We continue with our profiles of history’s most interesting Las Vegas gangsters, rounding up more of the big names that made it (or didn’t make it!) in Vegas…
Salvatore “Money Sam” Giancana, “Sam the Cigar”, Sam “Momo” Giancana, or simply Sammy, was born in Chicago in 1908 and was originally called Salvatore Giancana. Originally he was part of the 42 Gang, juveniles who answered to Joseph Esposito. He became known as a good getaway driver, high earner and vicious killer.
The skills and talents Giancana displayed in the 42 Gang helped pave his way to joining Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit, which he did after Esposito was murdered. From this position, he controlled most of Louisiana’s illegal gambling during the 1940s and 1950s.
Giancana was, in many ways, what most people think of as a typical gangster. His high-profile hard living attracted a lot of federal attention, and he had several disagreements with the Chicago Outfit. These were mostly because he owned casinos in Central America and Iran, and refused to share the profits with the gang.
After facing a jury Giancana spent a year in prison and then avoided further questioning by moving to Mexico. Mexican law enforcement arrested him in 1974, and sent him back to North America. When he returned to Chicago, the Outfit demanded money once again and once again, Giancana refused. He was then found dead in his basement kitchen, having been shot 7 times.
It seems safe to assume Giancana’s murder is connected to his unwillingness to pay the Chicago Outfit. It is also believed that he knew his assassin, and that it might even have been a friend. Giancana couldn’t eat peppers because of a heart condition but when he was killed he was cooking sausages and peppers – presumably for a guest.
Born in 1913, Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen was a native of Brooklyn, New York. He boxed in illegal prizefights during his teenage years, and then trained and worked professionally until 1931. He moved to Chicago and ran gambling operations for the Chicago Outfit.
Cohen went to Las Vegas in 1939 to set up the Flamingo Hotel with Bugsy Siegel, and ran the sportsbetting side of the operation. He was very affected by Siegel’s murder, and went to the hotel where he believed the killers were. Shooting through the ceiling, he demanded to see the killers. They never appeared, and Cohen had to flee before law enforcement arrived.
Several assassination attempts were made on Cohen’s life, and in response he bought many weapons and installed floodlights and alarm systems to transform his home. He spent 4 years in jail for tax evasion and after he got out in 1955 he became something of a celebrity. He began running many different businesses including gas stations, florists, paint stores – and nightclubs and casinos and poker rooms. In 1966 he was convicted of tax evasion again, and was imprisoned in Alcatraz. He is the only person to ever have been bailed out from here, and died of stomach cancer in 1976.
Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo was also born in Chicago, 2 years earlier than Sam Giancana, in 1906. His full name was Antonino Joseph (Leonardo) Accardo, and he was also often called “Big Tuna”. At the age of 15 he was expelled from school, and he joined the Circus Café Gang soon after. This gang was involved in crimes of an adult nature in Chicago.
Accardo was then recruited to join a crew of hitmen working for Al Capone. Capone himself gave him the nickname Joe Batters, after Accardo killed 3 men with a baseball bat during a dinner hosted by Capone. After Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion Accardo got his own gang. He moved the focus of its activities to gambling after many other bosses fell prey to extortion.
As Las Vegas expanded, Accardo ensured that casinos used his slots and his wire service exclusively. This led to millions in profits, and a very prosperous life for the mobster. He died of congestive heart failure in 1992.
Sedway is another gangster who was born with a different name in a different country, moved to the United States, and fell prey to the riches that were promised by a life of organised crime. In his case he was born Morris Siwirtz, in Poland, in 1894.
Sedway is also part of the network of famous mobsters who grew up together, and started his criminal career as a child in Manhattan with Bugsy Siegel. Later he met Meyer Lansky, Siegel’s great friend, and started making trips to Las Vegas on his behalf. Siegel was working to franchise the Trans-America race wire service for Lansky.
Together with another Vegas mobster, Gus Greenbaum, Sedway was prosperously running the El Cortex Hotel by 1945. They helped to finance the Flamingo Hotel as they worked on becoming a bigger part of the Las Vegas gambling circuit. They were also part of the group that joined Lansky just moments after Siegel’s execution, and assumed control of the Flamingo. Though Sedway was relatively young when he died in 1952, it was of natural causes.