|Henry Hill, Jr.|
FBI mugshot taken in 1980
June 11, 1943|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 12, 2012
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Ethnicity||Italian / Irish American|
|Known for||Lucchese crime family criminal associate|
|Partner(s)||Lisa Caserta (fiancée; 2006–2012; his death)|
Henry Hill, Jr. (June 11, 1943 – June 12, 2012) was a New York City mobster. Between 1955 and 1980, Hill was associated with the Lucchese crime family. In 1980 Hill became an FBI informant and his testimony helped secure fifty convictions, including that of mob capo (captain) Paul Vario and James Burke on multiple charges.
Hill's life story was documented in the true crime book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi. Wiseguy was subsequently adapted by Martin Scorsese into the critically acclaimed film, Goodfellas, in which Hill was portrayed by Ray Liotta.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Fallout among Hill, Vario, and Burke
- 3 Informant and the witness protection program
- 4 Later life
- 5 Goodfellas movie
- 6 Death
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Henry Hill, Jr. was born on June 11, 1943 to Henry Hill, Sr., an immigrant Irish-American electrician, and Carmela Costa Hill, an Italian American. The working-class family consisted of Henry and his eight siblings who grew up in Brownsville, a poorer area of the East New York section of Brooklyn. From an early age, he admired the local mobsters who socialized across the street from his home, including Paul Vario, a "capo" in the Lucchese crime family. In his early teens, he began running errands for patrons at Vario's storefront shoe-shine, pizzeria and dispatch cabstand. He first met the notorious hijacker and Lucchese family associate James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke in 1956. The thirteen year-old Hill served drinks and sandwiches at a card game and was dazzled by Burke's openhanded tipping. "He was sawbucking me to death. Twenty here. Twenty there. He wasn't like anyone else I had ever met."
The following year, Paul Vario's younger brother, Vito "Tuddy" Vario, and older brother, Lenny Vario, presented Hill with a highly sought-after union card in the bricklayers' local. Hill would be a "no show," put on a building contractor's construction payroll, guaranteeing him a weekly salary of $190. This didn't mean Hill would be getting or keeping all that money every week. He received only a portion of it and the rest would be kept and divided amongst the Varios. The card also allowed Hill to facilitate pickup of daily policy bets and loan payments to Vario from local construction sites. Once Hill had this "legitimate" job, he dropped out of high school, working exclusively for the Vario gangsters.
Hill's first encounter with arson occurred when the Rebel Cab Company cabstand opened just around the corner from Vario's business. The competing company's owner was from Alabama; new to New York City. Sometime after midnight, Tuddy and Hill drove to the rival cabstand with a drum full of gasoline in the back seat of Tuddy's car. Hill smashed the cab windows and filled them with gasoline-soaked newspapers, then tossed in lit match books.
Hill's first arrest took place when he was sixteen; this record is one of the few official documents that prove his existence. Hill and Lenny, Vario's equally underage son, attempted to use a stolen credit card to buy snow tires for Tuddy's wife's car. When Hill and Lenny returned to Tuddy's, two police detectives apprehended Hill. During a rough interrogation, Hill gave his name and nothing else; Vario's attorney later facilitated his release on bail. While a suspended sentence resulted, Hill's refusal to talk earned him the respect of both Vario and Burke. Burke, in particular, saw great potential in Hill. Like Burke, he was of Irish ancestry and therefore ineligible to become a "made man." The Vario crew, however, were happy to have associates of any ethnicity, so long as they made money and successfully refused to cooperate with the authorities.
In June 1960, Hill joined the Army, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Hill claimed the timing was deliberate; the FBI investigation into the 1957 Apalachin mob summit meeting had prompted a Senate investigation into organized crime and its links with businesses and unions. This resulted in the publication of a list of nearly five thousand names of members and associates of the five major crime families. Hill searched through a partial list, but could not find Vario listed among the Lucchese family.
Throughout his three-year enlistment, Hill maintained his mob contacts. He also continued to hustle: in charge of kitchen detail, he sold surplus food; loan sharked pay advances to fellow soldiers; and sold tax-free cigarettes. Before his discharge, Hill spent two months in the stockade for stealing a local sheriff's car and brawling in a bar with a civilian and Marines. In 1963, Hill returned to New York and began the most notorious phase of his criminal career: arson, intimidation, running an organized stolen car ring, and hijacking trucks.
In 1965, Hill met his future wife, Karen Friedman, through Paul Vario, Jr.,though the film Goodfellas replaces him with Thomas "Tommy" DeSimone. Paul insisted that Hill go with him on a double date at Frank "Frankie the Wop" Manzo's restaurant, Villa Capra. According to Friedman the date was disastrous, and Hill stood her up at the next dinner. After, the two began going on dates at the Copacabana and other nightclubs, where Karen was introduced to Henry's outwardly impressive lifestyle. The two later got married in a large North Carolina wedding, attended by most of Hill's gangster friends.
Air France robbery
On April 8, 1968, Hill and Jimmy Burke pulled the Air France robbery. Hill had heard from Robert "Frenchy" McMahon that his employer, Air France, was handling a shipment of $420,000. The main problem was a guard with a key to the safe. They identified the guard's weakness for women. They got the guard drunk and took him to a motel, where a prostitute waited to distract him. When the guard took off his pants to change into a bathrobe, they took his ring of keys. Not knowing which key led to the vault, the mobsters simply had duplicate copies of as many of the keys as possible, then replaced the original keyring without his knowledge. At 11:40 pm on a Saturday, Hill and Burke drove to the Air France cargo parking lot in a rented car sporting false plates. They left with the $420,000 haul. Hill and DeSimone paid a $60,000 tribute to two mob chiefs. They were Sebastian "Buster" Aloi, the 57-year-old capo for the Colombo crime family, who considered Kennedy Airport their turf, and to their own capo, Paul Vario.
William "Billy Batts" Bentvena
After the birth of their second child in 1969, Hill and Karen rented an apartment in a two-family home in Island Park, New York, and bought a restaurant called "The Suite" in Jamaica, Queens. Hill had intended for the restaurant to remain legitimate, but it soon became a hangout for his former mob friends.
On June 11, 1970, Hill and his crew threw a "welcome home" party at Robert's Lounge (owned by Jimmy Burke) for William "Billy Batts" Bentvena. Bentvena was a made man in John Gotti's crew near Fulton Street, and a member of the Gambino crime family. He had just finished a six-year term for drug possession. The problem was that Bentvena and Burke had a beef at the time. Burke had taken over Bentvena's loan shark business while Bentvena was in prison. Not wanting to return the business, Burke decided to kill Bentvena instead. Hill states that Bentvena saw Tommy DeSimone and asked him if he still shined shoes; DeSimone took it as insult. Several minutes later, when the issue was apparently forgotten, DeSimone leaned over to Hill and Jimmy Burke and said "I'm gonna kill that fuck."
A couple of weeks later, Bentvena went to "The Suite" where he drank with DeSimone's crew which included Hill, DeSimone, and Jimmy Burke. Later that night, DeSimone left to take his girlfriend home. Burke then proceeded to make Bentvena comfortable. Twenty minutes later, DeSimone returned with a .38 revolver and a plastic mattress cover. DeSimone walked over to Bentvena at the corner of the bar and yelled "Shine these fuckin' shoes!" and pistol-whipped him while Burke held him down. Bentvena was so inebriated that he couldn't defend himself. Along with Hill, they later concealed Bentvena with the mattress cover and placed him in the trunk of Hill's car. Needing a shovel, they stopped at DeSimone's mother's, who made them coffee and breakfast. Later, on the Taconic State Parkway, Hill at the wheel, they heard banging from the trunk and realized Bentvena was still alive. "We're on our way to bury him and he wasn't even dead," Hill said. Angrily, DeSimone stopped the car, reaching for the shovel. DeSimone opened the trunk and smashed Bentvena with the shovel, while Burke beat him with a tire iron. When they were sure he was dead, they drove on.
DeSimone and Hill drove to a seemingly rural area in upstate New York to bury Bentvena. Frustrated by the frozen ground, they were only able to dig a shallow grave and had to cover Bentvena's body in lime in order to hasten its decomposition. Three months later, when they learned that the land was about to be developed into a housing project, DeSimone and Hill dug up Bentvena, tossed the decomposed remains into the back of Hill's brand-new Pontiac Catalina convertible and dumped them in a New Jersey junkyard (owned by Clyde Brooks). According to Hill despite his attempts to clean the car, it reeked so badly he later had to scrap it. With the movement of Bentvena's remains, DeSimone and Hill thought they had resolved the issue, however, Bentvena was a made man and among the Five Families, the penalty for killing a made man without permission was death. This fact would later come back to haunt DeSimone.
Fallout among Hill, Vario, and Burke
Vacation in Florida
Karen and Hill split up for a while; Hill had been cheating with a woman named Linda, going so far as to rent her an apartment near The Suite and menacing the manager of the bridal boutique where she worked. Hill then went with labor union official Casey Rosado and Jimmy Burke on a vacation to Tampa, Florida. They went to Casey's parents', and met with Casey's cousin to collect a debt from a man named John Ciaccio.
The cousins walked in first, followed by Hill and Burke. The cousins were yelling at Ciaccio in Spanish while Hill and Burke sat four tables away. Burke subsequently got up, grabbed Ciaccio and said, "Shut your mouth and walk out the door." Hill later reported: "There must have been 25 people in the place, but nobody did anything. Later they were all witnesses at the trial."
A retired New York police officer at the scene took their license plate number. With the four men beating and pistol-whipping him, Ciaccio finally said he'd pay up, but only half, since the rest was owed to a doctor who beat him on a bet. Casey's cousin believed him because he knew the doctor from whom they later got the money. The four men spent the rest of the weekend drinking.
A month later, Hill, on his way to Robert's Lounge, found 12 cars blocking the street. He turned on his radio and heard that the FBI were "arresting union officials," with "Jimmy Burke and others being sought." It turned out that Ciaccio's sister worked for the FBI. They were later arrested and put on trial for kidnapping and assault. On the stand, Rosado convinced the jury that Ciaccio was a liar, and they were able to beat the rap. However, the police went after them for an extortion charge. Just before the three were to go to trial, Casey Rosado dropped dead from a heart attack while bending over to tie his shoe laces. He was 46. Since Rosado could no longer testify, Hill and Burke lost their chance to beat the charge.
On November 3, 1972, Hill and Burke were found guilty of extortion.
Hill and his Pittsburgh connection set up a point shaving scheme by convincing Boston College center Rick Kuhn to participate. Kuhn encouraged teammates to join the scheme, which ended in a well-known scandal.
Hill began wholesaling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and quaaludes; he earned enormous amounts of money. A young kid who was a "mule" of Hill's "ratted" Hill out to Narcotics Detectives Daniel Mann and William Broder. "The Youngster" (so named by the detectives) informed them that the supplier [Henry Hill] is connected to the Lucchese crime family and is a close friend to Paul Vario and to Jimmy Burke and "had probably been in on the Lufthansa robbery." Knowing who Hill was and what he did, they put surveillance on him by taking pictures. They found out that Hill's old prison friend from Pittsburgh ran a dog-grooming salon as a front. Mann and Broder had "thousands" of wiretaps of Hill. But Hill and his crew used coded language in the conversations. Hill's wiretap on March 29 is an example of the bizarre vocabulary:
Pittsburgh Connection: You know the golf club and the dogs you gave me in return?
Pittsburgh Connection: Can you still do that?
Hill: Same kind of golf clubs?
Pittsburgh Connection: No. No golf clubs. Can you still give me the dogs if I can pay for the golf clubs?
Hill: Yeah. Sure.
[portion of conversation omitted]
Pittsburgh Connection: You front me the shampoo and I'll front you the dog pills....what time tomorrow?
Hill: Anytime after twelve.
Pittsburgh Connection: You won't hold my lady friend up?
Pittsburgh Connection: Somebody will just exchange dogs.
On April 27, 1980, Hill was arrested on a narcotics-trafficking charge. He became convinced that his former associates planned to have him killed: Vario, for dealing drugs; and Burke, to prevent Hill from implicating him in the Lufthansa Heist. Hill heard on a wiretap that his associates, Angelo Sepe and Anthony Stabile were anxious to have Hill killed and that they were telling Burke that he "is no good," and that he "is a junkie." Burke told them "not to worry about it." Hill was more convinced by a surveillance tape played to him by federal investigators, in which Burke tells Vario of their need to have Hill "whacked." But Hill still wouldn't talk to the investigators, while in his cell, the officers would tell Hill that the prosecutor, Ed McDonald, wanted to speak with him, and Hill would yell "Fuck you and McDonald." While Hill was in his cell he became even more paranoid because he thought Burke had officers on the inside and would have him killed.
While Karen was worried, she kept getting calls from Jimmy Burke's wife, Mickey, asking when Hill was coming home, or if Karen needed anything. Hill knew the calls were from Jimmy. When Hill was finally released on bail, he met Burke at a restaurant they always went to, Burke told him that they should meet at a bar Hill had never heard of or seen before, owned by "Charlie the Jap." Hill never met him there, instead they met at Burke's sweatshop with Karen and asked for the address in Florida where he was to kill Bobby Germaine's son with Anthony Stabile. Hill knew he was going to get killed in Florida, but he needed to stay on the streets to make money. McDonald didn't want to take any chances and arrested Hill as a material witness in the Lufthansa robbery. Hill then agreed to become an informant and signed an agreement with the United States Department of Justice Organized Crime Strike Force on May 27, 1980. In 2011, former junior mob associate Greg Bucceroni alleged that, after Hill's 1980 arrest, Jimmy Burke offered him money to arrange a meeting between Bucceroni and Hill at a Brooklyn grocery store so that Burke could have Hill murdered gangland fashion, but Bucceroni decided quietly against any involvement with the hit on Hill. Shortly afterwards, Burke and several other Lucchese crime family members were arrested by federal authorities.
Informant and the witness protection program
Hill testified against his former associates to avoid a possible execution by his crew or going to prison for his crimes. His testimony led to 50 convictions.
Jimmy Burke was given 20 years in prison for the 1978–79 Boston College point shaving scandal, involving fixing Boston College basketball games. Burke was also later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of scam artist Richard Eaton. Burke died of cancer while serving his life sentence, on April 13, 1996. He was 64.
Paul Vario received four years for helping Henry Hill obtain a no-show job to get him paroled from prison. Vario was also later sentenced to 10 years in prison for the extortion of air freight companies at JFK Airport. He died of respiratory failure on November 22, 1988, at age 73 while incarcerated in the FCI Federal Prison in Fort Worth.
Hill, his wife Karen, and their two children (Gregg and Gina) entered the U.S. Marshals' Witness Protection Program in 1980, changed their names, and moved to undisclosed locations in Omaha, Nebraska; Independence, Kentucky; Redmond, Washington; and Seattle, Washington.
Hill was arrested in 1987 on narcotics-related charges in Seattle, where he was living in the Wedgwood neighborhood under the name of Alex Canclini. In 1989, he and his wife Karen divorced after 25 years of marriage.
Due to his numerous crimes while in witness protection, Hill (along with his wife) were expelled from the program in the early 1990s. After the 1987 arrest, Hill claimed to be clean until he was arrested in North Platte, Nebraska in March 2005. Hill had left his luggage at Lee Bird Field Airport in North Platte, Nebraska, containing drug paraphernalia, glass tubes with cocaine and methamphetamine residue. In September 2005, he was sentenced to 180 days imprisonment for attempted methamphetamine possession.
Hill was a painter and he sold his artwork on eBay, and was a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show. Hill, who is known to have claimed that he had never killed anyone, admitted on The Howard Stern Show to being ordered by Burke to kill three people, which he says he did comply with.
He was sentenced to two years probation on March 26, 2009. On December 14, 2009, he was arrested in Fairview Heights, Illinois, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest which Hill attributed to his drinking problems.
Hill worked for a time as a chef at an Italian restaurant in Nebraska and his spaghetti sauce, Sunday Gravy, was marketed over the internet. Hill opened another restaurant, Wiseguys, in West Haven, Connecticut, in October 2007.
In reference to his many victims, Hill stated in an interview in March 2008 with BBC's Heather Alexander: "I don't give a heck what those people think; I'm doing the right thing now", addressing the reporter's question about how his victims might think of his commercialization of his story through self-written books and advising on Goodfellas.
Hill lived in Topanga Canyon, approximately four miles from Malibu, California, with his Italian-American fiancee, Lisa Caserta. Both appeared in several documentaries and made public appearances on various media programs including The Howard Stern Show. In 2004, he was interviewed by Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes. In 2010, Hill was inducted in the Museum of the American Gangster in New York City. On June 8, 2011, a show about Hill's life aired on the National Geographic Channel's Locked up Abroad.
In August 2011, Henry Hill appeared in the special "Mob Week" on AMC. He and other former mob members talked about The Godfather, Goodfellas, and other such mob films. On February 14, 2012, he was put in the Las Vegas Mob Museum and in April 2012, he interviewed for "mobsters" about Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone to air that summer.
Goodfellas (stylized as GoodFellas) is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The film follows the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associates Henry Hill and his friends from 1955 to 1980.
Scorsese initially named the film Wise Guy, but postponed it, and later (with Pileggi's agreement) changed the name to Goodfellas to avoid confusion with the unrelated television series Wiseguy. To prepare for their roles in the film, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta often spoke with Pileggi, who shared research material he gathered while writing the book. According to Pesci, improvisation and ad-libbing came out of rehearsals where Scorsese gave the actors freedom to do whatever they wanted. The director made transcripts of these sessions, took the lines he liked best, and put them into a revised script the cast worked from during principal photography. In the fall of 2006, Hill appeared in a photo shoot along with Ray Liotta for Entertainment Weekly. At Liotta's urging, Hill entered alcohol rehabilitation two days after the shoot.
Prior to his death, Henry Hill collaborated with the novelist, Daniel Simone, in writing and developing a forthcoming non-fiction book titled, The Lufthansa Heist, a portrayal of the famous 1978 Lufthansa Airline robbery at Kennedy Airport.
Hill died in a Los Angeles hospital on June 12, 2012, one day after his 69th birthday. Hill's girlfriend for the last 14 years of his life, Lisa Caserta, said: "He had been sick for a long time....his heart gave out." and CBS News reported Caserta saying: "he went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella." She said Hill recently suffered a heart attack before his death and that Hill died of complications from longtime heart problems related to smoking. Hill's family was present when he died.
Ray Liotta, who portrayed Hill in Goodfellas, on Hill's death: "Although I played Henry Hill in the movie Goodfellas, I only met him a few short times so I can’t say I knew him but I do know he lived a complicated life." Liotta added: "My heart goes out to his family and may he finally rest in peace.”
Hill was cremated the day after his death.
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- Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Simon & Schuster. p. 319. ISBN 0-671-44734-3. Gives conversation.
- Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Simon & Schuster. pp. 395–350. ISBN 0-671-44734-3. Gives most of the arrest story.
- Hill, Gregg and Gina (October 14, 2004). On the Run: A Mafia Childhood. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52770-X.
- Brian Swanson, "The Weird and Wacky Wedgwood Grapevine" (column), Wedgwood Echo, volume 26, issue 1, January 2011, p. 1, 7.
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- Henry Hill Goodfella artwork eBay.com. Accessed 2007-10-30.
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- 'Goodfellas' mobster blames alcohol for arrest Associated Press, Jim Suhr, December 15, 2009.
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- Fire hits 'Wiseguys' restaurant in West Haven wtnh.com. Accessed 2007-11-06.
- Mafia king on the straight and narrow BBC News. Accessed 2008-03-29
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Published in issue #901-902 October 13, 2006
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- Hill, Henry; Priscilla Davis (2002). The Wise Guy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run. NAL Trade. ISBN 0-451-20706-8.
- Hill, Henry; Bryon Schreckengost (2003). A Goodfella's Guide to New York: Your Personal Tour Through the Mob's Notorious Haunts, Hair-Raising Crime Scenes, and Infamous Hot Spots. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-7615-1538-0.
- Hill, Henry; Gus Russo (2004). Gangsters and Goodfellas: Wiseguys, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run. M. Evans and Company, Inc. ISBN 1-56731-757-X.
- Hill, Gregg and Gina (2004). On the Run: a Mafia Childhood. Time Warner Book Group. ISBN 0-446-52770-X.
- Volkman, Ernest; Cummings, John (October 1986). The Heist: How a Gang Stole $8,000,000 at Kennedy Airport and Lived to Regret It. New York: Franklin Watts. ISBN 0-531-15024-0.
- Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-44734-3.
- Pileggi, Nicholas (September 2011). Wiseguy (25th anniversary ed. ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 6, 7, 272. ISBN 9781451642216.
- Porter, David (2000). Fixed: How Goodfellas Bought Boston College Basketball. Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 0-87833-192-1.
- English, T.J. (2005). Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish-American Gangster. William Morrow. ISBN 0-06-059002-5.
- GoodFella Henry Official Site
- Got Henry Hill Official Shop and Site
- ZZZlist Interview with Henry Hill
- Henry Hill Arrest
- The Smoking Gun: Goodfella Henry Hill In Drug Bust
- The Smoking Gun: Henry Hill mugshots
- Articles/Biographies/Criminals/Hill, Henry
- Henry Hill at Find a Grave
- Henry Hill at the Internet Movie Database