William "Billy Batts" Bentvena, also at times referred to as William Devino, (born January 19, 1921 – died June 12, 1970) was a New York mobster with the Gambino crime family who was a longtime friend of John Gotti in the 1960s. After spending six years in prison, Bentvena was murdered by mobster Tommy DeSimone, with the help of his associates Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill.
Early life and prison
Born in Brooklyn, little is known about Bentvena's early life other than that he grew up in the same area as Lucchese crime family associates Tommy DeSimone and Henry Hill. In 1959, Bentvena became an associate with the Gambino crime family and in 1961 became a full member, or made man. Bentvena was a protegé street soldier for Carmine Fatico and later John Gotti. Steve Parsons and Frank La spesa were also thought to be involved in his killing. In 1964, Bentvena went to Bridgeport, Connecticut to complete a drug deal for Joseph "Joe The Crow" DelVecchio and Oreste "Ernie Boy" Abbamonte. When he arrived in Bridgeport, undercover police arrested Bentvena and charged him with possession and exchange of narcotics. Bentvena was later convicted and sentenced to 6 years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. Bentvena was released from prison on June 9, 1970. Parsons and La spesa were later tried for the same offense and found not guilty.
Confrontation with DeSimone and Burke
On June 11, 1970, Bentvena went to a bar owned by Henry Hill called The Suite in Jamaica, Queens, where mobsters had thrown a "welcome home" party to celebrate his release from prison. While at The Suite, Bentvena ran into Tommy DeSimone and remarked that DeSimone used to shine shoes when he was a little boy. Henry Hill later said that Bentvena provoked DeSimone because he wanted to impress some mobsters from another crime family. DeSimone took the remark about how he shined shoes in his youth as an insult, but held his anger in check.
The common belief, perpetuated by the 1990 movie Goodfellas, is that DeSimone murdered Bentvena for insulting him at The Suite. However, the real reason for the murder was that Burke had taken over Billy Batts' loanshark business while he was in prison. According to Hill, Bentvena had been complaining to Joe Gallo about getting back this racket. Not wanting to return the business to Bentvena, Burke decided to eliminate him instead. (The true reason is alluded to very briefly in the film, when Batts is having a conversation with Jimmy Conway, who reassures him his rackets will be returned to him, of which Tommy sneaks up behind him). When he was attacked, Batts was so inebriated he failed to defend himself. At the time of the murder in 1970, Batts was 49 years old and was a respected and feared made member in the Gambino family.
Disposing Of Bentvena
After Bentvena was attacked and presumably killed, Tommy DeSimone, Jimmy Burke, and Henry Hill placed his body in the trunk of Hill's Pontiac LeMans and drove away from the bar. While they were driving, the car had a minor collision with a van on the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. Soon after the collision, the men started hearing thudding sounds from the trunk and realized that Bentvena was still alive. They then stopped at DeSimone's mother's house to collect a knife, some Lye, and a shovel. She made them drink coffee, chit chat and have some breakfast while the critically wounded Bentvena was still in the trunk. Upon arriving at an isolated piece of land in Connecticut owned by a friend of Burke's, the three mobsters opened the trunk of the car and murdered Bentvena. Once Bentvena died, the men buried him under a dog kennel. Hill said that Burke and DeSimone "didn't actually shoot him, they just stabbed him, thirty or forty fucking times, fucking horrible."
Six months after Bentvena's murder, Jimmy Burke found out that his friend sold the Connecticut property in order for condominiums to be built. Burke ordered Henry Hill and Tommy DeSimone to exhume Bentvena's half-decomposed corpse and dispose of it elsewhere. In Wiseguy, Hill said the body was eventually crushed in a mechanical compactor at a New Jersey junkyard.
On or about January 14, 1979, DeSimone was murdered. It was widely speculated that the Gambino family ordered the death of DeSimone, a mob associate with the Lucchese crime family, for his role in the murder of Bentvena. Since Bentvena was a made man, he could not have been killed without permission from the Gambino leadership. Unlike Bentvena, DeSimone was not a made man and was vulnerable. Paul Vario told the Gambinos who murdered the two men. Vario, who originally protected the trio, had been infuriated with DeSimone's conduct. Tommy DeSimone had attempted to rape Karen Hill. Vario was furious over this, not on account of the sex offense, but that Vario had been having an affair with Karen Hill while her husband was imprisoned. An alternative theory is that the Gambino family did not know about the Bentvena murder and that Gotti may have just wanted revenge for DeSimone's murder of Ronald Jerothe, another Gambino mobster.
When Henry Hill was facing a heavy sentence for cocaine trafficking, he turned state's evidence and testified at the trials of Jimmy Burke and Paul Vario. Charges were attempted to be prepared against Burke for the murder of Bentvena. However, they did not stand on account of Hill being the sole surviving witness to the murder and DeSimone having died before Burke's trial.
In popular culture
The book Gangsters and Goodfellas, written by Hill, states that Bentvena's birth name was William Paul DeVino. However, FBI Agent Edward McDonald didn't know his real name and informed an aide to Hill that Bentvena's name was really "Billy Batts" and nothing else. In the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, he was portrayed by actor Frank Vincent.