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 who, along with John Wojtowicz, 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], he 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 within the three months before the fatal robbery attempt, Salvatore had been charged with possession of burglary tools and possession of narcotics. As a youth while incarcerated in prison he was victim to numerous acts of sodomy from older, stronger inmates.

In the novelization of the crime by Patrick Mann, it is suggested that Naturale had connections with the Italian mafia in New York City, but he in fact had no known associations with organized crime. He sported a faint blond mustache and crude tattoos on his arms and thighs and lived mostly as a drifter, but a The New York Times article stated that he remained in contact with and occasionally lived with his mother. A middle-aged man named Wallace Hamilton, who told reporters that he was a friend of Naturale's, identified Naturale's corpse at the city morgue following the robbery.

The robbery[edit]

On August 22, 1972, Naturale 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. Westenberg was unnerved by a police car on the street and fled the scene before the robbery was underway. Wojtowicz and Naturale then held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for fourteen hours. Wojtowicz, a former bank teller, had some knowledge of bank operations. However, Wojtowicz had apparently based his plan on scenes from the movie The Godfather, which he had seen earlier that day.

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 as more pressure was put on Naturale and Wojtowicz, it would cause them to be frightened and unbalanced, and they would become impossible to negotiate with on reasonable terms. He was the only one of the three bank robbers who had a previous criminal record. During the robbery he 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 ate during the holdout at the bank with the hostages. The robbery was meant to fund the sex reassignment operation of John's wife. 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.

The standoff with police[edit]

During the robbery, Naturale surveyed the street and alleyway realizing that they were surrounded by police. It was later reported by the bank manager and tellers held hostage by him that he spoke often of the tremendous power of the .30-06 rifle and his ability and willingness to use it. He was more feared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New York City Police Department (NYPD) during the hostage situation than the more stable Wojtowicz. He was the only one of the robbers who had a previous criminal record and was known by the police. He fired a single shot at the police through the Chase Manhattan bank's exit rear door, fearing that the police were preparing to storm the building.

Assuming the Donald Matterson identity[edit]

Wojtowicz identified Salvatore to police by his criminal alias, "Donald Matterson." He used the alias when he was arrested for possession of narcotics and burglary tools five months before the bank robbery. 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 that he was officially identified as Salvatore Naturale, who had charges pending against him after being released on parole for his arrest in Manhattan for possessing burglary tools.

Ambush and death[edit]

When entering the limo to be chauffeured to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in South Ozone Park, Queens, Wojtowicz told Naturale to sit with bank employee Shirley Ball and another co-worker 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 John missed when searching the limo 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 Salvatore, 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 John, 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 Hansa Jet rolled out onto the tarmac where they sat in the limo. Baker asked an agent identified only as "Murphy" to ask whether the group wanted any food on the flight. He took advantage of this opportunity to assess the threat Naturale and Wojtowicz posed from where they were situated in the vehicle. Baker grabbed the handgun with his left hand and ordered the two men to "freeze." Simultaneously, he wrestled with the barrel of Naturale's shotgun, knocking it toward the ceiling and shooting him in the head point blank. Naturale slumped in the seat, mortally wounded. He was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance that was waiting at the scene, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Dog Day Afternoon[edit]

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

In 1975, John 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 to have been untrue. Several attempts were made on Wojtowicz's life following an inmate screening of the movie. He 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 screenwriter of the movie, Frank Pierson, said that he tried to visit Wojtowicz in prison many times to get more details about his story when he wrote the screenplay, but Wojtowicz refused each time to see him because he thought he was not paid enough money for the rights to his story. An 18-year-old actor was originally to be cast in the role of Naturale, but actor John Cazale, who was 39 years old at the time of production, ultimately got the part.


  1. ^ "LIFE". 
  2. ^ Meskil, Paul (24 August 1972). "An Insider is Sought in Bank Holdup]". Daily News. 
  • 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