the robbery in American history in which all the suspects are dead or missing

the robbery in American history in which all the suspects are dead or missing

The masked men sitting in a stolen black Ford pickup truck outside New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport got the signal they were waiting for at 3:12 p.m.

Armed with a signal, the men quickly entered the Lufthansa Airlines terminal through the delivery gate and fled after 64 minutes with a van loaded with $5 million in cash and $1 million in gold.

Long before the sun rose on December 11, 1978, the largest robbery in American history at that time had occurred. According to current calculations, the value of the money stolen in that robbery is $2.8 million.

Katie Serena investigates that many events happened in New York in the 1970s that cannot happen today.

‘At least one of the five New York mafia families, the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese, was behind almost every major crime. The Lufthansa heist was also linked to the Lucchese family.

How did Lucchese connect with him?
The robbery was planned by James Burke, who had worked for the Lucchese family since his youth.

In his book “Wise Guy,” Nicholas Plage writes that Louis Werner, Lufthansa’s cargo supervisor, had a $20,000 gambling debt and advised bookie Martin Krugman to rob his own terminal instead of paying him.

“Reporting that untraceable German dollars were temporarily stored in the airline’s airport vault, he asked Krugman to round up people there who could steal them.”

At Krugman’s urging, gangster Henry Hill told his mentor Burke about associates of his known for stealing cargo trucks at airports.

Burke was under the command of Paul Verrio, a feared capo of the Lucchese crime family.

Since the gang urgently needed cash, they authorized the robbery. Burke agreed to commit a robbery for Lucchese in exchange for a large sum of money.

According to Nicholas Plage, the robbery was planned at the Robert Lounge Hotel in Queens. Owned by Burke, the hotel was a hub for criminals.

The robbery was planned for months.

Alan May wrote that Werner and his accomplice Gruenwald had managed to steal $22,000 in foreign currency from Lufthansa in 1976.

According to Evan Roman, Werner also gave Burke information about where to park, what time to enter, and how long to stay inside.

Burke therefore found this task easy. However, for several months he continued planning with Werner, Krugman and other colleagues familiar with airport and security work.’

Burke selected Tommy DeSimone, Angelo Seppe, Luis Cafora, Joe Civitello Sr., Tony Rodriguez, Joseph M. Costa, Joe Manry and Robert McMahon from the Lucchese family along with Paolo Le Castri from the Gambino family.

Burke chose his son Frank and his partner Parnell ‘Stack’ Edwards to drive the car.

DeSimone, Sepe, Cafora, Civitello, Rodriguez, Costa, Menary, McMahon and Lee Castrie were to carry out the robbery themselves in a stolen Ford Econoline van. The truck was to be driven by Edwards.

Frank Burke had to wait in a car outside the airport until a police car hit him as he approached the terminal during the robbery.

Vario’s son, Paul, would receive Lucchese’s share. The head of the Bonanno family criminal team, Vincent Asaro, would also be involved since the Lucchese were going to commit the crime in Bonanno territory and Jimmy Burke was to coordinate the plan.

Alan May says that each participant was to receive between $10,000 and $50,000 depending on his role in the heist.

These parties agreed with the estimate that the amount of two lakhs would be involved in the theft, but the actual amount was three times higher. Werner would receive 10 percent of the proceeds of the robbery.

Notification and action
According to court documents, Werner warned that a large shipment of cash had arrived at the terminal on Friday, December 9, and that the money would remain stored in the cargo over the weekend.

Thus, as planned, between the night of December 10 and 11, the stolen van was parked in front of the Lufthansa terminal.

At 3:12 p.m., Freight Agent Kerry Whelan saw a suspicious van and proceeded to investigate, but the men in the van attacked him with handguns and dragged him into the van. They took his wallet and threatened him. Having no other choice, Whalen agreed to cooperate.

The Lufthansa heist had begun.

Using a key Werner gave them, the men entered the building and, using a bloodied and bandaged Whalen as proof of his seriousness, led the remaining employees into a room and locked them there.

A Lucchese member ordered a senior freight forwarder, Rudy Elrich, to be summoned under some pretext. According to Werner, Elrich had the codes to get through the vault’s two-door system.

Werner explained that the first door had to be unlocked, then closed and locked again before the second door could be opened. When exiting, the second door must be closed and locked before opening the first door again.

Any mistake can activate the security system, leaving no possibility of escape. Port Authority police can shut down an airport in less than 90 seconds.

Alan May wrote that when Elrich was forced to open the doors, he was surprised that the Masked Ones had such extensive knowledge of the system.
As a precaution, Burke’s men opened Ulrich’s first door, forcing him to lie on the ground at gunpoint to select about 40 packages and ask him to open the second door. The merchandise was then loaded into the chamber and the second door was closed again.

After the outside door was opened, a man led Elrich at gunpoint into a room where the rest of the employees were under surveillance. All cargo was loaded into the van outside at 4:30 am. Employees were ordered not to make any phone calls until four-thirty.

Meanwhile, under threat of death, employees waited 14 minutes to inform authorities.

When authorities arrived, there was no sign of Burke’s men. In just 64 minutes the biggest robbery in the country had occurred. No shots were fired. No one was seriously injured or killed.

The killing began after the robbery.

Two days after the robbery, on December 13, a mobile officer called police to report a large van parked in a nine-parking lot in Brooklyn that looked similar to the Lufthansa van used in the robbery.

Police investigators and fingerprint experts immediately arrived at the scene and seized the vehicle. Upon further investigation, he found Parnell Edwards’ fingerprints.

Edwards was never questioned by police because he was murdered in his apartment through no fault of his own. Edwards had a tender chicken in his mouth in the middle of dinner when he was shot five times in the head.

After the money was transferred, Edwards was tasked with getting rid of the Ford Econoline. Instead of going to the New Jersey junkyard, Edwards drove to his girlfriend’s house in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and drunkenly parked the truck in a no-parking zone.

Three days after the robbery, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) identified Burke’s men as possible perpetrators.

This was largely due to Wayne’s discovery and Edwards’ pre-established connections with those at Robert’s Lounge, Pledgei writes.

‘The FBI followed them in helicopters and under intense surveillance of their cars, the phones at Robert’s Lounge and even the pay phones near the bar. Despite the background noise, the FBI was able to record some conversations, such as Sepe telling an unidentified man about “a brown briefcase and a Lufthansa bag” and him telling his girlfriend, “I want to see.” Hey, look where the money is, dig a hole in the backyard.

However, this was not enough to definitively link Burke’s men to the robbery and no warrants were issued.

According to Hill, after Edwards was “convicted of wrongdoing,” Burke vowed to kill anyone who might implicate him in the Lufthansa heist, and Burke did exactly that.

Within six months, almost everyone involved in the robbery, including Frank Burke, Jimmy’s son, was dead or missing, either by Burke himself or one of his accomplices.

Louis Werner was arrested four months after the robbery for having provided the thieves with information about the layout of the terminal. Werner’s girlfriend and future wife, Janet Barbieri, testified against him before a grand jury. Peter Grunewald also testified against his friend and colleague.

Werner served 15 years in prison after being convicted in May 1979.


Werner’s arrest increased Burke’s fears. A few weeks later, Burke targeted Luis ‘Roast Beef’ Cafora. He was laundering robbery money through his parking business.

According to Roman, Cafora was asked to spend a few days underground, but instead he bought his wife Joanna a pink Cadillac and drove it near the JFK cargo area where the FBI investigated. and told them about robberies and other crimes. They both disappeared and their bodies were never found.

McMahon and Manry worked for Air France at the airport. He refused to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for protection. In May, the two bodies were found sitting in a parked car. They shot him in the back of the head.

A month later, the charred, naked and bullet-riddled body of Sicilian drug lord Paolo Le Castri was found in a burning dumpster in Brooklyn. The Gambino crime family tasked him with repaying two hundred thousand dollars.

Florida restaurant and club owners Richard Eaton and Tom Monteleone were accused of pocketing a portion of the money looted through their business. The children found Eaton’s frozen body in a meat truck. Teresa Ferrara’s torsoless head found on New Jersey beach was also accused of being involved in this robbery.

Two other people were killed for violating the penal code in the robbery. Gotti shot DeSimone in the head for killing two Gambino men without permission. In July 1984, five years after the robbery, Sepe’s own Lucchese family killed him for stealing thousands of dollars in cash and cocaine from a Lucchese-affiliated drug dealer.

Whelan wrote that when police showed him old photographs, he identified Sepe as the man who committed suicide, but that he was no longer alive.

In 1980, Henry Hill was arrested for drug trafficking. Fearing that Burke would kill him to prevent him from cooperating with authorities, Hill became an FBI informant in exchange for protection. After providing authorities with decades of information about Burke, Verio and others, Hill disappeared.

Verio and Burke went to jail, but not for the Lufthansa robbery. Vario was imprisoned for extortion of shipping companies and for the murder of Burke Eaton and the Boston College scandals.

Vario died in prison in 1988 and Burke in 1996 of lung cancer.

Finally, in 2014, 36 years after the Lufthansa heist, it appeared that an arrest had been made in connection with the incident.

Bonanno family crime boss Vincent Asaro was arrested in a robbery at the age of 78. His cousin Gaspare Valenti testified against him. The case against Asaro was based on information from an informant whom Asaro’s lawyer called “one of the worst witnesses of all time.”

At trial, Asaro denied any connection to the robbery and this claim was supported by Henry Hill.

Asaru was acquitted but arrested in 2017 in a road rage incident and jailed for eight years. He also died in prison in October last year.

Henry Hill says no cash or gold was ever recovered, only one person was convicted, but at least a dozen bodies must have been found.

“It was easier to put a quarter of a bullet in everyone’s head instead of giving them four or five hundred thousand dollars.”

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