Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
It was on this day, December 11, in 1978 when Jimmy “The Gent” Burke, allegedly of the Lucchese Crime family, allegedly master minded and pulled off one of the greatest heists ever. It is believed that Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill and other mob associates ripped off more than five million dollars in cash, precious stones and jewelry from the Lufthansa cargo hold, in New York City at John F. Kennedy airport. Allegedly, Burke and his associates backed a black van up to the Lufthansa building and when a cargo agent had arrived to check it out, he was clobbered with guns on his head and then forced by the robbers to turn of all of the alarms to the building.
Louis Werner was a an airline cargo handler, working for Lufthansa. He was the only man ever convicted of his part in the heist. Louis Werner was the inside man on the job and allegedly gave Jimmy Burke a sketched drawing of the building's layout. He also allegedly gave Burke a key to get in the main area through a locked door. When the robbers got inside the building, they encountered a senior cargo agent and grabbed him and tied him up. The crew walked around the building and gathered up employees and brought them upstairs to cafeteria where he rest of the employees were on their lunch break. The bloodied cargo agent was tossed in and onto the floor to show that they meant business. The employees were tied up and the cafeteria doors were secured, so no one could get out easily.
It took the crew sixty-four minutes to load up the bags of cash and jewels into the van. The crew also warned the employees not to call the police until 4:30 AM. This time lapse would give the robbers about fifteen minutes to get off of the property because the Port Authority can have the whole airport shut down and closed off in ninety seconds.
Most of the people who were allegedly involved with the heist, were eventually killed or in Witness Protection. Henry Hill is one of the alleged crew and in Witness Protection. Hill passed away from natural causes in June of 2012. Henry Hill and the Lufthansa heist are immortalized in the Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas, starring Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Robert DeNiro playing the Jimmy Burke character.
Coincidentally, another alleged mobster for the Bonanno crime family and allegedly part of the heist, Vincent Asaro, was arrested for his part in the heist and for various other charges such as murder and racketeering in 2013, at the age of 78. Two years later, in November 2015, Vincent Asaro was found not guilty of all charges, including the Lufthansa heist and is a free man now at the age of 80. When asked what he was going to do now by reporters at a press conference after the trial, Asaro said he was going to have a good meal and see his family. Only a small portion of the money stolen in the heist was ever found and the only person convicted for his part in the heist, was not in the American Mafia at all.