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Gus Greenbaum, Las Vegas casino operator for the Mob, and his wife were murdered 60 years ago this week

Gus Greenbaum, Las Vegas casino operator for the Mob, and his wife were murdered 60 years ago this week

Gus Greenbaum, proper, relaxes poolside in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Moe Sedway, middle, was Greenbaum’s fellow government at the Flamingo Lodge. The person at left is Ben Goffstein. COURTESY OF UNLV SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

After dusk on December 2, 1958, Bess Greenbaum, wife of Las Vegas casino boss Gus Greenbaum, drove from their Phoenix home to take their housemaid, Pearl Ray, residence after work, as typical. After dropping off Pearl, Bess headed again to the giant residence at 1115 W. Monte Vista Street, throughout from the sprawling Encanto Park. The roundtrip to Pearl’s place on 15th Avenue in Bess’s white 1957 Cadillac was solely about 4 miles, maybe 12 minutes of driving time.

Simply who (a number of assailants) entered the Greenbaum house earlier than Bess returned that night time stays a thriller to this day. The viciousness of the beating and knifing deaths of Gus Greenbaum, 65, and Bess Greenbaum, 64, had the distinct look of a mob hit.

Pearl suffered from shock after discovering Bess’s physique the subsequent day. Following remedy in a hospital, she offered her story to reporters.

“Mrs. Greenbaum drove me home about 7:30 Tuesday evening,” Pearl stated. “She always drove me home. They seemed just as happy as anything. Mr. Greenbaum said his back was bothering him some. It bothered him every once in a while.”

Pearl returned to work at the Greenbaums’ shortly earlier than midday the subsequent day, December three, utilizing her key to get in. Whereas in the kitchen, she observed that, oddly, some frozen meals she eliminated the night time earlier than remained on the counter. “That’s when I opened the door of the den and saw [Bess] on the couch,” Pearl stated. “And, God, I just ran out of there and went to a neighbor’s.”

Bess’s lifeless physique lay face down on a divan. She was absolutely dressed, footwear and all, her wrists sure behind her by a necktie (at first thought to have been one in every of Gus’s ties, however police thought-about it an affordable one with the label eliminated and not more likely to Greenbaum’s tastes). A extreme blow from a blunt object – police surmised a heavy ornamental glass bottle discovered beside Bess’s head – fractured her cranium. Pillows were on the sides of her head, maybe to stifle her cries. A wound from her neck bled onto a piece of a newspaper, a towel and pillow rigorously positioned beneath her by the killer to maintain blood from dipping onto the carpet. The attacker used a razor-sharp nine-inch butcher knife, from a matched set in a drawer in the Greenbaum’s kitchen, to slit her throat, in all probability after hitting her on the head. The knife sat inside a cellophane bag over her ft. The killer employed the bag as a glove to keep away from leaving fingerprints on the knife.

Pearl didn’t know what had occurred to Gus the night time earlier than. When police arrived December three, inside the bed room 50 ft from Bess, they discovered his physique laying throughout the couple’s twin beds, pushed collectively. The tv, Greenbaum’s heating pad and a desk lamp were on. As with Bess, two pillows lay on both aspect of his head as if to muffle his screams.

Two onerous blows to the rear of his cranium every produced fractures. Somebody slashed his throat with the similar knife used on Bess, almost decapitating him. He was wearing beige silk pajamas. Police later came upon that $2,000 in money was lacking, as was a three-carat diamond ring, valued at $three,000, faraway from Gus’s hand. His expensive wristwatch remained on a nightstand. Bess’s purse contained $110 in money. Furs and different jewellery valued at about $5,700 were not taken.

Photographs of Bess Greenbaum’s sure physique were extensively publicized in newspapers. The New York Every day Information ran it on its entrance web page on December four.

Hypothesis by police about the motive for the slayings instantly centered on Mob vengeance. Investigators discovered no proof of pressured entry. Cigarette ashes and footprints by the storage led police to consider that two males lay in wait for Bess to go away with Pearl. The 2 ladies might have left the aspect door unlocked. The killers then entered with out breaking in and murdered Gus. When Bess shortly returned, they hit her over the head, sure her arms, then maybe when she got here to, slashed her throat to get rid of her as a witness.

A number of days later, Phoenix Police Captain Orme Morehead introduced that officers had recovered some fingerprints from the crime scene. “We are checking them out. We don’t have any other leads. We have much talking and much footwork to do.” In Might 1959, Morehead returned to Phoenix from a visit to discuss with police in Las Vegas, however stated that there were “no likely suspects.”

Greenbaum took over administration of the Flamingo Lodge after the homicide of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in 1947.

Ben Goffstein, Greenbaum’s associate at the Riviera Lodge in Las Vegas, provided a $10,000 reward for any tip resulting in an arrest and conviction. There were no takers.

Phoenix Police suspected Milner Jarvis, a 60-year-old man seen in Las Vegas two weeks earlier than the murders, a number of years after his launch on parole from the Nevada State Jail. In 1948, a decide had sentenced Jarvis to 1 to 14 years for stealing $45,000 of Greenbaum’s cash from a robust field whereas a clerk at the Flamingo Lodge. Greenbaum himself swore out the grievance alleging that Jarvis and a second man (additionally later despatched to state jail) took the money. However there was no proof to pin the murders on Jarvis or the different thief.

In Nevada, state authorities expressed doubt that organized crime was behind the Greenbaum slayings. On December 19, William Deutsch, a member of the state Tax Fee regulating Nevada casinos, remarked that he had “received indication” linking the killings to playing enterprise issues. However Robbins Cahill, chairman of the Gaming Management Board, Nevada’s investigative arm for gaming licenses, replied that “the crime doesn’t look like a syndicate job.”

“It was too messy,” Cahill stated. “It was more like a crime of passion. The killer didn’t even use his own weapon – he used a butcher knife from the Greenbaum kitchen.”

Cahill persuaded Deutsch that Nevada’s gaming company didn’t embrace specialists in homicides and that any involvement by the state would solely frustrate the investigation by Phoenix Police.

5 weeks after the homicides, with no suspects but, the U.S. Justice Division convened a federal grand jury in Los Angeles to research the Greenbaum slayings and organized crime actions in California and Arizona. Certainly one of the witnesses beneath subpoena was Tucson, Arizona-based Mob boss Joseph Bonanno. At the similar time, Lawyer Common William Rogers introduced different grand juries in New York, Chicago and Miami as a part of an inquiry into the nation’s “100 top hoodlums,” together with those that attended the November 14, 1957, summit of main Mob leaders in Apalachin, New York.

Greenbaum, till a police crackdown on unlawful playing in 1948, served as overseer of Phoenix’s bookmaking racket and race wire for many years. Born in Chicago, Greenbaum joined Al Capone’s Outfit in the 1920s. Capone despatched the younger Greenbaum to run the Mob’s rackets in Phoenix in 1928.

In the early 1940s, Greenbaum began acquiring pursuits in Las Vegas and developed shut ties to West Coast race wire racketeer Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. He invested in the El Cortez hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas. Greenbaum’s experience in illicit and authorized playing would show instrumental. Siegel racked up giant money owed at the mob-backed Flamingo Lodge, and died of gunshot wounds, most probably at the behest of his Mob companions (together with Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello), in 1947. The identical mobsters assigned Greenbaum, together with Morris Rosen and different Mob associates, to take the reins. Underneath Greenbaum’s management, the Flamingo quickly garnered excessive income.

When the Flamingo bought for $9 million in 1954, information tales claimed that Greenbaum and his grateful Mob stakeholders profited by about $four million. Nevertheless, Greenbaum reportedly owed Chicago Outfit boss Tony Accardo $1 million, a mortgage to refurbish the Flamingo.

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel didn’t get to see his Flamingo Lodge succeed. After Siegel was killed on June 20, 1947, Gus Greenbaum took over, and he oversaw the resort’s rise to monetary success.

Nonetheless managing the Flamingo following the sale, Greenbaum commuted by air from Las Vegas to his home in Phoenix. A well-liked determine in Las Vegas, he was dubbed the “mayor” of Paradise, the unincorporated township in Clark County (south of the Las Vegas metropolis limits) that included the Las Vegas Strip.

Greenbaum had lived with threats from his grasping casino colleagues for years main as much as his demise. In early 1955, with the Flamingo bought, and the overbuilding of casinos about to do hurt to the Las Vegas casino financial system, Greenbaum debated retiring from casino administration, promoting out, shifting to Phoenix for good, perhaps play golf with his buddy, Arizona U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.

The Riviera opened on April 20, 1955. Its Miami-based companions, together with Mob chief government Lansky who owned a hidden curiosity, couldn’t make a go of the $10 million, nine-story Riviera. The overhead was large. They agreed to pay pop star pianist Liberace a then-record $50,000 a week. Immediately, the lodge owed $1.four million in development payments, $800,000 to commerce collectors, and a chapter submitting loomed. Greenbaum’s ruthless Chicago Mob commander, Accardo, demanded he take his prized Flamingo workforce over to run the Riviera. Gus refused.

Then on April 27, 1955, Gus’s brother Charley returned from the racetrack to seek out his wife, Gus’s sister-in-law, Leone McLead Greenbaum, on the flooring, smothered – by “human hand” over her nostril and mouth, the medical expert later concluded – of their home in Phoenix. Charley reported nothing lacking from the house. Police by no means caught Leone’s killer.

Gus realized what was at stake – his and his household’s lives – and agreed to assemble his Flamingo administration group, a motley crew of casino toughs that included veteran Mob associates Israel “Ice Pick Willie” Alderman and Davie Berman, to take over the Riviera.

Nevada’s Tax Fee, then the ultimate phrase in licensing buyers in the state’s casinos, “threw a life preserver” to the Riviera, as the Reno Night Gazette put it in September 1955. The panel reluctantly accepted Greenbaum’s proposal to be the casino’s managing director, have its new buyers lease the Riviera for $104,000 a month and pump in $1.5 million to cowl money owed and a $250,000 casino bankroll. Commissioners, nevertheless, authorised solely eight of the 14 candidates due to uncompleted background checks. These given licenses included Alderman, Berman and Mob-connected former nightclub proprietor Ross Miller.

Tax Commissioner William Sinnott, an ex-FBI agent, stated he voted for the plan solely to take care of the monetary welfare of Las Vegas. He warned Greenbaum and his companions about the “great obligation” they incurred to the state for letting them function regardless of some having police data “dating pretty far back in the twenties and thirties.”

“I won’t vote on the same basis again,” Sinnott stated.

By 1958, Greenbaum and his staff had succeeded in turning round the Riviera because it had with the Flamingo. Gus owned about 22,000 shares, value $370,000 (about $three.2 million in 2018) in the Riviera, and served as lodge president. He additionally retained a $92,000 funding (almost $800,000 in 2018) in the Flamingo and a smaller stake in the Las Vegas Membership.

However Greenbaum had developed critical private issues. He reportedly used heroin recurrently to deal with his aching again, drank closely, incessantly lavished cash on prostitutes, gambled away hundreds at a time and allegedly skimmed casino proceeds to pay for it.

This lack of money for the Riviera’s hid mobster pursuits angered Accardo and his sidekick, former Capone payoff man Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik. Accardo reportedly demanded Greenbaum promote his shares and depart the Riviera. Chicago Mob fixer Johnny Rosselli later claimed that Accardo despatched him to Las Vegas to influence Greenbaum to unload his funding. If he did that, Accardo would contemplate them even, and he might stroll away, regardless of the skimming. Rosselli stated that Gus replied: “I don’t want to leave. This goddamn town is in my blood. I can’t leave.”

Since there were no arrests or costs filed in the Greenbaum murders, the motive, and what truly occurred, is open to conjecture. Phoenix Police theorized the murderers got here from Miami, as two unidentified suspicious males arrived in Phoenix the day of the killings and left instantly for Miami.

Rosselli would say that Los Angeles mobster Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno knowledgeable him years later that Lansky, a Miami-based silent companion in the Riviera who was dropping cash due to Greenbaum’s erratic conduct, needed Greenbaum eradicated. For mobsters similar to Lansky, Greenbaum was dangerous for enterprise and deserved everlasting removing, as did Siegel for mismanaging the Flamingo in 1947.

“That was Meyer’s contract,” Fratianno stated, based on Rosselli.

Chicago Outfit enforcer Marshal Caifano, working for Accardo, additionally supposedly approached Greenbaum in Las Vegas in 1958 and informed him, “Sell out or you’re gonna be carried out in a box.”

Weeks earlier than the slayings, Greenbaum, whereas in Las Vegas, employed two bodyguards and was seen strolling with the guards on his solution to vote in the nationwide election on November four. He had not used bodyguards earlier than. The Arizona Republic reported that an individual or individuals meant to “raid” the Riviera’s rely room however “the plot was thwarted after a tipoff to authorities.”

When the Riviera Lodge opened in 1955, it struggled financially. The Chicago Outfit, which secretly managed the Riviera, coerced Greenbaum into popping out of retirement to run it. He improved its efficiency – and its returns for the Mob. However his reign at the Riviera was minimize brief in 1958 when he and his wife were murdered.

Greenbaum employed the bodyguards “after a reported dispute” at the Riviera, the paper reported. “Employees of the Riviera and other Las Vegas casinos have been fired recently from high-paying jobs and apparently have blamed Greenbaum for it.”

He left Las Vegas the week earlier than his homicide. He flew to Phoenix and had relations and Pearl over for Thanksgiving dinner on November 27. One story goes that whereas Greenbaum and his household loved their Thanksgiving meal, an uncommon vacation assembly occurred greater than 100 miles away at a big ranch in Tucson owned by Detroit Mob boss Pete “Horse Face” Licavoli, who at the time was in federal jail for tax evasion. With out their host, Chicago boss Accardo, New York crime household bosses Joe Profaci and (Tucson resident) Joe Bonnano, and Accardo’s brother-in-law Joe Magliocco, conferred at Licavoli’s. The gathering was nicknamed the “Four Joes” assembly. Did they convene, at the least partially, to seal the destiny of Greenbaum, slain with Bess 5 days later?

Greenbaum’s dying did nothing to assist the mobbed-up Riviera. By summer time 1960, former Cleveland mobster Moe Dalitz and his Desert Inn group filed for emergency permission with the newly shaped Nevada Gaming Fee to infuse the Riviera with $760,000 and ship the D.I. administration group over to function it. The fee balked, saying the Dalitz clan already managed the D.I., Stardust and Royal Nevada on the Las Vegas Strip.

The D.I. group made a fast telephone name to the president of First Nationwide Financial institution of Nevada, who stated the Riviera must shut inside a week with out new money. The banker agreed to grant a mortgage of $250,000 to the Desert Inn guys and a two-month extension on a separate $100,000 mortgage. The fee tabled the request.

However the D.I. males pulled a quick one. Regardless of pleading poverty, the Riviera by some means got here up with masses of cash. It put up $180,000 to purchase out 4 buyers employed as casino supervisors (together with Sid Wyman and George Duckworth, indicted with Lansky in 1971 for allegedly skimming at the Dunes Lodge).

Then Riviera President Ben Goffstein employed some Desert Inn and Stardust casino and leisure supervisors away to work at the Riviera. The Gaming Fee might do little about it. Nevada’s gaming management regulation, handed by the Legislature in 1959, didn’t explicitly present guidelines on licensing key lodge staff.

“It appears that once we trust a license to a man, he can turn around and laugh at us,” lamented Gaming Commissioner Bert Goldwater in Carson Metropolis on October 18, 1960. “Do we have the power to control this type of activity? If not, I think the statutes are ineffective and the purpose of the law defeated.”

Two days later, the Riviera’s Goffstein, in an interview with the Reno Night Gazette, defended his administration strikes, saying the state authorities couldn’t “stop us from hiring the personnel we feel we need. This seems contrary to all principles of free enterprise which we enjoy.”

This time round, the Mob pulled off a cold coup, though a number of weeks later the Desert Inn did comply with withdraw its staff from the Riviera.

The Greenbaum-Riviera saga primarily led to 1961 when the Gaming Fee allowed his daughter, Sara Jean Tenebom, to promote Greenbaum’s remaining 12.5 % stake in the Riviera to the lodge’s company, value $250,000.

The Chicago Outfit continued to skim casino money from the Riviera. In 1967, a federal grand jury in Las Vegas indicted seven casino executives, together with three companions in the Riviera (Ross Miller, Frank Atol and Joe Rosenberg), on tax evasion costs based mostly on skimmed gaming proceeds. The IRS decided the Rivera siphoned no less than $23,000 from $133,000 in casino revenue reported from April to June 1963 alone. However a Las Vegas decide agreed to drop the case in April 1968 with solely two executives, Rosenberg and former Fremont casino president Ed Levinson, paying minor fines for pleading no contest to submitting false tax returns for the casinos.

Lower than a month later, in Might 1968, three buyers headed by Beverly Hills leisure lawyer Harvey Silbert purchased out the Riviera’s shareholders to accumulate the lodge. Ross Miller resigned from the board.

The Riviera disappeared after its implosion in 2016. Las Vegas conference officers purchased the property to construct additional assembly area.

Gus and Bess Greenbaum lie buried inside a number of ft of one another, inside twin bronze caskets at Phoenix’s Beth Israel Cemetery. A number of ft to the proper is the grave of Leone Greenbaum.

Jeff Burbank is content material improvement specialist for The Mob Museum. He’s the writer of Las Vegas Babylon: True Tales of Glitter, Glamour, and Greed, License to Steal: Nevada’s Gaming Management System in the Megaresort Age and Misplaced Las Vegas. Contact him at [email protected]

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