Henry Hill

For other uses, see Henry Hill (disambiguation).
Henry Hill, Jr.

FBI mugshot taken in 1980
Born (1943-06-11)June 11, 1943
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died June 12, 2012(2012-06-12) (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart Disease
Residence Topanga, California
Nationality Italian-American
Other names Alex Canclini
Known for Lucchese crime family criminal associate
Partner(s) Lisa Caserta (fiancée;[1] 2006–2012; his death)
  • Gregg
  • Gina[2]
  • Justin (born c. 1990; son of Kelly Alor)[1][3]

Military career

Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1960 - 1965
Unit 82nd Airborne Division

Henry Hill, Jr. (June 11, 1943 – June 12, 2012) was a New York City mobster. Between 1955 and 1980, Hill was associated with the Lucchese crime family. In 1980, Hill became an FBI informant, and his testimony helped secure 50 convictions, including those of mob capo (captain) Paul Vario and James Burke on multiple charges.

Hill's life story was documented in the true crime book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi.[5] Wiseguy was subsequently adapted by Martin Scorsese into the critically acclaimed film Goodfellas, in which Hill was portrayed by Ray Liotta.

Early life

Henry Hill, Jr. was born on June 11, 1943, to Henry Hill, Sr., an immigrant Irish-American electrician, and Carmela Costa Hill, a Sicilian-American. The working-class family consisted of Henry and his eight siblings who grew up in Brownsville, a poorer area of the East New York section of Brooklyn. From an early age, Hill admired the local mobsters who socialized across the street from his home, including Paul Vario, a capo in the Lucchese crime family.[6] In 1955, when Hill was 11 years old, he wandered into the cabstand across the street looking for a part-time after-school job.[7] In his early teens, he began running errands for patrons of Vario's storefront shoeshine, pizzeria, and dispatch cabstand. He first met the notorious hijacker and Lucchese family associate James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke in 1956. The 13-year-old Hill served drinks and sandwiches at a card game and was dazzled by Burke's openhanded tipping. "He was sawbucking me to death. Twenty here. Twenty there. He wasn't like anyone else I had ever met."[5]

The following year, Paul Vario's younger brother, Vito "Tuddy" Vario, and older brother, Lenny Vario, presented Hill with a highly sought-after union card in the bricklayers' local. Hill would be a "no show", put on a building contractor's construction payroll, guaranteeing him a weekly salary of $190. This didn't mean Hill would be getting or keeping all that money every week. He received only a portion of it, and the rest was kept and divided among the Varios. The card also allowed Hill to facilitate pickup of daily policy bets and loan payments to Vario from local construction sites. Once Hill had this "legitimate" job, he dropped out of high school, working exclusively for the Vario gangsters.[8]

Hill's first encounter with arson occurred when the Rebel Cab Company cabstand opened just around the corner from Vario's business. The competing company's owner was from Alabama, new to New York City. Sometime after midnight, Tuddy and Hill drove to the rival cabstand with a drum full of gasoline in the back seat of Tuddy's car. Hill smashed the cab windows and filled them with gasoline-soaked newspapers, then tossed in lit match books.[9]

Hill was first arrested when he was 16; his arrest record is one of the few official documents that prove his existence.[10] Hill and Lenny, Vario's equally underage son, attempted to use a stolen credit card to buy snow tires for Tuddy's wife's car. When Hill and Lenny returned to Tuddy's, two police detectives apprehended Hill. During a rough interrogation, Hill gave his name and nothing else; Vario's attorney later facilitated his release on bail. While a suspended sentence resulted, Hill's refusal to talk earned him the respect of both Vario and Burke. Burke, in particular, saw great potential in Hill. Like Burke, he was of Irish ancestry and therefore ineligible to become a "made man." The Vario crew, however, were happy to have associates of any ethnicity, so long as they made money and refused to cooperate with the authorities.[11]

In June 1960, Hill joined the Army, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Hill claimed the timing was deliberate; the FBI investigation into the 1957 Apalachin mob summit meeting had prompted a Senate investigation into organized crime, and its links with businesses and unions. This resulted in the publication of a list of nearly 5,000 names of members and associates of the five major crime families. Hill searched through a partial list but could not find Vario listed among the Lucchese family.[12]

Throughout his three-year enlistment, Hill maintained his mob contacts. He also continued to hustle: in charge of kitchen detail, he sold surplus food, loan sharked pay advances to fellow soldiers, and sold tax-free cigarettes. Before his discharge, Hill spent two months in the stockade for stealing a local sheriff's car, and brawling in a bar with a civilian and Marines. In 1963, Hill returned to New York and began the most notorious phase of his criminal career: arson, intimidation,[13] running an organized stolen car ring,[14] and hijacking trucks.[15]

In 1965, Hill met his future wife, Karen Friedman, through Paul Vario, Jr., though the film Goodfellas replaces him with Thomas "Tommy" DeSimone. Paul insisted that Hill accompany him on a double date at Frank "Frankie the Wop" Manzo's restaurant, Villa Capra. According to Friedman the date was disastrous, and Hill stood her up at the next dinner date. Afterward, the two began going on dates at the Copacabana and other nightclubs, where Friedman was introduced to Hill's outwardly impressive lifestyle. The two later got married in a large North Carolina wedding, attended by most of Hill's gangster friends.[16]

Lufthansa Heist

On December 11, 1978, Hill and Jimmy Burke pulled the Lufthansa heist. Hill had heard from Robert "Frenchy" McMahon that his employer, Lufthansa, was handling a shipment of USD $6 million in cash and jewelry. The main problem was a guard with a key to the safe. They identified the guard's weakness for women. They got the guard drunk and took him to a motel, where a prostitute waited to distract him. When the guard took off his pants to change into a bathrobe, they took his ring of keys. Not knowing which key led to the vault, the mobsters simply made duplicate copies of as many of the keys as possible, then replaced the original keyring without his knowledge. At 11:40 pm on a Saturday, Hill and Burke drove to the Air France cargo parking lot in a rented car sporting false plates. They left with the USD $6 million haul. Hill and DeSimone paid a $750,000 tribute to two mob chiefs. They were Sebastian "Buster" Aloi, the 57-year-old capo for the Colombo crime family, who considered Kennedy Airport their turf, and their own capo, Paul Vario.[17][18]

Drug business

Hill began wholesaling marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and quaaludes based on connections he made in prison; he earned enormous amounts of money. A young kid who was a "mule" of Hill's "ratted" Hill out to Narcotics Detectives Daniel Mann and William Broder. "The Youngster" (so named by the detectives) informed them that the supplier [Henry Hill] was connected to the Lucchese crime family and was a close friend to Paul Vario and to Jimmy Burke and "had probably been in on the Lufthansa robbery." Knowing who Hill was and what he did, they put surveillance on him, taking pictures. They found out that Hill's old prison friend from Pittsburgh ran a dog-grooming salon as a front. Mann and Broder had "thousands" of wiretaps of Hill. But Hill and his crew used coded language in the conversations. Hill's wiretap on March 29 is an example of the bizarre vocabulary:

Pittsburgh Connection: You know the golf club and the dogs you gave me in return?
Hill: Yeah.
Pittsburgh Connection: Can you still do that?
Hill: Same kind of golf clubs?
Pittsburgh Connection: No. No golf clubs. Can you still give me the dogs if I can pay for the golf clubs?
Hill: Yeah. Sure.
[portion of conversation omitted]
Pittsburgh Connection: You front me the shampoo and I'll front you the dog pills....what time tomorrow?
Hill: Anytime after twelve.
Pittsburgh Connection: You won't hold my lady friend up?
Hill: No.
Pittsburgh Connection: Somebody will just exchange dogs.[19]

Basketball fixing

Hill and his Pittsburgh connection set up a point shaving scheme by convincing Boston College center Rick Kuhn to participate. Kuhn encouraged teammates to join the scheme, which ended in a well-known scandal.

Hill also claimed to have an NBA referee in his pocket who worked games at Madison Square Garden during the 1970s. The referee had incurred gambling debts on horse races.[20]

1980 arrest

On April 27, 1980, Hill was arrested on a narcotics-trafficking charge. He became convinced that his former associates planned to have him killed: Vario, for dealing drugs; and Burke, to prevent Hill from implicating him in the Lufthansa Heist. Hill heard on a wiretap that his associates Angelo Sepe and Anthony Stabile were anxious to have Hill killed, and that they were telling Burke that Hill "is no good," and that he "is a junkie." Burke told them "not to worry about it." Hill was more convinced by a surveillance tape played to him by federal investigators, in which Burke tells Vario of their need to have Hill "whacked."[20] But Hill still wouldn't talk to the investigators. While in his cell, the officers would tell Hill that the prosecutor, Ed McDonald, wanted to speak with him, and Hill would yell: "Fuck you and McDonald." Hill became even more paranoid because he thought Burke had officers on the inside and would have him killed.

While Karen was worried, she kept getting calls from Jimmy Burke's wife, Mickey, asking when Hill was coming home, or if Karen needed anything. Hill knew the calls were prompted by Jimmy.

When Hill was finally released on bail, he met Burke at a restaurant they always went to. Burke told Hill that they should meet at a bar Hill had never heard of or seen before, owned by "Charlie the Jap." However, Hill never met Burke there; instead they met at Burke's sweatshop with Karen and asked for the address in Florida where Hill was to kill Bobby Germaine's son with Anthony Stabile. Hill knew he was going to get killed in Florida, but he needed to stay on the streets to make money.

McDonald didn't want to take any chances and arrested Hill as a material witness in the Lufthansa robbery. Hill then agreed to become an informant and signed an agreement with the United States Department of Justice Organized Crime Strike Force on May 27, 1980.[21] In 2011, former junior mob associate Greg Bucceroni alleged that, after Hill's 1980 arrest, Jimmy Burke offered him money to arrange a meeting between Bucceroni and Hill at a Brooklyn grocery store so that Burke could have Hill murdered gangland fashion, but Bucceroni decided quietly against having any involvement with the hit on Hill. Shortly afterwards, Burke and several other Lucchese crime family members were arrested by federal authorities.

Informant and the witness protection program

Hill testified against his former associates to avoid a possible execution by his crew or going to prison for his crimes. His testimony led to 50 convictions.

Jimmy Burke was given 20 years in prison for the 1978–79 Boston College point shaving scandal, involving fixing Boston College basketball games. Burke was also later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of scam artist Richard Eaton. Burke died of lung cancer while serving his life sentence, on April 13, 1996, at the age of 64.

Paul Vario received four years for helping Henry Hill obtain a no-show job to get him paroled from prison. Vario was also later sentenced to ten years in prison for the extortion of air freight companies at JFK Airport. He died of respiratory failure on November 22, 1988, at age 73 while incarcerated in the FCI Federal Prison in Fort Worth.

Hill, his wife Karen, and their two children (Gregg and Gina)[22] entered the U.S. Marshals' Witness Protection Program in 1980, changed their names, and moved to undisclosed locations in Omaha, Nebraska; Independence, Kentucky; Redmond, Washington; and Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, Hill hosted backyard cookouts for his neighbors, and on one occasion, while under the influence of a combination of liquor and drugs, he revealed his true identity to his guests. To the ire of the federal marshals, they were forced to relocate him one final time to Sarasota, Florida. There, a few months had passed, and Hill repeated the same breach of security, causing the government to finally expel him from the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Hill's subsequent arrests and divorce

Hill was arrested in 2001 on narcotics-related charges in Seattle, where he was living in the Wedgwood neighborhood under the name of Alex Canclini.[23] In 2002, he and his wife Karen divorced after 25 years of marriage. Due to his numerous crimes while in witness protection, Hill (along with his wife) was expelled from the program in the early 1990s.[24]

After his 2001 arrest, Hill claimed to be clean until he was arrested again in North Platte, Nebraska, in March 2002. Hill had left his luggage at Lee Bird Field Airport in North Platte, Nebraska, containing drug paraphernalia, glass tubes with cocaine and methamphetamine residue. In September 2005, he was sentenced to 180 days imprisonment for attempted methamphetamine possession.[25] Hill was sentenced to four years' probation on March 26.[26][27] On December 14, 2009, he was arrested in Fairview Heights, Illinois, for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, which Hill attributed to his drinking problems.[28]

Media appearances and museum inductions

In his later years, Hill lived in Topanga Canyon, approximately four miles from Malibu, California, with his Italian-American fiancée, Lisa Caserta. Both appeared in several documentaries and made public appearances on various media programs including The Howard Stern Show.[29] Hill, who was a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show and had previously claimed to have never killed anyone, admitted on the show to having been ordered by Vario to kill three people, which he says he did comply with.[30]

In 2004, Hill was interviewed by Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes.[31] In 2010, Hill was inducted in the Museum of the American Gangster in New York City. On June 8, 2011, a show about Hill's life aired on the National Geographic Channel's Locked up Abroad.

In reference to his many victims, Hill stated in an interview in March 2008, with BBC's Heather Alexander: "I don't give a heck what those people think; I'm doing the right thing now", addressing the reporter's question about how his victims might think of his commercialization of his story through self-written books and advising on Goodfellas.[32]

In August 2011, Hill appeared in the special "Mob Week" on AMC; he and other former mob members talked about The Godfather, Goodfellas, and other such mob films. On February 14, 2012, he was put in the Las Vegas Mob Museum, and in April 2012, he was interviewed about Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone, for "Mobsters", set to air that summer.

On October 7, 2014 Hill was featured on ESPN Films' 30 for 30: "Playing for the Mob". In the documentary episode, based on the fixing of the Boston College basketball games in 1978 and 1979, Hill reveals the details behind the point shaving scandal along with the testimony from the players and federal investigators involved. Ray Liotta also guest starred, as the narrator.


Hill worked for a time as a chef at an Italian restaurant in Nebraska, and his spaghetti sauce, Sunday Gravy, was marketed over the internet.[33] Hill opened another restaurant, Wiseguys, in West Haven, Connecticut, in October 2007.[34]


Hill was a painter and sold his artwork on eBay.[35]


In October 2002, Hill published The Wiseguy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life As a Goodfella To Cooking On the Run. In it, Hill shared some of his stories and recipes he learned from his family, during his years in the mob, and some that he came up with himself. For example, Hill claimed his last meal the day he was busted for drugs consisted of rolled veal cutlets, sauce with pork butt, veal shanks, ziti, and green beans with olive oil and garlic.[36]

Other books by Hill include:

Goodfellas movie

Goodfellas (stylized as GoodFellas) is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The film follows the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associates Henry Hill and his friends from 1955 to 1980.

Scorsese initially named the film Wise Guy, but postponed it, and later (with Pileggi's agreement) changed the name to Goodfellas to avoid confusion with the unrelated television series Wiseguy. To prepare for their roles in the film, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta often spoke with Pileggi, who shared research material he gathered while writing the book. According to Pesci, improvisation and ad-libbing came out of rehearsals where Scorsese gave the actors freedom to do whatever they wanted. The director made transcripts of these sessions, took the lines he liked best, and put them into a revised script the cast worked from during principal photography. In the fall of 2006, Hill appeared in a photo shoot along with Ray Liotta for Entertainment Weekly. At Liotta's urging, Hill entered alcohol rehabilitation two days after the shoot.[37]

Prior to his death, Henry Hill collaborated with the novelist, Daniel Simone, in writing and developing a forthcoming non-fiction book titled, The Lufthansa Heist,[38] a portrayal of the famous 1978 Lufthansa Airline robbery at Kennedy Airport.


Hill died in a Los Angeles hospital on June 12, 2012, one day after his 69th birthday. Hill's girlfriend for the last 14 years of his life, Lisa Caserta,[39] said: "He had been sick for a long time....his heart gave out." and CBS News reported Caserta saying: "he went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella." She said Hill recently suffered a heart attack before his death and that Hill died of complications from longtime heart problems related to smoking. Hill's family was present when he died.[40]

Hill was cremated the day after his death.

See also


  1. 1 2 Fox, Margalit (June 14, 2012). "Henry Hill, Mobster and Movie Inspiration, Dies at 69". The New York Times. p. B19. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  2. Leung, Rebecca (June 15, 2005). "On The Run". CBS News. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  3. Miller, Martin (June 4, 2004). "A real wiseguy". The Los Angeles Times. p. 2. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
  4. Pileggi, Nicholas (September 2011). Wiseguy (25th anniversary ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 6, 7, 272. ISBN 9781451642216.
  5. 1 2 Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 22. ISBN 0-671-44734-3.
  6. Allen, Nick (July 23, 2010). "Goodfella Henry Hill still living in hiding 20 years after film release". The Telegraph. London.
  7. Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: life in a mafia family. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 7. ISBN 0-671-44734-3.
  8. Pileggi, p. 24
  9. Pileggi, p. 28
  10. Pileggi, p. 3.
  11. Pileggi, p. 30.
  12. Pileggi, p. 41.
  13. Pileggi, p. 55.
  14. Pileggi, p. 58.
  15. Pileggi, p. 136.
  16. Pileggi, pp. 83-94
  17. Pileggi, pp. 134-137
  18. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/nyregion/arrests-in-cold-case-investigation-including-78-lufthansa-heist.html
  19. Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Simon & Schuster. p. 319. ISBN 0-671-44734-3. Gives conversation.
  20. 1 2 Philbrick, Mike (August 2, 2007). "Reformed mobster believes Donaghy might not be alone". ESPN. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  21. Pileggi, Nicholas (1986). Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Simon & Schuster. pp. 395–350. ISBN 0-671-44734-3. Gives most of the arrest story.
  22. Hill, Gregg and Gina (October 14, 2004). On the Run: A Mafia Childhood. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-52770-X.
  23. Swanson, Brian (January 2011). "The Weird and Wacky Wedgwood Grapevine". Wedgwood Echo. Seattle, Washington. 26 (1): 1, 7.
  24. "Ex-mobster of 'Goodfellas' fame wanted in Calif.". Yahoo!. March 19, 2009. Archived from the original on March 22, 2009. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  25. "The real-life Goodfella". BBC News. September 29, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  26. "Ex-Mobster Gets 2 Years Probation". Yahoo! News. March 26, 2009.
  27. Archived December 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. Suhr, Jim (December 15, 2009). "'Goodfellas' mobster blames alcohol for the arrest". Associated Press.
  29. "Henry Hill & Lisa". Howard Stern on Demand. 2008.
  30. GoodNewsNobody2 (2015-02-17), HowardTv - Henry Hill The Drunk 2002, retrieved 2016-09-20
  31. Rose, Charlie (2004). "The Real Goodfella". CBS. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  32. "Mafia king on the straight and narrow". BBC News. Retrieved March 29, 2008.
  33. Associated Press (December 1, 2005). "'Goodfella' Henry Hill says jail saved his life". MSNBC. Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  34. "Fire hits 'Wiseguys' restaurant in West Haven". WTNH. Retrieved November 6, 2007.
  35. Hill, Henry. "Goodfella artwork". eBay.com. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  36. Hill, Henry & Davis, Priscilla (2002). The Wiseguy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life As a Goodfella To Cooking On the Run. New York: New American Library.
  37. Entertainment Weekly (October 6, 2006). "True Twosomes: Actors reunite with the people they play". EW.com. Retrieved October 29, 2007. Published in issue #901-902 October 13, 2006
  38. Staff (June 26, 2012). "Tyson's got talent | Page Six". Nypost.com. Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  39. "Henry Hill biography". Biography.com. Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  40. "Ray Liotta to Henry Hill R.I.P My Gangster Friend, I Hardly Knew Ye". TMZ. June 13, 2012.

Further reading

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