Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lufthansa Heist Revisited

The Trial of Louis Werner

On February 23, bail was set at $1 million for Louis Werner, of which at least half had to be in cash. While Werner sat in the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan, wondering how he was going to raise such an enormous bail, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn for the Lufthansa robbery on March 2. Four days later, Werner pleaded not guilty and a trial date was set. Despite the best efforts of Edward McDonald, he could not get Werner to roll over on his accomplices. In an attempt to put more pressure on Werner to cooperate, he was indicted for the 1976 robbery at Lufthansa.

On Thursday, May 4, 1979, opening statements were presented by prosecutor Edward McDonald and defense lawyer Stephen Laifer in Federal Judge Mark A. Constantino's courtroom. McDonald announced government witnesses would include Gruenwald, Fischetti, Menna and Werner's girlfriend, Janet Barbieri. Laifer told the jury that the case was built on a "foundation of mud," and that it was Gruenwald who masterminded the plan and recruited the gunmen. The defense attorney claimed Fischetti and Gruenwald were testifying to take themselves off the hook.

During his testimony, Gruenwald, now in protective custody, recalled for the jury the 1976 theft and his role in planning a more lucrative robbery. Gruenwald claimed that after the robbery, Werner told him that he had been promised $300,000 for his role. Werner, according to Gruenwald, promised to give his one-time partner in crime $65,000 to keep his mouth shut and $50,000 more if he were to lose his job. Gruenwald told the court that he was given $10,000 from Werner who claimed that he had received $80,000.

When it came time for the testimony of Janet Barbieri, she had second thoughts. Still in love with Werner, she feigned illness in order to avoid testifying. After two days of claiming "that problems with her heart made it dangerous to her health for her to take the witness stand," Judge Constantino ordered Barbieri arrested.

On May 11, Barbieri was escorted into the courtroom by federal marshals to testify. It was quite a performance. The 36-year-old divorced mother of three, who testified before the grand jury that Werner had informed her of his role in the robbery, now claimed that he never told her that he robbed Lufthansa. Sobbing and trembling on the witness stand, Barbieri collapsed three times before the proceedings were moved to a closed courtroom where the public and the media were excluded. There, lying on a spectator's bench with a court-appointed psychiatrist monitoring her condition, Barbieri's testimony continued. When the doctor noted a sudden elevated blood pressure and pulse rate, Constantino ended the testimony and released her.

The prosecution finished its case on May 14. No witnesses were called by the defense. Final summations were given the following day and the jury began their deliberations. On May 16, Werner was found guilty of three of the six counts against him. These included helping to plan and carry out the December 1978 robbery, and the theft of $22,000 two years earlier.

The night the verdict was announced, the killings continued. Robert "Frenchy" McMahon and Joseph Manri were found murdered in the front seat of a 1973 Buick parked on Schenectady Avenue in the Mill Basin Section of Brooklyn. Both had been shot in the back of the head. On May 19 the newspapers reported that Manri was an associate of James Burke and tied to the Lufthansa theft, but that McMahon, the other victim, was not tied to the robbery. Police investigators determined that the two men knew their assailant, or assailants, who was seated in the back seat of the automobile. Because it was a two-door vehicle, police said the killer had to climb over the bodies to get out of the car.

In a coincidence, the same article mentioned that Werner's sister, Jane Werner Raico, and two men were arrested for insurance fraud involving a stolen automobile. The information leading to this investigation was supplied by "a source who had also supplied information on the Lufthansa robbery."

In yet another coincidence, the body of Theresa Ferrara washed ashore May 18.

Just when things seemed to quiet down, another body turned up. On June 13, the shirtless and shoeless body of Paolo LiCastri was found with four bullet wounds on Flatlands Avenue in Brooklyn. The tiny New York Times article, which appeared on June 22, nine days after the discovery of the body in an area described as a place "where people dump things," stated that LiCastri was a suspected "stick-up man" in the Lufthansa robbery.

The government gave Louis Werner one more chance to talk. On June 26 he was questioned before anther federal grand jury in Brooklyn. Again refusing to reveal anything, he was held in contempt.

Three days later, Werner appeared before Judge Constantino in Brooklyn Federal Court for sentencing. The judge asked him if he had anything to say. Werner replied, "I saw four men who came in here and I heard them admit they had planned the robbery and they walked out of here and I don't understand why I am convicted." Constantino then meted out punishment to the 46-year-old former employee of Lufthansa to the tune of 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

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