In the non-stop world of 2018, finding some decent time to educate yourself can be tough to come by. Between class, work, exercise, social life, dating life, etc, carving out the time to teach yourself something worthwhile can be next to impossible. As much as you might like to be, most of us aren’t Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
Well, luckily for you, we have a solution: a Wikipedia page per week.
Wikipedia is essentially what the internet was supposed to be: a source where all people can get free information about the world (and NOT a place where the world can get free information on people — looking at you Facebook and Google).
While I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Wikipedia’s is Planet Earth’s primary source of information. However, with that said, the task of diving into this vast website can we quite daunting: where do I even begin?
That’s where we come in: instead of spending time trying to figure out which Wikipedia page you should give into, we’ll decide for you and bring you all the highlights. If Wikipedia is coffee, think of this as espresso: a short & sweet shot dose of knowledge.
This week’s Wikipedia page is the Lufthansa Heist, the largest cash robbery committed on American soil at the time.
The Lufthansa Heist
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because you’ve heard of the Lufthansa Heist before, at least if you’ve seen the Martin Scorsese classic Goodfellas (which you all SHOULD have seen by now):
And while the Lufthansa Heist is a relatively major plot point in the film — Robert De Niro’s character kills off essentially everyone associated in the crime — the movie barely delves into the intricacies of the actual robbery.
– The heist was planned by Jimmy Burke (Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas), an associate of the Lucchese crime family, when bookmaker Martin Krugman told Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) about millions of dollars in untraceable money: American currency flown in once a month from monetary exchanges for military servicemen and tourists in West Germany.
– Krugman originally obtained the information from airport worker Louis Werner because he owed Krugman $20,000 ($81,000 adjusted for inflation) in gambling debts.
– Krugman was able to take Werner for his word because he and his co-worker Peter Gruenwald had previously stolen $22,000 in foreign currency from Lufthansa in 1976.
– Werner, Krugman, and Burke planned the crime — even telling the crew where they should park.
– For his crew, Burke Burke decided on Tommy DeSimone, Joe Civitello Sr., Louis Cafora, Angelo Sepe, Tony Rodriguez, Joseph M. Costa, and Burke’s son Frank James Burke as inside gunmen. Paolo LiCastri, a Sicilian shooter, was later included as a representative of the Gambino crime family.
– In addition, Parnell “Stacks” Edwards (Samuel L Jackson’s character) was a black associate of Burke’s gang who served as a “gofer” and chauffeur, and he was also included to dispose of the van used in the heist (a Ford Econoline 150van 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 police chase ensues.)
– On December 11, 1978 at 3:12 a.m., when cargo agent Kerry Whalen returned from making a transfer at American Airlines, he spotted a black Ford Econoline van backed into the ramp door. Whalen walked toward the van to investigate, and two men without masks or gloves struck him over the head with pistols. Whalen had his hat pulled down to his chin and was thrown into the van, where a third robber was waiting.
– Senior agent Rolf Rebmann heard a noise by the loading ramp and went to investigate. Six armed, masked robbers forced their way in and handcuffed him. They then used a key provided by Werner and walked through a maze of corridors to round up the two other employees. That accomplished, two gunmen ventured downstairs to look for unexpected visitors. The other robbers marched the employees to a lunch room, where the other employees were on a break.
– 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 combination to the double-door vault. Murray was made to pretend to Eirich that there was a problem with a load from Frankfurt, and he told Eirich to meet him in the cafeteria.
– The robbers 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 Police unit 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. Eirich later reported that the robbers were informed and knew all about the safety systems in the vault.
– The employees were told not to call the Port Authority until 4:30 a.m. When the robbers left, it was 4:16 a.m. This 15-minute buffer was crucial because Werner’s inside information made the robbers aware that the Port Authority Police could seal off the entire airport within 90 seconds.
– At 4:21 a.m., the van containing the robbers and the stolen cash pulled out of the cargo terminal and left JFK, followed by the crash car.
– The robbery took only 64 minutes and was the largest theft of currency ever committed on American soil at the time. The total take? An estimated $5.875 million ($22 million today) in cash and jewels.
– Instead of disposing of the van like he was supposed to, “Stacks” went to his girlfriends to get high, parking the van in a no parking zone. The van was impounded and was quickly identified as the van used in the robbery.
– Henry Hill said that Jimmy Burke became paranoid and agitated once he realized how much attention Edwards’ failure had drawn, and resolved to kill anyone who could implicate him in the heist, starting with Stacks.
– With the violent deaths of most of the heist associates and planners, little evidence and few witnesses remained to connect Burke or his crew to the heist.
– However, the Lufthansa Heist is one of the longest-investigate crimes in the United States, with the most recent arrest in connection to the crime coming in 2014 when 78-year-old Vincent Asaro, a high-ranking member of the Bonanno crime family, was arrested on January 23, 2014.
– Despite authorities long suspecting that Jimmy Burke was the mastermind of the robbery, he was never officially charged in connection with the crime.