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Millions Stolen from JFK Airport In the Infamous 'Lufthansa Heist'

December 11, 2018 in History

By History.com Editors

On December 11, 1978 half a dozen masked robbers raided the Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at JFK Airport in New York, making off with more than $5 million in cash ($21 million in today’s dollars) and almost $1 million in jewelry. To this day, the Lufthansa heist, as it is known, is considered one of the greatest in U.S. history.

The plan was dreamed up by Peter Gruenewald, a Lufthansa cargo worker at JFK Airport. Gruenewald knew that Lufthansa regularly flew large amounts of unmarked cash from Europe—the U.S. currency exchanged overseas by American tourists and servicemen—to JFK. Typically, this money would immediately be transferred to American banks via Brink’s trucks. However, delays sometimes caused the cash delivery to arrive after the last of the trucks had left for the day, which meant it was stored at the airport until the next business day—and vulnerable to theft.

Gruenewald took his plan to fellow cargo worker and friend Louis Werner, in the hopes of putting it in motion. Unfortunately for Gruenewald, Werner saw the robbery as an opportunity to get out from under a mountain of personal gambling debt and double-crossed his friend. He took Gruenewald’s plan to a big-time bookmaker in the area, Martin Krugman, who took the idea to his buddy, infamous mobster-turned-movie-consultant Henry Hill.

As depicted in the famous movie Goodfellas, Hill was part of a crew of gangsters run by James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke. After years of earning money through nefarious deeds, Jimmy’s crew had become closely associated with the Lucchese crime family, and had amassed a solid reputation in the seedy world of organized crime. Burke and Hill took over the planning for the robbery. Jimmy’s crew was very familiar with JFK. Whenever they needed easy cash, the airport was an easy mark. The crew regularly hijacked trucks from JFK, often taking two or three trucks per week from there for quick money. Whether they were filled with televisions, clothes or food, they knew how to move merchandise to make extra cash.

Burke and Hill assembled a team for the robbery and waited for the word from his inside man, Werner. At about 3:00 A.M. on December 11, a black van loaded with the masked men pulled up to Lufthansa’s storage area. The men entered the building while the getaway van was brought to the back. They burst in, wielding guns, rounding up the …read more

Source: HISTORY

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