Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lufthansa Heist Revisited

The Years Proved Fruitless

In the ensuing years since the Lufthansa robbery there have been more murders and deaths but no more money found. In fact the only money ever recovered from the robbery was the $20,000 authorities seized form Louis Werner.

James Burke's conviction on the Boston College point-shaving charges was not the end of the government's pursuit of his crimes. On February 6, 1984, he was indicted for the murder of Richard Eaton. Henry Hill testified against Burke and told the jury that Eaton had been killed over the $250,000 cocaine swindle. Burke, Hill testified, had told him, "Don't worry about him [Eaton] anymore, I whacked the fucking swindler out." Convicted, Burke was sentenced on February 19, 1985 to spend the rest of his life in jail.

On July 18, 1984, Angelo Sepe was found murdered in a basement apartment on 20th Avenue in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn. Sepe had served 10 months for his parole violation. He was arrested early in 1984 on a weapons charge and was awaiting trial. In The Heist the authors claim that a week prior to his death, Sepe had robbed a connected dealer. When payback time came it was in the form of two Mafia hoods with pistols equipped with silencers. "Before he could ask the hoods not to harm his girlfriend, they put three bullets into his head. Then they walked into a tiny sleeping alcove. One of the gunmen put his gun into the open mouth of the sleeping girl and pulled the trigger." 19-year-old Joanne Lombardo, a girlfriend who police believed was living with Sepe, died instantly.

The final member of the Lufthansa robbery crew, 26-year-old Frank James Burke, was found shot to death on Liberty Avenue in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn at 2:30 a.m. on May 18, 1987. Two days later police arrested a 46-year-old convicted drug dealer for the murder of young Burke. The New York Times stated that at the time of his death Frank Burke was an associate of the Gambino Family.

The man the authorities believed profited the most from the Lufthansa robbery, Paul Vario, Sr., died in a Fort Worth federal prison in May 1988 at the age of 73. In February 1984, Hill testified that Vario had helped him obtain a no-show job to facilitate his early release from Allenwood Prison. Vario was sentenced to four years and fined $10,000. Vario was later convicted of extorting payoffs from airfreight companies operating at JFK airport and was given an additional 10 years.

Finally on April 13, 1996 James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke died of cancer in a Buffalo hospital after being transferred there from the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York.

After Louis Werner's cooperation with prosecutors, his sentence was reduced to five years. Upon release he and girlfriend Janet Barbieri were given new identities and moved to another location outside of New York City. Ditto with Peter Gruenwald.

Louis Werner was the only person ever prosecuted for the Lufthansa theft. In addition, no one was ever arrested in connection with any of the murders associated with it. Today, nearly 25 years later, the bodies of Tommy DeSimone, Martin Krugman, Louis Cafora and his wife Joanna are still missing, as well as $5.8 million dollars from what was then the largest robbery in the history of the United States.

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