The Lufthansa Heist of December 1978 would be known to many mob enthusiasts for a few reasons, mainly because it was immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic movie Goodfella’s.
The Lufthansa heist took place at JFK International Airport on December 11, 1978. An estimated $5.875 million (roughly $22 million today) was stolen, the take broke down as $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry, making it the largest cash robbery committed in America at that time.
Irish gangster & Lucchese Crime Family associate Jimmy “The Gent” Burke was the chief suspect as the mastermind of the heist, but he was never officially charged in connection with it.
The information about millions of dollars of untraceable money coming from Germany, which was flown into & held at JFK airport had come from Louis Werner, a worker at the airport. Werner told Martin Krugman about the huge amount of money being held there, Werner owed 20,000 in gambling debts to Krugman. Krugman in turn gave the tip to Jimmy Burke through an associate of Burke & the Lucchese family, Henry Hill.
Louis Werner gave Krugman all the inside information, including the names and locations of the employees even where the gang should park the van & cars. It was then planned by Jimmy Burke who put together his crew which included his son Frank, close associate Tommy DeSimone and representatives of the other Families of New York, the Gambino’s & Bonnano’s, who’s territory was also based at the airport.
In Goodfellas Robert DeNiro played Jimmy Conway who was based on the real Jimmy Burke
On December 11, 1978 five armed, masked men their way into the cargo building and handcuffed an employee. They then used a key provided by Werner and walked through a maze of corridors to round up other employees. They found two employees and brought them to a room, where the other employees were on a break. Because Louis Werner gave them all of the information, the gang knew each employee by name and forced them onto the ground.
They made John Murray, a senior employee, call Rudi Eirich on the intercom. The gang knew that Eirich was the only guard on duty who knew the combination to the vault. Murray told Eirich that there was an issue with cargo from Germany, and he told Eirich to meet him in the cafeteria, as Eirich approached the cafeteria, he was met by four masked men. One gunman kept watch over the ten employees, and the others took Eirich at gunpoint to the vault.
Once inside the vault, they ordered Eirich on the ground and began looking through documents to find which parcels they wanted from among the many similarly wrapped ones. Around 40 parcels of cash in total were taken. Two of the gunmen loaded the parcels into the van while the others tied up Eirich. The employees were told not to call the authorites until 4:30 a.m. The gang left at around 4.15 am, the robbery had taken only 64 minutes in total.
Parnell “Stacks” Edwards was supposed to take the van used in the robbery to a car compactor in New Jersey to have it destroyed. He got high, drove the van to his girlfriend’s apartment and parked it in a no-parking zone, and spent the evening getting drunk and high, intending to bring the van to the junkyard the next day.
The next morning the police discovered the van and quickly identified it as the vehicle used in the heist. His fingerprints were found on the steering wheel, and a shoeprint found at the airport was matched to a pair of shoes belonged Edwards. This would lead to an investigation being led by the FBI and involved other law enforcement agencies. This would lead to the attention being firmly placed on Jimmy “The Gent” Burke and his crew.
The first to be murdered was Parnell Edwards who shot and killed in his apartment by Tommy DeSimone and Angelo Sepe a week after the van was found. Next to be murdered was Martin Krugman, who had given the tip off to Jimmy Burke, he was murdered by Burke and Sepe after his demands for his cut from the robbery convinced Burke that he was about to inform the FBI.
The next to be murdered was Richard Eaton, this murder was one of the more iconic moments in the movie Goodfella’s, Eatons body was found frozen hanging in a meat freezer truck. Jimmy Burke would later be found guilty of this murder and sentenced to life in prison where he died.
This is the full list of the murders of the gang directly involved in the heist:
Parnell “Stacks” Edwards – December 1978
Martin Krugman – January 1979
Richard Eaton – January 1979
Tom Monteleone – March 1979
Louis & Joanna Cafora – March 1979
Joe “Buddha” Manri – May 1979
Robert McMahon – May 1979
Paolo LiCastri – June 1979
To date only one person has been officially charged with the Lufthansa Heist, Louis Werner, who helped plan the heist. Another mobster, who was only arrested in this case in 2014, Vincent Asaro the Bonnano Family representative, was acquitted of all charges in relation to the heist in 2015.