THE DAY BENJAMIN SIEGEL DIED.


I was writing a lengthy portrayal of Ben Siegel one day and it occurred to me that he had become a major character in my life. He played a role that someone else should have; a noted author, journalist, or poet. Ben Siegel changed my history because I had to learn to love him. Learning to love him, meant erasing everything I had read or heard. It is said he was a ruthless killer, a savage, violent, and he loved to kill. I turned to look at a photograph of my mother in my room. I was told that she loved Ben and I believe that is true from a very credible family member.  

Where once I believed my mother was naïve and uninformed about Ben; now I know this wasn’t the case. She knew. I‘ve read the news articles of the day, the FBI  files, columns, and I’ve spoken to people who were there. My mother traveled by train to New York with my father, Ben, and Esta, his wife, and the FBI were in the next compartment! The night of the murder Esta gave my father all the jewelry Ben was wearing. Ben and Dad were like brothers. Today marks the seventy-second year since he was murdered. Do you know, at least three times a week, someone writes about Ben. Today it was the reopening of the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood where Dad and Ben parlayed the day’s bets and business. If I could have met one man it would be Benjamin Siegel.  Dad in Court.  

CRADLE OF CRIME- SYNOPSIS


The memoir began as a compass to my father’s secret and disreputable criminal history. It pointed to a young girl whose survival was wedged between shameless love and immobilizing fear of her father.DAD IN WING TIPS

As Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s best friend and business partner from 1937 until his death in 1947, Dad acclaimed Ben Siegel. “He was the best friend I ever had.”

Dad sat inches from Ben the night he was murdered. Why did he survive? He ducked!  After convincing Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello he would not accept  immunity from deportation, and five counts of   claiming false citizenship, the Mob honored and protected him.

Faced with an identity meltdown ten years after Dad died I implored his friends, associates, historians, the Freedom of Information & Privacy Act, the Immigration and Naturalization Services,  and the Archives of the Department of Justice, to build the branches of my family tree. Along this irreversible journey I suffered disgrace, rage, and Dad’s ghostly disapproval as I delved into the FBI files and discovered the family secrets. Most startling was not his gambling addiction, criminal activities, or imprisonment.  I learned my father’s attempt at reformation was thwarted by the FBI.  A  vendetta  by Hoover for not cooperating as an informant. I  expose what I’ve learned because I’ve made the family history mine.

Incorporated within stories of discovery are government surveillance records, newspaper articles, court testimony, and criminal activities that defamed his reputation and our family. As the discoveries occur the reader is taken inside the transformation of my identity.  Once liberated from Dad’s paranormal disapproval of my investigation, the book was written.

This is a startling, yet inspirational look inside the struggle of a gangster’s daughter to understand her father’s allegiance to the Mob.


EXCERPT FROM CRADLE OF CRIME BOOK


An unexpected phone call came one day from Ms. Green, a woman I’d contacted with the INS about Dad’s files. She’d located them and agreed to give me copies of the five thousand pages! There was no going back now. Ed Becker told me that the INS most likely had copies of the FBI investigation, ‘Take it slow and remember the contents was written by your father’s enemies, the government! I had an appointment with Ms. Green the following week.

The split green metal door was closed so I knocked. A woman opened the door; she appeared the perfect clerk for a windowless metal room of paper. Long uncombed oily hair and a complexion untouched by sunlight.

“We’re closed,” she mumbled.

“How can that be? I have an appointment with Ms. Green.” The clerk looked at my despairing agony unwillingly.

“She’s not here.”

“My name is Lily Smiley and I’m here to pick up copies of the files on Allen Smiley. Would you take a look on the shelves in front of you? Maybe she left them on the front desk here.

“They’re not here.”

“Will you call her and ask where she left them?”

The clerk shut the door while I gripped the other side in case she tried to lock it.

“Ms. Green said they’re classified. We can’t release them.”

“Really? They’ve been classified in the last week?”

The door closed. I pounded on it and a tantrum sprouting from suspicion unleashed. I sensed the government stepped in and classified the files for a reason. As I descended the steps of the Department of Justice I saw my father standing with legs apart, arms crossed over his chest, seething with disapproval. I heard something like this, “You’re going to dig a little too far and sink in if you don’t stop this investigation.”

Westwood village where I lived with my mother sedated my defiance against the day’s disappointment. If I was in Los Angeles I’d stop and walk the streets where my puberty slowly blossomed in a college town with bookstores, two movie theaters, record shops, and the old Mario’s Restaurant where we used to order baskets of garlic bread and coca cola. Wandering through a kaleidoscope of the past, I walked into Walton’s Bookstore. I was intercepted by a prominent display of a newly released book; Contract on America, The Mafia Murder of President of John F. Kennedy. I opened the index and one of the first names I recognized was Gus Alex; my Uncle Gussie. He was a booming personality befitting his height, with jet black hair and bulky features. Uncle Gussie was married to my mother’s confidante Marianne; a statuesque blonde model and dancer. She held Grace Kelly poise. Even as a young girl I sensed she didn’t like me around. Marianne and Mom talked for hours in her bedroom.

Relief thickened with the absence of my father’s name in the index. Uncle Johnny ( Johnny Roselli) was written about extensively. I could only glance through the book; every page blurred into the murder of the most loved President in my lifetime. The allegation that  Johnny was involved in the JFK murder strapped me to that book for hours; an unforgivable juxtaposition between inquisitiveness  and apprehension. It was like playing scrabble with real names, photos, fiction or non-fiction I didn’t know.

EXCERPT: “West Coast Mobster Johnny Roselli was one of several underworld figures, chiefly associate of Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante and Jimmy Hoffa, whom Jack Ruby contacted in the months before the assassination of JFK. In the mid-1970s, an aging Roselli began telling associates, journalists, and Senate Investigators that Ruby was “one of our boys” and had been delegated to silence Oswald.”    JOHNNY ROSELLIJohn Roselli

I could not believe what I was reading; anymore than I would believe my father was associated or informed of these events.

I’ve been subjected to scorn, disgrace, and dismissal during  conversations about Johnny. Those of us kids who knew him as Uncle Johnny  have our own stories.

 

EXCERPT FROM CRADLE OF CRIME BOOK


 

Submerged in film and gangster history, assembling  photographs of my father’s movie star friends,  his gangsters’ friends, photographs of the nightclubs he frequented, I pasted these into a collage and posted it above my desk. I played Tommy Dorsey and all the big band leaders of the thirties records imagining these props would provoke memories and a sense of identity to my parents.

 Without knowing how deep I had to go or what shattering evidence would cross my path, in my heart, I felt this was crossing a spiritual bridge to my parents. The flip side was a gripping torment tied to my prying mind.  Dad’.s compulsorily privacy was in my hands now and so was voice. He was inside my head reading his lines. “Stay out of my room–out of my affairs–out of my life!”   

      “I have to break into your life to break my silence.  I want to understand you and Mommy.”

     “Don’t expect any help from me! Put your nose in another book, the Allen Smiley story isn’t for sale.”    

 No matter what I uncovered I knew it would be ambiguous and controversial. I was certain there would be no record of murder, dope peddling, or prostitution.  Even so, I could never understand the similarities we shared, unless I knew them as people.   The ethereal staging did more than provoke memories; a sense of belonging rooted me to the golden years of Hollywood.

I was completely uneducated in the craft of research. My first phone call was to the Beverly Hills Police Department. They were not very helpful after I told them who my father was. 

‘The Bugsy Siegel case is still open. We cannot release any files on your father. Call the Criminal District Office; they’ll have records of him there.’ The case was open? Sounded a bit squishy to me.  

On a stormy day when the queen palms whipped though torrential rain, flooded streets and metallic clouds hanging low like a net over the sky I was on my way to the Criminal District Office in the Hall of Justice on Spring Street. Unfamiliar to me, but somehow as I walked up the prolonged steps it was recognizable from films and television. The Courthouse, the County Jail, all that authority in an unmarked white stucco building. Not a blade of grass out of place. When I arrived at the entrance my heart was racing.  My father’s voice did not interfere with my direction but I felt his disapproval. The first person I confronted was an imposing woman with a sternness that studied me.

      “May I help you?”

      “I hope so. I apologize for the intrusion. I don’t have an appointment.”

      “What are you asking?”

      “I am looking for whatever files you have on my father.”         

     She reached for the desk drawer and passed me a form. She asked me to step aside and fill it out. 

      “My father died twelve years ago. I don’t have any other family to explain things to me.”

       “I’m not at liberty to give you any information.”

       “I know that. Can you tell me if you have files on Benjamin Siegel?”

        “You mean Bugsy?”

         “Yes.”

        “Was your father Bugsy?”

        “No, he was … his friend.” 

        “What was his name?”

        “Allen Smiley.”  She turned to her computer and entered something. She read from the screen and then removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. 

      “Your father is in the system.”

     I gave her the form with his FBI number and started to leave.

     “Here, come back. I found the criminal case numbers. The numbers are 19778, 19926, and she read out nine different cases. As I watched her write these down I thought they know things about my father that I don’t.

     “Bring these to the National Archives in Laguna Nigel.” She said.  

 Outside the clouds converged over the San Bernadino Mountains. The strain to see through reminded me of my own predicament; how to see through the fog of secrecy and ambiguity.  The following day I drove to the National Archives. I didn’t know such a place existed. A polite man took my case numbers and when he returned he was wheeling a shopping cart of files. His name was Bill Doty. 

   “So your Dad was Allen Smiley?”

    “Yes. You’ve heard of him?”

“There’s a lot written about him in Johnny Roselli’s files. I know he was very close to Johnny. We have ten-thousand pages on him.”

I looked at the brown manila files he stacked on a desk for me.

     “I’ll be here all day.”

     “We close at four o’ clock. Do you want to see the Roselli files?”

     “Not just yet–I have to read these first.” The files took me on a criss-cross chase of a man I didn’t know. The case files included testimonies, court transcripts, appeals, and newspaper articles.  

     “How’s it going?” Bill appeared.

     “This is a novel. Like reading about some one else.”    

     “Do you recognize any of the names?”

     “Oh yea.”

Even now twenty-two years later I can conjure up the exact image of that sterile polished reading room, my stomach churning, the sound of the doors opening and closing, and Bill’s footsteps on the waxed tile floor. Crunched over the stack of documents I read my father’s answers to Examining Officers questions, from an Immigration and Naturalization Agency (INS) hearing in 1962.

“ Were you closely associated with Benjamin Siegel for the three years prior to his murder?”

“The only way I could explain it, was a friendly association.”

“Friendly business association or friendly social association?” 

“Just the same type of friendly association that I have with people in every occupation of life. By the same token, I have had the occasion to have the President of Notre Dame in my home, Father Cavanaugh, Doctors, Lawyers, people of every description. I go by the golden rule. I treat people the way I like to be treated.”  

The faded black type on his three page arrest record elevated my distress; assault, bookmaking, operating without a liquor license, robbery, extortion, contempt of court, suspicion of robbery, suspicion of murder, the words blurred. Suspicion of murder? Maybe Jack was right; Dad had more involvement than a friendly association.  Every few hours I went outdoors and sat on a bench to breathe. My stomach was stiff as those fastened files. It was a feeling I’d never experienced in my life. 

 Bill circled around me as I slumped further into the past, the florescent lights blinding me. When I closed the files, and told him I’d be back in a week, Bill insisted I see the Johnny Roselli archives. There were eight shelves on either side of the aisle, and while I gazed at this galactic inventory the face of Johnny erupted. Seated in a red leather booth at La Dolca Vita, sipping red wine, his eyes

MWSnap1978 ROSELLI DEATH watery pools filled with the density of his life.

     “Have you read Ed Becker’s book, All American Mafioso?” Bill asked. He randomly pulled a file from the rack. 

     “No.”

     “You should; your Dad is in it.  Look at this history so few people know about. The government hired Roselli to assassinate Castro! You have to read these files.”