A Woman to Know: Virginia Hill

Somewhere along the line, her money and some mysterious inner instinct had combined to give her impeccable taste. — Carl King

Somewhere along the line, her money and some mysterious inner instinct had combined to give her impeccable taste. — Carl King

(image via Library of Congress)

Bugsy called her “Flamingo.” Rumor has it the famous mobster coined the nickname after his girlfriend Virginia blushed bright pink after one too many drinks. Others said the nickname referred to Virginia’s famously long legs.

But as their relationship blossomed, “Flamingo” would take on a greater significance in Virginia’s life — not just as a nickname, but as the defining place of her life.

Virginia first met Bugsy in Brooklyn, while she was visiting the city for her work as a courier for the Chicago crime syndicate. She’d already made a name for herself as a young woman in the world of organized crime. Some even referred to her as “the intellectual director” of the Chicago Outfit, and TIME magazine deemed her “queen of the gansters’ molls.”

In the late 1930s, Bugsy and Virginia met again, this time out West. From there, they were inseparable. Virginia involved herself in all of Bugsy’s business affairs, from laundering money to deepening his connections in the Las Vegas underworld.

That’s where “Flamingo” came on the scene. In the 1940s, Bugsy took a big role in developing the not-yet-legendary Las Vegas Strip. He opened the Hotel Flamingo as a front for his mob activities — that is, until he ran afoul of some other mobsters and a hitman killed him in 1947.

Some biographers suspect Virginia was in on the hit all along, helping her former colleagues in Chicago track Bugsy down. On the night of the murder, she’d suddenly flown to Europe, raising even more suspicions. Bugsy had lost millions of dollars on the hotel, leaving little to spend on his other “Flamingo.” Had her jealousy inspired her cooperation in the hit? Or maybe she had greater designs for her own role in the Mob? Turns out, lots of people wanted answers.

Three years after Bugsy’s death, Virginia was called to testify before the Senate. She denied knowing anything at all about her dead boyfriend’s business – 

“But I never knew anything about their business,” she told the committee. “They didn’t tell me about their business. Why would they tell me? I didn’t care anything about business in the first place. I don’t even understand it.”

A Congressman pressed for more — “The reason I ask you is that you seem to have a great deal of ability to handle financial affairs.”

But Virginia played dumb. “Who, me?”

The IRS eventually charged her for tax evasion, but by 1954, she again left the United States, married to a ski instructor and traveled throughout Europe. In 1966, she overdosed on heroin in Austria — a death some still suspect might have been a hit avenging Bugsy’s death.

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