LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — They range from the psychotic to the philanthropic. Mobsters and Las Vegas are a historic mix of murder, mayhem and money. Many operated behind the scenes. Others found the limelight.

Who were the worst, the most notorious?

John L. Smith, journalist, author and longtime chronicler of the criminal element in Las Vegas, calls the notion of the city’s five most notorious mobsters “a fascinating topic.” Michael Green of the UNLV history department asks “Were they notorious for being killers or for being prominent mobsters?”

We’ll let you decide. Smith, Green and another member of the UNLV history department, Joseph Thomson, are the major sources for this list mobsters of influence and notoriety, in no particular order:

The Hanleys: Father-son hitman team ‘as vicious as it gets’

Tom and Gramby Hanley, the father-and-son hitman team (so they count as one) were associated with the Chicago mob. “For my money, Tom and Gramby Hanley were about as vicious as it gets,” Smith says. “They were suspected of numerous contract killings and appeared to like it.”

Tom, the father, was 63 when he died in 1979, two weeks after testifying as a government witness in a racketeering trial. He and son, Andrew, known as Gramby, pleaded guilty to the 1977 murder of powerful Nevada union boss Al Bramlet.

Bramlet’s body was discovered by hikers under a pile of rocks west of Mount Potosi. Three weeks earlier, he had been shot six times. The Hanleys and Clem Eugene Vaughn, long a friend and union associate of Tom Hanley, abducted Bramlet, and Vaughn later turned on father and son. He testified that Tom, in a drunken rage on Wild Turkey bourbon, shot Bramlet on a car ride in the desert.

Father and son got life sentences. For his cooperation, Vaughn got a lesser sentence.

The Hanleys had been tied to several murders, and they were expert arsonists who had worked for Bramlet rigging bombs to pressure those unwilling to negotiate labor deals. The reason they killed Bramlet? He didn’t want to pay them for bombs that didn’t go off, and the Hanleys felt cheated.

The Hanleys were ruthless. And as tough as they come. Especially Tom, whose trail of suspected dastardly deeds stretched back to the 1950s, and he schooled his son in the trades.

Tom Hanley’s second wife, Wendy Mazaros, remembers in her book, “Vegas Rag Doll,” co-authored by Joe Schoenmann, what Tom did when he felt insulted by mobster Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro. Wendy was 39 years younger than her husband.

“Hell, even mob enforcer Tony Spilotro crawled and begged forgiveness – sure, with the muzzle of Tom’s pistol against the back of his head – after joking that Wendy looked like Tom’s daughter.”

The book also refers to Tom taking part in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with son Gramby, hopped up on heroin, urging his father to confide in Wendy: “Tell her about the JFK job.”

Gramby died in 2021 while serving his life sentence in one of nearly 40 prisons where those who enter the federal witness protection program are kept. During the final four decades of his life his work as an artist and poet was acclaimed by critics.

Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal: ‘One of the most charming guys’

Las Vegas was a perfect fit for Frank Rosenthal, who by the mid 1960s had earned a reputation as one of the nation’s best sporting oddsmakers. Robert De Niro played the Rosental character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein, in the 1995 film “Casino,” directed by Martin Scorsese from the book by Nicholas Pileggi.

Rosenthal, called in a 1986 Sports Illustrated story “one of the greatest living experts on sports gambling,” died in 2008 at age 79.

“Rosenthal should be considered notorious, in part, for thinking that he was more than a mob guy,” Green says. “That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be judged on his talents or business acumen.

“But he came out of the mob and was hosting television shows and writing newspaper columns. As Meyer Lansky’s character said to Siegel in “Bugsy,” famous was good for Joe DiMaggio, but not for him.”

Translation: Rosenthal found himself in the public eye too often.

The son of a Chicago produce wholesaler was more interested in games than fruits and vegetables. But not in the way you might imagine. He didn’t play; instead, he had a skill for sports wagering. In 1948, at the age of 19, he became a clerk in the Angel-Kaplan Sports Service in his hometown.

In 1960, after years of oddsmaking success, his name showed up on lists of known gamblers by the Chicago Crime Commission, so Lefty split for Miami. There, the Senate’s McClellan Committee on gambling and organized crime started to pressure him, and he was called to testify. During his testimony, he invoked the Fifth Amendment 37 times. Police in South Florida were arresting him on a regular basis, and in 1962 he was indicted for attempting to bribe a college basketball player.

By 1966, Las Vegas beckoned. Men with his talents could expect a little more respect in the gaming city. He secretly ran skimming operations at four Chicago mob casinos — Stardust, Fremont, Marina and Hacienda. When authorities found out, he went before the Nevada Gaming Control Board and was denied a license.

The rest? It’s in the movie: His Las Vegas TV show, a rocky marriage to a one-time showgirl and the relationship with Tony “the Ant” — Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro in the movie — brought that unwanted publicity.

He survived a 1982 car bombing after dining at the Tony Roma’s restaurant on East Sahara Avenue before leaving Las Vegas for California and then on to South Florida, where he died in 2008 at age 79.

As Thomson says in an endorsement of Rosenthal and more sophisticated Las Vegas mobsters like him: “You might look at this another way, considering influence instead of pop culture.”

Then again, in his book, “The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. the Mob,” Dennis Griffin gets Southern Nevada radio personality and broadcaster Tru Hawkins’ recollections of Rosenthal: “He was one of the most charming guys you’d ever want to meet. But I knew he wasn’t anybody you’d want to get on the wrong side of.”

Marshall Caifano: ‘Shootings, stabbings, bombings, and even a little acid in the face’

After Bugsy Siegel was gunned down in his girlfriend’s California mansion, the Chicago mob sent Marcello Giuseppe “Marshall” Caifano to Las Vegas to oversee its casinos. Small in stature, barely 5 feet tall, the ex-boxer with a cauliflower ear left law enforcement a trail of unsolved murders, from Chicago to Las Vegas to California.

“He was a real gem,” Smith says of Caifano. “Shootings, stabbings, bombings, and even a little acid in the face, not to mention setting someone on fire.”

Estelle Carey, girlfriend of Chicago gangster Nick Circella, a Caifano associate, was the “someone on fire.” Caifano was a suspect in her brutal 1943 Chicago murder after the mob determined Carey was going to testify against her boyfriend.

In the Siegel murder, Caifano associate Alan Smiley was with Bugsy at the mansion when bullets riddled the room where he was reading a newspaper. Some 20 minutes after Siegel was murdered, as stories go, the mob’s chief bookie in Chicago, Gus Greenbaum, arrived at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, telling folks there, “We’re taking over.”

In Las Vegas, Caifano was implicated in the 1953 murder of Louis Matthew “Russian Louie” Strauss, whose scam in 1934 risked the gambling license of the Northern Club, which at the time was the lone race book in the state of Nevada.

Caifano, who also used the name Johnny Marshall in Las Vegas, probably is know for being one of the first mobsters in the Black Book, a list of persons banned from entering Nevada casinos.

Eventually, Caifano was convicted in 1964 of extorting $60,000 from Texas oilman Ray Ryan, who testified against him. He served 10 years. He got 12 more years in 1967 for defrauding a lumber dealer out of $42,000.

He died in 2003 at age 93. Chicago newspaperman John Kass wrote about visiting the Chicago funeral home where friends and family paid their respects. Kass recounted Caifano’s release from prison in the extortion case:

In 1964, though, Caifano was convicted of trying to extort $60,000 from Indiana oilman Ray Ryan, who testified against him. When Caifano was released from prison in the 1970s, Ryan wanted to pay him $1 million so Caifano wouldn’t be too angry with him.

According to a federal witness in another case, Caifano told street boss Joey Lombardo, “Let’s take the million and kill him anyway.”

In 1977 Ryan’s car was blown up, with Ryan in it. No one was charged.

Moe Dalitz: Midwest bootlegger became ‘Mr. Las Vegas’

Perhaps no list of prominent Las Vegas mobsters is valid without him. Known as Mr. Las Vegas, Morris Dalitz made his money during Prohibition as a bootlegger for Detroit’s Purple Gang and Cleveland’s Mayfield Road Mob.

After World War II – he enlisted and was an officer in the quartermaster corps in charge of laundry facilities in New York – Dalitz and some others with dubious pasts were looking to go legit. Las Vegas was ripe, because mob leadership in the Southwest was looking for growth. And Dalitz still had connections.

He invested in the Desert Inn and later built the casino’s golf course. He was one of four founders of the Las Vegas Country Club, invested in several residential communities that sprouted up, supported charitable causes and backed financial endeavors that started what today is  UNLV and built Sunrise Hospital.

But it was hard for him to shed his past.

In “Supermob,” a book about lawyer Sidney Korshak, the Chicago mob’s representative in Los Angeles, Gus Russo writes that Korshak was sure Dalitz was involved in the hit on Bugsy Siegel. Dalitz and Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, were once lovers, according to the book, and Dalitz was upset because of Bugsy’s abuse of Hill.

Others remember a Dalitz as helpful and generous.

It’s how longtime Las Vegan Mary Cservenyak remembers Dalitz. Mr. Las Vegas was a frequent customer at the Las Vegas Country Club’s snack shop. Her mother, Geraldine Burpee, ran the snack shop in the mid 1970s, and Cservenyak worked for a time at Dalitz’s Desert Inn.

Cservenyak recalls walking with Dalitz from the Desert Inn to the snack shop, where he’d often have lunch with other influential men of the city.

“We were talking, walking, just the two of us,” Cservenyak remembers. “And I say to him, aren’t you worried, walking alone?

“He motions to his left, to his right and then behind us. ‘Look,’ he says.

“There are two guys on each side of the street and two more in back of us, walking.

“ ‘I own this town,’ he says. “ ‘No one’s going to bother me.’ “

Texas gangster Benny Binion: ‘Brilliant business operator’

When Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo on Dec. 26, 1946, with Hollywood stars in attendance, Benny Binion, a Dallas moonshiner and convicted murderer, was there, too. “That was the biggest whoop-de-do I ever seen,” he said in “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas gangster who created Vegas.”

Probably a stretch to credit Binion with creating the city, but he made major contributions. He replaced sawdust floors with carpet, installed air conditioning and served steak dinners with the meat coming from his cattle ranch in Montana.

“Benny Binion may not have been a mobster in the same way that we think of Siegel or Spilotro or Rosenthal or Meyer Lansky,” says UNLV’s Green. “But he was notorious — again, like Spilotro — for what he was alleged to have done.

“He also was a brilliant business operator who did a lot for the community. You can be notorious and complicated at the same time.”

In Dallas, near Pilot Grove, where he was born, Binion also ran gambling operations. After World War II, remember, those looking to grow Las Vegas as a gaming capital welcomed investors like Binion. Besides, the politicians in the Dallas area who afforded Binion protection were losing elections. It was time to vamoose.  

He bought in and sold out of the Las Vegas Club on Fremont Street (where today Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel are located) and the Westerner Gambling House and Saloon in a span of about three years.

In 1951, he bought the Eldorado Club and Apache Hotel and renamed them Binion’s Horseshoe. Things took off, mostly because of high limits. Because of a tax evasion conviction – and a 4-year stint in federal prison — Binion lost his Nevada gaming license. He also lost and then in 1964 regained full control of the Horseshoe. Because of his tax conviction, he couldn’t hold a gaming license. His son, Jack, held the license, with Benny as the casino’s director of public relations.

The gambling hall innovator also is credited with promoting Texas Hold’em Poker tournaments.

Smith says Binion, tied to multiple killings in his Dallas days, was known as a soft touch in Las Vegas. “He went down in history as a great Las Vegas gambling man,” Smith says. “He is a great example of a Rocketeer doing his best to reinvent himself in Las Vegas.”

So, our Notorious Five doesn’t include Siegel or Spilotro. What about Frank Cullota? An explanation is required, no? Let us acquiesce to the publicity factor: Each has been exposed — possibly overexposed — in literature and film. But, to be fair, they do appear on the lists of each of our contributors: Smith, Green and Thomson.

To close, here are their top five:

Smith: Siegel, Caifano, Binion, Tom Hanley, Gramby Hanley

Green: Siegel, Spilotro, Rosenthal, Binion, Cullotta

Thomson: Dalitz, Rosenthal, Guy McAfee, Wilbur Clark, Anthony Cornero Stralla

Sources:,, “Vegas Rag Doll: A True Story of Terror and Survival as a Mob Hitman’s Wife,” by Joe Schoenmann and Wendy Mazaros; “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas gangster who created Vegas,” by Doug J. Swanson.