In this episode, we cover a mobster who is probably most well-known for enjoying a good shoe shine. That’s right, we’re talking about none other than William “Billy Batts” Bentvena.
Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a long-time history buff and mob aficionado.
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Alright, now onto the episode! As with previous episodes, I’ve done a ton of research on our subject today William “Billy Batts” Bentvena, and I think you’re going to enjoy this deep dive into one gangster who really didn’t become famous until he appeared on the big-screen when he was portrayed by the late-great Frank Vincent.
“Billy Batts” was a soldier within the Gambino Crime Family from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s, and was one who rubbed elbows with some very famous Cosa Nostra members including of course his good friend, one John Joseph Gotti.
Bentvena’s lasting legacy is in my opinion not as a significant individual contributor to the mob, though he was tied up in a pretty significant event as we’ll discuss. His name is really only remembered as a result of the repercussions of his brutal murder, which was famously portrayed in the classic mob film, Goodfellas.
“Now go home and get your fucking shine box!” is one of the most memorable lines in movie history.
But before we get to that, there’s a lot to cover, so let’s dig in.
Early Life & Criminal Beginnings:
William Bentvena, also sometimes known as William Devino, was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 19, 1921. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information available concerning his early life, and a Freedom of Information Act request that I made came up completely empty.
That being said, growing up at that time period and in that area it’s safe to say that he regularly crossed paths and likely even rubbed shoulders with many “men of respect” in the neighborhood.
Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, Brooklyn was at primarily under the control of Vincent “The Executioner” Mangano and the Mangano Crime Family. After the murder of Mangano in 1951, the family was led by his usurper Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia who himself was famously gunned down in the barbershop of the Park Sheraton hotel in 1957 in a coup by Underboss Carlo Gambino, who then took over as Boss. It was at this time the family was renamed to The Gambino Crime Family which it remains today.
In 1959, Bentvena reportedly became an associate of the Gambino family and was a protégé of caporegime Carmine “Charley Wagons” Fatico. Fatico, who had an arrest record dating back to the 1930’s was a powerful capo in the family who would command a large crew of approximately 120 men that specialized in hijacking loads out of the Idlewild airport (which was renamed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963).
It’s during the 1950’s where Bentvena makes a connection and builds a friendship with another up and coming mob associate, John Gotti, who’d been working for the Fatico crew since 1952.
Now it’s worth pointing out that there aren’t any images of the real “Billy Batts,” and the image that is commonly associated with Bentvena is actually of Philadelphia mobster, Pat “The Cat” Spirito. So for the purposes of this episode, I’m going to use Frank Vincent’s portrayal as the stand-in for the real Bentvena.
So as we get into the late 1950’s, Bentvena would become involved in a large-scale drug operation run by several of the families that would come to be known by law enforcement as “The Ormento Group,” named after the leader of the group and Lucchese Crime Family Captain Giovanni “Big John” Ormento.
Other members of The Ormento Group who were considered “Managing Directors” are some names you might recognize.
First, there’s Carmine “The Cigar” Galante who would go on to become the somewhat infamous self-proclaimed Boss of the Bonnano Crime Family. He would ultimately be murdered in 1979.
Next, you have Anthony Mirra, also from the Bonnano Family, who would later introduce FBI Agent Joe Pistone, aka “Donnie Brasco,” into the family which would ultimately lead to the Bonnano’s being kicked off of The Commission.
The Ormento Group would smuggle large quantities of heroin into The United States from Canada. The ‘CEO’ of the group, “Big John” Ormento, ran the “107th street mob” out of Harlem, and was one of the most significant narcotics kingpins in the entire country at the time who was also part of The French Connection.
Unfortunately for William Bentvena, he was arrested by undercover police and charged with possession and exchange of narcotics on February 14, 1959, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He had traveled to Bridgeport to complete a drug deal with New Jersey mobster Joseph “Joe the Crow” DelVecchio and Gambino mobster Oreste “Ernie Boy” Abbamonte.
Bentvena would also be caught in New York moving narcotics by another undercover FBN agent in January of 1959.
His ultimate downfall would come as part of a larger indictment of The Ormento Group that would come down in May of 1960. The indictment would charge Bentvena and 28 others with charges of violating various narcotics laws as well as conspiracy to do so. The trial was marked by violence and vocal outbursts among some of the defendants, and there were actually three defendants who were shackled and gagged during the latter part of the trial.
And so in June of 1962, Bentvena was convicted of heroin smuggling and sentenced to 15 years to be served at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. It’s worth noting that this is also the famous pinch that took down his co defendant Carmine Galante.
Of course we know Galante’s absence set the stage for him to avoid the Bonnano Family turmoil of the 1960’s and ultimately rise to power upon his release in the 1970’s, throwing the family into chaos again.
If you read the indictment, its somewhat evident that Bentvena may have gotten a bit of a raw deal and was likely a smaller part than a bigger cogs in The Ormento Group:
“There was abundant evidence that all appellants, except Bentvena, Monastersky and Struzzieri, were part of a conspiracy to import and deliver narcotic drugs. The evidence of knowing participation in the conspiracy by Galante, Mancino, DiPietro and Mirra is overwhelming. The testimony of Smith not only placed Galante in the midst of the group importing the drugs but also shows him with physical possession of narcotics and direct knowledge and supervision of the importation.”
In addition to his 1958 bust, here was the alleged evidence used to tie Bentvena into The Ormento Group as minor contributor (from his 1963 appeal):
“An indictment returned by a legally constituted and unbiased grand jury, like an information drawn by the prosecutor, if valid on its face, is enough to call for trial of the charge on the merits.”
The facts developed with respect to the purchase and delivery of heroin which involve Bentvena, Struzzieri and Monastersky constitute the proof which formed the basis of the prosecution’s case against them as charged in counts 4 and 5. On January 5, 1959, Agent Giorgio of the Bureau of Narcotics met appellant Monastersky on East 116th Street in Manhattan and on the following day ordered one-half kilogram of heroin from him for $6,000. Monastersky arranged for delivery that evening. During that evening, other agents of the Bureau of Narcotics followed Monastersky and saw him enter 525 East 88th Street. Several minutes later, a car driven by the defendant Marcantonio Orlandino entered the block. Struzzieri alighted from it and entered the same building carrying a package covered with blue and white Christmas wrapping paper. After some time he emerged empty-handed and drove off with Orlandino. Shortly thereafter Monastersky came out and drove out of the area. Later, the agents observed the co-conspirator, McGovern, come out of the building carrying a package of similar size and wrapping and followed him to 448 East 87th Street.
Later that evening, Agent Giorgio met Monastersky and was told by him that his partner had the “stuff”. Monastersky took him to an apartment at 448 East 87th Street and introduced him to McGovern, who threw a package wrapped in blue and white Christmas wrapping paper on the table. Giorgio tested the contents and told Monastersky that it was “junk”. The three men left the apartment and went downstairs where Giorgio handed McGovern $6,000 and McGovern gave the agent the narcotics. Another agent saw McGovern and Monastersky return to 525 East 88th Street where they met Struzzieri and Orlandino. Struzzieri and Orlandino left and were later overheard discussing Agent Giorgio’s unwillingness to part with the money in advance of receiving the narcotics.
On January 13, 1959, Giorgio ordered more narcotics, agreeing to meet Monastersky that evening. They met and proceeded to 525 East 88th Street where they were told to return in an hour, Monastersky explaining to the agent that the “junk” wasn’t there yet. Approximately 50 minutes later Bentvena and Struzzieri entered the building. Giorgio returned, accompanied by Agent Mangiaracina, who was introduced to Monastersky by Giorgio as his partner. While Mangiaracina waited in the lobby at 525 East 88th Street, Monastersky and Giorgio went to a second-floor apartment, passing Struzzieri and Bentvena on the way in. Giorgio, on being told by McGovern that these two were the delivery boys, asked McGovern to tell them not to become apprehensive of Mangiaracina, who was in the lobby, as he was Giorgio’s partner. McGovern went to the housephone, spoke into it, and returned saying the junk would be there in a few minutes. Struzzieri and Bentvena walked to a car parked on 88th Street, opened the trunk, and removed a package which Bentvena tucked under his arm. Both men returned to McGovern’s apartment, walking past Mangiaracina who was still in the lobby, and delivered the package to McGovern. The sale to Giorgio was then consummated.”
Bentvena’s attorneys tried hard to get his conviction overturned, but to no avail:
“Investigation of a narcotics ring usually has its origin in a sale or series of sales made to narcotics or undercover agents. The salesmen, however, are as a rule on the outer fringe — the lowest echelon in the hierarchy of narcotics rings. Note, in passing, the “delivery boy” status ascribed to Bentvena and Struzzieri who for $25 apiece were in actual possession of a commodity retailing at $6,000 a half kilo. Quite frequently, the ringleaders or overlords of the narcotics business do not stultify themselves by possession when handlers can be so cheaply hired….Struzzieri, Monastersky and Bentvena contend, and the majority agree, that evidence, particularly hearsay evidence, was admitted under the conspiracy count and that the court failed to adequately instruct the jury that such evidence could not be used to convict under the substantive counts.”
The facts of the case dictate that he likely should have drawn a relatively light sentence or even some sort of probation. However, Bentvena ended up drawing an incredibly harsh sentence of 15 years while only making $25 for the crime he was allegedly convicted for (which is simply insane) due to being lumped in with this larger conspiracy.
Other mob notables in The Ormento Group would draw the following sentences:
- Giovanni “Big John” Ormento – 40 years and $20,000 fine
- Carmine Galante – 20 years and $20,000 fine
- Anthony Mirra – 20 years
Now it’s said that around 1961 Bentvena was officially initiated into The Gambino Family, becoming a ‘made man.’ However, if you consider that Carlo Gambino had allegedly closed the books, then the only way this is true would be if he were made earlier or if he was ‘made’ to replace a deceased member within the ranks. It’s really hard to know which is true, but most sources tend to accept that “Billy Batts” did indeed get his button at some point. So he goes into the can as a ‘man of respect’ so to speak.
After his appeals were exhausted, William “Billy Batts” Bentvena proved to be a stand-up guy and would go away in 1962 and do his time like a man. He was a man who did his time without so much as a peep (which was supposed to garner a certain level of respect), and he expected to get what was coming to him when he got out. In fact, he believed certain things were rightfully his as a “made man,” and based upon the rules of Cosa Nostra he was correct in believing that. Unfortunately, Bentvena’s return from prison would prove less inspiring than he anticipated, though he would eventually be immortalized on the big screen for a much more gruesome reason.
The Murder of Billy Batts:
William “Billy Batts” Bentvena would end up doing 8 out of 15 years on his sentence, and he would be released in 1970. If you’ve watched Goodfellas, then you know what happens next but hopefully you’ll learn something new here. For the rest of you, I plan to tell the story of the “Billy Batts” murder along with some select clips from Goodfellas.
Fresh out of the can and back in his old stomping ground, Batts was keen to get back into his old drug and loanshark rackets so he could start earning again. The problem is, his old rackets had been moved in on by other local wiseguys, most specifically one James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke.
Now if that name sounds familiar it’s because Jimmy Burke was one of the most notorious gangsters of all time and was famously portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the movie Goodfellas.
Although Burke wasn’t ever officially “made” into Cosa Nostra due to his Irish-American heritage, he was certainly afforded a great deal of respect within the Italian Mafia due to his abilities both as a big earner as well as a feared hitman. He was primarily known for working with the Paul Vario crew of the Lucchese Crime Family, but he also did work for the Colombo Crime Family early on in his mob career.
To put Burke into proper historical context, he would go on to be the man behind the Lufthansa Airport Heist in 1978, which was the biggest heist in American history at the time, and netted the crew $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry.
Jimmy Burke was also infamous for his violent, ruthless streak that resulted in nearly all of his accomplices in the Lufthansa robbery dying of unnatural causes. As if the murder of about 8 to 10 accomplices isn’t enough, there’s also the story of him chain-sawing his wife’s ex-boyfriend to death on his wedding day. So I think it’s fair to say that this guy would kill you in a second if you dared to cross him, and his reputation within the mob was bolstered due to that fact.
Whether or not Bentvena was aware of the extent of Burke’s ruthlessness, we’ll likely never know. That being said, William “Billy Batts” Bentvena, chose to attend a “Welcome Home” party held at Robert’s Lounge, which was a nightclub that Burke owned in Ozone Park, Queens.
This event of course was famously played out in the movie Goodfellas by the great Frank Vincent of “Billy Batts,” Ray Liotta (may they rest in peace) is famous mob rat Henry Hill, the aforementioned Robert DeNiro as Jimmy Conway (aka Jimmy Burke), and of course who can forget Joe Pesci as Tommy “Two-Gun” DeVito (aka Tommy DeSimone).
The event we’re about to talk about didn’t actually happen in a single evening as was portrayed in Goodfellas. It happened over the course of several weeks.
Before we proceed, we should also give you a quick intro of Tommy DeSimone. If you thought Jimmy Burke was a psychopath, DeSimone probably had him beat in that department. Additionally, despite the fact that Tommy, unlike Joe Pesci, was actually a fairly large guy in real life (he’s been described as well over 6 foot and over 200 lbs of muscle), he had a major Napoleon complex due to the fact that his brother Anthony had been a “rat” (a fact Tommy was very sensitive to). Hill would later describe DeSimone as a “pure psychopath.”
According to Hill, DeSimone committed his first murder on March 15, 1968. Hill and DeSimone were walking down a street when DeSimone spotted a civilian named Howard Goldstein, who was unknown to either gangster. Hill recalls DeSimone turning to him and saying, “Hey Henry, watch this.” Suddenly DeSimone yelled, “Hey cocksucker!”, pulled out a .38 caliber pistol, and shot and killed Goldstein. Hill exclaimed, “That was cold-blooded, Tommy!” DeSimone replied, “Well, I’m a mean cat.”
So these are the key players in this particular situation.
As I mentioned, in late May of 1970 William “Billy Batts” Bentvena attended a “Welcome Home” party held at Robert’s Lounge in Ozone Park, Queens.
As is seen in the movie, though it didn’t exactly happen the same way and there likely wasn’t any “Go get your fucking Shinebox!” moment, it is clear that at some point during the course of the evening Bentvena allegedly asked Tommy DeSimone “if he still shined shoes” which Tommy indeed had done as an up-and-coming youth.
According to the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Henry Hill describes the circumstances of the murder:
“One night, right after my arrest for assaulting the wrong guy, we were having a party in Robert’s for Bill Batts. Billy had just gotten out of prison after six years. We usually gave a guy a party when he got out. Food. Booze. Hookers. It’s a good time. Billy was a made guy. He was with Johnny Gotti from near Fulton Street and he was hooked up with the Gambinos. We’re all bombed. Jimmy. Tommy. Me. Billy turned around and he saw Tommy, who he knew from before he went away. Tommy was only about twenty at the time, so the last time Billy saw him Tommy was just a kid. Bill started to kid around. He asked Tommy if he still shined shoes. It was just a snide remark, but 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. He always had to show he was tougher than anyone around. He always had to be special. He was the only guy in the crew that used to drink Crown Royal. It was a Canadian whiskey that wasn’t imported back when he was a kid. Tommy had it smuggled in. He was the kind of guy who was being so tough he managed to find a bootleg hooch to drink thirty years after Prohibition.
I looked over at Tommy, and I could see he was fuming at the way Billy was talking. 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. Still, I knew he was pissed. We kept drinking and laughing, and just when I thought maybe it was all forgotten, Tommy leaned over to Jimmy and me and said, ‘I’m gonna kill that fuck.’ I joked back with him, but I saw he was serious.”
So note to self, when you’re speaking to a homicidal maniac with a hair-trigger temper, asking them a question joking or not that they perceive as an insult especially in public is probably not smart. But Batts as a “made” guy probably felt pretty secure in his power since Tommy and for that matter Jimmy or Henry Hill were not “made.” And by the Mafia’s rules, he should have been untouchable, but as he would find out the rules in some cases are more like guidelines to be applied when they suit certain ends.
However, according to Wiseguy two weeks later on June 11, 1970 Bentvena was allegedly hanging out at Henry Hill’s nightclub The Suite, located in Jamaica, Queens. Similar to what was portrayed in Goodfellas.
“A couple of weeks later Billy was drinking in The Suite. It was late. I was praying he’d go home when Tommy walked in. It didn’t take long. Tommy immediately sent his girlfriend home and he gave me and Jimmy a look. Right away Jimmy started getting real cozy with Billy Batts. He started buying Billy drinks. I could see he was setting Billy up for Tommy.
‘Keep him here. I’m going for a bag.’ Tommy whispered to me, and I knew he was going to kill Billy right in my own joint. He was going for a body bag—a plastic mattress cover—so Billy wouldn’t bleed all over the place and he killed him. Tommy was back with the bag and a thirty-eight in twenty minutes. I was getting sick.
By now Jimmy has Billy Batts in the corner of the bar near the wall. They were drinking and Jimmy was telling him stories. Billy was having a great time. As it got late almost everybody went home. Only Alex Corcione, who was seated in back with his girl, was left in the place. The bartender left. Jimmy had his arm hanging real loose around Billy’s shoulder when Tommy came over. Billy didn’t even look up. Why should he? He was with friends. Fellow wiseguys. He had no idea that Tommy was going to kill him.
I was on the side of the bar when Tommy took the thirty-eight out of his pocket. Billy saw it in Tommy’s hand. The second Billy saw what was 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.
By now Alex Corcione saw what was going on and he started to come over. Jimmy glared at him. ‘You want some?’ Jimmy said. Jimmy was ready to drop Billy and go after Alex. I got between them as though I was going to belt Alex. But I just grabbed Alex by the shoulders and steered him toward the door. ‘Get out of here,’ I said, real quiet, so Jimmy can’t hear. ‘They’ve got a beef.’ I maneuvered Alex and his girl out the door and they were gone. Alex was with our own crew, but Jimmy and Tommy were so hot right then they would have whacked Alex and his girl right there if he gave them trouble. I locked the front door, and when I turned back I saw that Billy’s body was spread out on the floor. His head was a bloody mess. Tommy had opened the mattress cover. Jimmy told me to bring the car around.”
The book continues on:
“We had a problem. Billy Batts was untouchable. There has to be an okay before a made man can be killed. If the Gambino people ever found out that Tommy killed Billy, we were all dead. There was no place we could go. They could even have demanded that Paulie whack us himself. Tommy had done the worst possible thing he could have done, and we all knew it. Billy’s body had to disappear. We couldn’t leave it on the street. There would have been a war. With no body around, the Gotti crew would never know for sure.
Jimmy said we had to bury the body where it couldn’t be found. He had a friend upstate with a dog kennel, where nobody would ever look. We put Billy in the trunk of the car, and we drove by Tommy’s house to pick up a shovel. His mother was already up and made us come in for coffee. She wouldn’t let us leave. We have to have breakfast—with a body parked outside.
Finally we left Tommy’s and got on the Taconic. We’d been driving about an hour when I heard a funny noise. I’m in the back half asleep, with the shovel. Tommy was driving. Jimmy was asleep. I heard the noise again. It was like a thump. Jimmy woke up. The banging began again. It dawned on all of us at once. Billy Batts was alive. He was banging on the trunk. We were on our way to bury him and he wasn’t even dead.
Now Tommy really got mad. He slammed on the brakes. He leaned over the seat and grabbed the shovel. Nobody said a word. We got out of the car and waited until there were no more headlights coming up behind us. Then Jimmy got on one side and I got on the other and Tommy opened the trunk. The second it sprang open Tommy smashed the sack with the shovel. Jimmy grabbed a tire iron and he started banging away at the sack. It only took a few seconds, and we got back in the car. When we got to the spot where we were going to bury Billy, the ground was so frozen we had to dig for an hour to get him down deep enough. Then we covered him with lime and drove back to New York.
So, true to the move the trio actually did stop off at DeSimone’s mother’s house to pick up a knife, lime, and a shovel. And no, I can’t confirm that they had dinner with Tommy’s mother while discussing the artistic properties of a gray-haired man sitting in a boat asking “What do you want from me?!?”
Also, while Bentvena was shot and stabbed in a gruesome murder in the movie, the reality of DeSimone and Burke actuality finishing Batts off by beating him with the shovel and tire iron actually even seems more gruesome if you ask me.
William “Billy Batts” Bentvena was just 49 at the time of his murder.
Hill would go on to say that “Batts was like a curse” due to the fact that three months after the murder Burke’s friend sold the dog kennel, and the property was earmarked for housing development which put the body at risk of being discovered.
As a result, Jimmy Burke ordered both Hill and DeSimone to exhume the corpse and dispose of it elsewhere. According to Wiseguy:
“About three months after we planted the guy, Jimmy came up to me at The Suite and said Tommy and I would have to dig up the body and bury it somewhere else. The guy who owned the kennel had just sold his property to a housing developer. He had been bragging to Jimmy about how much money he was going to make, but all Jimmy knew was that workmen might find the body. That night Tommy and I took my brand-new yellow Pontiac Cataline convertible and we dug Billy up. It was awful. We had put lime on the body to help it decompose, but it was only half gone. The smell was so bad I got sick. I started to throw up. All the time Tommy and I worked I was throwing up. We put the body in the trunk and took it to a junkyard we used in Jersey. Enough time had passed so nobody was going to think it was Billy.
I stayed sick for a week. I couldn’t get away from the smell. Everything smelled like the body. The restaurant grease. The kids’ candy. I couldn’t stop smelling it. I threw away the clothes, even the shoes I wore that night, thinking they were the problem. I couldn’t get the smell of it out of the trunk of my car. I ripped out all the upholstery and threw it away. I gave the car a real scrubbing. I tossed a bottle of Karen’s perfume inside and closed the lid. But I couldn’t get rid of the smell. It never went away. I finally had to junk the car. Jimmy and Tommy thought I was nuts. Tommy said if he could have smelled it he would have kept the car just to remind him about how he took care of that miserable bastard Billy Batts.”
Now according to later interviews, Hill would claim that the body was initially moved to the basement of Robert’s Lounge. However, as Hill stated in Wiseguy, the half-decomposed corpse would eventually be moved again and ultimately crushed in a mechanical compactor in a junkyard in New Jersey.
And of course due to Bentvena’s status as a highly-respected “made” soldier in the Gambino family, the most powerful family in the United States, and his friendship with the likes of John Gotti, Carmine Fatico and others truly would prove to be a major issue for the trio.
The murder was unsanctioned and this fact, along with several other issues, would lead to the ultimate downfall of Tommy DeSimone, Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill.
The Aftermath & Retribution:
In the immediate time period after this hit, nothing happens to DeSimone, Burke, or Henry Hill. However, people like John Gotti certainly had their suspicions and were very unhappy that a good friend and “made” guy had gotten clipped under such mysterious circumstances.
One of the questions I often ask myself is why didn’t the Gambino Crime Family take retribution right away? I think the obvious answer has two parts:
First, they didn’t have concrete proof that DeSimone, Burke, and Hill had done the work. If they had, I’m sure it would have been an immediate death sentence since Batts was supposedly highly-respected, stand-up, and the hit was non sanctioned by The Commission.
Second, since Burke and DeSimone had moved in on Bentvena’s rackets and according to some sources made them far more profitable, Paul Vario and the Lucchese Crime Family probably looked the other way in order to keep that money flowing in. While many people pin this hit on DeSimone’s hot temper, it’s more likely that it was ultimately engineered by Burke as he most likely didn’t want to give Bentvena back his rackets.
What I find odd about this is the timing. In 1970, Carlo Gambino was firmly in power and would not have stood for such an affront to his family without striking back, though he may have had his hands busy with the stuff Joe Colombo was pulling at the time.
Additionally, the Gambino family and the Lucchese family were strategically allied and had a strong relationship. And even though Tommy Lucchese had died three years earlier, the two families were still relatively tight in the 1970’s.
But maybe in the end, they just decided to allow things to simmer. And simmer they did.
So for 9 years to pass without anything happening to DeSimone, Burke, or Hill is very suspicious and could potentially even be tacit support on behalf of both the Lucchese’s and the Gambino’s to allow Burke to continue increasing the profits from Bentvena’s old rackets despite the clear infraction.
As they said in Goodfellas, “it was real greaseball shit between the Italians,” just not in the way you might have thought.
Tommy DeSimone’s luck would run out as he would be reported missing by his wife on January 14, 1979. She had last seen him a few weeks before reporting him missing, thus making his actual death date somewhat uncertain. His body has never been located.
There are several rumors floating around about the circumstances of this hit, and most of the “inside sources” are government informants so it’s difficult to know what exactly is true or not.
When Henry Hill became a government informant in 1980, he told authorities that DeSimone had been murdered by the Gambino Crime Family. He claimed that around December 1978 or January 1979, while Burke and Hill were in Florida to straighten out a drug deal, DeSimone stayed behind in New York under the guise that he was to be straightened out as a member of the Lucchese Family.
However, when it came time for the ceremony, Lucchese family members Peter Vario (who was Paul Vario’s son) and Bruno Facciolo shepherded DeSimone to an unknown location, where he was ultimately murdered and disappeared.
Why did Vario finally green-light the murder 9 years after the Bentvena hit?
There is a story that has circulated that DeSimone had allegedly raped Henry Hill’s wife, who in a bizaare plot-twist was actually having an affair with Vario while Hill was in prison. And supposedly this was the last straw. Honestly, I don’t believe this story to be true.
The more likely story is that DeSimone had become a liability and became expendable. The fact that he was positively identified as one of the Lufthansa robbers when he lifted his mast during the heist, as well as the fact taht he’d committed several unsanctioned murders were likely the figurative and literal nails in the coffin.
The two prominent theories of the events surrounded DeSimone’s actual murder center around two prominent Gambino mobsters: John Gotti and Tommy Agro.
According to Henry Hill, who reaffirmed this information on multiple occasions, John Gotti himself pulled the trigger on DeSimone while in the presence of Agro, and the death “took a long time” as Bentvena was a personal friend of Gotti’s. Additionally, it should be noted that DeSimone is also credited with killing another Gotti friend, Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, after Jerothe punched DeSimone in the face in a feud over Jerothe’s sister, whom DeSimone was dating.
In the book, The Lufthansa Heist by Hill and author Daniel Simone, Henry Hill relayed specifics which he heard from Sal Polisi around DeSimone’s murder. So take what I’m about to say for what you will.
According to the book, upon hearing DeSimone was about to be “made,” he demanded a sit-down with Vario in which the following conversation took place:
Gotti: “This fuckin’ DeSimone whacked two of my top earners, and I let it go for a long time. Now he wants to be made, and I’m not gonna sit quietly. I mean, that’s as bad as putting a cactus up my ass. Understan’ what I’m sayin’, Paulie?”
Vario: “John, what do you suppose I should do?”
Gotti: “Paulie, all I want is what’s fair. I wanna whack the bastard, and I want you to give me the green light.”
And based on everything I just laid out, and with DeSimone as a constant source of agita for Vario, the request was considered “timely and well received” and thus green-lit.
According to Wiseguy, Henry Hill describes the conversation he had with Burke after the found out about the murder of Tommy DeSimone:
“We had heard that Bruno Facciolo and Petey 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. 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 new saw such anger. I was scared.
He came out of the booth and I saw he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, and he says that they just whacked Tommy. 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. They were made guys with the Gambinos, and Tommy had killed them without an okay. 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.”
Speaking of Burke, because of his status as a major earner, it was clear that he still had Vario’s protection, and any hit on him was not going to be green-lit and may not even have been requested for that matter.
Again, according to the book The Lufthansa Heist, here are the supposed specific details of the hit, and I caution you to please take them for what you will since it’s based on the words of several informants, who we know can distort the truth and sometimes even downright lie:
The night DeSimone expected to be inducted into the mob, Vario’s son drove him from his home in Ozone Park, Queens, to Belmont in The Bronx. DeSimone wore “a double-breasted black Bill Blass suit, a starched blue shirt and beige silk tie,” the book says.
DeSimone was led to the basement of Don Vito’s restaurant. Several old men were seated around a card table, and candles gave the room a dim light. DeSimone was surprised to see Gotti, a Gambino. He thought his induction would be a Lucchese affair.
“Welcome, Tommy. Congratulations!” Gotti said. “Pull a chair up to the table and sit comfortably. This is not an ordinary day in your life, I want you to know.”
DeSimone sat down. Within three seconds, “Gotti pulled out a silencer-equipped .38 Colt Magnum from his inner breast pocket and drilled three bullets into DeSimone’s cranium. PAH . . . PAH . . . PAH.
“DeSimone’s head blasted forward, and with the thud of a 10-pound boulder slumped onto the card table, blood seeping and leaching onto the green felt tabletop.
“Gotti buttoned his camel cashmere overcoat, straightened the lapels and walked out of the room with a vaunting stride,” the book says.
And that’s that.
Now, the other popular story which comes from Gambino associates turned rats Joseph “Joe Dogs” Iannuzzi and Sal Polisi (again) was that DeSimone was killed and tortured by Tommy Agro (maybe Hill was getting his recollection of Polisi’s story wrong or maybe they were both wrong)?!? Anyhow, according to “Joe Dogs,” Agro – who himself was a legendarily vicious mobster – would often joke about killing the third DeSimone brother (he’d supposedly killed Tommy’s two brothers), stating: “Maybe it’s time to go for the DeSimone trifecta!”
Now I don’t know that either of those stories is true, but the fact remains that DeSimone was no longer and The Gambino Family had finally gotten their long-awaited revenge.
As for Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill, they never received retribution for their roles in the Bentvena murder. However, as I mentioned Hill would turn government witness in 1980 and sell out his old friends. Hill’s testimony in federal court resulted in a total of fifty convictions, including those of Burke and their boss, capo Paul Vario.
Burke would receive a sentence of 12 years in prison and would get 20 years added onto his sentence after being charged in another murder case. He would die in prison on April 12, 1996.
Paul Vario would get a 4 years sentence in 1984 and an additional 10 years in another case added on. He would also die in prison at the age of 73 on May 3, 1988.
Henry Hill would live out the rest of his life in and out of Witness Protection before ultimately passing away in June of 2012, a full 42 years after the “Billy Batts” incident that he was so famously tied to due to his portrayal in Goodfellas.
In the end, was William “Billy Batts” Bentvena a significant mobster? No.
Would anyone know his name had his story not been told in the book Wiseguy and then played beautifully by Frank Vincent in Goodfellas? Likely not.
It is worth pointing out that Bentvena allegedly got his button some 15 years before the likes of John Gotti, but it’s really hard to say what he’d have become had he been alive into the 1980’s. He’d have been in his mid 60’s by that point, and I’d venture a guess that he might have made it to Caporegime within the family, but by the time Gotti killed Paul Castellano all bets would have been off. So who really knows where he’d have ended up in that mess of a time period.
Anyhow, as I enjoy deep diving into mobsters that there really isn’t too much information on, I thought it’d be cool to see if I could shed some more light on who William Bentvena really was, and I really hoped that you learned something new about this mobster who would have been forgotten in the annals of history without Hollywood.
By the way, if any of you “insiders” know how Bentvena got his famous nickname, please drop it in the comments below. I wasn’t able to find any information on that specifically and it kind of drove me crazy.
As always, I appreciate everyone’s patience as I know it takes me a long time to do research, record, and produce the episodes, but I hope you found the wait worth it. I spend probably 50-60 hours doing painstaking work on each episode I put out, so just know that while I’d like to move faster, life sometimes gets in the way and I want to ensure that I’m doing my homework to give you the detail you can’t find (easily) anywhere else.
As always, I really appreciate the support and (if you’re on YouTube) please let me know what you thought about this episode in the comments below. Also please, mash that Subscription button on YouTube and hit the notification bell so you know when I’ve posted a new episode.
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Until next time, gratzie!
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/5914c955add7b049347f1a33 (1960)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/5914c94cadd7b049347f157a (1961)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59149c16add7b0493463efac (1962)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59149c07add7b0493463e611 (1962)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59149c50add7b04934640f49 (1962)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/5914c8eeadd7b049347ee20b (1963)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59149aa3add7b0493462822e (1966)
- https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/59149a0aadd7b0493461e30d (1967)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1959/06/04/91420615.html?pageNumber=32 (1959)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1961/05/16/97238611.html?pageNumber=20 (1961)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1962/06/26/82048459.html?pageNumber=65 (1962)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1962/07/11/80409644.html?pageNumber=22 (1962)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1962/06/27/82050000.html?pageNumber=25 (1962)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1963/06/14/81814913.html?pageNumber=62 (1963)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/02/23/111008608.html?pageNumber=30 (Lufthansa)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/03/25/121014288.html?pageNumber=1 (Lufthansa Murders)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/02/19/111075599.html?pageNumber=18 (Lufthansa Murders)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1979/02/11/112851954.html?pageNumber=59 (Lufthansa Murders)
- https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1980/06/15/111785845.html?pageNumber=25 (Lufthansa Murders)
Books & Other Sources:
- Pileggi, Nicholas (1985). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Comiskey, Thomas F. (2019). The East Village Mafia. Archway Publishing.
- Hill, Henry and Simone, Daniel (2015). The Lufthansa Heist: Behind the Six-Million-Dollar Cash Haul That Shook the World. Lyons Press. Rowman & Littlefield.