LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) — You know the mob had muscle, turns out they had delicate hands too.
This is the story of the man with skilled and sometimes sneaky hands, Bernie Sindler.
Sindler is 91 years old, and still, lives in a classic neighborhood along west Sahara. But he hasn’t always lived this way.
In fact, he helped build the glitzy Las Vegas we know today, starting with the Flamingo more than 70 years ago.
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From a young age, Sindler had always been an expert card manipulator.
He used these clever skills to hustle games, master card tricks, and as he puts it, commit “impossible things” in the town of Baltimore.
Doctors told this charismatic Jewish kid that due to his severe asthma, to continue waking up with air in his lungs, he had to move south.
In the winter of 1944, Sindler bought a one-way ticket to Miami, having no idea that this train ride would change his life.
This all started when “this guy [said] to [him], ‘hey kid, I'm doing all this sleight of hand...that's pretty good, can you show us some tricks?’”
The man sitting right next to him, the one who asked this question, was Meyer Lansky, the Godfather of the Jewish mafia. With him was Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill.
Lansky quickly took a liking to him and swiftly offered him a place to stay.
At 20-years-old, Sindler instantly became as connected as the web, wining and dining with the mafia’s most powerful men at places that anybody who was anybody went to.
His career started out small, just some card tricks, but the “next thing you know these guys are giving [him] $3, $5. In those days it was a lot of money!”
Once establishing himself, he moved onto hustling gin rummy games at the local country club. This included serving as Lansky's personal dealer for late night blackjack games, which the mob boss always mysteriously wound up winning.
Then, “Meyer comes to [him] and says, I want you to go to Las Vegas.”
A new job in a new place.
Lansky's favorite hands, AKA Sindler, were about to become his eyes and ears in Las Vegas. This new job consisted the tracking of Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel and his spending millions in mob money.
The outcome of the spending was the Flamingo on a dusty stretch of a road – what we now call the Strip.
At the time, the casinos clustered downtown were rustic, with sawdust scattered all over the floors and players standing awkwardly at card tables, a rural nightmare.
The Flamingo would be different. It would be luxurious, have carpeted floors and padded seats for the Hollywood A-list players, or the players who simply were accustomed to the finer things.
Meyer wasn’t there, but Bugsy was, working like a dog with Virginia Hill by his side.
Working and spending, spending, spending. The original $1 million estimate to build the Flamingo spiraled to $6 million.
This forced Bugsy to open the casino before the hotel was even finished.
But, lady luck was not on his side on that Christmas Day in 1946.
It was the worst weather in the history of Las Vegas, raining like crazy with six planes chartered from L.A. not taking off, causing no rooms to be open.
A couple of weeks later, Bugsy shut the casino down.
Six months later, folklore about who killed Bugsy Siegel erupted, this was the tale that was to become the storyline in countless books and movies.
This murder, which Sindler says he knows to his core, was not a mob hit.
Here’s the deal, Bugsy re-opened the Flamingo on March 21, 1947, three and a half months before his murder. Interestingly, those were very good months for the mob and its money.
“The place [was] a gold mine, they had so much business there,” said Sindler.
The Flamingo was a sensation and all those mysterious backers of the project finally got massive profit on their investment.
“I know they're stealing so much money they can't even count it! They're in joyous heaven!” said Sindler.
At this point, the bosses were happy. However, someone else was mad at Bugsy Siegel. The reason for this: beating up his girlfriend Virginia Hill.
“I see Virginia talking to a soldier they're kind of talking loud,” recalled Sindler.
The soldier was Hill’s brother, a sharpshooter in the Marines, stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
That is when Bugsy said, “I'm gonna kill that S.O.B. for beating up his sister.”
And Sindler’s response, “Geez, I wouldn't talk like that around here.”
On June 20, 1947, Bugsy took a trip to Los Angeles to stay in Hill’s house and never made it back.
She was in Paris at the time, hiding from her boyfriend’s rage and abuse.
As Siegel sat on a couch in front of a big bay window, the drapes that were normally shut were pulled back that night.
Suddenly, the glass is shattered by bullets fired from a military carbine rifle, reaching Siegel’s head and torso, thus ending the life of the notorious gangster who changed the casino game in Las Vegas forever.
“In my mind, I knew what happened, I knew the brother did it, nothing else made sense,” remembered Sindler.
Yet, aside from the proof, the military murder weapon and threats from Hill’s brother that Sindler personally overheard, the sniper shot through the window was not the mob’s M-O for murder.
Bernie broke it down. Traditionally, when the mob was going to kill you, they wanted to make sure you were killed. Shooting through a window was too ambiguous, you might miss.
The way they did it is they would get you in a car, and shoot you in the back of the head.
You don't miss, and they don't have to worry about the guy waking up and talking.