Vegas Gangsters of Historical Significance
Trigger Warning for Sensitive Readers: This article contains descriptive content of violence and mutilation. The last chapter in our series on famous mobsters who made their names through ties with Las Vegas. You’ll notice that they were all born in the earlier part of the 20th century or even the last years of the 19th century; things in Vegas have changed now and these types of gangsters are disappearing. There are even more to find out about, but these are the ones we think are the most interesting of all.
Anthony Cornero Stralla, also known simply as The Hat, was born in Italy in 1899. After relocating to America he was a prohibition runner, and then purchased 30 acres of land with his brothers. Here they opened The Green Meadows, also called The Meadows, which is believed to have been the first roadside casino in Vegas. The Meadows was very successful, and soon a crime boss in New York was demanding a share of the profits. Cornero refused, and The Meadows was subsequently burnt. This led The Hat to deciding to sell his part ownership of the casino, and relocate to Los Angeles. Cornero then purchased 2 ships and converted them into luxury floating casinos, the SS Rex and the SS Tango. California officials ordered that they be shut down in 1946, but Cornero would not let police on board the vessels. He shot them off with water from a fire hose during the 8-day standoff, but finally he did have to relent. After his failed California adventures, Cornero returned to Vegas, building the Stardust Resort & Casinos. He was foiled again, and refused a gambling license because there was an old bootlegging charge against him. He asked his friend Milton Page to assume control, and he ultimately did so along with Moe Dalitz and Meyer Lansky. In spite of the help he had received, Cornero, like Bugsy Siegel, ran out of money. This happened just as the Stardust’s construction was completed, and Cornero requested another $800,000 at an investors’ meeting in 1955. Later that day he was playing craps at the Desert Inn Casino, and dropped dead. His body was removed and his cup was cleaned before the police arrived. Another parallel with Bugsy Siegel is that no one really knows what happened to Cornero but many believe he was killed by the mob. No autopsy was performed and his cause of death is recorded as a heart attack, but strong rumours persist that he was poisoned.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano, born Salvatore Luciano in 1897, was a genuine mobster who was from the old country – Sicily, Italy, where the mafia is believed to have originated. His family also moved to the United States and Luciano dropped out of school when he was 14. He got a job delivering hats, until he won $244 in a game of dice. This inspired him to quit, and to earn money playing games on the street. While still a teenager, the enterprising Luciano stared his own game and also became part of the Five Points gang. He offered protection to Jewish youngsters at a cost of 10 cents a week, shielding them from Irish and Italian gangs. He didn’t want to work for a mob boss, which led to him being beaten up by 3 men. He got a permanent scar and a droopy eye but survived, which is apparently how he got the nickname Lucky. Arnold Rothstein mentored Luciano during the prohibition, bringing him up in high-class society. His reputation in these circles was damaged after he was caught selling heroin, but a shrewd move salvaged his image. He bought 200 seats to the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo, and gave them away to top politicians and gamblers. By 1925 Luciano was netting $4 million a year, from a mixture of illegal gambling and bootlegging. His life, as colourful as all the gangsters in our series, was due to be based into a film. Ironically, he died of a heart attack as he was on his way to a meeting about the project in 1962.
During the prohibition Greenbaum, who was born in 1894 in Phoenix, managed the Trans-America Race wire service with Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit. He also ran the El Cortez Casino with Moe Sedway before leaving to manage the Flamingo with Bugsy Siegel. When the Flamingo reopened and following Siegel’s murder, Greenbaum was part of the group that made it so successful. Greenbaum was planning to retire to Arizona, but Tony Accardo offered him management of the Riviera. Initially he refused but this resulted in his sister-in-law being murdered, so he then accepted the job. He was a syndicate leader in Vegas, and after Tony Trombino and Tony Brancato robbed a syndicate hotel he is said to have ordered their murders. Greenbaum was a troubled man and his addictions to gambling, drugs and womanising worsened after his close friend Willie Bioff was killed. To support his habits, he started skimming from the casinos. Soon after this was discovered, he and his wife were found dead in a house they owned in Phoenix. Their throats had been slit, Greenbaum’s so severely that he was almost decapitated. For these men, the way of the mafia was for life – until death.