Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Lufthansa Heist Revisited

Robert's Lounge Crew

The Robert's Lounge crew consisted of a number of members, some described as inept, and whose specialties included hijacking, armed robbery and murder. Although an independent outfit, they were closely associated with the Lucchese Family through which Burke had a longtime friendship and working relationship with Paul "Paulie" Vario Sr., a top capo in the Lucchese organization.

In The Heist authors Volkman and Cummings provide the following thumbnail sketches of the men who made up the Robert's Lounge crew.

Robert "Frenchy" McMahon was a numbers runner from the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan who had devoted his life to crime. His appearance defied a criminal background. Not a big man, McMahon, who wore glasses, looked like a Wall Street stockbroker or accountant. As an employee at the Air France cargo terminal, in 1972 Frenchy earned his nickname as a member of a robbery crew that stole
$2.0 million from an Air France truck. Working for Burke, McMahon had a long history of hijackings of which the proceeds were spent on wine and women. The women included two ex-wives looking for support payments.

Joseph "Joe Buddha" Manri wanted to become a made member of the Mafia. Changing his name from Manriquez to Manri, hoping his Hispanic looks could pass as Italian, was his first step. The nickname "Buddha" came from his large protruding stomach. A close friend of McMahon, Manri's criminal career included bookmaking, auto theft and hijacking. In addition to sharing the same taste in women, the two friends also shared an apartment in Ozone Park, Queens to keep their expenses down.

Angelo Sepe was lean and just barely over five feet tall. The authors describe Sepe "as an unkempt, low-life who had a record of 14 arrests that had begun when he was 14 years old." His rap sheet ran the gamut from petty larceny to burglary. Burke took Sepe under his wing and began to cultivate him into a successful criminal. Sepe had a passion for stray animals. His home became a haven for rabbits, birds, turtles and whatever else wandered in.

Parnell Steven Edwards was a "gofer" and a wannabe member of the Burke gang. He yearned to be a successful blues singer and sometimes performed at Robert's Lounge. Edwards kept his day job performing a variety of services for the gang including chauffeur. He was paid with the swag (stolen merchandise) from the crew's various hijackings, which he then peddled on the street. Edwards was also a convicted credit card thief and helped Henry Hill at times with various scams. Volkman and Cummings spelled the light-skinned black man's nickname as "Stax," while Pileggi showed it as "Stacks."

Louis Cafora was nicknamed "the Whale." At 300 pounds, it was no wonder. Described as having a voracious appetite, Cafora tooled around town in a gaudy white Cadillac. His criminal background involved narcotics dealing and loansharking. Despite the fact that Burke was annoyed by his constant talk of food and eating, Cafora was said to be a valuable member of the crew because of his "expertise in stickups."

Thomas "Tommy" DeSimone was a tall man with the looks of Errol Flynn. The real Tommy DeSimone was not close in physical appearance to the shorter Joe Pesci who played him in Goodfellas. With a fetish for looking sharp, which included an immaculately polished pair of shoes, DeSimone was always on the prowl for women even though he was married. Nicknamed "Two-Gun Tommy" because he carried a matched set of pearl-handled pistols, DeSimone spent his short life looking for a way to get inducted into the Lucchese Family. Despite the fact DeSimone was considered a "stand up guy," Volkman and Cummings claim the Vario faction of the family considered him "hopelessly stupid, demonstrating no ability to generate profit." According to Henry Hill, the Varios disliked him and didn't want him in their presence. DeSimone was staying at the same halfway house as Burke. He had served a third of a 10-year sentence in Lewisburg Federal Prison after being convicted of theft from "an interstate shipment and interfering by force with interstate commerce."

Henry Hill was considered "the most curious member" of the crew. Volkman and Cummings state that Manri and McMahon were "the most trusted of the Burke gang," while DeSimone was Jimmy's closest pal. The authors claim other crewmembers weren't aware of Hill's long friendship with Burke or the Varios, whom he had impressed as a fourteen year-old street punk. As young Hill became a seasoned criminal involved in gambling operations and the disposal of hijacked goods, both Paulie Vario and Burke took credit for his development. Hill was said to have a special talent for being able to "spot any angle that could be exploited."

Robert DeNiro with Ray Liotta, who played Henry Hill (AP)
Robert DeNiro with Ray Liotta, who
played Henry Hill (AP)

Martin Krugman was the one crewmember whose Volkman and Cummings' description varies considerably with Hill and Pileggi's. While Hill and Pileggi's discussion of Krugman appears later, the authors of The Heist write that Krugman was a close Burke associate who made book out of an upstairs room at Robert's Lounge. Nicknamed "Bug Eyes" for his protruding eyeballs, the bookmaker was a thin, balding man who looked much older than his 52 years. A Polish Jew, Krugman was a mob wannabe who had worked as a bookmaker for Burke for several years. Volkman and Cummings claim, "Krugman demonstrated talent for bookmaking, and Burke had given him a large slice of the business at Kennedy Airport."

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