Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On This Day In History "Goodfellas" Mobsters Stole Millions From JFK Airport In Infamous 'Lufthansa Heist'

As notes, on this day in 1978 the New York criminal crew led by James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke committed the infamous robbery of Lufthansa, which was the basis of Nicholos Pileggi’s book Wiseguy and Martin Scorsese’s classic crime film, Goodfellas.

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. 

Note: The top photo shows the Robert’s Lounge gang with Henry Hill on the left (portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas), James Burke in the center (portrayed by Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeSimone (portrayed by Joe Pesci) to the right of Burke.

My Crime Fiction: Twas A Crime Before Christmas: My Interview With Santa Claus

As the Christmas season is here once again, I'd like to offer my short story, Twas a Crime Before Christmas, which originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2009.

Twas a Crime Before Christmas: My Interview with Santa Claus

By Paul Davis

As a crime reporter and columnist, I was compelled to look into a report of a burglary of an unemployed construction worker on Christmas Eve in South Philadelphia.

The burglar or burglars broke into the home early on the morning of the 24th. They stole the family’s TV and other household goods. They also took a dozen or so wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree that were intended for the family’s two children.

I interviewed the victim, who was so devastated by the burglary that he could hardly speak. I also spoke to a detective who said he presently had no leads on the case but he planned to keep working it, and I spoke to a local priest who told me that the church was collecting donations for the poor family.

Lastly, I spoke to a man of great wisdom and experience. The jolly old fella was kind enough to pause during his special night out to talk to me about crime.

I interviewed Santa Claus as he was packing up his sleigh and getting ready to head off on his magical trip, bringing toys and goodies to good children around the world.

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow and the beard on his chin was white as snow. His eyes twinkled and his dimples were merry. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. He looked like a candidate for a heart attack.

And he smoked. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth and the smoke encircled his head like a wreath (the Surgeon General would not approve). He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot (PETA would not approve) and his clothes were tarnished with ashes and soot (Mrs. Santa would not approve). With a lumpy sack over his shoulder, he looked like a homeless person.

I asked Santa Claus if the public’s fear of crime had changed how he did his job.

“The increased use of car and home burglar alarms makes my journey tougher, I must say,” Santa said. “As you know, my miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer make such a clatter, they set off every car alarm on the block.”

Santa also said that home burglar alarms has made his surreptitious entry, via the fireplace, most difficult. When he slides down the chimney, he sets off alarms, which wakes the household and brings the police.

Santa went on to say that the alarms ruin the surprise for the children and he is often detained by the responding police officers, who demand identification and administer alcohol tests.

Fortunately, Santa looks like a right jolly old elf, so the police officers have to laugh, in spite of themselves. A wink of his eye and a twist of his head give the people who thought they were being robbed the knowledge that they had nothing to dread.

“I once had my sleigh and reindeer stolen while I was in a home setting up the toys, and I must admit that I paused to enjoy the milk and cookies that a child left me,” Santa said. “But with some kindly police officer’s help, I was able to recover the sleigh and reindeer rather quickly. You see my lead reindeer has a bright red nose and we were able to spot him from about three blocks away.”

Santa said his brush with crime made him understand why families were installing burglar alarms and why they were more concerned about a strange old fat man in red entering their home in the middle of the night. He told me that he was looking into some kind of security system for his sleigh as well.

I asked him about the burglary that occurred that morning in South Philly and he replied he was well aware of the sad incident.

“I plan to visit the house tonight on my rounds and with a little magic I’ll leave them some special gifts under their tree,” Santa explained. “I also did a little investigative work to find the crooks, as I have powers the police lack."

Santa said he discovered who the crooks were, and he tipped the police off. He also plans to leave the crooks lumps of coal in their stockings, which will be hung with care in the local jail.

“Don’t they know I’m watching?” Santa asked.” I know when they have been naughty or good. My surveillance techniques are finer than the FBI’s.”

“This should be a joyful time of year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” Santa said. “This should be a time of love, charity and good cheer.”

The interview concluded, he sprang to his sleigh and to his team gave a whistle and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Note: With apologies to Clement C. Moore and my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

© 2009.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Little Humor: His And Her Diary

Her Diary:

Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it.

Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much. I asked him what was wrong, and he said nothing. I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it.

On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly and kept driving. I can’t explain his behavior. I don’t know why he didn’t say, ‘I love you too.’

When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent.

Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep – I cried.

I don’t know what to do. I am almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.

His Diary:

Motorcycle won’t start… can’t figure out why.

Monday, December 9, 2019

U.S. Navy Sailors Who Died In Line Of Duty At NAS Pensacola Shooting Showed Exceptional Herorism And Bravery

Having stood a good number of security watches on ships, boats and naval bases during my time in the U.S. Navy, my heart goes out to the sailors who died in the line of duty during the active shooting incident at NAS Pensacola.

The U.S. Navy News Service released the below statement:

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Three Sailors died during an active shooter incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Dec. 6.

The identities of the Sailors are:

- Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, Student, Naval Aviation Schools Command, 23, from Enterprise, Alabama

- Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, Student, Naval Aviation Schools Command, 19, from St. Petersburg, Florida

- Airman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, Student, Naval Aviation Schools Command, 21, from Richmond Hill, Georgia 

“The sorrow from the tragic event on NAS Pensacola will have a lasting impact on our installation and community,” said Capt. Tim Kinsella, commanding officer, NAS Pensacola. “We feel the loss profoundly and grieve with the family and friends of the deceased.  The Sailors that lost their lives in the line of duty and showed exceptional heroism and bravery in the face of evil.  When confronted, they didn’t run from danger; they ran towards it and saved lives. If not for their actions, and the actions of the Naval Security Force that were the first responders on the scene, this incident could have been far worse.”

The installation is now open to mission essential personnel only through the weekend.  Families who live on base will have access to the base and their residences.  The National Naval Aviation Museum is closed until further notice.  The Barrancas National Cemetery is closed to visitors until further notice.

An Emergency Family Assistance Center was established today and will reopen at the Fleet and Family Service Center (FFSC). FFSC will have counselors there to support witnesses, friends, family and base residents. They can be contacted at (850) 452-5990.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

NAS Pensacola Gunman 'Just Shot Through The Door' During Rampage, Survivor Says

Travis Fedschun at offers a piece on the shooter at NAS Pensacola.

The Saudi national who fatally shot three sailors at a naval air station in Florida last week unleashed a hail of bullets inside an aviation classroom building as those inside took cover in an assault that unfolded in just a matter of seconds, according to one of the eight people wounded in the attack.

The FBI’s Jacksonville office identified the shooter in a statement Saturday night as Mohammed Alshamrani (seen in the below photo), 21, and released a photo of him. Investigators said he was a 2nd Lt. in the Royal Saudi Air Force and was a student naval flight officer of Naval Aviation Schools Command.

Officials investigating the attack are still working to determine whether it was an act of terrorism, while President Trump said Saturday that the U.S. would “immediately” conduct a review of the training procedures and pledged to “get to the bottom” of what happened. 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Saturday, December 7, 2019

On This Day In History The Imperial Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor

As notes, on this day in 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.

At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Smersh Spy-Killers Are Back In Business: The Russian Counterintelligence Unit That Inspired Ian Fleming Is Operating In Europe Under A New Name

In Ian Fleming’s 1957 classic spy novel, From Russia With Love, the Soviet agency SMERSH -
Smert Shpionam, or "Death to Spies" - sends a psychopathic killer named Donovan “Red” Grant to murder British intelligence officer James Bond and embarrass the British government. 

The plot is devised by SMERSH’s head of the planning department, chess master Colonel Kronsteen, known as “the Wizard of Ice,” and carried out by the head of SMERSH’s execution department, Colonel Rosa Klebb. (From Russia With Love is my favorite Ian Fleming novel and the best Bond film, although the 1963 film replaced SMERSH with the fictional international crime organization SPECTRE). 

SMERSH was a very real organization that assassinated enemies of the Soviet State.  

Ben Macintyre, seen in the above photo), the author of The Spy and the Traitor, A Spy Among Friends, Operation Mincemeat, and other fine nonfiction books on espionage, offers his take on a SMERSH-like Russian assassination group in his column at the London Times.

The Russian counterintelligence unit that inspired Ian Fleming is operating in Europe under a new name. 

In 1942, the military intelligence section of the Red Army set up a new unit to investigate traitors and deserters, liquidate enemy agents and enforce ideological conformity by destroying “anti-Soviet elements”.

The structure of the wartime espionage unit was deliberately opaque. It is still unclear quite how it was organised and how many officers it deployed. But the purpose was only too apparent in its name, coined by Stalin himself, which merged the Russian words smert meaning death and shpionam meaning spies: hence “Death to Spies”, or Smersh.

Around the same time Stalin changed the name of the military intelligence branch to the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU — the name by which it is still known today. Smersh was the hit squad of the new GRU.

If the idea of a ruthless spy-killing unit sounds like the stuff of fiction, that’s because it became precisely that. In the James Bond novels, Ian Fleming portrayed Smersh (director of operations: Rosa Klebb) as a massive counterintelligence network that more closely resembled the KGB. In the films, Smersh gave way to Spectre, an imaginary global terror organisation.

The real Smersh was remarkably effective, not just at wiping out anti-Soviet traitors (some of whom were undoubtedly innocent) but simultaneously instilling terror among potential enemies and enforcing obedience in the general population. Its mandate was to eliminate subversives and turncoats, initially inside the Soviet military but eventually anywhere in the world, including any of its own agents suspected of disloyalty, sabotage or desertion. 

It specialised in assassinations, known as “wetwork” (mokroye delo). Smersh was disbanded in 1946, by which time it had become semi-mythical: the brutal, inescapable enforcers and spy-hunters of the Red Army.

And now it is back, with a new name and a new remit but essentially the same purpose: to put the fear of God, and assassination, into Russia’s enemies, traitors and deserters.

According to intelligence sources, Unit 29155 is an elite sub-unit of GRU assassins that operated out of the Haute-Savoie in the French Alps, conducting a variety of wet jobs across Europe: notably the attempted poisoning in Salisbury of GRU officer-turned-MI6 spy Sergei Skripal, and the attempt to kill a Bulgarian arms dealer in 2015. German intelligence officials also believe the Kremlin is implicated in the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, the Georgian-born Chechen fighter shot dead in a Berlin park last August, which has caused a diplomatic face-off between Russia and Germany.

You can read the rest of the column via the below link:

You can also read my Washington Times piece on Russian assassins via the below link:

And you can read Joseph Goulden’s Washington Times review of a book on the history of SMERSH via the below link: 

And you can read my Q&A with Ben Macintyre about his book on Ian Fleming and James Bond via the below link:

Note: The top photo is of actor Sean Connery as James Bond and Robert Shaw as Red Grant in the best fight scene in cinematic history in the film From Russia With Love. The below photos are from the film From Russia With Love: