Crime History, Dec. 11, 1978: Goodfellas make off with $5.8m in heist at New York airport

On this day, Dec. 11, in 1978, masked men robbed a cargo area at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and made off with $5.8 million in cash and jewelry, the largest cash robbery on American soil at the time.

Jimmy "The Gent" Burke

Jimmy “The Gent” Burke

An airport worker who owed $20,000 in gambling debts told mobsters that millions of dollars in American currency were flown in each month from West Germany each month.

At 3 a.m., the gangsters stormed the loading bay, tied up 10 Lufthansa airline employees and loaded 40 parcels of cash into a van.

But the plot soon unraveled when the van driver, Parnell “Stacks” Edwards, failed to destroy the van as ordered. Instead, he went to his girlfriend’s house and parked the van in a no-parking zone. Police quickly connected it to the Lufthansa stickup.

Heist planner Jimmy “The Gent” Burke ordered the death of anyone who could implicate him. One gangster died in a refrigerator truck. Another was cut in half with a chainsaw and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Even girlfriend’s and wives were killed.

Within months, 16 members of the original crew went missing or turned up dead.

Burke was the only one convicted in connection to one of the killings. Louis Werner, who died in 2007, was the only one ever convicted for the Lufthansa heist.

The case is portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s movie “Goodfellas.” Burke’s character is played by Robert De Niro.

— Scott McCabe

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