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The death of Henry Hill on Tuesday, June 12 might not have caused the uproar that the recent deaths of other celebrities has caused; however, Hill’s death might allow one to reflect upon the attention he gave to a secret. This is an organization that was denied by its members, officials and other powerful people for decades. Henry Hill’s 1986 autobiography “Wiseguy” outed the Cosa Nostra, “this thing of ours,” the Mob, the Mafia to the unknowing American public.
According to crime reporter Nicholas Pilegg, who was also Hill’s writing partner, Hill wrote his autobiography because after years of Federal Racketeering trials, he needed money to pay his lawyers. This book was the real thing. No longer would the public revel in Puzo’s “Godfather” series as the quintessence of organized crime. Hills book took to new heights exactly what the American public craved: the glamor of the Mob.
In reality, Hill was not the head of any organized crime syndicate. He could not by rights become a “made” man, a full member in the Cosa Nostra, because he was born of an Irish-American mother. However, he spun a story that was so incredible, so outlandish that those of us living in smaller places in America were compelled to sit up and take notice. Stories that we had dismissed as mere fairytales were revealed, and guess what? They were all true! There really were people who lived by a code of silence, rubbed shoulders with celebrities, and controlled all sorts of criminal activities. Small town America was transfixed.
Henry Hill grew up in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn, New York. He too was transfixed by the power of the men who socialized and worked their legitimate businesses across the street from Hill’s family home. By the time he was a teenager, Hill was running errands, picking up loan payments and bets for members of the Lucchese family. His eagerness facilitated a bricklayer’s union card presented to him by two of the Vario brothers, themselves members of the Lucchese family. With a union card, he was put on the payroll of a local construction company as a “no show”. Hill received a salary and was not compelled to complete any work. Hill found that once he had this “legitimate” job, he no longer had time to attend school. The Vario brothers and Hill threatened the mailman when he continued to deliver truancy notices to his house.
Hill eventually joined the Army to escape the notice of the FBI and served three years, all while maintaining his mob contacts. When he completed his enlistment, he began the most notorious phase of his career that included arson, a stolen car ring and hijacking trucks. These crimes led to bigger ones, which led to his involvement in the Lufthansa Heist, the robbery of the airlines warehouse. One of the most expensive robberies in history, the Lufthansa Heist takings are estimated at $5 million dollars and more than three-quarters of a million dollars in jewels.
After the Lufthansa Heist, Hill’s associates began dying, all of who had participated in the Lufthansa Heist. Figuring he was next with nowhere to turn, Hill became an informant. With his help, 50 convictions were made against his former associates.
Hill’s story and later the movie “Goodfellas,” based on his book, allowed America a glimpse into a lifestyle that can only be described as glamorous and helped perpetuate a love of the genre. Recent Mafia based movies and television shows including “The Sopranos” and “Mob Doctor” help keep the appetite for the Mob alive and well.