The December 11, 1978 robbery from the Lufthansa cargo terminal at JFK airport in New York City is the stuff of legend; it has captured the imagination of the public and remains so nearly four decades after it occurred due to the popular culture sign posts that have popped up along the way.
Those sign posts include innumerable books, a pair of made for television movies and most famously Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Now to add to stack is a book described to be the definitive rendering of the story, by one of the self-admitted masterminds of the crime, former mobster Henry Hill in tandem with interviewer and author Daniel Simone.
While seemingly so much is known about the gang of thieves involved in the crime, it is shockingly still an un-solved crime, with much of the loot still unaccounted for even after all these years. While many said to be involved in the heist were taken out in an effort to keep the story under wraps, many others, including Hill took much the story to their graves.
In an effort to make the storyline more readable, the authors use what only can be described as massive poetic license to recreate conversations that they were clearly not privy to. While that helps to move the story along, there are a few clumsy moments where the story doesn’t quite line up. The recreation of a bowling alley conversation between two Lufthansa employees that played an inside role in the robbery, where one of the duo make a reference to being examined with a “MRI machine” which in 1978 would have been a good trick, since the earliest test of MRIs occurred in 1977 and they weren’t widely available until 1984.
While Simone spent countless hours interviewing and talking with Hill on videotape, there is a distinct style difference in the writing. What I detect as Hill’s voice is more gritty and authentic, while Simone’s is more big picture and move the story forward in its tone. Is The Lufthansa Heist the definitive version of this story? Probably not, but it is an entertaining read on a very familiar story.