The daring $6.5 million robbery of a British Airways van in February at Heathrow Airport had all the markings of an inside job, according to former mobster Henry Hill. At JFK, Hill took Air France for $480,000 in 1968 and Lufthansa for a record $6 million in 1978.
by Jon Tait
Former New York gangster Henry Hill is convinced that the daring $6.5 million dawn heist at Heathrow Airport on Feb. 11 – described by British police as the "perfect crime" -- was an inside job.
At 6.30 a.m. two men dressed in British Airways uniforms stopped a BA security van in the cargo hold at Terminal Four and bound the driver with zip cords. They transferred eight red cash boxes - containing used notes bound for New York's JFK from Bahrain - into their own van and drove off. The van was later discovered burnt-out in the residential area of Feltham in West London.
Hill knows something about airport heists. He walked out of the John F. Kennedy Airport with a suitcase packed with $480,000 in cash after raiding Air France in April 1968. And he was part of the Jimmy 'The Gent' Burke gang that masterminded and carried out the notorious Lufthansa robbery, which netted over $6 million in cash and jewels, at JFK 10 years later.
The Lufthansa take was America's biggest ever criminal haul. The 58-year-old ex-mobster - whose life in the Lucchese crime family provided the basis for the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas - said: "The only way they could have pulled off a job that size is with help on the inside. Wait and see. There will be more people who took part as something that big needs more."
Hill spent weeks planning the Air France theft with the assistance of the foreman of the company's cargo deck, Bobby "Frenchy" McMahon. The European airline was building a new strong room to replace the old iron cage that previously housed valuables, and was using the cargo office as a temporary safe. But the 25-year-old Hill could only watch in frustration while selling hijacked cigarettes at the airport as the strong room was eventually completed with a door that required two keys. Frenchy McMahon held one - but the other was kept on a keyring on the belt of a 'straight' guard. The guard was a bachelor and Hill set him up with a beautiful hooker in order to separate him from his belt. He cut a copy of the key and waited for the call from Frenchy.
Just before midnight on a Saturday, Henry Hill and Tommy DeSimone walked up to the steel door of the cargo hold, slipped in the keys, and walked out with a suitcase jammed full with seven white canvas bags. He paid $60,000 to Sebastian Aloi of the Columbo crime family and $60,000 to his own capo, Paul Vario, in tributes before the robbery was even discovered.
Hill wore thousand dollar Brioni suits, hand-tooled lizard skin shoes, designer shirts, and was hailed as an 'earner' by Mob bosses. The information for the Lufthansa job came from a 46-year-old cargo supervisor named Louis Werner. He owed Mob bookmaker Marty Krugman $20,000 and tipped him off on the heist. Krugman was an associate of Hill's and the crew that hung out in Jimmy Burke's joint - Robert's Lounge, a hijackers paradise.
Hill and Burke had just been released from jail after serving six years of a 10-year sentence for extortion. In the early hours of the morning on December 11th, 1978, several men wearing black ski masks and brandishing pistols and rifles burst into the Lufthansa cargo bay at Kennedy Airport. They handcuffed nightshift employees and forced the supervisor into opening the vault. In just over an hour, the gang had left $6 million richer. "When we took Air France for $500,000 it was huge and then when we took off Lufthansa - that was the biggest score in U.S. history," said Hill. "Air France made us and it was happy times. But after the big job, Jimmy (Burke) got real nuts and wanted all the cash for himself and our boss Paul (Vario)."
Hill turned state's evidence in 1980 while facing 25 years to life for drug offences. His testimony helped convict both Burke and Vario. Hill was placed in a witness protection program but got kicked out several years ago for drug violations. He is currently writing Mob and Italian cookery books and running a web site despite being in hiding from Mafia hitmen for over 20 years. He says he is not paranoid, nor does he take the death threats that he receives via e-mail seriously.
Hill also sent out a chilling warning to the Heathrow gang as he added: "I don't care how good the two that pulled it off are, they will start to shoot their traps off. "The rush they must feel has to be shared with other people. And someone will get jealous and greedy."