SPOILER ALERT: This article is all about endings, but it is still has no finish.
In Martin Scorsese’s classic gangster film Goodfellas, Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci, gets whacked by John Gotti’s family in retribution for killing made man Billy Batts, played by Frank Vincent. Robert De Niro’s character “Jimmy the Gent” Conway gets the news in a phone booth which he pummels in a fit of rage. Scorsese got his dope from Henry Hill, who ratted out his friends to the feds and told all in a best-selling book called Wise Guy. In the movie, Tommy has to be buried in a closed coffin because he was shot in the face.
Tommy DeVito is based on Tommy DeSimone, aka “Two-Gun Tommy” or “Tommy D.” Most news reports, including one of mine, are based on Wise Guy and the press reports surrounding the $6 million dollar Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The problem is, the Gotti crew had nothing to do with the death of DeSimone. Tommy wasn’t buried in a closed coffin. He was never buried at all. His body was never found.
Den of Geek followed a lead that could shake what we know about the wise guys of Wise Guy as much as any phone booth. While the cops and the press say one thing about the disappearance of Tommy DeSimone, the street says something different.
The Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 11, 1978 pulled in over $5 million in cash alone. It was the biggest cash robbery in United States history. It is the centerpiece in the movie Goodfellas and the subject of the 2011 film The Big Heist, which starred Donald Sutherland as Jimmy Burke and Rocco Sisto as Tommy DeSimone.
Let’s find out the real story, though…
The Real Tommy DeSimone
Thomas Anthony DeSimone was born in Boston and named after his grandfather, Rosario DeSimone, who was the boss of the mob in Los Angeles starting in 1922. Tommy’s uncle, Frank DeSimone, was the Los Angeles crime family mob boss starting in 1956. Their retirement dates aren’t listed on the social register.
Thomas had two sisters, Dolores and Phyllis. Phyllis was reportedly Jimmy Burke’s mistress from the time she turned 16. Tommy’s two brothers. Robert DeSimone and Anthony DeSimone, were both associates of the Gambino crime family. Anthony was killed by mobster Thomas Agro, aka “Tommy A,” “T.A.,” “Tipp,” and “Thomas Ambrosiano,” for being a rat, a contributory factor in the legend of Tommy D. His other brother, Robert, was sent up the river for a lifetime float.
Tommy was married to Angelica “Cookie” Spione. “Tommy DeSimone always drove around in a brand-new car and wore expensive clothes, and he and Angela lived in a two-room tenement slum,” Hill told Nicholas Pillegi in Wise Guy. Angela’s brother was gangster Joe “The Barber” Spione, who was murdered for refusing to help kill DeSimone in the late 1970s.
DeSimone joined Paul Vario’s East New York crew in Brooklyn in 1965. He was fifteen years old. DeSimone was ten years younger than Henry Hill, even though Pesci looks older than Ray Liotta in the movie. Goodfellas also makes it look like Hill and DeSimone were kids together. The book tells it differently.
“Jimmy came by the cabstand one day with a skinny kid who was wearing a wiseguy suit and a pencil mustache,” it reads in Nicholas Pileggi’s Wise Guy. “It was Tommy DeSimone. He was one of those kids who looked younger than he was just because he was trying to look older. Jimmy had been a friend of Tommy’s family for years, and he wanted me to watch out for Tommy and to teach him the cigarette business – help him make a few bucks. With Tommy helping me, pretty soon we’re making $300, $400 a day. We sold hundreds of cartons at construction sites and garment factories. We sold them at the Sanitation Department garages and at the subway and bus depot. This was around 1965, and the city wasn’t taking it very seriously.”
Henry Hill says Tommy committed his first murder when he was 17 in 1968. DeSimone killed a random stranger named Howard Goldstein as he walked down the street. According to Wise Guy, Henry Hill said to the budding sociopath, “That was cold-blooded, Tommy!” DeSimone explained “Well, I’m a mean cat.”
DeSimone had a hair-trigger temper. One of his sisters claimed “Tommy’s teenage years revolved around boxing, lifting weights, smoking cigarettes, and beating a punching bag he kept in a spare room. He had a short fuse, and an animalistic appetite. He would drink almost a gallon of whole milk a day. His only other childhood hobby was collecting different kinds of pocket knives he kept in an old cigar box under his bed.”
Tommy carried his gun in a brown paper bag on hijackings. He carried neighborhood talent through the ropes. “I remember how proud Tommy DeSimone was when he brought Jimmy’s kid, Frankie, on his first hit. Frankie must have been sixteen or seventeen when Tommy took him on the hit, and Tommy said the kid held up great. Jimmy walked around real proud. You’d have thought the kid had won a medal,” it says in Wise Guy, on page 127 of the paperback edition.
Pileggi quotes Hill going through a full rap sheet on Tommy D. Hill fingered Tommy in hijackings, robberies, blackmail, explosives, insurance fraud, and murder, something Tommy did like he was wired that way. For one job,Tommy was supposed to lean on a warehouse foreman named Stanley Diamond, but DeSimone wound up killing him. Hill said DeSimone strangled Dominick “Remo” Cersani, pretty much because Jimmy Burke told him to.
“Jimmy once killed his best friend, Remo, because he found out that Remo set up one of his cigarette loads for a pinch … Remo was dead within a week, he didn’t have a clue what was coming to him,” it says in Wise Guy. “I remember the night. We were all playing cards at Robert’s when Jimmy said to Remo, ‘Let’s take a ride.’ He motioned to Tommy and another guy to come along. Remo got in the front seat and Tommy and Jimmy got in the rear. When they got to a quiet area, Tommy used a piano wire. Remo put up some fight. He kicked and swung and shit all over himself before he died.” Remo is supposed to be buried next to the bocce court behind Robert’s Lounge now.
Henry Hill told Pileggi that he started to think Tommy might be crazy when DeSimone killed bartender Michael “Spider” Gianco for asking why he didn’t go fuck himself.
“I don’t know how many people Tommy killed. I don’t think even Jimmy knew. Tommy was out of control. He’d begun carrying two guns. One night Tommy shot a kid named Spider in the foot because the kid didn’t want to dance. It looked accidental, and Vinnie Asaro, who was with the Bonanno crew, took Spider to a neighborhood doctor to get the kid fixed up,” it says in Wise Guy. “Crazy Tommy kept making the kid dance. Tommy said he was using the kid for target practice.”
“One night we were playing cards in the cellar – Tommy, Jimmy, me, Anthony Stabile, Angelo Sepe – when the Spider walks in. It’s three o’clock in the morning and we’re all smashed out of our minds. All of a sudden Tommy wants him to dance. ‘Do a dance,’ Tommy says. For some reason Spider tells Tommy to go fuck himself. Now we started getting on Tommy. Jimmy is joking and he says to Tommy ‘You take that shit from this punk?’ We’re all egging Tommy on, joking with him. He’s getting mad but he’s still playing cards. Then before anyone has any idea what he’s going to do, he puts three shots into Spider’s chest. I didn’t even know where he had the gun, except for a second we’re all deaf. I can smell burn. Nobody says a word, but now I’m convinced Tommy is a total psychopath,” it says in Wise Guy.
Unless Henry Hill made that story up.
The Murder of Billy Batts
DeSimone killed William “Billy Batts” Bentvena of the Gambino family in 1970. Bentvena, born William Paul DeVino, was 49 years old. He got his button with the Gambino crime family in 1961 in Carmine Fatico’s crew. He went to jail in 1964 after he got pinched doing a drug deal for Joseph “Joe The Crow” DelVecchio and Oreste “Ernie Boy” Abbamonte in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He did six years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury. He got out on June 9, 1970. According to Wise Guy, Batts was “with Johnny Gotti from near Fulton Street and he was hooked up with the Gambinos.” The crew that Henry Hill, who gave the information to Pileggi, was at a party for Batts, who “had just gotten out of prison after six years. We usually give a guy a party when he got out. Food. Booze. Hookers. It was a good time. Billy was a made guy.”
Batts made a “snide remark” about DeSimone shining shoes. “You couldn’t kid around with Tommy. He was wired very tight. One of Tommy’s brothers had ratted people out years ago, and he was always living that down,” according to Wise Guy, paperback, page 130. “Tommy was going nuts, but he couldn’t do or say anything. Billy was a made man. If Tommy so much as took a slap at Billy, Tommy was dead.”
Word on the street is Batt’s didn’t die on account of some insult over shiny shoes. It seems Burke muscled in on Billy Batt’s loanshark business while he was in jail. Bentvena went to “Crazy” Joe Gallo to get it back, Burke didn’t want to give it over, even Hill said that, just not to Pileggi in Wise Guy.
“A couple of weeks later Billy was drinking in the Suite,” reads Wise Guy. “I was praying he’d go home when Tommy walked in. It didn’t take long. Tommy immediately sent his girlfriend home and gave me and Jimmy a look. Right away Jimmy started getting real cozy with Billy Batts. … `Keep him here, I’m going for a bag,’” Tommy whispered to Henry Hill, who relayed the story to Pileggi. “He was going for a body bag – a plastic mattress cover – so Billy wouldn’t bleed all over the place after he killed him.”
Tommy came back later. Henry Hill told Pileggi, “Tommy took the thirty-eight of out of his pocket. Billy saw it in Tommy’s hand. The second Billy saw what has happening, Jimmy tightened his arm around Billy’s neck. ‘Shine these fuckin’ shoes,’ Tommy yells and smashes the gun right into the side of Billy’s head. Billy’s eyes opened wide. Tommy smashed him again. Jimmy kept his grip. The blood began to come out of Billy’s head. It looked black,” according to Wise Guy.
The scene was witnessed, according to the book, by Alex Corcione, who was shooed out of the bar by Henry Hill. “Tommy had done the worst possible thing he could have done, and we all knew it. Billy’s body had to disappear,” according to the book. But Billy wasn’t dead. He woke up in the trunk of Henry’s car on the Tatonic on the way to his disappearance and had to be killed again. Henry and Tommy did it with a shovel and a tire iron, not with a knife from the kitchen of Tommy’s mom, played so memorably by Scorsese’s mother in Goodfellas. Bentvena’s body had to be dug up and reburied three months later, according to Pileggi’s book.
The Lufthansa Heist
Last year, Vincent Asaro, the reputed mobster from the Bonanno family who took Spider to the doctor, was busted with four other gangsters in an early morning raid, bringing the 1978 Lufthansa Heist at Kennedy International Airport back into the headlines. The cops said gangsters shaped up for crimes at the JFK airport with Asaro. Asaro was the first accused Lufthansa mobster to face charges in the heist. Tommy DiSimone helped plan and recruit for the Lufthansa heist. Henry Hill told Pileggi that the snappy dresser, who spent more on his clothes than his apartment, was the only member of the crew who was spotted because his shoes were so polished. The Lufthansa Heist was a marvel of planning. The masked button men were on the button, on the money and came in under the clock.
“On Monday, December 11, 1978 at 3:12 in the morning, a Lufthansa security guard patrolling the cargo terminal’s parking area spotted a black Ford Econoline van pulling into a garage bay near the vault-loading platform,” Wise Guy reads. “The guard Kerry Whalen talked toward the van to see what was up. As he approached, he was suddenly hit across the forehead with the barrel of a .45 automatic. … The gunmen ordered the employees to remain where they were and not to call the police until 4:30 a.m. It was then 4:16, according to the cafeteria wall clock. Exactly fourteen minutes later, the Port Authority Police received their first call. Five million dollars in cash and $875,000 in jewels were gone. The single most successful cash robbery in the nation’s history had taken exactly 64 minutes.”
DeSimone was also part of the cleanup. Wise Guy says DeSimone did the job on Parnell “Stacks” Edwards for forgetting to ditch the truck from the Lufthansa heist. At least 16 members of the original Lufthansa crew were reported missing or turned up dead. The pre-emptive response to a federal crackdown caused further collateral damage. Teresa Ferrara, Desimone’s gumara, was found murdered. Her body had been dismembered.
About a week before Christmas in 1979, DeSimone was summoned to get his button. Henry Hill recounted “We had heard that Bruno Facciolo and Peter Vario were going to vouch for him. They were supposed to pick him up and drive him to where they were having the little ceremony, but when Jimmy called and asked if he had seen his godmother yet, Tommy’s mother said it was snowing so much it had been called off,” according to Wise Guy.
“The next day Jimmy called again. I saw him in the booth. He listened, and then I saw him raise his hand and jam the phone down on the hook with all his strength. The whole phone booth shook. I never saw him like that. I never saw much anger. I was scared,” it reads in Wise Guy.
“He says that they just whacked Tommy,” Wise Guy recounts. “Jimmy’s crying. He said they whacked Tommy. The Gotti crew. They whacked Tommy. It was over Tommy having killed Billy Batts and a guy named Foxy.”
Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe was part of John Gotti’s Bergin Hunt and Fish Club crew in Ozone Park, Queens. DeSimone was dating Jerothe’s sister. After they broke up, Jerothe heard Tommy assaulted her and Jerothe threatened to kill DeSimone. DeSimone reputedly shot Jerothe three times in the face at point blank range with a .38 caliber.
The Final Fate of Tommy DeSimone
According to the papers, Wise Guy and Goodfellas, Tommy DeSimone was probably whacked for killing “Billy Batts” Bentvena during his “welcome home” party, but it looks like he was part of the Lufthansa curse. According to street stories that I heard, Tommy DeSimone was cut in half with a chainsaw and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean after the Lufthansa heist. But a new source casts further shadows on the hearsay evidence.
A former Gambino family associate, now a victims’ advocate, reached out to Den of Geek for an exclusive inside take on whatever happened to Tommy DeSimone.
Greg Bucceroni was a self-proclaimed “young violent street criminal from Philadelphia who associated with a variety of adult criminal types including Jimmy Burke.” He grew up in South Philly. His uncle was former ranked heavyweight boxer Dan “Butcher Boy” Bucceroni (active from 1947 to 1954. Won 47, 31 by knockout, and lost 6. Knocked out twice), who collected debts for local gangsters.
“My uncle Dan was well known amongst the local ‘goodfellas,’ which opened the door for special treatment by Philly mobsters Angelo Bruno, Harry Riccobene and others,” said Bucceroni.
By 1975, Bucceroni was running errands for Riccobene’s “loan sharking and bookmaking operations in South Philly.” His association grew into “a variety of criminal acts” associated with “human trafficking, loan sharking, book making, grand theft auto, burglary, petty thefts and vandalism,” Bucceroni said.
Bucceroni’s association with the Gambino family started when Riccobene introduced him to Gambino mob associate “Fat” Chucky Smith in the late ’70s. Smith “operated mob front pornography establishments throughout Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City along with fellow Gambino mobsters Tony Trombetta, Richie Basciano and Robert ‘DB’ DiBernardo, Richie Kuklinski, Roy DeMeo, and others along with Lucchese mob associates Jimmy Burke, Tommy DeSimone, and Henry Hill who collaborated in trafficking stolen property, illegal drugs, and guns throughout the Delaware Valley area,” said Bucceroni.
“By the 1980s, I slowly developed into a young violent mob associate with the Gambino crime family’s illegal pornography establishments headed by Robert ‘DB’ DiBernardo,” Bucceroni said.
Bucceroni met Jimmy Burke “back in 1978” though Harry Riccobene. Tommy DeSimone disappeared in 1979. Press reports said the job was done by the crew of future Gambino boss John Gotti, then captain of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club crew. Bucceroni said that the reports of “Tommy DeSimone being murdered by John Gotti” are “wrong.” Bucceroni said Jimmy the Gent was behind it.
“DeSimone actually was murdered by Jimmy Burke at Burke’s home back in 1979 while Burke was covering his tracks regarding the Lufthansa Heist in addition to John Gotti’s investigating what Burke’s and DeSimone’s involvement was in the murder of Billy Batts,” Bucceroni said.
“They were made guys with the Gambinos and Tommy had killed them without an okay,” according to Wise Guy. “Nobody knew Tommy had done it but the Gambino people had somehow gotten the proof. They had a sit-down with Paulie and they got Paulie’s okay to Kill Tommy. … Even Jimmy couldn’t avenge Tommy.” It was a Sicilian thing.
The book says Tommy was never seen again. The book also says, three pages later in the paperback edition on page 224, that a Lufthansa cargo worker ID’d DeSimone’s mug shot and fingered him as the gunman in the JFK heist. The shiny city shoes. In the book Gangsters and Goodfellas, Henry Hill says John Gotti had DeSimone killed. The papers say mob informant Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi fingered Thomas Agro for the job. Agro is reportedly the guy who did the job on Tommy’s brother.
Greg Bucceroni would have you believe that DeSimone disappeared because Jimmy Burke was cleaning house. If he did get a call at a booth about a murder he ordered, he must have been as good an actor as De Niro for the show he put on for Henry Hill. Our source says Hill “exaggerated” some details. He said Two-Gun Tommy was killed in Burke’s home. Bucceroni doesn’t say how DeSimone was killed, but he doesn’t think Tommy had a less than dignified burial at sea.
“Burke requested Richard Kuklinski associate Richie Bildstein to take DeSimone’s dead body to a Philadelphia scrap metal yard to be disposed of in a pile of scrap metal that was soon afterwards sent to U.S. Steel Co in Pennsylvania to be melted down as scrap metal. Tommy DeSimone’s body has never been found,” Buceroni said.
According to the web site Find a Grave, you can’t find DeSimone’s grave. The young gangster was given a “non-cemetery burial.” Where was DeSimone’s body buried, if not in a cemetery? Bucceroni believes he saw it during a 1979 meeting in a mob front scrap metal yard in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
“I witnessed Gambino mob associate Richard Bildstein dispose of a dead body in a crushed automobile and place the crushed vehicle into a large scrap metal pile awaiting shipment to U.S. Steel Co. to be sold as scrap metal after Bildstein returned from Queens, New York after meeting with mob associates Richard Kuklinski and Jimmy Burke,” Bucceroni said.
“Although I never saw the face of the dead body, Bildstein alleged that it was DeSimone after Burke requested Bildstein to dispose of DeSimone’s body due to DeSimone’s often drunkard-drug induced bragging after the Lufthansa airport heist,” Bucceroni explained.
The movie and the book both tell about the lengths Burke went to cover any tracks that might lead to him. The movie shows bodies strewn throughout the greater New York area, frozen in meat refrigerators, in the backs of trucks, on the West Side Highway as “Jimmy Conway” stays one step ahead of the feds.
The NYPD were “actively investigating Burke’s possible involvement in the airport theft, in addition to the unrelated John Gotti inquiry into the unsanctioned murder of Gotti crew soldier William ‘Billy Batts’ Bentvena back in 1970,” Bucceroni explained.
“I remember Bildstein saying ‘bye bye Tommy’ as he dumped the crushed car into a pile of scrap metal due to be shipped out the following day. The Kensington based scrap metal yards often served as a disposal location for criminal types that wanted a murdered body to disappear,” Bucceroni said.
Bucceroni is no stranger to headline attachment himself. He appeared on The Dr. Phil Show, made headlines in the New York Daily News, a Washington Post blog, the Huffington Post, and The Daily Mail when he came forward as a former child prostitute who was part of a ring that serviced former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the late Philadelphia businessman Ed “Uncle Eddie” Savitz, who died in 1993 while awaiting trial.
“Yes I was a general practitioner of crime including child prostitution,” said Bucceroni. “Back in the 1970s, street hustling was just another criminal avenue in making a lot of money on the streets. It was well known back in the 1970s that Sandusky, Ed Savitz and other philanthropists would meet up in Philadelphia during Eagles or Army-Navy football games and philanthropy charitable events then afterwards participate in what was known as ‘kid swapping’ in sexually exploiting adolescent boys at local Philadelphia area hotels. This is where the Sandusky connection comes in,” Bucceroni said.
The Daily News branded Bucceroni’s Sandusky interview a “Bull Session.” To put it in movie terms, Bucceroni was suspect because he suffered from a kind of Forrest Gump syndrome, putting himself in historical context long after the fact. When confronted with the reports, Bucceroni responded like the former street kid he claims to be. He came out fighting.
“Philly Daily News reporter William Bender did exactly the story his employer Daily News owner Lewis Katz told him to do in discrediting my allegations after I reported to the U.S. Attorney Generals, FBI and U.S. Postal Inspectors regarding certain Philadelphia politicians and businessmen who sexually solicited me and other kids from Philly back in the 1970s when I was a young adolescent street hustler, ” said Bucceroni.
“Talking about the mob stuff is nothing, but talking about a few powerful Philadelphia politicians that had a sexual taste for adolescent boys back in the 1970s when these politicians were climbing the political ladder is a total different monster with far more serious consequences,” Bucceroni said.
Ralph Cipriano interviewed Bucceroni for his book about Philly mobster John Veasey, The Hit Man. Cipriano cut Bucceroni from the book because he found him “spectacularly unreliable” and determined “his facts did not seem to be reality-based,” according to Philly.com.
“Ralph Cipriano was doing a story on my former childhood street hustling friend, mob hitman John Veasey, at the time, and was going to include me in a mob book based on Veasey’s life story,” Bucceroni explained. “Things quickly fell apart when I mentioned to the Feds how former mob hitman John Veasey (now in the witness protection program) use to street hustle with me and other Philly kids back in the 1970s.”
“Veasey became aware of my allegations and threatened Cipriano that he was going to pull out of the mob book story if Cipriano mentions me or my allegations regarding Veasey’s childhood past as a victim of child sex trafficking,” Bucceroni said. “Me and Veasey had a big falling out in 2011 when I went public regarding the whole child sex scandal based out of Philadelphia. Veasey threatened to kill me and I threatened to kill him. In the end the Feds stepped in and put a stop to the feud.”
“My past is my past, there’s not much I can do about that,” Bucceroni said. “It’s what I do today that defines me. I felt you deserved to know a few things about a few people that are not commonly known. All I can say is that was unfortunately part of my life that developed into my adult life as a mob associate.”
Bucceroni said when he was a kid and met Henry Hill, that the older mobster was a “degenerate junkie” and that he “exaggerated” his role in the mob to beef up Pileggi’s book. Bucceroni puts himself in the middle of a few stories that have made headlines or celluloid fare. The Richard Kuklinski that Bucceroni talks about is the suburban hitman that Michael Shannon played in The Iceman. Both Hill and Bucceroni talked to the feds.
The volcano, which is what law enforcement calls the society that surrounds organized crime, is small. It is much smaller than the press or entertainment presents. If Bucceroni did come up through child prostitution on his way to a short-lived criminal career, it is entirely possible that he would have traversed the worlds he talks about. If not, he feeds into the legends of the streets. Goodfellas is all about street mythology. Things become true if they’re repeated enough and word on the street is that nobody knows nothing.
Everyone knows something, most of them just keep their mouths shut.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece that talked about a killing that a member of their thing, who died seven years before the Tommy D disappearance, did twenty years before that. The incident was common knowledge on the streets, the thing of local legends. I showed it to a friend of friends of friends and was given word that it would classify me as a “rat.” The story never went forward. I met a former member who admitted that years after leaving the organization, as an old man now, he was still dreading the knock at the door that might end with a .22 behind his ears.
Bucceroni said he’s not afraid of any repercussions because the players are deceased and nobody cares anymore about what he had to say.
“How is it I can walk around South Philadelphia mob neighborhoods and attend Philly mob trials sitting next to Philly mobsters in the court room audience if I’m a ‘fake’ mobster?” Bucceroni asked. “We both know that I would have been taken out a long time ago if that was true. Today I talk about mobsters of past not involving any current Philly mobsters. I’m no threat to the Philly mob for which many know of my troubling past and associations. But hey, the past is the past. They’re not worried nor am I.”
His life is defined by his role as a youth and victims’ advocate now and the past was largely buried.
Jimmy Burke’s former home on 81-48 102 Rd. in South Ozone Park, Queens, was excavated for bodies in June 2013. According to DNAinfo New York, the FBI found what they thought was human remains. Reported forensics results were unclear.
Jimmy “the Gent” Burke died in federal prison in 1996 while serving a 20-year prison term for murdering a drug dealer. The truth is buried with him. Everyone in New York has a little Zelig in them, growing up so close to everything that’s going on, two blocks from national headlines. This is all speculation because corroboration is synonymous with contradiction. It is a secret society, or was, until ratting became a racket.
Tommy DeSimone’s body is still at large.