Frank James Burke
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Burke was the first of three children of Jimmy Burke, also known as "Jimmy the Gent" and "Mickey," born circa 1960 or 1961; dates vary depending upon the sources used. In Goodfellas (1990), his father is portrayed by Robert De Niro and his mother, "Mickey Conway," is portrayed by Julie Garfield. In The Big Heist, he is portrayed by actor Jamie Harris as "Frankie Burke."
Since his father, James, had no family or relatives, the Vario Crew and members of the Lucchese crime family were deemed his "uncles" and "aunts." This included "uncles" Henry Hill, Anthony Stabile, Thomas DeSimone and Angelo Sepe and "aunts" like Theresa Ferrara and Karen Hill. When he was born, Francis James, like his brother and two sisters, adopted a hyphenated last name, "Conway," the last name of their unidentified paternal grandmother; and "Burke," the last name of the kind adoptive family that cared for his father during his years as a troubled adolescent.
Like his father, he was a career criminal and a suspect in the famous Lufthansa heist. He was the older brother of Bonanno crime family associate Jesse James Burke, born circa 1960, and Catherine, who was wed to the mobster Anthony Indelicato in 1992. (Another daughter remains unidentified.) As of 2006 Catherine is still living in Howard Beach, Queens, New York.
Frank James was said to have a striking physical resemblance to his father. His father named him after the famous American outlaw Frank James; his brother was named for Jesse James. When Bonanno soldier and enforcer Frankie Saggio years later asked Frank's brother, Jesse James Burke, why their father named them after the notorious outlaws, Jesse said "Because he thought it was funny."
Entry into organized crime
It is also suspected by Henry Hill that Jimmy Burke used Frank as a "stickup man" in the Lufthansa heist. The police later named him as one of the top suspects but was eventually ignored. The constant verbal and physical abuse from his father was seen as a way to turn him to become an informant against his father. These attempts were unsuccessful.
The body of Frank James Burke was found by the New York City Police Department in front of 1043 Liberty Avenue in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn at 2:30 a.m. on May 18, 1987. He had been shot multiple times. He was the last of several suspects in the Lufthansa heist murder of Angelo John Sepe to be found murdered. The remaining witnesses or participants were his father, Jimmy Burke (who was imprisoned for murder), Paul Vario (who was in prison for racketeering), and three others who had disappeared into the Witness Protection Program by this time: Henry Hill, and Lufthansa Air John F. Kennedy International Airport employees Louis Werner, and Peter Gruenwald. Frank's death was not suspected to be related to mob activity, but was attributed to a fight in a bar. A drug dealer named Tito Ortiz (not to be confused with Tito Ortiz, the mixed martial arts fighter) was arrested for Burke's murder and later convicted.
Exclusion from Goodfellas
During the production of Goodfellas, Catherine Burke, the sister of Frank James, threatened to attempt to force the production company to pay $100,000 for the use of the name Burke, so they instead used Conway, which was her father's birth name. Catherine is thought to be responsible for a depiction of her late brother being totally excluded from the film. However, this may have been a decision made by director Martin Scorsese.
- Maas, Peter (April 1997). Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Story of Life In The Mafia (1st ed.). Harpercollins. ISBN 0-06-018256-3.
- May, Allen (2002-05-13). "Hanhardt Farewell". Rick Porrello's AmericanMafia.com: Allen May Mob Report.
- Pileggi, Nicholas (1985). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-72322-7.
- Son of a Mob Figure Is Found Shot to Death, The New York Times, May 19, 1987
- Peter J. DeVico (2007), The Mafia Made Easy: The Anatomy and Culture of La Cosa Nostra. Tate Publishing. ISBN 1-60247-254-8, ISBN 978-1-60247-254-9. Page 121.
- Mobster's son gunned down in bar dispute, The Bulletin (Bend, Oregon), May 19, 1987
- Convicted Drug Dealer Held In Death of Mob Figure's Son, The New York Times, May 20, 1987