Salvatore Naturale

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Mug shot of Naturale

Salvatore Antonio "Sal" Naturale,[1] also known as Donald Matterson[2] (c. 1953/1954– August 23, 1972) was an American bank robber whose attempted robbery of a Chase Manhattan bank branch in Brooklyn, along with John Wojtowicz, in August 1972, inspired the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. In the film he is portrayed by actor John Cazale.

Early life[edit]

Little is known about Naturale's background except for criminal acts he committed and that he lived in Manhattan, in the same neighborhood as John Wojtowicz. As a child growing up in Keansburg, New Jersey,[citation needed] Naturale had been picked up and arrested on many charges of truancy, grand larceny, burglary, and dangerous drugs. He spent most of his teen years in and out of state reform schools, and as a youth while incarcerated in prison, he was victim to numerous acts of sodomy from older, stronger inmates.

Within the three months before the fatal robbery attempt, Naturale had been charged with possession of burglary tools and possession of narcotics.

In his novelization of the crime, Patrick Mann suggests that Naturale had connections with the Italian mafia in New York City,[citation needed] but he in fact had no known associations with organized crime.[citation needed] Naturale sported a faint blond mustache, and crude tattoos on his arms and thighs, and lived mostly as a drifter, but a New York Times article stated that he remained in contact with and occasionally lived with his mother.

The robbery[edit]

Naturale and Wojtowicz first met at Danny's, a gay bar on Seventh Avenue South in lower Manhattan, where Wojtowicz initially claimed that a bank executive from Chase Manhattan had suggested they rob the bank.[3]

On August 22, 1972, Naturale and two accomplices attempted to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan bank at 450 Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn; the robbery was led by John Wojtowicz and Robert Westenberg. The robbers entered the bank armed with a .38 caliber handgun and carrying a box which contained a shotgun and a rifle; all three weapons were purchased by Wojtowicz.[3]

Westenberg was to provide the demand note to the bank manager but, unnerved by a police car on the street, fled the scene before the robbery was announced. Wojtowicz and Naturale then held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for 14 hours. Wojtowicz, a former bank teller, had some knowledge of bank operations and drew inspiration from scenes of The Godfather (1972), which he had seen earlier that day. The note they passed to the cashier read: "This is an offer you can't refuse."[4]

Before the robbery, Naturale had informed Wojtowicz and Westenberg that he would rather die than go back to prison. He was seen by the police on the scene as being nervous, highly strung, and volatile. The police feared that increasing the pressure placed on Naturale and Wojtowicz would cause them to become frightened, unbalanced, and impossible to negotiate with on reasonable terms.[citation needed]

During the robbery, Naturale was dressed in a black business suit and tie, and carried an attaché case. His last meal consisted of takeout pizza and soda pop, which he consumed during the holdout at the bank with the hostages. The robbery was meant to fund the sex reassignment operation of Wojtowicz's trans wife, Elizabeth Eden.[5] Naturale's share was to finance his two sisters' removal from foster care and separation from their mother, who drank and neglected all three of her children.[citation needed]

The standoff with police[edit]

During the robbery, Naturale surveyed the street and alleyway, realizing the robbers were surrounded by police. It was later reported by the bank manager and tellers he had held hostage that he spoke often of the tremendous power of the .30-06 rifle and his ability and willingness to use it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New York City Police Department (NYPD) feared Naturale during the hostage situation more than the more stable Wojtowicz. Naturale was the only one of the robbers who had a previous criminal record and was known by the police.

Wojtowicz fired a single shot at the police through the Chase Manhattan bank's exit rear door, fearing the police were preparing to storm the building. Only one other shot was fired during the standoff: when the rifle used by Wojtowicz accidentally discharged when it was dropped on the floor.[3]

Assuming the Donald Matterson identity[edit]

Wojtowicz identified Naturale to police by his criminal alias, "Donald Matterson". Naturale had used the alias when he was arrested for possession of narcotics and burglary tools five months before the bank robbery. Consequently, for two hours, local television stations, live at the scene, reported that the two suspects were Wojtowicz and Donald Matterson. It was not until later the latter was officially identified as Salvatore Naturale, who had charges pending against him for his arrest in Manhattan for possession of burglary tools, after having been released on parole.

Ambush and death[edit]

When entering the limo to be chauffeured to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in South Ozone Park, Queens, along with the hostages, Wojtowicz told Naturale to sit with bank employee Shirley Ball and one of her co-workers in the third row, while the others sat in the fourth, reserving the fifth row for himself and the two remaining hostages. There was a .38 caliber handgun hidden in the front seat of the limousine that Wojtowicz missed when searching the vehicle upon its first arriving at the bank. FBI Special Agent Fred Fehl positioned himself on the driver's side of the limo next to the open window closest to Naturale, who sat between two hostages in the third row. FBI Special Agent Dick Baker took up a position on the right side of the car closest to Wojtowicz, who was still situated in the rear seat. NYPD Police Chief of Detectives Louis C. Cottell, who headed the negotiations during the initial standoff, stayed 15 feet away from the rear of the limo.

When everyone prepared for the final standoff, the "getaway" Hansa Jet rolled out onto the tarmac where they sat in the limo. Baker asked the agent posing as the limousine driver, identified only as "Murphy", to ask whether the group wanted any food on the flight. Agent "Murphy" took advantage of this opportunity to assess the threat Naturale and Wojtowicz posed from where they were situated in the vehicle as he turned to ask them the trigger question. Baker responded with one word, "Yes," which was "Murphy's" cue to act. Agent "Murphy" grabbed the handgun with his left hand and ordered the two men to "freeze." Simultaneously, Agent Fehl and the driver wrestled with the barrel of Naturale's shotgun, knocking it toward the ceiling.

Agent "Murphy" shot Naturale in the chest at close range. Naturale slumped in the seat, mortally wounded.

Agent Baker secured the rifle lying across Wojtowicz's lap. Wojtowicz surrendered without further incident.

Naturale was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance that was waiting at the scene but was pronounced dead on arrival.[3] A middle-aged man named Wallace Hamilton, who told reporters he was a friend of Naturale's, identified Naturale's corpse at the city morgue following the robbery.[citation needed]

Dog Day Afternoon[edit]

Salvatore Naturale's story was used as the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon. (released in 1975), starring Al Pacino as Wojtowicz (called "Sonny Wortzik" in the film) and John Cazale, Pacino's co-star in The Godfather (1972), as Naturale.

In 1975, Wojtowicz wrote a letter to The New York Times expressing concern that people would believe the movie version of the events, which he said was only 30% accurate. Among other objections, he stated that the movie intimated that he had "sold out" Naturale to the police, which he claims was untrue. Several attempts were made on Wojtowicz's life following an inmate screening of the movie.

Wojtowicz would later, however, praise Al Pacino's portrayal of himself and Chris Sarandon's of his wife Elizabeth Eden as accurate. In a 2006 interview, the movie's screenwriter, Frank Pierson, said he had tried to visit Wojtowicz in prison many times while writing the screenplay, to get more details about his story, but Wojtowicz refused each time to see him because Wojtowicz thought he was not paid enough money for the rights to his story.[citation needed]

An 18-year-old actor was originally to be cast in the role of Naturale,[who?] but actor John Cazale, who was 39 years old at the time of production, ultimately got the part.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "LIFE". 
  2. ^ Meskil, Paul (August 24, 1972). "An Insider is Sought in Bank Holdup]". Daily News. 
  3. ^ a b c d "FBI Files" (PDF). Bitter Queen. Retrieved August 30, 2016. 
  4. ^ Venema, Vibeke (February 16, 2015). The man who robbed a bank for love. BBC. Retrieved March 9, 2018. 
  5. ^ "Retired Detective Remembers The Real 'Dog Day Afternoon' 40 Years Later". CBS. August 22, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2016. 
  • Game of Thieves: The Astonishing Inside Story of the Supertechnology Used by Criminals in Bank Robberies and Burglaries by Robert R. Rosberg
  • Documentary "The Making of Dog Day Afternoon" present on disc 2 of the two-disc Special Edition DVD.
  • The Boys in the Bank" by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore for Life, September 22, 1972, Vol. 73(12).
  • A Blighted "Affair" Led to Bank Holdup" August 24, 1972 The New York Times
  • A Mobster is Linked to Bizarre Holdup August 26, 1972 The New York Times