Hill, Virginia (1916–1966)
Hill, Virginia (1916–1966)
American Mafia associate and drug peddler . Born Onie Virginia Hill on August 26, 1916, in Lipscomb, Alabama; died on March 24, 1966, in Koppl, Austria, near Salzburg; seventh of ten children of W.M."Mack" Hill (a horse and mule trader and livery-stable operator) and Margaret Hill; attended Roberts Grammar School; possibly married George Rogers/Randell, around 1931 (died); married Ossie Griffin (a college football player), on January 13, 1939 (annulled, June 1939); married Carlos Gonzales Valdez (a rhumba dancer), on January 20, 1940 (divorced); married Hans Hauser (a ski instructor), in March 1950; children: (last marriage) one son, Peter (b. November 20, 1950).
The only woman ever identified as a Mafia associate, Virginia Hill was born into poverty in Lipscomb, Alabama, the seventh of ten children, all of whom suffered abuse at the hands of their alcoholic father. Her seemingly ruthless nature was apparently acquired at a tender age. At 17, armed only with an eighth-grade education, a pretty face, and a willowy figure, Hill left home and headed to Chicago, hoping to land a show-business job at the 1933 World Fair. Instead, she worked as a waitress in a mob-owned restaurant, where she captured the attention of Joe Epstein, who headed up Chicago's gambling concerns for the notorious Al Capone gang. Epstein saw in Hill attributes he could use in his operation, and thus he became her entrée into the mob. Attracted by Epstein's money and his offer of clothes, jewelry, and ready cash, Hill became his willing protégé, receiving her early training in money-laundering scams. As Epstein's "girl," she refined her appearance and mannerisms, though she apparently never lost her distinctively squeaky voice and uncontrollable temper. During her early career, she was employed as a "bag girl," transporting stolen merchandise and cash across state lines. It was a lucrative occupation that enabled her to send some money to her impoverished family back home.
Winning the trust of the gang, Hill was asked to infiltrate the inner circle of the New York family led by Lucky Luciano, which was involved in a cold war against Capone's Chicago gang. She accomplished this assignment through selective liaisons. Initially, she became the mistress of Luciano henchman Joe Adonis, teaming up with him in gambling rackets and money laundering, the same way she had with Epstein, but recording her activities in a secret diary. In the late 1930s, instructed by Adonis, she headed to Los Angeles, where she became involved with the Hollywood elite and enjoyed brief affairs with a string of famous film stars, including Errol Flynn, Victor Mature, and Gene Krupa. In 1940, she entered into a short-lived marriage with Carlos Gonzalez Valdez, a rhumba dancer.
Hill then became involved with the notorious and volatile gangster Bugsy Siegel, another member of the Luciano gang, during her mission to set up narcotics transport from Mexico. Hill developed smuggling routes and reported to Siegel, whom she called her true love. (The two would be portrayed by Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in the 1991 film Bugsy.) Their covert operations and stormy love affair lasted throughout the 1940s, while Hill lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills, among other residences, dressing in furs, jewels, and designer clothes. The relationship unraveled, however, when Siegel's multimillion-dollar Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas failed, and he was deserted by Hill and the rest of the Luciano mob. On June 10, 1947, after refusing to return money that many mobsters, including Meyer Lansky, had sunk into his unsuccessful enterprise, Siegel was assassinated. Many have speculated that Hill was in on the killing, though she was conveniently in Europe at the time. After Siegel's demise, Hill continued her work for Luciano, transporting money and goods throughout the U.S. and European capitals, including Switzerland, where she regularly deposited syndicate money in Swiss bank accounts.
In 1950, Senator Estes Kefauver, a Democrat from Tennessee, called for a probe into organized crime in America, then spearheaded the committee formed to conduct the hearings, which were televised in 20 cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Hill, who was now residing in Spokane, Washington, with her ski instructor-husband Hans Hauser and her newborn son, appeared before the committee on March 15, 1951. Her entrance was described by one reporter as "pure Hollywood pandemonium ‖ something like a movie premiere." Dressed in a mink stole and large black hat, Hill screamed obscenities at reporters and shoved her way past them. Once in the courtroom, however, Hill appeared frightened by the bright lights and asked that some be switched off. She appeared nervous during the first few minutes of her questioning but soon resorted to her usual arrogant manner. The testimony concerning Hill's financial affairs and her mob connections yielded very little, however. When asked to tell the committee the story of her life as it pertained to her financial situation and her relationship with any known gangsters, she portrayed herself as a fun-loving party girl who was showered with expensive gifts from a string of admirers. "Well, I worked for a while," she told the committee. "Then the men I was around that gave me things were not gangsters or racketeers or whatever you call these other people. The only time I ever got anything from them was going out and having fun and maybe a few presents." When Kefauver dismissed Hill, the spectators gave her a standing ovation.
Although Hill believed that she had bamboozled the committee and could now break free from her criminal past, she was unaware that the IRS had all it needed to bring a tax-fraud case against her. (It was estimated that she had gone through more than $500,000 without paying taxes.) After receiving $10,000 from Joe Epstein, who had remained her protector, Hill left her husband and baby and went into hiding. She kept the government forces at bay until July 5, 1951, when she was picked up in Denver, Colorado. She was served with a tax lien in the amount of $161,000 for back income taxes for the years 1942 through 1947. Another lien was issued from the Chicago office of the IRS for $48,369 for unpaid taxes for the years 1946 and 1947. Now homeless and unable to elicit help from the mob, Hill adopted a "who cares" attitude, telling a reporter: "I'm fed up with everything. When this is all over, I'm getting out of here to go live with my husband and son." (Her husband Hans and son Peter had left Spokane for Europe.) On August 2 and 3, there was a formal auction of Hill's house and possessions, which raised $41,000 against the unpaid balance of $161,000. With no way to pay up and determined to stay out of jail, Hill fled the country with Joe Epstein.
Reunited with her family, Hill drifted from one European resort to another, receiving money to finance her extravagant lifestyle from several unidentified sources. While the government renewed efforts to indict her, she apparently tried to drown her problems in drink. In May 1954, the Treasury Department pleaded its case against her before a federal grand jury. Ruling in favor of the government, the grand jury issued a warrant for Hill's arrest, and the Treasury Department distributed a "Wanted" poster to major post offices throughout the country. News of the government action soon reached Hill, who was now residing in Klosters, Switzerland. Ostracized by her social circle who found it appalling that a "gangster" resided among them, Hill now succumbed completely to alcohol which took its toll mentally and physically. She became paranoid and on several occasions reportedly attempted suicide by drinking herself into a stupor, then taking barbiturates.
Hill eventually decided to return home, turn herself in, and serve her jail term (as long as it was short and would erase any further debt),
and elicited the aid of her lawyer Joe Ross and Clifford Rice, an FBI agent and her one-time neighbor in Spokane. With their help, she arranged to return to the United States, as long as her arrival was known only to the government. When the IRS added a number of impossible conditions to her return, Hill used her secret diary as leverage, but the government was unimpressed and held firm to its demands. Believing that her lawyer was betraying her, Hill fired him and returned to Switzerland to live out what were to be the final months of her life.
Separating from Hans Hauser, she moved into a Salzburg hotel with her son Peter, now 15. According to criminal sociologist Dr. Lorraine Blakeman , Hill was now on the verge of a complete breakdown. In desperation, she contacted Joe Epstein and Joe Adonis, threatening to reveal the contents of her diary unless they sent money. She also met with Adonis in Naples on March 22, 1966, and the following morning, after supposedly receiving $10,000 in cash from him, was escorted from his house by two "friends" of the mobster. She was found dead two days later, on March 24, 1966, near a brook in Koppl, Austria. Her death was ruled a suicide, and, for the next 25 years, it was believed that she had gorged herself on alcohol and barbiturates, then wandered off to die. Andy Edmonds , however, in her 1993 book Bugsy's Baby: The Secret Life of Mob Queen Virginia Hill, maintains that Hill did not die by her own hand but was murdered in order to keep her diary from the authorities. To support her theory, Edmonds points to the fact that three days before Hill's death, Joe Epstein received a letter from her with a key to a bank box which contained her diary. Although Epstein knew the letter was from Hill, he made no move to open the box until the day of Hill's death, giving rise to suspicions that he may have had prior knowledge of her fate. Also curious, according to Edmonds, was the existence of a report written prior to Hill's autopsy indicating lateral bruises around her neck, and the fact that the "poison" found in Hill's body was never identified. Finally, Edmonds points out that the "friends" that accompanied Hill from Adonis' were known hit men who probably carried out a preconceived assassination.
Edmonds, Andy. Bugsy's Baby: The Secret Life of Mob Queen Virginia Hill. NY: Birch Lane, 1993.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts