleaning up the city, his jurisdiction did not extend to the unincorporated county areas where gambling, prostitution and other vice still flourished, notably on the Sunset Strip. Siegel was still trying to take over those interests.

In February 1940, the County Board of Supervisors voted to regulate pinball machines, marble games and devices as gambling apparatus. Bob Coyne appeared before the board on February 27 and accused George Contreras of having a controlling interest in some 2000 slot machines operating within county territory and was prepared to go to the grand jury with his evidence. Contreras hotly denied the charge and smeared Coyne as an ex-con, submitting his prison record to the Board (failing to note that he’d been pardoned after someone else confessed to the crime he’d been convicted for). Utley (“one-time aide of Clifford Clinton”) was called by the grand jury as a witness to tell what he might know of gambling in the Sunset Strip area but refused to testify on the grounds that it might harm his appeal in the narcotics case.

Utley’s appeal was denied anyway. He immediately filed a petition for his case to be reviewed by the US Supreme Court, but this too was denied, on January 6, 1941. With all other avenues closed to him, Utley then made a plea for probation in lieu of jail time. Clifford Clinton wrote to the judge on Utley’s behalf that he believed Utley was the victim of political persecution by D.A. Fitts. The probation request was denied, however, and finally later that month he would at long last begin serving his 2-year sentence at Terminal Island 

After World War II, Utley settled once again in the city of LA and was aligned with Dragna, who operated Siegel’s race wire service for him. In March 1946, Utley was arrested on the charge of failure to register as an ex-convict- a requirement dating back to 1933. The charges were later dropped. He also ran the lucrative bingo concession for Tony Cornero’s floating casino, The Lux, which opened on August 6, 1946. The ship’s operation was shut down two nights later, Utley and Cornero arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate state gaming laws. 

The aftermath of Utley’s beating at Lucey’s. San Pedro News-Pilot 8/19/1946

Utley was released on $2000 bond. A few days later he had the misfortune to run into Mickey Cohen again. Cohen, like Dragna, worked for Siegel, who was then busy in Las Vegas trying to do an end-run around federal restrictions on non-essential construction in order to complete his Flamingo resort hotel-casino. On the afternoon of August 16, Utley entered the popular Lucey’s restaurant at 5444 Melrose Avenue near Paramount Studios. Cohen followed on his heels and severely beat Utley as another low-level hood, Joe Sica, held a gun on the horrified celebrity crowd. Then the pair escaped on foot. Utley suffered a fractured scull and other injuries but in the code of the underworld, refused to identify his attacker, telling police he wouldn’t press charges even if they caught a suspect. “I’m no stooge. I’m no copper,” Utley said.

Authorities speculated that the beating may have been administered by an “out of town” gang trying to muscle in on the Lux’s profits expected “when and if” it resumed operation (The Lux did reopen during Labor Day weekend, continuing through mid-September). Or it might be related to a bookie war, like the murder of Pauly Gibbons in May of that year. 

Hollywood Citizen-News 4/19/1947

Less than a year later, on April 18, 1947, Utley suffered another beating at his home, 7143 Hollywood Boulevard, and supposedly had a gun pulled on him. This time, a suspect was arrested: Herbert Robertson of 1907 W. Sixth Street.” But they had to let him go when Utley again refused to sign a complaint.

LA Daily News 11/20/1947

LA Daily News 11/20/1947

Utley was again shot at in November 1947 and again refused to name names. By now, Siegel was gone- murdered on June 20, 1947. Dragna and Cohen were supposedly fighting it out for crime boss of LA. In July 1949, Utley was questioned in the alleged attempt on Cohen’s life outside Sherry’s restaurant at 9030 Sunset on the Sunset Strip.

In November 1949, there was a bogus effort to recall Mayor Bowron. Utley was involved. It failed in a landslide.

In February 1950, Utley was questioned in the bombing of Cohen’s Brentwood home but denied all knowledge.

Jimmy the Eel. LA Mirror 2/8/1950

LA Times 2/14/1950

In April 1950, the US Senate Crime Investigative Committee (aka the Kefauver hearings) named Utley as one of several persons trying to establish a bookmaking syndicate among Nevada, Eastern gangsters, and local gamblers. Jack Dragna was another. John “Curley” Robinson (coin-op games vendor affiliated with Bob Gans) was another.

On November 18, 1950, Utley testified before the Kefauver Committee in Los Angeles. Other witness had previously testified that the attempted recall effort against Mayor Bowron in 1949 was backed by underworld gambling interests. Asked about this, Utley said he became interested in the recall after the LAPD revoked his bingo license, having classed such games as gambling operations, but later “lost interest” in the recall bid. Utley, who had indeed ran a bingo parlor in Venice, insisted it was perfectly legal. He claimed he was currently in the “jewelry business.” His name had came up in Cohen’s earlier testimony to the Commission about the 1946 beating of Utley at Lucey’s restaurant. Utley told the panel he did not know who beat him, nor did any of his friends who witnessed the beating. But did note that shortly after the incident, Cohen called him to ask for a “loan” of $3000, which Utley claimed he refused.

In January 1951, it was revealed that Utley, along with Jack Dragna, was one of the “Big Five” gamblers, who had planned the 1949 recall of Mayor Bowron. The 5 had been secretly recorded discussing the effort and how Los Angeles would be organized into territories, Chicago style, after Bowron was gone.

Hollywood Citizen News 1/30/1951

In March 1951, he was arrested for running a dice and poker game in rural Imperial County. He was fined $200 and let go.

LA Daily News 3/10/1951

In August 1951, Utley was questioned in the “Two Tonys” double murder in Hollywood. He huffed to the press that he was a “usual suspect,” blamed for every underworld crime in town. 

Legal troubles continued to follow Utley. On February 22, 1953 he was hit with a tax lien. On December 23, 1954 he was arrested on a burglary charge, accused of stealing jewelry, but released the next day. In April 1955 his name cropped up in yet another gambling inquiry.

The Valley Times 9/1/1956

Then on August 31, 1956, Utley was arrested in Long Beach, accused of running a $500,000 a year abortion ring along with “Dr.” Leonard Maxwell Arons, who was practicing without a medical license. Abortions, known in the family press at the time as “illegal operations” had been outlawed in California since it became a state in 1850. It was, in fact, the first law enacted by the new State (all male) legislature.

It was an extremely profitable enterprise for the underworld.

This time the charges would stick. Utley and Arons were convicted on December 18, 1956. On January 26, 1957 Utley was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. Exit Jimmy.

Long Beach Press Telegram 12/18/1956

Long Beach Press Telegram 1/28/1957

It got worse for Utley. On June 6, 1960 a judge ruled that he would have to serve 6 months in federal prison after his state time was up for failure to report thousands of dollars in income made in 1956 off his illegal abortion operation. 

Long Beach Press Telegram 3/31/1960

In a way, Utley would beat the system one last time. He never served that federal term. He died in Folsom Prison of natural causes on October 19, 1962. He was buried in Potter’s Field. No one attended his funeral.

Long Beach Press Telegram 10/31/1962



His death certificate erroneously records his birthplace as Colorado. His 1923 marriage certificate and responses to the US Census of 1940 indicate Connecticut. These sources also list his parents names as John Utley and Marion nee Andrews.

Mabel Utley filed for divorce in Atalissa, Iowa in February 1923. She said they’d been married on February 28, 1921 and had one child. His marriage certificate to Lillian that June in Council Bluffs, Iowa, lists this as his “first” marriage, which was false.

Mickey Cohen states in his “as told by” memoir that Utley was a henchman of Jack Dragna.

Utley served part of his term in LA County jail and at Terminal Island prison, in LA Harbor near San Pedro. The prison was taken over by the Navy in February 1942 following the US entry into World War II.

It is probable that Utley and Coyne knew each other before this. A nightclub on Coyne’s property at 8383 Sunset was at times affiliated with Eugene Jarvis, who also operated out of 9131 Sunset, where Utley had managed a club in 1936. Both addresses operated for a time as “Club U-Gene.”


7101 Sunset: McDonnell’s Drive-In / Tiny Naylor’s


Melvin Andrew “Rusty” McDonnell was, along with Harry and Charles Carpenter, a pioneer of what would become a multi-million dollar eat-in-your-car cuisine industry in Los Angeles.

Born in North Carolina in 1875, McDonnell joined the Army while still in his teens. He served in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.

After leaving the military, he worked in and operated restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri for several years in the early 1910s before relocating to Los Angeles in 1916, where he managed a restaurant, Crawford’d Famous Chicken Fry Steaks, at 311 W. Sixth Street.

Located at 311 W. 6th St., Crawford’s “Famous” Chicken Fry Steaks didn’t last long. LA Record 1918

After the US entry into World War I, he became proprietor of the restaurant at Camp Kearney in San Diego.

By 1921, he had returned to Los Angeles and opened an eatery at 440 W. Pico known as “McDonnell’s Ever-Eat.” By 1922, he had five outlets.

There were 5 McDonnell’s Ever-Eat locations by the end of 1922: 440 W. Pico, 405 W. 8th St., 1237 S. Main St., 603 S. Figueroa, and 207 E. 5th. The Tidings, 12/15/1922

At the end of 1926, two “Ever-Eats” locations had been added: 454 S. Hill St., and 711 S. Hill St.LA Times 12/31/1926

By 1930, McDonnell was expanding to drive-in cafes, featuring chickens raised on his own ranch. The idea was a success. Despite the Depression, McDonnell continued to expand his chain of restaurants, both sit-down eateries and drive-in cafes, throughout the 1930s.

McDonnell’s Ever Eat drive-in cafe at Figueroa & Santa Barbara, opened April 19, 1930. Southwest Wave, 4/18/1930

The early McDonnell’s Ever Eat drive-ins were modernistic masterpieces. This location was at La Brea Ave. & Beverly Blvd. California State Library photo.

McDonnell got a permit for the drive-in at 7701 Sunset Boulevard, at the northwest corner of Sunset and La Brea, in July 1936. The architect of record was H.S. Johnson.

Another view of the Sunset & La Brea McDonnell’s drive-in c. 1937. LAPL photo.

Night view of the Sunset & La Brea McDonnell’s drive-in. LAPL photo.

May 1938 ad for McDonnell’s restaurant chain. There were now 8 sit-down dining locations and 6 drive-ins, including Sunset & La Brea. “Everything from a sandwich to a complete meal served in your car” – a sentiment destined to appeal to Los Angeles. LA Times.

In 1948, another restaurateur, W. W. “Tiny” Naylor, took over about a dozen of McDonnell’s then-17 locations, including the 7101 Sunset drive-in.

William Warren Naylor was born in Keswick, Iowa in 1898. He continued to live in Iowa, working on the family farm, into the 1920s. By 1927, he was living in Merced, California, where in November he bought an existing cafe, Mack’s Coffee Cup, only to turn around and sell it a week later. As of January 1929, he was operating the Monte Carlo poolroom in Fresno. A year later, January 1930, he leased space at 1034 Broadway, Fresno, for a waffle and coffee shop. It opened February 15, 1930. The whole wheat waffles sold like hotcakes.

The first Tiny’s Waffle Shop, Fresno. Fresno Morning Republican 2/15/1930

At a time when many businesses were going under, Tiny’s thrived. Before the year was out, he’d opened a second Tony’s Waffle Shop in Reno. In addition to running his own shops, Tiny and his partner, Bruce Breckenridge, also sold franchises. Soon there were Tiny’s Waffle Shops in Sacramento, Modesto, Stockton, Marysville, Merced, Los Banos, Salinas, Bakersfield, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. A second Fresno outlet opened on Mariposa Street in 1936, as well as a motel on Highway 99. Cocktail lounges were added after Repeal.

Naylor opened a second Tiny’s Waffle Shop in Reno on December 13, 1930. Nevada State Journal 12/13/1930

Tiny brought in beer by airplane to his Fresno waffle shop right after it became legal to sell it. Though beer and waffles doesn’t seem like an ideal combination. Fresno Bee 4/6/1933

Tiny’s Bay Area locations: Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose. The ad claims that the first Tiny’s Waffle Shop was at 24 Turk Street in 1927. That address housed a Tait’s coffee shop as well as a notorious poolroom and gambling dive run by Frank Cator. SF Examiner 10/2/1937

Ad for Tiny’s Waffle Shops, 1939. “Chicken in the Rough” was a franchised restaurant chain that began in 1936. Fresno Bee 2/4/1939

Having relocated from the Central Valley to the Bay Area by 1940, after World War II, Naylor turned his focus to Southern California, where he was a familiar figure in horse racing circles.

Tiny Naylor, far left, with Geneivieve Woolf, actor Leo Carrillo, LA County Sheriff Gene Biscailuz in November 1949. Nayor donated the sale of a horse to help raise money for a George Woolf memorial. The famed jockey had been killed in an accident at Santa Anita race track in January 1946 while riding one of Naylor’s horses, Please Me. Naylor had since sold off his racing stable, citing heath reasons. LA Times 11/3/1949

In August 1948, Nayor opened the first of his namesake southern California restaurants at 1715  Cahuenga Boulevard.

Hollywood Citizen News 8/20/1948

In February 1950, Naylor got a permit to rebuild the former McDonnell’s at Sunset and La Brea. Architect Douglas Honnold would design the new, modern edifice.

The Tiny Naylor’s building replaced the old circular McDonnell’s drive-in building at Sunset & La Brea in 1950. LAPL photo

Tiny Naylor’s at Sunset & La Brea 1952. Julius Shulman photo


Hey, homely girls- don’t even bother applying! LA Times 3/25/1951

Ad for Tiny Naylor’s, 1955 The Sunset & La Brea location was one of 3. LA Mirror 6/14/1955

In addition to his namesake restaurants, Tiny Naylor also operated Biff’s eateries, named for his son. LA Mirror 6/14/1955

This spectacular Marvin Rand photo of the Sunset & La Brea Tiny Naylor’s is labeled 1949; however, permits to rebuild the round former McDonnell’s structure were not obtained until February 1950.

Melvin McDonnell died in December 1958 at age 83. Tiny Naylor died in August 1959. His namesake restaurant chain continued, however. The 7101 Sunset Boulevard location closed in early 1984 and the fixtures were sold at auction that March. The building was demolished in June 1984.

Thanks, I’d love to. 7101 was still doing the business, along with 16 other Tiny Naylor locations, in November 1982.  LA Times 11/14/1982.

Ad for the auction of fixtures at 7101 sunset. LA Times 3/4/1984



Top image: LAPL photo.

McDonnell’s name was often spelled with one “l”, except on the restaurants.

The first McDonnell’s restaurant at 440 W. Pico continued to operate as McDonnell’s until 1962 when the McDonnell Corp was declared bankrupt.

Bugsy: Fact v. Fiction in the 1991 Film

The film Bugsy, released in 1991, based on Dean Jennings’ 1967 book We Only Kill Each Other, depicts the life of Bugsy Siegel. The film looks beautiful and it’s always nice to see 1940s Los Angeles recreated, but like the source material itself, it is rather loose with the facts. No one expects a documentary, but if films use real historical figures and supposed real-life events, they really shouldn’t bend the truth. Better to just change the names and have it be fictional, as in the 1950 film noir 711 Ocean Drive.

The biggest deviations from the truth are in the timeline of events. Some characters are sort of melded with real-life persons and fictionalized. And the motive for the murder, presented as truth, is really only speculation. It’s a 1991 film but nevertheless, if anyone hasn’t seen it you are hearby warned that spoilers follow!

The film opens in Winter of what is apparently c. 1940-1941 with Siegel leaving the wife and kids behind while he makes a brief trip to Los Angeles to take over the gambling rackets of Jack Dragna.

As I wrote in my previous post, Bugsy Siegel in LA Pt. 1, Siegel had made at least two known trips to LA with Esta and family in the early 1930s. The California Crime Commission, formed by Governor Earl Warren in October 1947 as a result in part of the Siegel murder, would later state that he settled in LA with his family full time in 1937. 

Seeing Siegel off on the train are Charles Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Joey Adonis, etc. These are real persons. However, Luciano at this time was in New York state prison serving time for his 1936 conviction for compulsory prostiution. Harry Greenberg approaches Siegel to ask for more money, implying that he may “sing” if he doesn’t get it. In real life, “Big Greenie” was murdered in Hollywood in November 1939. This character seems to be a blend of Greenbaum and Abe Relles, another Murder Inc. hitman, who had turned informant. See my previous post on Greenberg.

The “boys” remind Bugsy that Dragna “has been running the California rackets for 20 years with no competition.” “Except for Mickey Cohen.”

Dragna had come to LA from New York in 1914 after being suspected in the murder of “chicken king” Baret Baff. He did time in California’s San Quentin prison for “Black Hand” style extortion and was extradited to New York in 1917 where he served time in prison for the Baff murder. He returned to LA in 1919 and worked for Italian crime boss Joe Ardizzone. He took over for Ardizzone after Ardizzone’s mysterious vanishing on October 15, 1931 and around 1933, according to LAPD records compiled for the Crime Commission, muscled in on the gambling rackets of LA’s non-Italian underworld boss Guy McAfee. In a similar fashion, McAfee took over the rackets of his former boss, Charles Crawford, who was murdered in his Sunset Boulevard office along with journalist Herbert Spencer in May 1931.

Cohen’s importance is likewise overstated. Mostly because information on Cohen comes from Cohen himself and biographers accept his version of events as fact. In reality, Cohen was Siegel’s hired muscle and bagman. The Crime Commission wrote in its third report of January 31, 1950 that the importance of Cohen was “minimal” during Siegel’s lifetime.

The US Senate Crime Committee later agreed. The committee chair Sen. Estes Kefauver opined that while Cohen was involved in a lot of matters, he was no “big shot” on a national scale and “pretty far down the line” even among West Coast racketeers. 

So Bugsy arrives in LA where he is picked up at Union Station by his actor pal George Raft.

Union Station opened in 1939, replacing several older railroad stations. Read my post on the earlier stations here

They drive to the studio (presumably Warner Brothers in Burbank) where George is filming the movie Manpower with Marlene Dietrich. Manpower, which also starred Edward G. Robinson, was a real movie, release in Los Angeles in July 1941. Siegel meets Virginia Hill on the set in 1991’s Bugsy. Hill does have a bit part in the film. She plays a hatcheck girl and is costumed in a black uniform, not a fancy gown like Annette Benning’s Virginia Hill wears in Bugsy.

Ad for the LA release of Manpower, July 18, 1941.

Raft and Dietrich in Manpower (1941).

The Manpower bar scene from Bugsy (1991).

Virginia Hill with Raft in Manpower (1941).

The chair-breaking scene from Manpower in Bugsy (1991).

Afterward, George is driving Siegel through Beverly Hills to his hotel when Siegel asks him to stop at the home of opera singer Lawrence Tibbett. Siegel hands Tibbett a pile of cash for the home and buys it on the spot. In reality, the Siegel family may have rented the Tibbett abode for a brief time. However, Tibbett was no longer its resident at the time. Born in 1896, he was also younger than his fictional counterpart.

Tibbett’s house that the Siegels rented was at 933 N. Rexford Drive. Strangely, it was next door to the residence of the late Charles Crawford, who had lived at 929 N. Rexford Drive. Tibbett and his first wife Grace bought 933 N. Rexford in October 1929 when Tibbett was making movies for MGM. The couple publicly separated in July 1931 and Lawrence Tibbett moved out.  

The house used in 1991’s Bugsy as Tibbett’s home is not 933 N. Rexford Drive. It is located in Pasadena. 

By October 1937, Siegel was building a large home for his family on Delfern Drive in exclusive Holmby Hills. It was completed in 1938 and occupied by the family until Ben and Esta Siegel separated in 1944. See my previous post, Bugsy Siegel In Los Angeles Pt. II.  

Lawrence Tibbett in 1943.

Bugsy makes Lawrence Tibbett an offer he can’t refuse in a fictional scene.

933 N. Rexford Dr. was designed by Marshall P. Wilkinson in 1924 for Graham L. Sterling. Lawrence Tibbett bought it in October 1929. LAT 10-5-1924.

Howdy neighbor! LA crime boss Charles Crawford lived next door to Lawrence and Grace Tibbett at 929 N. Rexford Drive. Crawford was murdered in May 1931 and Tibbett moved out of 933 in July of that year. LAT photo.

In the film, Siegel then meets with Jack Dragna at his home to discuss Siegel taking over his bookmaking operations. Accounts of Siegel’s takeover are sketchy and unreliable at best. However, it’s clear that in 1937 Siegel with Dragna’s grudging help was squeezing out the Guy McAfee/ Tutor Scherer/ Farmer Page/ Zeke Caress LA mob. The attempted and ultimately successful murder of Les Bruneman, a one-time henchman of Farmer Page’s in Page’s bootleg Trust days, is likely also related. At the same time, the citizen-led reform effort of CIVIC and cafeteria owner Clifford Clinton was underway. My previous post on that can be found here. By June 1939 McAfee et al had showily decamped for Las Vegas (though they retained underworld ties to LA) ostensibly due to new mayor Fletcher Bowron’s reform policies. While that may have been part of it, it was widely hinted at the time that they had been squeezed out by a new man in town: Siegel.

In Bugsy, Siegel is in with the Hollywood crowd, hanging out at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip, pursuing Virginia Hill and rubbing elbows with the American Italian countess by marriage, Dorothy di Frasso. Dorothy di Frasso was a real person. She and Siegel had made a strange and ill-fated sea voyage together in 1938. 

Ciro’s was opened by Billy Wilkerson at 8433 Sunset Boulevard on January 30, 1940. A society column about Siegel from the Los Angeles Examiner (a real paper at that time) is fictional. It reads “Gangster or Star? Rackets King in Social Swirl” and refers to Siegel as “the ever dapper Bugsy Siegel.” “I’m a sportsman,” Siegel is quoted as saying in the piece. The Examiner was ahead of other local papers in exposing sportsman Siegel as a New York racketeer. The Crime Commission later wrote a blistering admonishment of how easily the gangster was taken under Hollywood’s wing. 

One issue with the fictional timeline in the film: this article is dated January 4, 1945! Later in the film, Cohen reads an article dated 1944. 

Ciro’s, 8433 Sunset.

Ciro’s in Bugsy (1991).

Society column seen in Bugsy, a fictional Los Angeles Examiner piece dated 1-4-1945. Oops!

In the film, at Ciro’s, Siegel is seen talking to DA “James McWilde” who is up for relection. Siegel expresses a desire to contribute to the campaign and McWilde refers him to his aid to arrange a donation. LA had no DA McWilde. The DA from 1928 to 1940 was Buron Fitts. Fitts was finally defeated by John F. Dockweiler in November 1940. Siegel was in jail on murder charges at the time. He did make a donation to the campaign of Dockweiler, who would now be in charge of Siegel’s case. Dockweiler, however, was not corrupt and could not be bought. Really. When he learned of the donation, he returned it. The LA mob wanted to get rid of Dockweiler in the worst way. See my post on Mumsie McGonigle, here. Dockweiler, though a young man, died in office on January 31, 1943. Fred N. Howser, who much more to the underworld’s liking, was appointed to replace him on February 2, 1943.

In the film, Jack Dragna calls Siegel to report that Mickey Cohen had just held up Dragna’s Franklin Street bookie joint for $56,000. Siegel drives over there. The location he visits, pretty faithfully recreated here, is Vine Street, however, not Franklin.

Vine Street as seen in Bugsy (1991).

In this scene, Bugsy observes a “Back the Attack” war bond rally going on across the street from Dragna’s bookie joint. “Back the Attack” was the real slogan of the 1943 war bond drive, which kicked off in September of that year.

“Back the Attack” war bond rally in Bugsy (1991).

“Back the Attack” was the slogan of the 1943 war bond drive, which began September 24, 1943.

As for the robbery, Cohen described the incident. It’s his version of events. The way the film depicts him, as a near-equal to Siegel, is not accurate as noted above. In the bar meeting of Cohen and Siegel, Cohen mentions he dates stars like Ava Garder or Betty Grable. George Raft, whose fictional counterpart lets this remark pass without comment, dated Betty Grable in real life. In his “as told to” memoir, Cohen describes holding up a gambling joint run by the LA mob’s Eddie Nealis. Grable was present but as Cohen tells it, he didn’t recognize her. See my post about this robbery, here

Betty Grable and then-squeeze George Raft.

In Bugsy (1991), Bugsy and George meet Cohen at the Biltmore basement pool and fitness center.

In Bugsy (1991) Siegel negotiates a deal with Cohen in the Biltmore bar.

In the film, Virginia Hill, Siegel and Cohen go to Las Vegas. The depiction of Vegas as a sleepy berg with dirt streets and run-down casino is a far cry from reality. Wartime Las Vegas was booming. Siegel’s LA rivals, Guy McAfee, Tutor Scherer and Farmer Page, had established legitimate casinos downtown on Fremont Street by 1942. Siegel’s interest in Las Vegas was related to the race wire. Nevada had legalized off-track betting in 1941. Any Las Vegas casino that wanted to offer betting on horse races had to subscribe to the Siegel-controlled race wire. Moe Sedway (who has a fictional counterpart in Bugsy) fronted for Siegel in this venture. See my previous post on the race wire situation. 

Las Vegas as depicted in Bugsy (1991). Note the “Smith & Chandler Indian Traders” storefront.

The 100 block of Fremont Street, Las Vegas, c. 1943. Note the real Smith & Chandler Indian Traders storefront.

Fremont St. Las Vegas c. 1943

On the return trip to LA, Bugsy’s Siegel has a vision in the deserted desert of building an oasis- a resort hotel casino. Great idea! Only Tommy Hull thought of it first. He opened El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel on what later became the Las Vegas Strip, in April 1941. My previous post on El Rancho Vegas can be found here. The second hotel on the Strip was the Last Frontier, built on the site of a previous club owned by Guy McAfee. There were also numerous small motels, nightclubs and restaurants along this stretch of what was then Highway 91. 

Bugsy has an epiphany in Bugsy (1991).

As the film continues, Siegel and Cohen are seen at Union Station with Siegel departing for New York to “visit” Esta and ask for a divorce. Cohen is reading the LA Times, a headline story about “Un-lucky” Luciano and stoolie Harry Greenberg. “Greenie canery sings Charlie into his cage.” The date reads March 30, 1944.

In real life, Luciano had been in prison since 1936 (and Harry Greenberg had nothing to do with that). Harry Greenberg was killed in November 1939. Greenberg had been demanding money for his silence in the 1930s when New York’s “gangbuster” Thomas Dewey was prosecuting Murder, Inc. boss Louis (Lepke) Buchalter for labor racketteering, then went on the lam. Another “stoolie,” Abe Relles, who was in a position to convict both Siegel and Buchalter for Greenberg’s murder, had “fallen” out of a window in 1941. The Luciano character in Bugsy seems to be a meld of Luciano and Buchalter, though the time-frame still doesn’t work.

In real life, as noted earlier, Esta and the girls lived with Siegel in Beverly Hills.

Union Station in Bugsy (1991).

Fictional LAT Harry Greenberg headline dated March 30, 1944 from Bugsy (1991).

On returning to LA, he finds Virginia’s brother Chick visiting. Chick Hill was an actual person. Siegel puts Hill in charge of planning the Flamingo.

Drawing of the plan for The Flamingo in Bugsy (1991).

The role of former Ciro’s owner Billy Wilkerson in the Flamingo operation isn’t mentioned. Del Webb, the contractor depicted in the film, was a real person. The original name of the project was The Flamingo Club.

In this scene, Siegel is reading the LA Times newspaper about the murder of Italian dictator, Beinito Mussolini, which occurred on April 28, 1945. The headline and photo have been changed, but the paper shown in the film is the actual LA Times front page from April 30, 1945. The adjacent stories are actual articles published that day.

Siegel reads of Mussolini’s death in Bugsy (1991).

Close up of the Mussolini story in Bugsy (1991).

The actual front page of the LA Times 4-30-1945, reporting Mussolini’s death.

As the film continues, Harry Greenberg arrives at Siegel’s house in a taxi. Siegel takes him for a ride. In real life, as noted previously, Harry Greenberg was murdered in November 1939 while sitting in his car parked out in front of his house. He’s been hiding out from Siegel and the New York mob- he certainly wouldn’t seek out Siegel! His presence in Hollywood was inadvertantly exposed by the LA Times, when it ran a human-interest story about the chance meeting of Greenberg’s wife and her long-lost sister at the corner of Hollywood and Vine- conveniently listing Greenberg’s address in the piece. As Siegel is seen reading the paper so often in Bugsy, this would have been a fabulous and more true to life scene to recreate- though problematic since Bugsy’s Harry Greenberg is sort of a combo of both Harry Greenberg and Abe Relles and therefore could not be both the murder victim and witness who could link Siegel to said murder. 

This random article in the September 21, 1939 LA Times likely sealed Harry Greenberg’s fate.

The film’s Siegel goes back to New York to attend a “deportation party” for Charlie Luciano and while there he and Esta call it quits.

Thomas Dewey, who had successfully prosecuted Luciano in 1936, was elected governor of New York in 1943 and in 1945 commuted Luciano’s sentance, ostensibly in exchange for Luciano’s wartime behind the scenes assistance to the Allies. The film timeline is mixed up here. Mussolini’s death was in April 1945. Luciano was deported on February 10, 1946. His “bon voyage” party in New York coincides with Siegel and Esta agreeing to divorce as well as the Japanese surrender. The latter occurred August 14, 1945. The Siegels agreed to separate in June 1944 and it was at that time that Esta and the girls moved back to New York.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on Luciano’s deportation. 2-11-1946.

Back on the Coast, with the war over, contruction is underway on the Flamingo. In real life, constuction began, to some extent, in December 1945. But with building materials in short supply and a high priority for veterans’ housing, non-essential building was soon halted by the Civilian Production Administration (CPA), the successor to the War Production Board, created in October 1945. Read more about the CPA in my previous posts here and here. Siegel wrangled with the CPA and at one point constuction was halted while a hearing was held on the matter in San Francisco. Ultimately, the Flamingo was given the go-ahead to proceed.

The Flamingo under construction in Bugsy (1991).

Flamingo construction 1946.

In the film, Federal Marshals arrive at the construction site to arrest Siegel for the murder of Harry Greenberg. In reality, Siegel was charged in Big Greenie’s murder on August 16, 1940 at his Delfern Drive mansion, let go, and arrested again on October 10, 1941. 

In the film, the taxi driver who brought fictional Harry to Siegel’s house is a key witness and is spirited out of town (with help from Cohen and the corrupt DA) so he can’t testify. In reality there was no taxi driver. The key witness was Abe Relles, who “fell” out of his window, never to sing again. Another witness, Al Tannenbaum, testified to Siegel’s personal involvement in Greenberg’s murder- but as a con-conspirator, Tannenbaum’s testimony alone could not convict and Siegel was indeed let off “scot-free” as the movie depicts. That much was true. 

Also true was the special treatment Siegel received while in the County Jail awaiting trial. He had meals delivered from Ciro’s and the jail doctor, a pal he met at Countess di Frasso’s, Dr. Benjamin Blank, allowed Siegel out of jail for supposed medical reasons as many as 18 times. It’s unlikely Hill really joined him in his cell for dinner, but on one of his visits to the outside, he was spotted having lunch at Lindy’s on Wilshire Boulevard with actress Wendy Barrie. 

Los Angeles Examiner fictional headline announcing Siegel’s arrest in Bugsy (1991).

Siegel getting a meal from Ciro’s while in jail in Bugsy (1991).

Bugsy beats the wrap. Screen shot from Bugsy (1991).

Freed, it’s full steam ahead for the Flamingo, which Bugsy told reporters is opening Christmas Day. To raise cash, he sells his house and the contents. In fact, Siegel did put Delfern Drive on the market – in June 1944- after Esta moved back to New York. (Her divorce was granted in Reno in August 1946).

The filmmakers did a great job recreating 1946’s Flamingo casino building (the seperate hotel structure isn’t shown). The Flamingo vertical sign, however, capped by a neon Flamingo, is not the signage that existed in Siegel’s lifetime. It is actually the second sign, added circa 1948-1949. The original sign, shown below, was a pylon with neon on either side. The highway frontage sign also appears to be one that was added later c. 1948-1949.

Bugsy’s house is not a home in Bugsy (1991).

The Flamingo under construction in Bugsy (1991).

Signage for The Flamingo in Bugsy (1991). “Grand opening Christmas.”

Bugsy directs the Flamingo sign in Bugsy (1991)

The real club Flamingo on its opening day, December  1946.


The Flamingo in 1948. Postcard view. This version of the Flamingo sign was the one depicted in Bugsy.

The Flamingo in 1949.

Meanwhile, the film has Cohen warning Bugsy that Virginia has a Swiss bank account with $2 million in it. The exiled Luciano, still running the outfit from afar,  has gathered the “boys” in Cuba for a meeting at the Hotel Nacional to complain about Siegel’s cost overruns for the Flamingo. Lansky advocates giving him a chance to make good. Uh-oh.

Pasadena’s Castle Green stands in for Cuba’s Hotel Nacional in Bugsy (1991).

It’s the Flamingo’s opening night, December 25, 1946. It’s a bust. No patrons in sight. The celeb guests are no-shows, grounded by a terrible rain storm. Virginia is absent- having fought with Siegel after he confronted her about the $2 million. Siegel announces on the spot that the casino is shutting down temporarily.

The Flamingo on opening night, 12-25-1946 in Bugsy (1991).

An empty Flamingo on opening night in Bugsy (1991).

Flamingo neon in Bugsy (1991).

Ok. In real life, the Flamingo had a 3-day gala opening December 26, 27, and 28 1946. Virginia was there (as was Billy Wilkerson) with a different hair color and fabulous designer gown for each evening. It was well attended by locals (including rival Guy McAfee and his former starlet wife June Brewster who broke the bank) and some celebs. Critics wrote glowingly of the fabulous decor, comparing it to a Hollywood movie set. (Also the rainstorm that some celebs used as an excuse not to come was in Los Angeles). Financially it was a bust. The hotel portion of the resort was not yet open. The casino continued in business for a few weeks, then it shut down, reopening n March 1947.

Opening ad for The Flamingo in the LA papers, 12-25-1946.

As the movie winds to a close, Virginia and Siegel make up. She admits to skimming the $2 million and offers to give it back. Siegel tells her to hang on to it. He flies back to LA that very evening, Christmas night, for a meeting with the boys. Cohen, who was at the opening in Las Vegas, somehow beats him to LA, and drives him to Virginia’s house. While reading the newspaper, he is gunned down through the window by multiple assailants and collapses on Virginia’s floral couch.

As everyone knows, in real life, Siegel was killed on June 20, 1947. He was not alone. Pal Al Smiley was next to him on the couch and Chick Hill and his girlfriend (Virginia’s former secretary) were upstairs at the time. 

Bugsy senses something is up in Bugsy (1991).

Bugsy is fatally wounded in Bugsy (1991).

Bugsy in death from Life 7-7-1947.

Life’s 7-7-1947 coverage of Bugsy’s execution includes a photo of the Flamingo as the sign looked in Siegel’s lifetime. The real Countess di Frasso is shown in the lower left. Siegel is pictured with Raft in the upper middle image.

Siegel’s death indeed took place at Virginia Hill’s rented house, which was located at 810 N. Linden Drive. It’s not the house depicted in the film.

Virginia’s house in Bugsy (1991).

Virginia Hill’s rented house where Siegel was killed. LAPL photo.

In the film, Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum arrive at the Flamingo to announce they’re taking over and tell Virginia of Siegel’s death. They did arrive the same day as the murder and took over. However, Hill was Paris at the time of Siegel’s death. The film ends by telling us Virginia gave the $2 million back to Lansky and also informs us she died by suicide in Austria. Which she did- in 1966. There’s no evidence that she stole money or that the Flamingo finances was the motive for Siegel’s execution. The race wire is a more likely scenario, but a less romantic one.


Moe and Gus arrive at the Flamingo to take charge in Bugsy (1991). It’s still Christmas day (note the lights).


A select Siegel timeline 1936-1947


Jan 18 New head of the State Board of Equalization (SBE) recommends yanking the Clover Club’s license over gambling. Run by Farmer Page/Eddie Nealis at 8477 Sunset. Coincident is an ongoing scandal involving club owners accusing the SBE of supposedly accepting payoffs.

May Clover Club apparently closed having lost its liquor license; trial is held in the payoff case.

Jun 5 Clover Club’s license restored.

Jun 5 Charles Luciano convicted in New York on more than 30 counts of compulsory prostitution and is sent to state prison.


Feb 3 Clover Club raided by LA Sheriff’s vice squad led by George Contreras, arrests made for liquor violations.

Jul 19 George (Les) Bruneman, bookie and gambling club operator, shot but lives.

Jul 20 A combined team of law enforcement makes a huge sweep of bookies and gangsters in relation to the Bruneman shooting. CIVIC pushes for an independent vice inquiry led by grand jurist and cafeteria chain owner Clifford Clinton while Mayor Shaw denies that Los Angeles is “wide open.”

Aug 1 Grand jury inquiry into gambling seeks Eddie Nealis, Tutor Scherer, Guy McAfee, Johnny Roselli, Jack Dragna and others. To be quizzed about the Bruneman shooting as well.

Aug 4 SBE suspends the Clover Club’s liquor license over gambling activity.

Oct 10 LAT reports that “Ben Siegel” is building a home on Delfern Dr. in Holmby Hills. Indeed, Bugsy’s house at 250 Delfern is completed by 1938.

Oct 24 still-recovering gambler Les Bruneman gunned down at Topsy’s café.

Nov 15 “delicatessen operator” and bookmaker Hymie Miller, an ex-boxer, is shot at his home on Hollywood, 1644 N. Cahuenga.

Dec 12 Phil Selznick opens Club Versailles at 8588 Sunset. This is supposedly the club madam Lee Francis was planning to open; she was denied a permit at the last minute. Some speculation that a mobster took it over- possibly Bugsy. Still Versailles thru Feb 1939 at least.

Dec Clover Club has mysteriously reopened.


Feb Assembly Committee in Sacramento wants to know how the Clover Club came to get its license back, but unable to serve a subpoena on any owner or operator.

Mar Recall effort of Mayor Shaw begins; he blames “eastern vice interests” as the reason behind it.

May 5 Tony Cornero’s REX gambling ship opens off Santa Monica. Bugsy claims to be an investor

May 6 Wilkerson’s sale of Café Trocadero to Nola Hahn made public.

May 18 Nola Hahn of the Clover Club, reopens 8610 The Trocadero (supposedly a front for Farmer Page/Nealis).

Sep Bookie John Osborne claims he opened his bookie joint at Santa Monica Blvd & La Brea Ave. under protection of gambling boss Eddie Nealis. He says this is how it was up until the time he was raided November 1939.

Sep 21 Hollywood “sportsman,” Bugsy cruises on the Metha Nelson with Countess Dorothy di Frasso, Marino Bello (stepfather of the late Jean Harlow), county jail’s Dr. Blank and others.

Sep 26 Mayor Shaw ousted in a recall effort & Mayor Fletcher Bowron takes office.

Nov 11 Bugsy abandons the Metha Nelson trip and flies home.

Nov 16 Clover Club’s liquor license pulled (again) by SBE over gambling activity.

Nov 21 Billy Wilkerson’s Vendome at 6666 Sunset sold at auction.

Dec 28 Bookie Weldon “Duckie” Irvin found murdered in the 6000 block of Selma, Hollywood, believed to have been killed a couple days earlier. Suspected of selling “phony juice” (worthless police protection). A number of vice and robbery officers conducting the latest series of raids report that their prisoner seemed “genuinely surprised” at being arrested. Some claimed they were “paid up” for protection and were amazed when their places were raided. A well known Italian bookie arrested several days earlier was heard to remark “somebody is going to have to answer a lot of questions for me!”

Dec 29 8433 Sunset (future Ciro’s location) opens as the new Marcel Lamaze Restaurant.


Jan 10 Metha Nelson captain back home in LA charges Bugsy’s friend and erstwhile crewmember Harry “Champ” Segal with mutiny. grand jury declines to issue indictments. The matter drops

Jan 19 Feds raid Bugsy’s “palatial home” on Delfern in search of smuggled perfume. Find nothing.

Feb 6 Ruby Foo’s opens in the former Vendome space. Mickey Cohen later states it was over dinner at Ruby Foo’s that he made a deal with LAPD head of Vice to open a bookie joint.

Mar 5 Eddie Cantor gift shop at 1630 N. Vine, where Champ Segal’s La Grand Prix barber shop would be, is sold at auction.

Apr 8 Bugsy testifies in 1941 that he sailed for Naples this day and that he returned by June 6.

Jun 1 LA Times reports gamblers like Guy McAfee fleeing to Las Vegas as LA was becoming a “tight” town and county. Eddie Nealis of the Clover Club, “which had been closed for several months,” said to be in San Francisco; Famer Page said to be on a gambling ship.

Jun 6 Bugsy returns to US from Naples per 1941 testimony.

Aug 19 Bugsy testified in 1941 that he flew to NY this day.

Aug 20-24 Bugsy in New Jersey shore with Esta and kids.

Aug 25 Bugsy in New York per grand jury subpena.

Sep 16 Countess di Frasso travels home from Naples per passenger list.

Oct 7 Felix Young abruptly closes the Trocadero, which is thrown into involuntary bankrupsy.

Nov 13 Mickey Cohen, said to be manager of a bookie joint at 5536-1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., arrested along with Joe Sica and others on suspicion of burglary. Capt. Stanley Stone, LAPD led raid.

Nov 15 Cohen released, per FBI report.

November 15 Moses Anneburg gives up his Nationwide News Service race wire, which had been run by his associate James Ragen Sr.

Nov 20 Nationwide News Service comes into existence, owned by Arthur B. “Mickey” McBride, run by James Ragen, Jr., who’s father Ragan St. ran Continental.

Nov 22 Eastern gangster Big Greenie murdered in Hollywood. Stanley Stone was one of the LAPD detectives working “one angle of the case.” (By 1944 Stone works for the D.A.)

Nov 24 Bookie John Osborne claims his bookie joint at Santa Monica & La Brea avenues was raided and shut down.

Dec 29 Trocadero reopens. Ownership and management listed as John Steinberg.


Jan 30 Billy Wilkerson opens Ciro’s at 8433 Sunset.

Jan 17 Lee Francis arrested for the first time in 31 years at 8439 Sunset next door to Ciro’s. Dep Sheriff Charles Rittenhouse makes the bust.

Mar 24 Clover Club at 8477 is raided by sheriff.

Apr 22 Ann Forrester arrested, accused of pandering in huge “white slave” vice ring.

May 7 Atty Gen Warren issues sweeping indictment of all known bookie establishments, including M.H Cohn.

May 13 Trocadero and contents auctioned off.

May 23 Cohen arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and vagrancy per DN/FBI (hereafter FBI)

May 27 Cohen released from this charge on a writ of habeas corpus. Rebooked same day on different charges.

Jun 24 Cohen released; charges of May 27 dismissed per FBI

Aug 1 Benjamin “Whitey” Krakower murdered in NY.

Aug 16 Bugsy arrested at Delfern Dr. for 1939 murder of “Big Greenie.”

Oct 6 Cohen registers per the Selective Service Act as MICKEY MICHAEL COHEN.

Oct 15 Cohen marries Lavone Weaver.

Nov 5 John F. Dockweiler beats Buron Fitts for D.A.

Nov 8 Bugsy- ostensibly in jail- seen having lunch at Lindy’s on Wilshire Blvd. with actress Wendy Barrie. Raymond Chandler fictionalized this incident in The Little Sister.

Nov 8 Mickey Cohen (as “Micky Cohn”), Joe Sica and Al Smiley arrested on suspicion of burglary. Smiley had just been questioned and released in the Big Greenie case is mentioned. Stanley Stone is again the officer in charge. Per LAPD records. LA Times.

Nov 14 Cohen released on a writ per FBI

Dec 19 Story breaks that Bugsy had been out of jail 18 times since his Aug 16 arrest.

Dec 20 George Contreras removed as head of Sheriff’s vice squad which he’d headed since 1933. Ray Morris becomes chief of vice while Contreras goes to the subversive activities unit.


Jan 3 Mocambo opens in the former Club Versailles, 8588 Sunset, run by Charlie Morrison and Felix Young.

Feb 4 Cohen arrested for bookmaking violation of California Penal Code 337 A and received a six-month sentence in a $100 fine. (he appeals and won’t do time until 1942). FBI LAPD records.

Apr 17 Bugsy indicted in New York on charges of harboring racketeer Louis (Lepke) Buchalter arrested in LA and freed on bond.

Apr 21 Bugsy, facing charges of harboring Lepke Buchalter is allowed to leave the country to go to Mexico on “business” promising to return for his May 12 hearing.

May Sheriff’s deputy Charles Rittenhouse and George Contreas implicated in Sunset Strip “pay off” scandal. Bookie Mike Shapiro of 1130 N. La Brea indicted for bribing Rittenhouse. Bookie John Osborne testified to paying off Rittenhouse through Eddie Nealis.

June 6 Eddie Nealis said to be in Mexico City. His draft registration, completed in 1941, list Mexico City as his address. He was president of the Agua Caliente jockey club.

Jul 11 Cohen appeals the bookmaking charge. FBI

Sept Cohen arrested and held for questioning in connection with an attempted murder of Benny Gamson while under appeal bond on the bookmaking offense. FBI

Sept 22 Siegel reindicted by the LA County grand jury for murder of Big Greenie.

Sep 23 Nationwide search for Bugsy. Friends say he’s on vacation “somewhere in Nevada.”

Oct 10 Bugsy again arrested in connection with murder of Big Greenie.

Nov 12 Abe Reles (aka Kid Twist), hitman of Murder, Inc. who was to testify against Bugsy in the Big Greenie case mysteriously “falls” while assertedly trying to “escape” from protective custody at hotel in New York.


Jan 19 Bugsy’s trial for Big Greenie murder gets underway. Bugsy had no doubt been expecting the charged to be dismissed without a trial.

Jan 28 Cohen surrenders to being serving his 6 month sentence on the Feb 1941 bookmaking charge.

Feb 6 Murder charges against Bugsy dismissed on basis of lack of corroborating testimony due to death of key witness Abe Reles.

Mar 22 Bugsy returns to LA from Mexico on a trip of unknown duration.

Apr 28 Cohen, serving his six-month sentence at the County Jail, questioned by the feds about a gun found at his joint with its numbers filed off.

Jun 26 Cohen released from County Jail.

Jul 21 With accomplice Joe Sica, Cohen rips out the racing wires at Al Green’s bookie joint, 1057 S. San Pedro St. and Continental Press Service’s LA racing wire HQ, 208 W. 8th St. run by James Ragen’s son-in-law Russell Brophy; beats Brophy. Cohen claims he went to Arizona to hide out.

Jul 30 arrest warrant issued for Cohen. FBI

Aug 17 Grand Jury indictment was effected for Cohen. FBI

Sep 25 Mickey Cohen surrenders to police and faces charges in the Brophy matter. Trial set for Nov 4.

Sep 27 Capt. William T. Deal replaces Ray Morris as head of the sheriff’s vice squad “for the duration,” as Morris joined the Merchant Marines.

Nov Wilkerson leases Ciro’s to Herbert D. “Herman” Hover and Marcel LaMaze.


Jan 31 D.A. John F. Dockweiler dies in office.

Feb 2 Fred N. Howser appointed D.A.

Feb 8 Cohen permitted to plead guilty in the Brophy matter to a lesser misdemeanor and fined $100.

Mar 4 Tommy Hull of El Rancho Vegas tells Las Vegas Review Journal that he refused to sell El Rancho to Bugsy. Later this years sells it to Tom Drown.

Mar 17 Cohen arrested by LAPD for violation of Municipal Code 43.01 (shooting craps), fined $5. FBI LAPD

Apr 21 Trocadero reopens (again), Louis Cantone, manager

Aug 2 Eddie La Baron purported owner of the Trocadero.

Sep 15 8477 Sunset Clover Club reopens (initially as “Club Lamaze” but soon Clover Club) run by Marcel LaMaze.


Mar 22 Mrs. Fred Payne, leases her mansion at 9100 Hazen Dr. in Coldwater Canyon to a Toni Hughes. Later court testimony contends Hughes had worked as a waitress in the Cohen-run La Brea Social Club.

Apr 16 Residents near 9100 Hazen block the road leading to the hilltop mansion and telling the 25-30 cars headed up there that way that the place was going to be raided and names of patrons were wanted for evidence. The cars turned back. Raymond Chandler fictionalized the incident in The Little Sister

May 11 City Attorney Ray L. Chesebro held a “special hearing” to review the 9100 Hazen matter, at the conclusion of which he dismissed the case and reprimanded the neighbors for taking the law into their own hands, noting that THEY had violated several sections of the Penal Code. Hughes had, however, moved out. 

May 25 Bugsy arrested with Al Smiley at Sunset Towers 8358 Sunset for felony bookmaking by William T. Deal of the Sheriff’s vice squad.

Jun Bugsy and Esta separate. She moved back to New York. He moved in with his sister at 721 N Doheny Dr. (gives updated address to draft board) but spent most of his nights in various rented digs with Virginia Hill.

Bugsy sells Delfern Drive house to Loretta Young for $85,000.

Jun 16 Mrs. Cohen reports a burglary at the couple’s home. Says Mickey kept money there. Mickey refuses to let a police report be made. Investigation made by the Beverly Hills Police Department notes it was rumored at the time that Gibbons was the person who had broken into Cohen’s home.

Jun 28 Bugsy and Al appear in court to plead in the bookmaking case. Bugsy driving a red convertible coupe.

Jun 28 Jack Dragna denied citizenship. His 1930 arrest with sawed-off shotguns cited as reason.

Jul 17 George Raft testifies on Bugsy’s behalf in the bookmaking trial.

Aug 8 Al Smiley involved in the “balcony battle” with Tommy Dorsey and actor Jon Hall.

Aug 16 Bugsy sues Loretta Young for backing out of home purchase.

Sept Cohen arrested by SF police for vagrancy. Permitted for forfeit $1,000 bail and leave town. FBI

Sep 11 Bugsy and Al are fined in the bookmaking case.

Dec Clover Club’s license suspended by SBE over violation of the midnight closing law.


Jan 12 Bugsy loses lawsuit with Loretta Young over sale of Delfern Dr.

Jan 23 Nate Sherry buys the Clover Club from an Ivan Staufer.

Feb Billy Wilkerson buys 33 acres along Hwy 91 in Las Vegas.

Apr 3 Clover Club reopens as Jerry’s Joynt Hollywood. Soon reverts to “New Clover Club.”

Apr 6 Mobsters Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum, fronting for Myer Lansky, Bugsy and others, buy the El Cortez in Las Vegas.

Apr Bugsy’s Delfern Dr. house sold to Joseph M. Hammerman

May 15 Mickey Cohen kills rival bookie Max Shaman (operating at 8109 Beverly Blvd) in a brawl. Mickey then operating his La Brea Social Club at 126 N. La Brea Ave.

May 16 Cohen arrested in the Shaman case. Claims self-defense.

May 18 Cohen released after complaint was refused by the Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney A. S. Colgrove, who determined it to be justifiable homicide. Cohen’s gun was returned to him. He later bragged to intimates that it cost him $40,000 to escape this charge of murder.

May 20 LAT reports that Mickey “fears for his life” and his address is 9938-1/2 Robbins.

Jun Inspector Norris G. Stensland replaces William Deal as head of the sheriff’s vice squad. Deal made head of the Montrose substation.

Jul 1 Dep. Sheriff George Contreras, the corrupt ex-head of the sheriff’s vice squad, dies.

Aug 14 Japan surrenders; WWII ends.

Nov 17 Cohen arrested at 126 N. La Brea along with Harry A. “Hooky” Rothman, Paul Gibbons, and others on suspicion of robbery when 2 stolen guns are found. LAT LAPD

Nov 19 Cohen’s lawyer Sam Rummel gets the case thrown out. The complaint is refused by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and Cohen is released.

Dec Construction begins on Flamingo Club in Las Vegas.

Dec 31 An unnamed gambling club 9216 Sunset Strip robbed at gunpoint. Betty Grable and Harry James are among the celebrity patrons present. The crime goes unreported, but somehow sheriff’s office gets wind of it and runs around in circles trying to identify both the robbers and the club operator(s).


Jan 3 “Writer” Jack Alexander Waer comes forward to identify himself as operator of the club at 9216 Sunset. Admits he has a “silent partner” but declines to name him. The LAT reveals that Eddie Nealis gets mail at that address. In 1951, Waer is described as an associate of Mickey Cohen.

Jan 30 LAT reports that Mickey was arrested at 141 N. La Brea for failing to resister as an ex-convict (no mention of bookmaking). Rudy Wellpot and J.G. Fisk are the arresting officers. FBI report says per LAPD he was arrested this same date for violation of Municipal Code 42.39j Sub A (bookmaking).

Jan 31 LAT reports that Mickey is protesting this latest “beef” and the case was continued to Feb 6.

Jan 31 Clover Club advertises its “re-opening.”

Feb 6 the bookmaking case against Cohen dismissed. per FBI

Feb 10 Charles Luciano deported.

Mar 5 Deed of trust recorded related to Bugsy’s syndicate’s sale of the El Cortez Hotel, though officially the syndicate still owns it until Jul 30.

Mar 15 PAULY GIBBONS suspected of burglarizing COHEN’S home. FBI. LAPD.

Mar 26 Mickey freed on the failure to register charge. LAT.

Mar 28 Reported that Sanford D. Adler, heading a local syndicate, leased El Rancho Vegas from Joe Drown.

Mar 30 Harry “Hooky” Rothman shot by his reputed wife, Lillian Miller, after a bar fight.

Apr 1 Colony House at 9236 Sunset robbed: thieves take its liquor license, a revolver and $2600 cash. Formerly the “Little Troc” operated by gambler Felix Young.

Apr 23 Bugsy, despite having sold Delfern Dr. to another party, had appealed his suit against Loretta Young, but court rules in favor of Loretta today.

May 2 Bookie Paul J. “Paulie” Gibbons, arrested with Cohen back on Nov 19, 1945 is murdered in Beverly Hills. Gambling debts is one theory. Lived with Margo Lux, aka Margaret Krug, a longtime jewel thief. Cohen claims not to know Gibbons, though they found a La Brea Social Club card on the body. Cohen is questioned and released, as is “Meatball” Gamson a few days later.

May 28 Police notice Bennie Gamson’s car shot up with 5 bullet holes and one threw the rear window. He gives conflicting stories about it and is jailed.

Jun 20 Ben and Esta made a financial settlement agreement for the divorce.

Jun 24 Chicago gunmen open fire on 65-year old James Ragen of Continental Press Service; he survives.

Jul 14 Walter Winchell broadcasts about a prominent “West Coast racketeer” attempting to muscle a newspaper publisher out of his interest in a “West Coast hotel.”

Jul 26 Nevada Project Corporation articles of incorporation notorized.

Jul 30 Bugsy’s syndicate officially sell the El Cortez to Ray Salmon and J. Kell Houssells, Sr., having initiated the action back in March.

Jul 31 LAT reports Capone syndicate supposedly has opened offices in the Fergeson Building in downtown LA and were looking to start a rival wire to Transamerican.

Aug 1 Las Vegas Tribune runs a story by Richard King critical of the flamingo for using materials that should have been used for war veteran’s homes.

Aug 3 Mrs Estelle Siegel granted divorce in Reno. Case #103261.

Aug 5 Clark Co. liquor board meeting to decide Flamingo request for liquor and gaming license postponed.

Aug 6 Tony Cornero’s gambling ship Lux opens.

Aug 7 CPA puts a freeze order on Flamingo construction because of the plans had changed since being

submitted to CPA in January and fact that there was now more than 1 building on the property.

Aug 8 The Lux is shut down.

Aug 9 Bugsy in Vegas- tells Lansky over the phone he’s got a hearing in SF over the CPA busines. Clark Co. Liquor Board meets but makes no decision regarding the Flamingo.

Aug 12 Hill taken to the hospital for an operation

Aug 13 Bugsy flies to SF. for the CPA hearing. Stays at St. Francis.

Aug 14 Still hospitalized for his gunshot wounds, James Ragen dies of mercury poisoning.

Aug 14 Bugsy’s gambling and liquor license for Flamingo is granted.

Aug 16 James Utley beaten by Cohen and Joe Sica at Lucey’s restaurant in Hollywood. Involved in a conspiracy to violate the state’s gambling laws case because he ran the bingo concession on the Lux, which had resumed operation.

Aug 26 Bugsy calls reported Richard King about King’s the Aug 1 article and asks “Why doesn’t anybody ask me for my side ask to interview me?”

Aug 27 Golden Nugget News Service on 2nd floor of the Golden Nugget still not completed.

Aug 30 Guy McAfee’s Golden Nugget opened.

Sept FBI source advised that BENNY GAMSON had recently returned from Chicago and was carrying a gun, threatening “to get” COHEN. This source advised GAMSON and GEORGE LEVINSON were interested in certain bookie establishments that had resisted the wire service of BUGSY SIEGEL and MICKEY COHEN.

Sep 2 8477 Sunset, Clover Club holds its “reopening.”

Sept 5 Bugsy in SF for the CPA hearing.

Sep 10 Hedda Hopper’s column mentions a huge nightclub under construction in Las Vegas with Bugsy’s backing, to be called the Flamingo, with 4 swimming pools, to be opened in November, noting how our returning veterans “can’t even get a shed for shelter.”

Sept 14 CPF decides in the Flamingo’s favor.

Oct Trocadero appears to have closed sometime after September, 1946.

Oct 3 Chicago gangster Bennie Gamson and George Levinston executed in Hollywood.

Oct 6 Clover Club raided; “Robert Rubin” is manager.

Oct 19 8477 Sunset, Clover Club advertises “Rumors are flying but the Clover Club is open as usual…” However, it seems to peter out after this. Sherry owns the property until 1952.

Nov 5 D.A. Howser elected State Attorney General.

Nov 12 Lt. Carl Pearson becomes head of the Sheriff’s vice and narcotics squad. Four years later, in Dec 1950, Pearson will be fired over his involvement with mob lawyer Sam Rummel.

Dec 2 William E. Simpson assumes Howser’s unfinished post as D.A.

Dec 7 Jack Dragna, described as a “Hollywood importer,” arrested by the LAPD while attending the fights at Hollywood Legion and held overnight on suspicion of robbery.

Dec 9 Moe Sedway and Bugsy discontinue use of the Continental service in Vegas.

Dec 16 Jack Dragna sues LAPD for false arrest.

Dec 18 D.A. Simpson declares war on eastern gangsters; planning to form his own “gangster squad.” The names of former “gangbuster” Lefty James, and former police chief James E. Davis mentioned as possible heads of this new detail.

Dec 26 The Flamingo Hotel, the third resort hotel-casino on the Strip opens in Las Vegas. Closes shortly after.


Jan 6 Mocambo robbed.

Mar 27 Flamingo re-opens.

May Mickey McBride buys back his interest in Continental. Ostensibly his son, 23 year old Eddie McBride runs it, but it was really the Capone-Lansky mob.

Jun 13 Trans-America wire service announces its going out of business. Legend has it Bugsy refused to shut down and demanded $2 million for it. In 1950 the California Crime Commission report states that Jack Dragna, who ran Continental in partnership with Bugsy, withdrew about 2 weeks before Bugsy’s murder.

Jun 20 Bugsy executed at 810 N. Linden Dr., Hill’s rented home. Chick Hill and Al Smiley are present.

Jul 13 Flamingo Hotel reported sold to Sanford D. (“Sandy”) Adler, who also ran El Rancho Vegas since March 1946.

Oct 22 Governor Earl Warren forms a Crime Commission to study organized crime in the state following the Siegel murder.

711 Ocean Drive (1950)

“Filmed under police protection!” “Based on facts!” “The inside story of the $8,000,000,000 gambling syndicate and its hoodlum empire!”

Producer Frank Seltzer started doing research for 711 Ocean Drive, originally known as Blood Money, in November 1948, intending to expose the race wire service as a new industry for hoodlums who lost out through the repeal of Prohibition. The final screenplay, credited to Richard English and Francis Swann, is a fictionalized but recognizable depiction of the late Bugsy Siegel and his former minion, Mickey Cohen.

Continue reading

A Meeting At Hollywood And Vine Means Murder

On September 20, 1939, two women crossed paths at the busy corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. Though they hadn’t seen each other in 26 years, sisters Fanny Rapport and Ida Schachter recognized each other at once. They had lost contact after Rapport left New York and came to California in the ‘teens. In 1938 Schachter too, ended up in Hollywood with her husband. She lived just down the street, at 1804 Vista Del Mar Avenue. 

The chance reunion made it into the Los Angeles Times, a minor human interest item for a slow news day. Hollywood- a place where people came to start new lives, assume new identities perhaps- was full of such tales. To at least one reader, however, this story was positively riveting.

Continue reading

How the Housing Crisis Brought Down the Gambling Ships

Gambling ships began operating off the Southern California coast regularly in the late 1920s. Local, county, state, and federal authorities tried various means to get them shut down, even dredging up 18th century piracy laws, without any real lasting effect. Earl Warren, as California A.G., successfully raided and closed the last four ships in 1939 and World War II put a damper on any new such ventures starting up. But there was still no state or federal statute outlawing them. Everyone may have thought the era of gambling ships had passed. Everyone except Tony Cornero.
Continue reading