This is a category for everyone connected to the true story of the Lufthansa Heist in 1978 and depicted in the movies "Goodfellas" and "The Big Heist". It was a robbery that happened at the JFK airport on December 11th, 1978 where nearly six million dollars was stolen. One thing that made the robbery even more famous than the amount of money stolen was what happened afterwards. Jimmy Burke, who set up the robbery, began to kill off -one by one- all of the members of the heist crew over the course of 6 months because they either brought heat on Burke by being careless with their share of the money (buying mink coats, jewelry, buying new flashy Cadillacs, etc) or Jimmy Killed them because he didn't want to share any of the $6,000,000.

The Lufthansa Heist

As investigators later determined, the crime was planned by Jimmy Burke, an associate of the Lucchese crime family, and carried out by several of his associates. The plot began when bookmaker Martin Krugman told Henry Hill (an associate of Jimmy Burke's) about millions of dollars in untraceable money: American currency flown in once a month from monetary exchanges for servicemen and tourists in West Germany. After arriving via Lufthansa, the currency was then stored in a vault at Kennedy Airport. The information had come from Louis Werner, a worker at the airport who owed Krugman $20,000 in gambling debts, and from his co-worker Peter Gruenwald. Werner and Gruenwald had previously been successful in stealing $22,000 in foreign currency from their employer, Lufthansa, in 1976.

Louis Werner helped Krugman throughout the planning, even telling him where the robbers should park. A Ford Econoline 150 van would be used to transport the cash, and a "crash car" would accompany the van to run vehicular interference should the plot be interrupted and a chase ensue. Burke decided on Tommy DeSimone, Joe Civitello, Sr., Louis Cafora, Angelo Sepe, and Sepe's ex-brother-in-law, Tony Rodriguez, as inside gunmen. Paolo LiCastri, a illegal - Sicilian shooter, was later included as a representative of the Gambino crime family, which had been promised a tribute payment to sanction the crime. Parnell 'Stacks' Edwards, an African American associate of Burke's gang who served as a "gofer" and chauffeur was also included to dispose of the van used in the heist.

Once everyone was together, Jimmy told Lucchese family Underboss Paul Vario, who sent his son, Peter, to collect his 'end' of the loot. Vinnie Asaro, who was the Bonanno family's crew chief at the airport, would also be owed money because Burke, a Lucchese associate, was performing the robbery on territory belonging to the Bonanno family. [from....Nicholas Pileggi's book Wise Guy]

On December 11, at 3:12 a.m., cargo agent Kerry Whalen, returning from making a transfer, spotted a black Ford Econoline van pulling into a bay near a loading platform for vaults. When Whalen walked toward the loading bay to investigate, he was struck over the head with a .45 pistol. Whalen saw a series of armed men running into the cargo terminal and then another man took his wallet and said that they knew where his family was and that they had men ready to visit them. Whalen nodded to indicate that he would co-operate with the robbers.

Senior agent Rolf Rebmann heard a noise by the loading ramp and when he went to investigate six armed, masked men forced their way in and handcuffed him. They then used a one-of-a-kind key provided by Werner and walked through a maze of corridors to where the two other employees would be. Once these two men had been rounded up, two gunmen ventured downstairs to look for unexpected visitors. The other men marched the employees to a lunch room where the other employees were on a 3 a.m. break.

The gunmen burst into the lunch room; brandishing their firearms, they showed a bloodied Whalen as an indication of their intentions if anyone got out of line. They knew each employee by name and forced them onto the ground. They made John Murray, the terminal's senior cargo agent, call Rudi Eirich on the intercom. The robbers knew that Eirich was the only guard that night who knew the right combination to open the double door vault. Murray told Eirich that there was a problem with a load from Frankfurt and told Eirich to meet him in the cafeteria. As Eirich approached the cafe he was met by two shotguns and he saw the other employees bound and gagged on the cafeteria floor. One gunman kept watch over the ten employees and the other three took Eirich at gun point down two flights of stairs to the double door vault.

Eirich later reported that the men were informed and knew all about the safety systems in the vault, including the double door system, whereby one door must be shut in order for the other one to be opened without activating the alarm. The men ordered Eirich to open up the first door, to a 10-by-20 foot room. They knew that if he opened the second door he would activate an alarm to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which maintained a police force at the airport. Once inside, they ordered Eirich to lie on the ground and began sifting through invoices and freight manifests to determine which parcels they wanted from among the many similarly wrapped ones.

Finally, they began hurling parcels of cash through the door. Around 40 parcels were removed. Eirich was then made to lock the inner door before unlocking the outer door. Two of the gunmen were assigned to load the parcels into the van while the others tied up Eirich. The employees were told not to call the Port Authority until 4:30 a.m. When the men left it was 4:16 a.m. According to the cafeteria clock no calls were made until 4:30, when a report of the theft was made. The robbery took only 64 minutes and was the largest cash robbery ever committed on American soil at the time.

People Involved

Name/Role in Lucchese Family/Their mistake/Death

James Burke/Associate and Planned the Heist/Trusted Henry Hill/1996 in Prison

Parnell Stacks Edwards/Associate and Getaway Driver/Didn't get rid of van in Jersey Scrapyard after heist, Got high instead/December 18th 1978 Killed By DeSimone

Martin Krugman/Associate and Planned the heist/Kept harrasing Burke for his money/January 6th 1979 killed by DeSimone body was never found.

Tommy DeSimone/Associate and was one of the robbers/Was identified by one of the guards because of the well polished shoes he wore/January 14th 1979 Killed by Thomas Agro and John Gotti for killing 2 made Gambino Made Men (William Devino and Ronald Jerothe) in the early 70's.

Louis Cafora/Associate and was one of the robbers/Bought a Pink Cadillac Coupe DeVille with His share of the loot this brought heat on Burke/March 1979 found in his Cadillac along with his wife.

Joe Manri/Associate and was one of the robbers/Brought heat on Burke by talking about the robbery/May 16th 1979 found dead in a car with his friend Robert McMahon.

Robert McMahon/Associate and one of the robbers/Same reason as Friend/May 16th 1979

Theresa Ferrara/Mistress of Tommy DeSimone and Paul Vario no role in the actual robbery itself/Being a rat/Went missing and murdered on February 10th 1979, dismembered torso found in a new jersey river on May 18th 1979

Paolo LiCastri/Gambino Soldier and associate of Burke, LiCastri was an observer for the Gambinos because the heist took place at JFK airport which was gambino turf/didn't make any mistakes, just Burke didn't want to give LiCastri the gambino's share of the loot/June 13th 1979 found naked and on fire in a brooklyn landfill site.

Angelo Sepe/Associate and one of the robbers/was Identified as one of the robbers and he bought bling after the robbery/July 18th 1984 killed by the Gambinos unrelated to the robbery.

All items (7)

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