Henry Hill was born June 11, 1943 in Brownsville Brooklyn. He is most famous for being portrayed by actor Ray Liotta in the 1990 blockbuster movie, Goodfellas as a Lucchese family associate involved in several high profile robberies, murders, scandals, and finally as an FBI informant.
Henry grew up in a working class family in East New York, Brooklyn and had seven brothers and sisters. His father was an electrician while his mother stayed home with the children. As the movie showed, Henry grew up admiring the Mafioso who socialized at a cabstand across the street from his home. Before long he was running errands for several of them and one in particular named Paul Vario, a caporegime in the Lucchese crime family.
At the age of 14 Hill was collecting bets and loan shark payments from construction sites for Vario and his brothers. He earned $190 a week just for being a “member” of the union and in addition earned a substantial amount of money as a runner. His biggest tipper was Vario crew member Jimmy Burke who tipped Hill $20 bills for walking a drink from the bar to the table in one of the nightclubs run by the Vario crew. When the money started rolling in, Henry dropped out of school and at the age of 15 devoted 100% of his time to being a gangster.
In 1959 when Hill was 16 years old he was arrested for attempting to use a stolen credit card. Having been around the mob for a few years, Hill knew cooperating with the police wasn’t’t an option. He was released shortly after only giving his name and earned the respect of many of the Vario crew including Jimmy Burke which was said to be difficult to do.
In 1965 Paul Vario introduced Hill to his future wife, Karen. Karen’s family didn’t condone their
relationship and they had to elope later that year in North Carolina. Karen’s family did not attend the wedding, while most of Hill’s gangster friends did, and same as the movie, handed envelopes of cash as presents for the new couple.
Hill and fellow Lucchese associate Thomas DeSimone made their first big score when they robbed $420,000 from an Air France shipment on April 7, 1967. Hill and DeSimone copied a key from a guard in charge of the incoming cargo flight, and after it arrived, walked out of the cargo hold with bags of cash. They paid out $120,000 in tributes (as every associate is required to do) to Paul Vario and Colombo caporegime Sebastian “Buster” Aloi who considered the airport his turf.
Although the majority of his money was made illegally, Hill knew he would need to maintain legitimate income if he was going to out smart the FBI and stave off tax evasion indictments that often brought down gangsters in that era. In 1969, Hill purchased a restaurant called “The Suite” that was supposed to remain legitimate, but quickly became a mob hangout.
In June 1970, Gambino family made man William “Billy Bats” Devino fresh off a 6 year prison term was drinking with Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill, and DeSimone, at Hill’s restaurant. Little did Devino know, he was spending his last moments alive as Burke and DeSimone intended on killing him for remarks Devino had made a couple weeks earlier. The movie Goodfellas condensed this into one scene when they pistol whipped and stomped Billy Batts to death on Hills floor, but in all actuality, the beef had been brewing for weeks. After rolling Devino into a mattress cover provided by DeSimone, the three men headed for DeSimone’s mother’s house for a shovel where she fixed them food. After leaving, and with Devino in the trunk, the men traveled to a desolate area to bury Devino. Along the way they had to stop after hearing Devino rustling about in the trunk. They popped the trunk and beat him with the shovel and tire iron until they were sure he was dead.
On November 3, 1972, Hill and Burke were sentenced to ten years in prison due to an extortion charge from the year before while the men were vacationing in Florida. Hill was sent to the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg were he was imprisoned with Paul Vario, who was serving a two and a half year sentence for tax evasion, and several Gotti crew members serving various sentences. It was Lewisburg where Hill met a man from Pittsburgh who, for a fee, taught Hill how to smuggle drugs into the prison. On July 12, 1978, Hill was released from prison. The next day he was in Pittsburgh to expand his drug business on the outside.
A few months after Hill was released from prison, a Lucchese family associate approached Burke about a possible large score worth millions. Burke assembled a team of men to investigate the opportunity. Hill helped with the logistics but did not have a hand in the actual theft. On Monday, December 11, 1978, Burkes crew, notably called the Robert’s Lounge crew pulled off the largest heist in American history up to that point. It was dubbed, the Lufthansa Heist.
Several days later, the FBI were tipped the heist was executed by the Robert’s Lounge crew. They began tailing many of the men involved including Hill and Burke. When others in the crew started spending the money Burke became paranoid and began cutting ties. In a few short months, 12 men were missing or murdered, and five had become informants.
As men continued to disappear Hill became concerned he too might be killed by Burke. Hill also believed Vario had delivered up DeSimone to the Gambino family as retribution for the Billy Bats murder and for trying to take rape Karen, Hill’s wife, whom was having an affair with Vario while Hill was imprisoned. When Hill was arrested for drug trafficking on April 27, 1980 the FBI played a wire tap featuring Burke stating to Vario that he (Hill) “needed to be whacked”. Within a few days Hill was released on bail. He met with Burke at a familiar restaurant where they discussed his case and a few opportunities for Hill to raise money for his defense. One such opportunity was to travel with Burke to Florida to carry out a contract killing. Hill had never been asked to kill for Vario and knew he would not come home alive. The FBI caught wind of there travel plans and took Hill off the streets. On May 27, 1980 Hill signed an agreement to become an informant against Vario and Burke.
With his testimony Hill helped the government convict several Mafioso including Jimmy Burke who was given life in prison for murder. He died in prison from cancer on April 13 1996. He was 64 years old. Vario was convicted of helping Hill get a no-show job that helped him get paroled from prison early and was also convicted of extortion and sentenced to ten years. He died in prison on November 22, 1988 at the age 73.
After testifying Hill, his wife Karen, and their two children were placed in the witness protection program. He and Karen divorced in 1989 and due to several violations were expelled from the program in the early 1990’s.
Hill kept a low profile until his arrest for drug paraphernalia charges in March 2005. From that point, with all the men he crossed dead, Hill didn’t shy away from public. He appeared on the Howard Sterns show, had book signings with other ex Mafioso, and sold his artwork on Ebay. In February he was placed in the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Hill died on June 12, 2012 in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack in May.