Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lufthansa Heist Revisited

The Body Count Climbs

Between the disappearances of DeSimone and Krugman and Werner's trial date, two more people mysteriously vanished and a frozen body was discovered.

On February 10, Theresa Ferrara left her beauty shop in Bellmore, Long Island after an anonymous telephone caller asked her to meet someone at a nearby diner. Ferrara quickly left after telling her niece that if she was not back in 15 minutes to come find her. She left behind her purse, money, and keys.

There are many unanswered questions about Ferrara and whether her death had anything to do with the Lufthansa robbery. Pileggi pays little attention to her other than to say she disappeared and her body was found months later.

Ferrara had spread herself out among the wiseguys that frequented Robert's Lounge. In return they gave her money to provide her with the finer things in life travel, a penthouse apartment and a new sports car. She once had visions of being an actress or model; now at the age of 26, Ferrara had become "a party girl who combined the fatal illusion of a career with an equally fatal attraction for Mafia hoods."

Her cocaine dealing led to her arrest in the summer of 1977, after approaching an undercover agent. Instead of spending time in jail, she provided them with information. One of her tips led to a major bust on November 11, 1978. Coast Guard and DEA agents confiscated 30 tons of narcotics on the Queens waterfront although they were unable to capture any of the smugglers. Angered by this turn of events was Paul Vario, whose money had been sunk into the drug deal.

Later, according to Volkman and Cummings, Henry Hill claimed, "Paul Vario, Sr., had been smitten by her beauty and the aging don's infatuation led him to use her as a courier to move $3 million of the Lufthansa proceeds to Florida. Later, after discovering she was an FBI informant, Vario had her gruesomely murdered, destroying her body so that he would never again have to think of the physical beauty that had nearly unhinged him."

Investigators passed off this tale as pure fiction. Meanwhile, Ferrara's role, if any in the robbery, was never revealed.

The strangest disappearance, though, was of Robert's Lounge crewmember Louis Cafora. Volkman and Cummings clearly describe his role in the gang and his participation in the robbery. They claim that police from the 113th Precinct were relentless in their questioning of Cafora, who denied any role in the robbery. Finally, Cafora agreed to talk, but he and his wife vanished for good before it happened.

Ironically, none of the New York Times articles covering the robbery, arrests, murders or disappearances ever mentions the names of Cafora or his wife, Joanna.

One of the most confusing characters in the whole Lufthansa plot was Richard Eaton. On the morning of February 18, Eaton's frozen body was found lying bound and gagged on the floor of an abandoned tractor-trailer in an area of Brooklyn known as the "Pit." Children playing in a garbage filled lot had discovered the corpse.

Two Brooklyn detectives, Robert Kohler and James Shea, were assigned to investigate the murder. In searching the body, the men found a small address book sewn into the lining of the man's clothing. When they found the name, address and telephone number of James Burke in the book, they immediately came to the conclusion that Jimmy had been responsible for the murder and that somehow it must be tied to the Lufthansa robbery. They were half-right.

With the help of a dentist, whose name also appeared in the book, the dead man was identified as Richard Eaton, who was described as a "hustler on a grand scale." In the late 1970s, Eaton ingratiated himself with a Canadian mobster named Thomas Monteleone, who had purchased a restaurant called the Players Club near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Nearly a dump when he bought it, Monteleone fixed it up and turned it into a mob hangout. Two regular customers turned out to be Jimmy Burke and Paulie Vario.

At the Players Club, Burke met Eaton. Even the shrewd Burke was taken in by Eaton's charm. Eaton soon convinced Burke to part with $250,000 for a major cocaine deal.

The police learned that Eaton had just returned to New York from Florida. On one of the garbled messages recorded from the bug planted in Angelo Sepe's car, they overheard a discussion about a trip to Florida involving money and another about someone getting cheated. From this they wrongly surmised that Eaton had been involved in the laundering of the money and had somehow cheated his partners. Because of this, they surmised, Burke murdered him and left his body to deep freeze in the trailer.

Kohler and Shea needed to find someone to verify their conclusion. The only witness they could hope to track down, Monteleone, was found murdered in Connecticut a few weeks after Eaton's body was found. However, this would not be the end of Eaton's role in relationship to Burke's future.

On March 24, investigators working the case revealed that at least five murders had been connected to the robbery and that, "in one way or another," they were all tied to a "low-level organized crime group headed by James Burke." The five victims identified were "Stax" Edwards, Thomas DeSimone, Richard Eaton, Theresa Ferrara, and Martin Krugman.

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