The Real-Life Goodfellas: The Story Behind The Movie

These are the stories behind the real men and women whose lives were depicted in the movie Goodfellas.

Real Life Goodfellas

Few would deny that Goodfellas has become a classic, and Martin Scorsese, in making it, arguably produced the ultimate gangster picture and set the bar pretty high. But Goodfellas is so much more than just a mob movie. It is also one of the best satires of the American dream, a rise-and-fall movie, a tragedy, and a comedy.

One of the aspects of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas that has elevated the film to the classic status it holds today is the intense realism of its depictions of the life in the Mafia. This realism largely stems from the fact that, unlike films such as The Godfather and Once Upon A Time In America, Goodfellas is based on a true story of one gangster, his associates, and one of the most daring heists in American history.

The story comes courtesy of the 1986 nonfiction bestseller Wiseguy that detailed the life of Lucchese crime family associate Henry Hill, as well as his comrades like James “Jimmy The Gent” Burke and Thomas DeSimone, and their involvement in the infamous Lufthansa heist.

This was, at the time, the largest robbery ever committed on U.S. soil. Eleven mobsters, mainly associates of the Lucchese crime family, stole $5.875 million (more than $20 million today) in cash and jewels from a vault at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Here are the true stories of the people who carried out this heist as well as countless other crimes that helped make Goodfellas the crime classic it is today.

Henry Hill

Henry Hill Mugshot

Henry Hill, the central character in Goodfellas (played by Ray Liotta), was born in 1943 to an Irish-American father and a Sicilian-American mother in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York.

It was a neighborhood filled with Mafiosos and Hill admired them all from a young age. At just 14, Hill dropped out of school to start working for Paul Vario, a capo in the Lucchese crime family, and thus became a member of the infamous Vario crew. Hill started out just picking up money from local rackets and bringing them to the boss, but his responsibilities quickly escalated.

He began to get involved in arson, assault, and credit card fraud. After returning from a short military stint in the early 1960s, Hill returned to a life of crime. Though his Irish blood meant that he could never be a made man, he nevertheless became a highly active associate of the Lucchese family.

Among Hill’s closest compatriots at this time was fellow Lucchese family associate and friend of Paul Vario, James Burke. After years of truck hijacking, arson, and other crimes (including extortion, for which he served time in the 1970s), Hill and Burke played major roles in orchestrating the Lufthansa heist in 1978.

At the same time, Hill was involved in a point-shaving racket with the 1978-79 Boston College basketball team and ran a major narcotics operation in which he sold marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and quaaludes wholesale.

It was the drugs that brought Hill’s downfall when he was arrested on trafficking charges in April 1980. Initially, he wouldn’t fold to police interrogators, but amid growing suspicions that some of his own associates were planning to kill him in fear that he might put them in legal trouble, Hill began to talk.

In fact, it was Hill’s testimony about the Lufthansa heist that brought the arrests of many of the other men involved — and became the basis for Wiseguy, and thus Goodfellas.

After testifying, Hill was placed in the Witness Protection Program but was kicked out of after repeatedly revealing his true identity to others. He was, nonetheless, never tracked down and killed by his former associates, but instead died of complications related to heart disease on June 12, 2012, the day after his 69th birthday.

 

James Burke a.k.a. “Jimmy The Gent”

Jimmy The Gent

James Burke, played by Robert De Niro as “Jimmy Conway” in the film, was the principal architect of the Lufthansa heist.

Soon after he was born — in 1931, to an Irish immigrant single mother in New York — Burke was placed into foster care and shifted from orphanages to foster homes and back throughout his childhood. He suffered sexual and physical abuse from these caretakers, with one of his foster fathers even dying in a car crash because he was reaching back to hit Burke. The man’s widow blamed Burke for the accident and beat him for it until the child was moved on to his next stop.

Like Henry Hill, Burke’s Irish-American heritage made it impossible for him to become a “made man,” but by the 1950s, he had become a major player in the South Ozone Park and East New York criminal underworld with Paul Vario’s crew, earning his nickname “Jimmy The Gent” for his practice of tipping the drivers of the trucks that he stole.

Despite his nickname, Burke was known for his extreme violence. In 1962, for example, his fiancée told him that she was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend. On the wedding day, the police found the remains of the man cut up in a dozen pieces in his own car.

Burke is also thought to be the one who ordered, and possibly carried out, the murders of most of the men involved in the Lufthansa heist.

Soon after, following Henry Hill’s testimony in 1982, Burke was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for his involvement in the 1978–79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. While in prison, Burke was convicted of a previous murder he had committed and received another life sentence. He died in prison due to lung cancer in 1996.

Karen Hill

Karen Hill

Karen Hill — Henry’s wife, played by Lorraine Bracco in the film — was born Karen Friedman in New York City in 1946. Soon after her birth, her family moved to Long Island where she was raised in the Five Towns area.

She first met Henry through mutual friends while she was working at a dental office in New York. The pair’s first meeting — at the Villa Capra, a restaurant owned by notorious mobster “Frankie The Wop” — was a double date involving Paul Vario’s son, Paul Jr. (not Thomas DeSimone, as depicted in the film).

At first, Karen said that the date was disastrous and that Henry even stood her up on her second date, only further lowering her opinion of him. However, following a number of lavish dates after these initial fiascos, the two became a couple.

Karen and Henry eloped to North Carolina in 1965 when she was just 19, but eventually had a large Jewish ceremony back home to appease her parents. Soon after, they had two children, Gregg and Gina, and lived together with Karen’s parents before moving into their own place as Henry’s status rose within Vario’s crew.

But things turned sour when Henry went to prison on extortion charges in the 1970s. In his memoirs, Henry claims that, during this time, Karen was sleeping with Vario. When Henry faced prison again, on drug charges in 1980, he instead testified for the government, entered the Witness Protection Program, and took Karen and their kids along with him.

Eventually, however, Karen and Henry divorced in 1989, though it was not finalized until 2001.

Since then, she has remarried and lived under an alias due to the exposure from Wiseguy and Goodfellas.

Thomas DeSimone

Tommyd Henry Hill

Perhaps the most likable character in Goodfellas and unquestionably one of the most famous villains in film history is Tommy DeVito (played by Joe Pesci). In real life, he was known by the name Thomas DeSimone. Nicknamed “Two-Gun Tommy” or “Tommy D,”however, DeSimone was an imposing man who stood 6’2″ and weighed 225 pounds. DeSimone too stepped into the world of crime early in his life, joining Paul Vario’s crew in 1965, and according to Henry Hill, he committed his first murder two years later, when he was only 17 years old.however, His courage and determination were widely known in Mafia circles, but it was his short temper that would bring him a lot of trouble throughout his life. He was a “pure psychopath,” according to Henry Hill.

Joe Pesci portrayed Tommy DeVito (based on Thomas DeSimone) in “Goodfellas.”

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1950 to a deeply-rooted Mafia family, DeSimone soon after moved to New York City with his family.

DeSimone’s extended family included feared mobsters like a grandfather and an uncle who were both bosses of a Los Angeles crime family in the 1920s and 1950s, respectively. DeSimone also had two brothers that were associates of the powerful Gambino crime family in New York, one of which was murdered by the family for allegedly cooperating with authorities.

The weight of his brother’s reputation left DeSimone with something to prove, causing him to frequently lash out at others with violence. Finally, his sister, Phyllis, was a mistress of Jimmy Burke. Through this connection, Burke brought DeSimone on as a member of the Vario crew.

In the testimony used for the book Wiseguy, Henry Hill recalls that when he first met DeSimone, he was “a skinny kid who was wearing a wiseguy suit and a pencil mustache.” But at the age of 17, DeSimone committed his first murder. He shot a random pedestrian walking past him and Hill. He reportedly told Hill, “Hey, Henry, watch this.” before shooting the man in the head with a .38 pistol.

According to Hill, DeSimone relished the idea of killing people, his murderous tendencies aided by the fact that he was very often high on cocaine.

Perhaps DeSimone’s most brutal murder came in 1970, during a welcome home party for formerly imprisoned William “Billy Batts” Bentvena, a made man in the Gambino family. DeSimone became enraged over a snide comment that Bentvena made about DeSimone having once been a shoeshine boy. A couple of weeks later, because of the shoeshine comment as well as the fact that Burke had taken over Bentvena’s loan shark operation while the latter was in prison and didn’t want to relinquish it, Burke and DeSimone plotted to kill Bentvena.

Burke invited Bentvena to a bar owned by Hill for a night of drinking with the Vario crew. Burke got Bentvena drunk and then held him down while DeSimone beat him with a pistol. Thinking he was dead, Burke, Hill, and DeSimone placed him in the trunk of their car and drove away. After hearing sounds from the trunk, DeSimone and Burke realized that he was not yet dead, then beat and stabbed him to death before burying his body under a dog kennel.

Eight years later, during the Lufthansa heist, DeSimone acted as one of the key gunmen who collected the money. Then, following the robbery, he also carried out the killing of Parnell “Stacks” Edwards, a criminal associate that the thieves had hired to dispose of the truck used in the heist, but who had failed to do so.

DeSimone’s efforts were about to pay off in 1979 as he was told he was about to become a made man of the Lucchese Family. However, instead of becoming a made man, he got a bullet in the head after the Gambino family and Lucchese family decided to liquidate him because he had killed Billy Batts of the Gambino family, a made man.

In 1979, almost a year after the heist, DeSimone was declared missing.Hill further alleged that DeSimone was handed over to the Gambinos by Vario, who had learned that DeSimone had attempted to rape Karen Hill, Henry’s wife and Vario’s mistress.

Paul Vario

Paul Vario Mugshot

At the head of the operation responsible for many of the crimes committed by Thomas DeSimone, Henry Hill, and James Burke was Paul Vario, renamed “Paul Cicero” and played by Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas.

Vario was born in New York City in 1914 and began getting himself into legal trouble from an early age. By the time he was an adult, Vario was an experienced criminal, and at 6’3″, an imposing figure. His involvement in racketeering and loan-sharking led him into the Lucchese crime family, with which he became a made man and eventually a crew leader (“capo”).

With this crew and other associates, Vario gained control of most organized crime in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, near what is now known as John F. Kennedy International Airport, a major source of income for Vario’s crew.

Vario would rob the airport, extort its employees, and use his union connections to block federal investigators. And when Jimmy Burke came to Vario with the plans for the Lufthansa heist at the airport, it was ultimately Vario who had to approve it.

Not merely a boss who approved criminal activities without getting his own hands dirty, Vario himself was known to be a violent man. When a waiter accidentally spilled wine on his wife at a restaurant, for example, Vario sent men with baseball bats to beat the restaurant’s staff later that night.

In the end, Vario was arrested based on Hill’s testimony that Vario had defrauded the government by creating a fictitious job that would ensure Hill’s release from prison. Vario died in prison of a heart attack in 1988.

William Bentvena a.k.a. “Billy Batts”

Billy Batts Henry Hill

William “Billy Batts” Bentvena was born in 1921 in New York City and was raised in the same part of east Brooklyn as Henry Hill. In Goodfellas, Bentvena is only referred to by his nickname and is played by Frank Vincent.

Like his compatriots in the neighborhood, Bentvena became involved in crime at a young age, and by 1951 he was an associate of the Gambino crime family.

Unlike Henry Hill, Bentvena was a full-blooded Italian-American, and as such was able to become a made man. He reached this rank in 1961 and began carrying out hits as a street soldier with infamous mobster John Gotti.

He was arrested in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1964 while conducting a drug deal for the Gambino family and was sentenced to six years in prison. While Bentvena was in prison, Burke took over his loanshark operation.

Upon Bentvena’s release, Burke and DeSimone murdered him rather than give back the loanshark operation.

 

Structure of the Mafia

Each regional Mafia is made up of various Families or gangs. The no. may range from a few to over a 100 depending upon the region. Each Family has separate business dealings and tend to stay out of each other’s way. But sometimes their business enterprises may intermingle with each other to a very large extent, depending upon their proximity to each other and the nature of the business.

The Mafia had a very effective structure. It prevented the higher-ranked members of the Families to be responsible for the criminal enterprises. And any lower-ranked Mafioso could easily be bailed out of jail by cleaning his record and bribing the judges. The cops were also generally of the Mafia’s payroll and “looked the other way” whenever the Mafia were involved.


The picture displays a typical structure of the Mafia. Most of the Families had similar structures but there may have been slight differences.

The leader of each Mafia Family was known as the Boss or Don. He made all the major decisions and all the Mafia income ultimately came to him. His authority was required to control the Mafia members and to resolve any disputes.

Beneath the Don is the Underboss. The Underboss is the second-in-command but the power he had varied with different Mafia Families. In some cases he wielded enormous power and in some he wielded relatively much less. Some Underbosses were trained to succeed the Don on the event of his death or retirement.

There is a position between the Don and the Underboss too – The Consigliere. He acts like an adviser to the Don and is supposed to make impartial decisions based upon fairness and for the good of the Mafia, rather thank on personal vendettas. This p[position is generally appointed by the Don but sometimes it is also elected by members of the Mafia. The Consigliere also acts like the mouth of the Don often and commands huge respect just like the Don. He is, however, not directly involved with the criminal enterprises of the Mafia.

Just below the Underboss are the Capos. The number of Capos varied between the Families and depended upon the overall size of the Mafia Family. A Capo acts like a lieutenant or captain, leading his own section of the Family. He operates specific activities of the Mafia. A Capo is regarded to be successful only if he earns a huge amount of money for the Mafia. He keeps some of his earnings and the rest are passed up to the Underboss and ultimately the Don.

Below the Capo’s are the made-men and soldiers. Made-men are the ultimate enforcers of the Family who have proved themselves and command respect from their fellow Mafioso. Soldier’s are the lowest Mafia members. They do all the “dirty work” and as such are generally the ones arrested by the police. Soldiers command little respect and make relatively less money. The number of soldiers and made-men belonging to a Capo may vary tremendously.

The Mafia also use Associates. Associates are not actual members of the  mafia but are people involved with the criminal enterprises. The Mafia works through them. They may be drug-dealers, burglars, assassins, lawyers, or even police and politicians who are on the Mafia’s payroll.


Terminology of the Mafia ranks

Traditional terminology
1. Capo di tuttu capi (the “Boss of All Bosses”)
2. Capo di Capi Re (a title of respect given to a senior or retired member, equivalent to being a member emeritus, literally, “King Boss of Bosses”)
3. Capo Crimine (“Crime Boss”, known as a Don – the head of a crime family)
4. Capo Bastone (“Club Head”, known as the “Underboss” is second in command to the Capo Crimine)
5. Consigliere(an advisor)6. Caporegime(“Regime head”, a captain who commands a “crew” of around twenty or more Sgarriste or “soldiers”)
7. Sgarrista or Soldato (“Soldier”, made members of the Mafia who serve primarily as foot soldiers)
8. Picciotto (“Little man”, a low ranking member who serves as an “enforcer”)
9. Giovane D’Onore (an associate member, usually someone not of Italian ancestry)

Italian Mafia structure Capofamiglia –
Capofamiglia – (Don/Boss)
Consigliere – (Counselor/Advisor/Right-hand man)
Sotto Capo – (Underboss/Second-in-command)
Capodecina – (Captain/Capo)
Uomini D’onore – (“Men of Honor”/Made men/Soldiers


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The Rufus Buck Gang

In 1895, in the Indian Territory that became Oklahoma, a teenage gang of black and mixed-raced boys went on a two-week spree of committing horrible crimes against white settlers.

BuckGang

Named for their leader, 18-year-old Rufus Buck, the gang had a total of five members. Sam Sampson and Maoma July were both Creek Indians. The brothers Lewis and Lucky Davis were Creek freedmen. Buck was the son of a black woman and Creek Indian father.  All of them had been apprehended on minor offenses and served time in the Fort Smith jail prior to their crime spree that summer. The rumored cause for the spree was that Buck “boasted that his outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance.”The gang began building up a small stockpile of weapons while staying in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

 It started on July 28, 1895, when they shot and killed Deputy Marshal John Garrett near Okmulgee. On their way from that murder, they abducted and raped a Mrs. Wilson. They killed Gus Chambers when he resisted the gang’s theft of his horses. They then robbed a stockman, taking his clothing and boots and fired at him as he fled naked. Two days later the gang raped Rosetta Hansen while they held her husband at bay with Winchesters.
The gang was finally apprehended, brought to Fort Smith and convicted in a rape trial. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the verdict, and the gang was to die together. They were hanged on July 1, 1896 at 1 pm at Fort Smith

Rufus Buck [Founder – 1895-1896]
 07/01/1896) – Hanged, Ft. Smith, AR

Lewis Davis [member – 1895-1896]
 07/01/1896) – Hanged, Ft. Smith, AR

Lukey Davis [member – 1895-1896]
 07/01/1896) – Hanged, Ft. Smith, AR

Maoma July [member – 1895-1896]
 07/01/1896) – Hanged, Ft. Smith, AR

Sam Sampson  [member – 1895-1896]
07/01/1896) – Hanged, Ft. Smith, AR
Most men hanged in Fort Smith spent the morning of their executions deep in prayer or saying goodbye to friends and family. At least one member of the Buck Gang had more pressing concerns on his mind. That morning the execution was set for one in the afternoon. Immediately, Lucky Davis, a gang member, objected, saying he wanted to be hanged at ten in the morning so his body could be taken home on the “Cannon Ball” at 11:30. “Rufus Buck [then] said that if he were hanged at an early hour he would subjected to the inconvenience of several hours delay” before his body started home, and this would annoy him. Rufus and the three other gang members, including Lucky’s brother, sided together against him. Finally the gang decided to allow Marshal Crump to determine the time, which he set for one o’clock. At that point Lucky suggested that he might be hanged by himself, but Crump refused.

The execution proceeded at one o’clock with little incident. The Buck Gang were the only men to die on the gallows in Fort Smith for rape.

 Timeline for the Rufus Buck Gang (1895 1896)

In the end, there were four killings and numerous incidents.
Exact dates are a bit hard to come by, but here is the essence of their 13-day reign of terror…

07/30/1895 – U.S. Deputy Marshal John Garrett, Killed

07/31/1895 – rape and robbery

Ben Callahan beating; the gang taking Callahan’s boots, money, and saddle

Killing of a negro boy walking on the road

Killing travelers for their horse and property

Robbing of the Country Stores of West and J. Norrberg at Orket, Oklahoma

08/04/1895 – rapes involving the death of some victims

08/08/1895 – capture of the gang by an Indian-White posse

07/01/1896) – All hanged together at Ft. Smith, AR

This Is The Real Story Behind The Great Escape From Alcatraz

Alcatraz is known worldwide for being the most secure prison on the face of the earth. It was deemed impossible to escape from since its opening in 1868. Over the years, around 36 inmates had attempted to escape in the past, but none had actually survived the venture. However, this all changed on June 1962, when a group of three men plunged into the Watters of the San Fransisco Bay on their route to escape a prison referred to as, “The Rock”. Here’s how this seemingly impossible task occurred and here are the three masterminds behind the escape. You’ll be surprised to find some facts that were left out by the film based on this occurrence.

1.Frank Lee Morris

Frank Lee Morris was known as a mastermind. He can only be described as cunning, skilled, and highly intelligent. He was orphaned by the age of 11, and so he jumped from foster home to foster home and learned to be independent and take care of himself. Along with those skills, Morris was also known to be a troublemaker, being convicted of his first crime at the age of 13. It seemed that he had been destined for greatness, but not in the way everyone expected. His name went down in history for being the ringleader of the Great Escape from Alcatraz.

2.Not His First Rodeo

As an adult, Frank Lee Morris served prison time in multiple states, and he eventually landed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as “Alcatraz of the South.” Although the name sounds daunting, it seems that Morris wasn’t frightened of this nickname in the least, in fact Morris had something quite impressive in store for them. Frank lee Morris was serving 10 years in prison for bank robbery and then did the unimaginable, he managed to escape! Morris was on the run for a year until he was caught while committing robbery…..again. It was decided that the crook would be sent to a prison with higher security, Alcatraz.

3.The Brothers

With any good escape or plan, you need a team. While in Alcatraz, Frank Lee Morris found a team. The team consisted of two brothers named John and Clarence Anglin, and a man known as Allen West. The brothers had been born in Georgia and their family had moved to Florida for work. The parents of the brothers were seasonal farm workers, going wherever they were needed. Every June, the entire family made up of 13 children would go north for cherry picking.

4.The Anglin Brothers Bond

John and Clarence Anglin were described to be “thick as thieves” while growing up, and even more so as they got older. Their family would go north for cherry-picking season, occasionally going as far north as Michigan. It was during these times that the brothers would swim in the waters of Lake Michigan and were described to be very skilled swimmers. Looks like this skill would certainly come in handy for the duo. As adults, they began robbing banks together until they were finally caught and arrested for robbery in 1956.

5. The Group Forms

During their time at Atlanta Penitentiary, the Anglin brothers tried to escape prison numerous times, resulting in them being sent to Alcatraz. It was there that they met Frank Lee Morris, described as the mastermind behind the group. Together, along with another inmate named Allen West, the group of four had amassed a lot of experience in escaping prison. It was from there that they began hatching a plan to pull off the impossible feat of escaping from “The Rock.”

6. The Plan

The escape plan was simple, but the means to do it seemed impossible and it required the coordination of an entire team to pull off. It wasn’t the first time prisoners had attempted to escape from Alcatraz before, but this would be different. None of the other inmates had successfully pulled off the plans, and out of the dozens that attempted to escape, 23 were caught, six were shot, two drowned and another two are listed as “missing or presumed drowned.”

7. It Begins

All four of the members of the group had served time at the Atlanta Penitentiary, so it might be possible that all of them knew each other from there. It is known that John and Clarence Anglin knew Frank Lee Morris from Atlanta. The four men had cells right near each other during their time in Alcatraz, and they had plenty of time to devise a master plan to get out of Dodge. The plan would take all the courage the members could muster along with any resource they could get their hands on.

8. Collecting The Resources

Luckily enough, Alcatraz wasn’t just a prison, it was a factory as well. The inmates worked and so there was a substantial amount of resources around. The prison served the US military to make furniture, clothes and shoes. The group of four was also lucky because they were among the very few criminals in Alcatraz that were incarcerated for non-violent crimes. This meant that they were a bit more under the radar and the prison guards didn’t pay much attention to them.

9. The Items

The gang began to put their plan into action. The plan was extremely complex and even ingenious. Not only were they going to escape and do the impossible, they were also going to leave behind human-like dummies. They would also have to think of a way to get off the island once they were out of the prison and avoid any guards. Any attempt to escape would be met with bullets.

10. The Decoys

The team members were all in charge of their own responsibilities. The Anglin brothers were in charge of making dummy heads to leave behind in the gang’s empty beds. They created these heads out of soap wax, toilet paper, and real human hair that was stolen from the barber shop in Alcatraz. Morris was in charge of creating an accordion-like-vessel to inflate the raft and life vests.

11. The Dig

The team had to make tools to dig out of their cells and unscrew the bolts on the vents. They were able to make picks and wrenches out of items such as spoons from the cafeteria and wood from the workshop. From 5:30 PM until 9 PM everyday they would work at chipping away holes large enough to crawl through. They took out the vents in their cells, and then used the picks to chisel the holes larger.

12. Good News

Luckily for the gang, the prison was already old and crumbling in many ways. Saltwater ran through the pipes for showering and washing dishes which ended up destroying the pipes and leaked into the prison walls. Over time, the salt water eroded the cement, making it crumble. The water was also a bit warm so that the prisoners wouldn’t get used to the freezing water like the kind in the San Francisco Bay.

13. The Noise

Morris would play the accordion when possible and the noise was enough to cover up the sound of chipping away at cement. Behind the cells, was an unguarded utility corridor with pipes running up and down.

14. A Jungle Gym

The utility corridor can basically be described as an unguarded jungle gym. If they could get their cells wide enough, they would be able to climb up three floors to the roof. Once they get to the top, they would have to get one of the large shafts open to get onto the roof. They found that many of the shafts were cemented shut, but they eventually were able to get one open using their wrench.

15. The Big Squeeze

By the time May of 1962 came around, both of the Anglin brothers and Morris had broken through the walls in their cells.The holes were big enough for them to squeeze their bodies through, which was all they needed. They made a raft and life vests by gluing and stitching raincoats together. They used over 50 raincoats to create the items, which were absolutely necessary.

16. The Signal

Since everything was ready, all they needed to wait for was Allen West to finish his escape hole and the entire gang would be ready to go at any moment. However, when the signal came, the plan didn’t exactly work out as they thought.On June 11th, 1962, Allen West gave the signal to the other members that he had dug his hole large enough to make through.

17. The Plan Sets Into Action

After lights out that same day, the gang set their plan to escape into action. There was concern whether any of them would make it out alive. They were prepared to do anything to get out, even if it meant risking their lives. After the light went out that night, they moved their decoys and get out of their cells.

18. The Plan Goes Awry

Although the Anglin brothers and Morris got out of their cells easily, it seemed that Allen West was having some difficulty. Although he informed the group that his hole was big enough to get out, he seemed to misjudge the size and ease of making the hole bigger. Although Frank Lee Morris tried to help West, the cement didn’t seem to budge. At 9:30 PM, Morris asked for West to pass him a glass of water. They then came to the conclusion that West had to be left behind.

19. One Left Behind

Although leaving a member behind was not an easy decision, the group wasn’t left with many options. They couldn’t make too much noise trying to widen the hole in West’s cell, because it would have drawn attention of the guards. It also might’ve helped since with one less person, the raft would’ve been significantly lighter. The group of three men then started their climb up 30 feet of plumbing in the utility corridor.

20.Downward

The three made it to the cell house roof rather easily and they continued to cross at least 100 feet of rooftop and then started their descent. The three climbed down 50 feet of piping on the side of the building to the ground.They landed on the ground close to the shower area and were able to sneak past the guards. They managed to outsmart the guards and made their way to shore where they stopped to inflate their raft and vests.

21. The Alarm

This was thee last time anyone ever saw Frank Lee Morris, John or Clarence Anglin again. They set off on their raft at 11:30 at night and weren’t discovered to be missing until the next morning. The next morning, the residents of Alcatraz were woken up to blaring sirens, and many of them were confused.

22. Finally Free

Allen West had been left behind, but he hadn’t given up. He continued to work on getting the hole in his cell large enough to squeeze through, and once he did he went on to follow the other three. He climbed to the rooftop but when he got there, the others had already left. He had a decision whether to swim to safety, which could kill him, or go back to his cell.

23. Conclusion

Allen West returned to his cell and waited until the morning. West cooperated with the authorities and told them everything that had happened. According to him, the others were headed to Angel Island and once there they planned on stealing a car, some clothes and then separating.

24. The Issue

The issue with this statement was that no such car robbery had been reported in the area. They figured the three had either landed somewhere else, or Morris and the brothers never made it. West also told authorities that the whole scheme had been his idea and that he was the mastermind behind the escape. The FBI was called in and a formal investigation was opened up.

25. Freezing Waters

After searching the waters, no bodies were ever found, although personal belongings were found floating in the waters the next day. The temperature of the waters during the night got to be 50 to 54 degrees. Experts say that a human male could have survived around 20 minutes in the cold waters before body functions would begin to deteriorate.

26. A Cold Case

The FBI investigation closed in 1979, 17 years after the escape. The results were that the inmates likely drowned in the in the San Francisco Bay. Back in 2009, the Deputy US Marshal told NPR that, “there’s an active warrant, and the Marshals Service doesn’t give up looking for people.” Luckily enough, there was more to be heard from the people who managed to escape Alcatraz.

27. Calculating The Currents

About a month after the escape, a Norwegian freighter reported seeing a body 17 miles from the famous Golden Gate Bridge. It was said that the body had been wearing similar clothing to that of an Alcatraz prisoner. Unfortunately the report was filed late and the body was never found. In 2014, researches began to calculate that if they had left at midnight that night, the water currents would’ve actually worked in their favor, and they probably survived.

28. Christmas Card

In 2015, the History Channel created a documentary that presented audiences with more evidence that the brothers had successfully escaped. The family had received signed Christmas cards and the handwriting was confirmed to belong to the Anglin brothers. However, the date of delivery could not be determined. the Anlgin family also had a photograph of the two brothers taken I Brazil in 1975. When forensic experts analyzed the photo, they concluded that it was likely the brothers.

29.Close Contact

Another piece of evidence about the escape was a deathbed confession by one of the Anglin siblings, Robert. He confessed that he had been in contact with his two brothers from 1963 to 1987, but eventually lost contact with them.Members of the Anglin family have not tried to search for their missing siblings in Brazil because the case still remains an open investigation. If they were found, the punishment would be very severe.

30. Final Hint

To this day, it’s uncertain whether Frank Lee Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin survived the escape from Alcatraz but many seem to believe it is possible.In January 2018, the FBI was forced to reopen the investigation after the San Francisco Police Department received a letter. The letter said, “My name is John Anglin. I escaped from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!

Blackbeard: History of the Dreaded Pirate

Pirate

The pirate Blackbeard is perhaps the most notorious of sea robbers.

He and other pirates plagued shipping lanes off North America and throughout the Caribbean in the early-eighteenth century: an era commonly referred to as the “Golden Age of Piracy.”

From Anonymity, a Life of War and Roguery

Despite his legendary reputation, little is known about the early life of Blackbeard. Even his true name is uncertain, though it is usually given as some variation of Edward Thatch or Teach.

He is reported to have served as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War (1701 – 1714), and turned to piracy sometime after the war’s conclusion.

In Pursuit of a Famous Pirate

N.C.-based Maritime archaeologist and historian David Moore spent considerable time tracing the history of Blackbeard.

The earliest primary source document Moore located that mentions the pirate by name dates to the summer of 1717. Other records indicate that by the fall of 1717 Blackbeard was operating off Delaware and Chesapeake bays in conjunction with two other pirate captains, Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet.

Blackbeard served an apprenticeship under Hornigold before becoming a pirate captain in his own right.

Learn More About Stede Bonnet

Queen in the Caribbean

Late in the fall of 1717, the pirates made their way to the eastern Caribbean. It was here, off the island of Martinique, that Blackbeard and his fellow pirates captured the French slaveship La Concorde –– a vessel he would keep as his flagship and rename Queen Anne’s Revenge.

After crossing the Atlantic during its third journey, and only 100 miles from Martinique, the French ship encountered Blackbeard and his company. According to a primary account, the pirates were aboard two sloops, one with 120 men and twelve cannon, and the other with thirty men and eight cannon.

With the French crew already reduced by sixteen fatalities and another thirty-six seriously ill from scurvy and dysentery, the French were powerless to resist. After the pirates fired two volleys at La Concorde, Captain Dosset surrendered the ship.

View Real Weaponry Found on the Ship

From La Concorde to Mauvaise Rencontre

The pirates took La Concorde to the island of Bequia in the Grenadines where the French crew and the enslaved Africans were put ashore. While the pirates searched La Concorde, the French cabin boy, Louis Arot, informed them of the gold dust that was aboard. The pirates searched the French officers and crew and seized the gold.

The cabin boy and three of his fellow French crewmen voluntarily joined the pirates, and ten others were taken by force including a pilot, three surgeons, two carpenters, two sailors, and the cook. Blackbeard and his crew decided to keep La Concorde and left the French the smaller of the two pirate sloops.

The French gave their new and much smaller vessel the appropriate name Mauvaise Rencontre (Bad Encounter) and, in two trips, succeeded in transporting the remaining Africans from Bequia to Martinique.

Sailing, Slaving, and PiracyLearn about the La Concorde’s journeys prior to its capture by Blackbeard.

View Artifacts: Tools and InstrumentsExamine some of the tools and instruments Blackbeard and his crew used to navigate and survive at sea.

An Increasingly Dangerous Pirate Force, 1717-18

Leaving Bequia in late November, Blackbeard with his new ship, now renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, cruised the Caribbean, taking prizes and adding to his fleet. According to David Moore’s research, from the Grenadines, Blackbeard sailed north along the Lesser Antilles plundering ships near St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Nevis, and Antigua, and by early December he had arrived off the eastern end of Puerto Rico.

From there, a former captive reported that the pirates were headed to Samana Bay in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic).

By April 1718, the pirates were off the Turneffe Islands in the Bay of Honduras. It was there that Blackbeard captured the sloop Adventure, forcing the sloop’s captain, David Herriot, to join him. Sailing east once again, the pirates passed near the Cayman Islands and captured a Spanish sloop off Cuba that they also added to their flotilla.

Blackbeard Terrorizes Charleston, 1718

Turning north, they sailed through the Bahamas and proceeded up the North American coast. In May 1718, the pirates arrived off Charleston, South Carolina, with Queen Anne’s Revenge and three smaller sloops.

In perhaps the most brazen act of his piratical career, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston for nearly a week. The pirates seized several ships attempting to enter or leave the port and detained the crew and passengers of one ship, the Crowley, as prisoners.

As ransom for the hostages, Blackbeard demanded a chest of medicine. Once delivered, the captives were released, and the pirates continued their journey up the coast.

Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, p. 73″Teach detained all the Ships and Prisoners, and, being in want of medicines, resolves to demand a Chest from the Government of the Province… threatning [sic], that if they did not send immediately the Chest of Medicines, and let the Pyrate-Ambassadors return… they would murder all their Prisoners…”

Mishaps Off the North Carolina Coast

Soon after leaving Charleston, Blackbeard’s fleet attempted to enter Old Topsail Inlet in North Carolina, now known as Beaufort Inlet. During that attempt, Queen Anne’s Revenge and the sloop Adventure grounded on the ocean bar and were abandoned. Research by David Moore, and others, has uncovered two eyewitness accounts that shed light on where the two pirate vessels were lost.

According to a deposition given by David Herriot, the former captain of Adventure, “the said Thatch’s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge run a-ground off of the Bar of Topsail-Inlet.” Herriot further states that Adventure “run a-ground likewise about Gun-shot from the said Thatch”.

Captain Ellis Brand of the HMS Lyme provided additional insight as to where the two ships were lost in a letter (July 12, 1718) to the Lords of Admiralty. In that letter Brand stated that: “On the 10th of June or thereabouts a large pyrate Ship of forty Guns with three Sloops in her company came upon the coast of North carolina ware they endeavour’d To goe in to a harbour, call’d Topsail Inlet, the Ship Stuck upon the barr att the entrance of the harbour and is lost; as is one of the sloops.”

See Blackbeard Artifacts in BeaufortVisit the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort’s popular exhibit featuring a huge selection of artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Was the Loss of QAR Blackbeard’s Gambit?

In his deposition, Herriot claims that Blackbeard intentionally grounded Queen Anne’s Revenge and Adventure in order to break up the company, which by this time had grown to over 300 pirates. Intentional or not, that is what happened as Blackbeard marooned some pirates and left Beaufort with a hand picked crew and most of the valuable plunder.

The Reckoning

Blackbeard’s piratical career ended six months later at Ocracoke Inlet on the North Carolina coast. There he encountered an armed contingent sent by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood and led by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

In a desperate battle aboard Maynard’s sloop, Blackbeard and a number of his fellow pirates were killed. Maynard returned to Virginia with the surviving pirates and the grim trophy of Blackbeard’s severed head hanging from the sloop’s bowsprit.

Buy “Blackbeard Reconsidered: Mist’s Piracy, Thache’s Genealogy”Read the book from North Carolina Historical Publications to learn more about Blackbeard’s family and origins.

Blackbeard Reconsidered

In 2015, historian Baylus Brooks examined official government records in Jamaica and Church of England records to gain new insight into the identity of Blackbeard. Brooks was able to assembly the immediate lineage of Edward Thache, a respected resident of Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Because of this work, Blackbeard’s actions now can be placed in an appropriate historical context. Brooks’s genealogical research is enhanced by Blackbeard’s family tree contained in the book he wrote on the subject, which also includes information on when the family moved to Jamaica.

How Lenny McLean became the hardest man in Britain

East End hard-man Lenny McLean with his beloved dogs

There’s some footage towards the beginning of The Guv’nor, Paul Van Carter’s brutal yet measured documentary about Lenny McLean, which just about sums up the temperament of the famed East End hard-man.

In the clip, from 1986, McLean patiently bounces up and down in a boxing ring, looking slightly like a silverback gorilla about to be released into the wild, preparing to take on an undefeated fighter named Brian ‘Mad Gypsy’ Bradshaw in an unlicensed bout.

From the grainy video alone it is difficult to tell whether Bradshaw is a member of the traveller community, but it takes just a few seconds for the other half of his nickname to prove emphatically correct.

Striding forward to touch gloves with McLean in order to start the fight, Bradshaw – long before a bell has tolled – head-butts his opponent square on the chin.

In the course of human history, few decisions have proven less wise, and fewer still so instantly regretted. To a backdrop of gasps, McLean recoils, gently touching a glove to his mouth to check for blood, before unleashing utter mayhem.

Bradshaw is floored by the first punch, a huge right hook, before McLean boots him while he’s down, punches him a dozen more times, madly kicks him, picks him up a bit, punches him a lot more again, then repeatedly stamps on his head until four exceptionally plucky spectators intervene, restraining the victor just about long enough for the fight to be called to a halt.

It’s terrifying, but to many people, that was just the Guv’nor. The hardest man in Britain.

Lenny McLean
Lenny McLean ruled over the East End for decades

Defining Lenny McLean, who died in 1998, beyond calling him ‘hard’ is no easy task. Consult his online biography, for instance, and you’ll be met with the following list of pursuits – the like of which you’ll be pressed to match in 2016, no matter how long you spend on LinkedIn:

“A bare-knuckle fighter, bouncer, criminal and prisoner, author, businessman, bodyguard, enforcer, weightlifter, television presenter and actor.”

With The Guv’nor, a feature documentary that shows in cinemas tonight and sees release on DVD from Monday, Van Carter attempts to make some sense of that extraordinary life. To do so he collaborated with Jamie McLean, Lenny’s only son, who fronts the documentary, turning the film into not only an examination of its subject, but its presenter too.

lenny mclean son
Jamie McLean, Lenny’s only son

The Guv’nor follows Jamie, 45, around the now heavily gentrified areas of east London where McLean grew up and spent most of his days, eventually becoming the most famous – and feared – man around. Through interviews with McLean’s old friends and family, Jamie builds a complex portrait of his father and discovers, in unflinching detail, how he became one of the most notorious men in London.

“It was an emotional thing to do, talking about my dad, especially as he isn’t here anymore,” Jamie says. “We got there in the end, but even going around those parts of London, bumping into people who had stories about him and remembered him as a kid, was very hard for me.”

Born into a working class family in Hoxton in 1949, Lenny McLean’s father died when he was six, leaving him to be raised by his mother, Rose, and later a stepfather, Jim Irwin. A local conman, Irwin physically abused McLean and his siblings (who refuse to speak on camera in the documentary) throughout his childhood, unleashing regular beatings until the children’s great-uncle, a gangster named Jimmy Spink, stepped in to deal with Irwin in a predictably forthright manner.

Consumed with rage, Lenny became a brawler as he grew older (and bigger, reaching 6’3” and over 20st at his peak), before mixing with criminals – at one point associating with the Kray twins – and serving a prison sentence for petty crimes.

lenny mclean
A 17-year-old Lenny in 1966

It didn’t take long for Lenny to make a name for himself as the toughest street fighter around, earning the nickname ‘Ten Men Len’ on account of it taking ten men to take him down. Turning to bare-knuckle and unlicensed boxing to earn money (a license was never possible for him, thanks to his criminal convictions), regularly knocking out opponents far larger than him.

Despite that local environment, Jamie – an honest and extremely likeable frontman for The Guv’nor, who admits to his own history of brushes with the law for violence – says the abuse Lenny suffered as a child ignited a rage his father was rarely able to escape from.

“My dad wasn’t a born fighter. He was uneducated and a product of his upbringing, traumatised by what he’d been through, and probably had mental health problems as a result of all that. Fighting was all he knew.”

In particular, through the course of the film Van Carter and Jamie discovered Lenny likely suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as a direct result of his upbringing.

“The violence was a way of managing and concealing the OCD that directly sprung from abuse,” Van Carter, 40, says. “He almost satisfied the chaos of that psychological disorder through fighting, hiding any vulnerabilities he might have felt mentally.”

In the documentary, Jamie tells innumerable tales of his father’s extreme violence, never sugar-coating or seeking to present Lenny as less aggressive than his reputation. For instance, one fight outside a pub in Hoxton, started when a local asked to see him outside, ended with Lenny ripping the man’s windpipe out with his teeth.

lenny mclean 
Lenny McLean with the actors Craig Fairbrass and Frank Harper

As Lenny McLean grew older, he began using his considerable reputation to guard doors at nightclubs across London, including Camden Palace and the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, becoming a de facto leader for bouncers in the capital. In this period he was shot, accused of murder (later acquitted) and enjoyed another stint behind bars.

In his work, Jamie admits, it was all violence. As a father, though, Lenny was nothing but a big softie.

“He was gentle and funny to us and his friends, never raising a finger to my sister and me,” Jamie says. “What my dad did, in work and on the streets, was bully bullies. Unprovoked violence only ever came as a vigilante, clattering blokes on the estate who’d hit their wives or kids, sometimes even working with the police to sort out problems they couldn’t get near. People respected him in the area and still do; that was the old code of honour.”

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Jamie McLean with his parents, Lenny and Val, at a family Christmas

That safety didn’t allow Jamie to act as he liked as a kid, however. He may have had the hardest dad in town, but it came at a cost.

“We knew the consequences if we told him that we’d had a problem or someone had done something to us. Telling him someone had hit us would have resulted not just in violent revenge, but extreme violence, so we had to keep quiet,” he says, before admitting there was one perk: “Me and my mates never queued for a club anywhere in London.”

lenny mclean
McLean strikes a pose at a caravan park

After years of fighting, the late 1990s brought a remarkable change in Lenny’s life. Giving up violence and moving to Kent, he instead became something of a creative, writing a best-selling autobiography, also called The Guv’nor, and turning to acting, most famously in the TV series The Knock and as Barry the Baptist in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 gangster film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

“That’s what he always wanted to do. He was a good fighter, especially on the streets, but his lasting legacy was acting. When he arrived on the set of Lock Stock, someone asked him what drama school he attended. Without missing a beat, Len told him ‘I’ve been shot twice, stabbed 100 times and had 10,000 bar-room brawls – is that enough drama for you?’

“Guy Ritchie said he was a natural, with perfect timing. If he was around today he would’ve been a really accomplished British character actor, maybe in Game of Thrones or something. He’d probably have tried Shakespeare for all we know…”

As it is, we’ll never know what the future had in store. During filming on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he complained of flu symptoms that later turned out to be lung cancer, and died that July, aged 49. When Lock Stock was released a few weeks later, Ritchie dedicated it to Lenny.

“You don’t get Guv’nors like my dad any more,” Jamie says, wistfully. “He was the last of a dying breed. These days kids are so trivial. You can have a gun pulled on you in a club just for looking at someone, or being in the wrong postcode. And then everything’s on camera anyway. It’s all changed, and had started to even by the time he died.”

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The McLean family portrait in the late 90s

In addition to the documentary, Lenny’s story will return to the big screen next year with My Name Is Lenny, a biopic produced by Van Carter (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Jamie, and starring Mad Max actor Josh Hellman in the titular role, alongside Sir John Hurt, and MMA fighter Michael Bisping in support.

Almost 17 years after his father’s death, both films are intended to add some depth to the fearsome character of Lenny McLean. Van Carter and Jamie admit they’re passion projects, but hold high hopes for the audience reaction.

“My dad was a working class kid in the East End with no positive role models, an abusive upbringing and OCD, and his journey was to fight and fight and fight to get away from that,” Jamie says. “In the end he did steer his life in a positive direction and a proper profession. It’s not rags to riches, we know that, but he got through the darkness and made something of himself. Even today, that’s inspiring for people.”

The 10 Most Successful Gangsters of All Time

 

Who says crime doesn’t pay? If you are willing to take chances and know that you may live a fabulous but somewhat abbreviated existence, you too could be a gangster. As demonstrated by our list there are times crime definitely does pay. These larger than life gangsters lived fabulous lives although for many of them it lasted a relatively short time.

They owned mansions, planes, yachts, jewels, furs, cars and even an island. They had designer clothes, designer drugs and an endless supply of entertainment. Unfortunately with the type of work they dealt in, they had to be extremely careful so certain precautions always had to be taken. Bodyguards, food tasters, armored vehicles, alternate identities and even drastic plastic surgery were also part of their lifestyle. These were just a few of the preventative measures that could be taken for their protection and to keep them on top of the game.

Individuals like these were always targeted by rival gangs; it was a dangerous existence albeit a fantastic one.  Is this why we are so fascinated by gangsters? Our culture reflects the fascination through movies, TV shows and books. Prohibition seemed to spawn a new breed bringing players like Al Capone, and gambling allowing others like Meyer Lansky to rise to the top of the heap. Of course drug trafficking on a grand scale in the modern day ushered in South American drug lords and powerful cartels.

No matter what though, at some point after all the fun, the law does catch up.  Sometimes it takes years but it does happen. Most on this list faced charges of drug conspiracy and tax evasion, not to mention murder. Many spent years on the run avoiding the law, or worse yet, hired assassins. There is definitely a price to pay for this type of life. These gangsters usually came to violent ends or rotted away in jail cells until they died. Let’s take a look at the ten most successful criminals in terms of financial success and how they made their fortunes.

10. Frank Lucas: $52 Million

Born in 1930, in La Grange, North Carolina, Frank Lucas moved to Harlem in 1946. He aspired to be what he termed “Donald Trump rich” and so he calculated a plan after seeing the potential of the heroin business that was largely fed by the Vietnam War at that time. U.S Servicemen were exposed to all sorts of drugs overseas and many came back with raging addictions.

Lucas knew the potential for a huge profit was there if he could obtain the heroin from the source and bypass the Italian mafia that was in control of Harlem at the time. After traveling to Vietnam and setting up contacts and connections there, he was able to ship in tons of heroin from Southeast Asia on a regular basis. He hired only family members and trusted friends and eventually he took control of the heroin trade in New York and New Jersey. Working with Khun Sa, a well-known opium lord, Lucas arranged to have the heroin hidden in coffins that were flown from Vietnam to the U.S.

During the height of his operation he was making approximately a million dollars a day and his net worth was estimated to have been in the neighborhood of $52 million making him number ten on our list of most successful gangsters. Ironically, after serving time, Lucas was said to be sorry for his part in the devastation of Harlem and for the damage he caused so many individuals and families. He spent time attempting to undo some of the damage by working with his daughter’s non-profit organization, Yellow Brick Roads, protecting children of incarcerated parents. In 2007, his life was depicted in the movie American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington.

9. Jose Figueroa Agosto: $100 Million

Jose Figueroa Agosto was born June 28th, 1964 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is said to have risen in power within his crime family after he killed a driver that had stolen a shipment of cocaine. Even though he was caught and convicted for the murder he managed to escape, walking out of the prison with a fake release order and fleeing to the Dominican Republic.

He made his millions in drug trafficking at some point controlling over 90% of the drug traffic from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. He successfully eluded the law by creating alternate identities and paying bribes to law enforcement personnel but his luck finally ran out. He was arrested in July of 2010 by DEA, FBI, U.S. Marshals, and the Puerto Rican Police. His fortune was estimated at approximately $100 million making him number nine on our list.

8. Joseph Kennedy: $300 million

Born on September 6th, 1888, in Boston, Massachusetts, Joseph P. Kennedy made his first million by age 30. Already in the liquor business legally he had to take extreme measures when Prohibition started or lose his business, so he contacted mobsters in New York and Chicago and became a successful bootlegger. Even after liquor was made legal again, Kennedy maintained those questionable ties and it’s said to have played a part in helping him control certain political elections.

According to Fortune Magazine in his prime, Kennedy had a net worth of more than $300 million. As father to a U.S. President, a District Attorney and a Senator, you might raise a brow seeing him on our list, but with his known associations with the likes of mobsters such as Frank Costello and Sam Giancana and allegations of influencing unions, fixing elections and his bootlegging stint, he seems right at home as number eight on the list. Joseph Kennedy died November 18th, 1969, outliving all of his sons except for Ted.

7. Meyer Lansky: $600 Million

Meyer Lansky, originally Maier Suchowljansky, was born July 4th, 1902. Lansky was one of the most well-known gangsters of his time. Born a Polish Jew in Russia, he immigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1911, moving to New York’s Lower East Side.  Partnering with Bugsy Siegel he ran a floating crap game organizing a small gang and moving on to bigger and better things including auto theft, burglary, and liquor smuggling.

He worked under the protection of the Masseria crime family, even moving on to putting together a group of professional assassins. Supposedly it was Lansky who conspired with Lucky Luciano to eventually have Masseria killed in 1931. Lansky joined Luciano from 1932 to 1934 forming a national crime syndicate. Lansky became a major banker in the operation and used international accounts to launder money. His success continued as he moved to developing gambling operations in Cuba, Florida and eventually Las Vegas. It was Lansky that financed his old friend Siegel’s casino in Las Vegas and it was also Lansky that ordered the hit on Siegel when he attempted to steal from the syndicate.

When Cuba became a problem after Fidel Castro rose in power, Lansky turned his attention to the Bahamas, continuing to expand his gambling empire across the ocean. You name it, Lansky was into it, including narcotics, prostitution, pornography, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, etc. He squirreled away his vast holdings in Swiss bank accounts. In his heyday Forbes named him as one of the 400 richest people in the U.S. with a net worth of over $600 million making him number seven on our list. Although he attempted to flee to Israel, Lansky was forced back to the U.S. to face charges but due to his ill health he did not spend much jail time. Most indictments were discharged and he died of lung cancer in Miami at age 83.

6. Al Capone: $1.3 Billion

Alphonse Capone was born on January 17th, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. He was born into a respectable family, his father was educated and making a living as a barber. Capone grew up living in a Brooklyn tenement near the Navy Yard. Although Capone was very bright he was expelled from Catholic school at age 14 for assaulting a teacher and he never returned. He met gangster Johnny Torrio and was seduced by Torrio’s lifestyle. He joined Torrio’s gang rising quickly and acquiring the scar in a knife fight that earned him the nickname “Scarface”.

He moved to Chicago in 1909 at Torrio’s request to help run operations there and by 1925 when Torrio retired, Capone became the boss of Chicago running the prostitution, gambling and bootlegging rackets there. He was ruthless, always attempting to take out other gangs and increase his territory. He ran the Chicago Mafia making most of his money during the prohibition period including over $60 million monthly from illegal alcohol alone. He was able to live the high life even refusing to carry a gun as a mark of his status, however he rarely traveled with less than two bodyguards and he almost always traveled under the cover of dark.

Capone was involved in probably one of the most infamous gang hits in history; the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. Tired of dealing with his rival, Bugs Moran and his Northsiders gang, Capone ordered the hit for February 14th, 1929, staging it as a raid with the henchmen wearing stolen police uniforms. Unfortunately for Capone, Moran escaped but it was well-known who had attempted the hit. He had just about everyone on his payroll including government officials, judges, police officers and City Hall personnel.

His fortune would have been worth approximately $1.3 billion today landing him the number six spot on our list. Unfortunately the law did catch up with Capone and he was arrested and prosecuted by the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion. He spent 11 years in prison, serving time in Alcatraz until he became ill and was released early for good behavior. He died on January 25th, 1947 at age 48.

5. Griselda Blanco: $2 Billion

Griselda Blanco, also known as the “The Godmother and The Black Widow,” was born in Colombia on February 15th, 1943. She is suspected of having committed over 200 murders while transporting cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. She was raised by an abusive mother and drifted into prostitution at a young age. Working as a prostitute she became involved with the Medellin Cartel. Working for them, she helped smuggle Colombian cocaine throughout the U.S., even designing special undergarments that could be used to transport large amounts through U.S Customs.

Blanco arrived in New York in the mid 1970’s, a successful drug smuggler running a huge narcotics operation but U.S. law enforcement was on her tail and after intercepting one of her shipments she and more than 30 of her partners were indicted. Afraid she would be captured, Blanco returned to Colombia, but eventually she came back to the U.S. and this time settled in Miami.

She continued working for the Medellin Cartel, acquiring her reputation for murder until she was eventually caught and jailed for drug conspiracy. Upon her release Blanco returned to Colombia where she was gunned down by two hit men on motorcycles at age 69. In her time she was making approximately $80 million a month and during her peak she was worth $2 billion. That makes this dangerous lady gangster number five on our list.

4. Carlos Lehder: $2.7 Billion

Born in Armenia, Colombia, on September 7th, 1949, Carlos Lehder became a founding member of the Medellin Cartel, eventually taking control of an island in the Bahamas and using it to transport cocaine between Colombia and the U.S. He used connections he had made in prison to help him import cocaine and distribute across the United States. A self-proclaimed Nazi, Lehder was eventually run off the island by Professor Richard Novak, a diving enthusiast, hell-bent on keeping his diving paradise pristine.

Once off the island, Lehder attempted to keep the law at bay with threats and payoffs, but eventually he was arrested, extradited to the U.S. and sentenced to 135 years in jail. After agreeing to testify against the Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, Lehder was put into the witness protection program and virtually disappeared. Supposedly he was given a reduced sentence of 55 years and is serving time under another name. At the time of his arrest government officials seized Lehder’s bank accounts and took ownership of his possessions bankrupting the gangster. During his prime through drug trafficking and racketeering Lehder amassed a fortune of over $2.7 billion, making him number four on our list.

3. Joaquin Guzman Loera: $5 Billion

It is believed Joaquin Guzman Loera was born on December 25th, 1954, in Mexico, although his exact birthdate is not known. He grew up the son of a cattle rancher, his family was very poor and he helped by selling fruit when possible to help earn a living. He also learned to grow his own poppies for opium and marijuana to increase the family’s income. His nickname was earned by his short stance; Loera at full height was only 5 feet 6 inches tall earning him the moniker of “El Chapo”, which means “Shorty”.

After his father kicked him from his family home, he went to live with his grandparents and he became associated with the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, overseeing drug trafficking between Mexico and the U.S. The drugs were obtained from Colombia and delivered into Mexico where Loera ran logistics, ensuring their delivery from there into the U.S. and Europe by way of plane, boat, truck, train, or helicopter. When the heads of the cartel were eventually arrested, Loera took control. He added the manufacturing of meth within Mexico as well.

According to Forbes, Loera’s net worth is estimated to be approximately $5 billion.  Although eventually a $5 million dollar reward was offered for his capture, Loera managed to evade the authorities and stay at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list for more than 10 years. He was only recently captured and arrested on February 22nd, 2014 at a resort in Mazatlán, Mexico.

2. Amado Carrillo Fuentes: $25 Billion

Amado Carrillo Fuentes was born December of 1956 in Navolato Sinaloa, Mexico. He was known as the “Lord of the Skies”, earning his nickname utilizing private planes to carry cocaine around the world. He owned a fleet of 27 private jets, most were Boeing 727’s. Flying into mostly municipal airports and airstrips around Mexico, he was able to successfully transport massive amounts of cocaine. Fuentes murdered his former boss, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, leader of the Juarez Drug Cartel and took over operations.

Under his direction, the cartel flourished and Fuentes became one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, shipping tons of cocaine directly to Manhattan monthly.  Married with a family, Fuentes resided in a middle-eastern style home that resembled a fortress called “The Palace of a Thousand and One Nights”. It was finally ordered to be torn down in 2006 by Governor Eduardo Bours. Fuentes lived a far from peaceful existence spending the last ten years of his life mostly on the run from the law.

In 1997, as capture became imminent Fuentes decided to change his appearance and after admittance into a hospital in Mexico City, he died on July 3rd, 1997, while undergoing extensive plastic surgery. The operation lasted over nine hours and it’s unclear as to whether Fuentes had a reaction to a medication or the respirator failed but he died on the table. Strangely enough, three months afterward, the two doctors who had performed the surgery were found dead, buried in concrete tombs. There was evidence torture had taken place. The funeral of Fuentes was considered to be one of the most expensive in all Mexico’s history with thousands in attendance. This gangster, in his prime, was reported to have a net worth of over $25 billion making him number two on our list.

1. Pablo Escobar: $30 Billion

Number one on our list is Pablo Escobar, born December 1st, 1949 in Antioquia, Colombia. He was a founding member of the Medellin Cartel, one of the most powerful drug cartels in all of Colombian history. His ruthless ambition gained him control of over 80% of the cocaine that was smuggled into the U.S. Born into a poor family Escobar started his criminal career early, stealing and selling tombstones. By the 1970’s he began to be involved with cocaine. In partnership with five other illegal business owners he formed the Medellin Cartel, purchasing large amounts of coca paste from Bolivia and Peru and importing it to the U.S.

According to Fortune and Forbes magazines he came in as number seven on their list of the ten richest people on earth. He crafted his position and status carefully sponsoring charity projects and soccer clubs and investing in the right contacts and influential friends. Unfortunately, his ambition brought an early death to many that threatened to get in his way including at least three Colombian presidential candidates, thousands of law enforcement personnel, attorney generals, judges and even journalists brave enough to report the truth. At one point it was said he offered to pay off Colombia’s national debt estimated at $10 billion.

He attempted to lobby for a no-extradition clause and generous amnesty to drug lords if they agreed to give up drug trafficking. This makes sense as by this point he had distanced himself from the trade instead choosing to impose a so called “tax” on those trafficking directly. His fortune was estimated to be over $30 billion earning him the number one spot on our list. He attempted to hide himself in prison to escape assassins but that only lasted a year then he was on the run again. He was finally shot to death by the Colombian police in 1993.

Great Train Robber they never caught, Retired cabbie took famous heist mystery to grave

A RETIRED London black cab driver was cremated this week – and the key to one of the most enduring mysteries of the last century may have died with him.

Doting grandfather and family man Danny Pembroke was strongly believed to have been the Great Train robber who got away with the 1963 heist.

He may also have been the mystery robber known as Alf Thomas, who police were convinced was responsible for battering train driver Jack Mills.

Was Danny Pembroke the one that got away?

Scotland Yard said they were “certain” that former British soldier Pembroke was one of the gang who held up a Glasgow to Euston mail train at Sears Crossing, near Cheddington, Bucks, and stole £2.6million in bank notes – worth £50million today.

Likewise, Post Office investigators “strongly suspected” him for the robbery. He was questioned and his home searched, but his involvement could never be proved.

The other robbers were caught through fingerprints and forensic evidence linking them to their hideout, Leatherslade Farm, which had not been burned down as planned.

South Londoner Pembroke – whose real name was Dennis Pembroke – drifted into crime after completing his national service aged 20 and was suspected by police to have been a member of a gang known as the South Coast Raiders.

The gang had already held up several trains on the London to Brighton line when they joined up with a team of professional robbers from South West London to carry out the crime of the century.

Pembroke was a close associate of fellow South Coast Raiders Bob Welch and Tommy Wisbey, whom he lived close to on the Elmington Estate in Camberwell.

Welch and Wisbey – two of the last three surviving known robbers – were both convicted of the train robbery and jailed for 30 years.

Pembroke is thought to have been one of two South Coast Raiders who got away with the robbery. The other has never been identified. One of them was given the pseudonym Alf Thomas and strongly suspected by police of coshing train driver Jack Mills.

Train driver Jack Mills following the attack

Train robbery author Chris Pickard said: “From what the robbers have said themselves, the South Coast team were on the East side of the track and the other lot were on the West.

“Once the train stopped the South West London team moved in. Buster Edwards tried to get in the driver’s cab from the East and Gordon Goody went in from the other side and got Jack Mills in a bear hug.

“One of the South Coast Raiders then supposedly went round the front of the train and came in the same side as Goody and hit Mills over the head with an iron bar.

“The robbers have always refused to say who hit the driver, but there have been suggestions that it was one of those who was never caught.”

One of the most senior officers on the train case, DCI Frank Williams, confirmed after his retirement that police suspected the uncaptured robber known as Alf Thomas of battering Jack Mills, but nothing could be proved against him.

Pembroke’s name surfaced as a suspect soon after the robbery and he was put on an unerringly accurate list of names compiled by Scotland Yard CID commander George Hatherill.

The list was produced from information supplied by criminal informants who were seeking favours and a share of the £10,000 reward.

As well as Pembroke it also included another robber to get away with it, Harry Smith. All the other suspects named on Cdr Hatherill’s list were later convicted.

The only one of the captured robbers not to feature on it was the now notorious Ronnie Biggs.

Three weeks after the robbery, the Yard chief said he was satisfied the criminals named to him were the “certain offenders” and later wrote in his autobiography that the information was “substantially accurate.”

Pembroke’s home was searched on September 6, 1963, by Flying Squad officers DCI Williams and Det Sgt Jack Slipper.

Nothing incriminating was found and Pembroke was interviewed and his prints taken before being released.

He was even asked to provide samples of his pubic hair to compare with those found in sleeping bags left at the farm.

Tests proved negative.

One former underworld associate told The Sun: “Danny got away with it because he was very clever and kept his gloves on the whole time they were at the farm.

“The Old Bill were convinced he was involved, but could not charge him because they didn’t have any forensic evidence to link him.”

Detectives inspect coaches following the heist

Soon after being released by police, Pembroke went to the Devon village of Beaford with Welch and three other men, where they are suspected of hiding stolen cash.

Locals became suspicious about them spending £5 notes in pubs, although the parish church vicar reported his most successful harvest festival contributions ever.

Those close to the robbers claim major bribes were given to police by those who got away with it.

Certainly, Danny did not show any overt signs of great wealth after the robbery — unlike Harry Smith, who bought 28 houses, a hotel and drinking club.

Many of the robbers were also ripped off by other criminals for their money.

Intriguingly, Danny featured as a gang member in a fictional book titled The Men Who Robbed The Great Train Robbers, published last year.

But there could well be another explanation for Pembroke’s apparent lack of wealth.

On 3 December 1963, on the day gang driver Roy James was captured, police received an anonymous call telling them to go to a phone box in Southwark, where they found almost £50,000 of train robbery money.

The money is thought to have been left there in a deal with police by the mystery robber known as Alf Thomas, who was suspected of hitting Jack Mills.

Cdr Hatherill later said the motive for the return of the money found in the phone box was unclear but said it had been done by “one about whom extensive inquiries had been made and who was interrogated at length.”

He added: “In spite of our strong suspicions, nothing could be proved against him and so no charge could be brought.

“My belief is that he thought we knew more about him than we did, and thinking things were getting hot, he decided to get rid of the money to avoid being found in possession with it.”

Another interpretation is that the money was intended as a bribe to Flying Squad detectives, who were prevented from keeping the loot by unforeseen circumstances.

Either way, nothing more was ever heard about “Alf Thomas”.

Danny Pembroke in later life

Following the robbery, Pembroke turned his back on crime and lived in quiet obscurity in Chislehurst, Kent, working hard as a cabbie to bring up his five children.

He died aged 79 from a heart attack in his sleep at home on February 28 and was cremated on Tuesday at Kemnal Park Cemetery.

As well as his children, Pembroke leaves behind ten grandchildren and one great grandson. His son Danny Jnr, 55, said his father had never spoken about the Great Train Robbery.

The gas fitter from Sevenoaks, Kent, added: “My dad was a fiercely private man. He didn’t have a mobile phone or a bank account his entire life.

“He had a razor-sharp mind and right up until the day he died he was the most clued-up man I’ve ever known.

“But more than anything he was a family man. He was the last of a dying breed — unbothered by what other people did and just focused on providing for his family.

“I couldn’t fault him. He was a fantastic bloke and friend and a super, kind and loving dad. He was the best man I ever knew.”

Fate of the big three

THREE men became the most infamous members of the train robber gang. Here is what happened to them . . .

Bruce Reynolds

Bruce Reynolds was mastermind behind heist

He was the mastermind of the operation.

After the robbery he hid out in a London safe house for six months then moved to Mexico with his family before settling in Canada.

He secretly returned to England and lived in Torquay where he was arrested.

In 1969 he was sentenced to 25 years and released in 1978. In the 80s he was back in jail on drug charges before being released. He died in his sleep in 2013 aged 81.

Ronnie Biggs

Ronnie Biggs spent many years on the run following the   robbery

 

A close pal of Reynolds, Biggs was recruited to hire a train driver to help move the engine after it was stopped.

But the man he found was only familiar with steam trains.

This led to the coshing of driver Jack Mills, who was forced to move the engine.

Police arrested Biggs after finding his fingerprints at the gang’s safe house.

He was given 30 years but escaped from Wandsworth Prison after 15 months by climbing over a wall.

Biggs fled first to Paris, then to Spain, Australia, Panama and finally Brazil.

He returned to Britain in 2001 after being flown back by The Sun and was sent back to jail.

He was released on compassionate grounds eight years later. Biggs died in 2013, aged 84.

Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards

'Buster' Edwards was a familiar face at Waterloo station

Edwards was one of several gang members who claimed to have been the one to cosh Jack Mills, but it’s believed he said this for publicity.

After the robbery he fled to Mexico with Reynolds but gave himself up in 1966 after his money ran out.

He was sent to jail before being released early in 1975. He went back to his original job as a florist and opened a stall at Waterloo Station.

Edwards was played by singer Phil Collins in a 1988 film about his life. He battled alcohol and depression and he ended up hanging himself in 1994 at the age of 63.

• The only gang members still thought to be alive are Douglas ‘Gordon’ Goody who lives in Spain but is said to be very ill and Robert Welch, now confined to a wheelchair.