New Historian

Henry Hill is Born in New York

Henry Hill mugshot

<![CDATA[On 11th June, 1943, Henry Hill, a man who would go on to become one of the most well known gangsters in the world, was born in New York City. Hill gained notoriety for his involvement in the USA's criminal underworld, most notably the heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at New York's JFK airport, but his ascent to celebrity status came following his switch to FBI informant. Hill's life played a huge role in shaping modern conceptions of mobsters and organised crime. Following his turn to FBI informant, Hill gave a series of interviews to the journalist Nicholas Pileggi, who in turn went on to write 'Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family', a best selling book based on the interviews. In 1990 'Wiseguy' was adapted into the movie 'Goodfellas'; the Martin Scorsese directed film starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci went onto become one of the most iconic gangster films ever. The son of an Italian-American mother and an Irish-American father, Hill grew up in an area of Brooklyn dominated by the powerful Lucchese Mafia family. According to Hill's accounts, he was fascinated by the gangsters operating in his neighbourhood, and from a young age dreamt of becoming one himself. In his teens, he started to work for a local mafia-run taxi firm and pizzeria near his home, starting his connection with organised crime. Only 'pure' Italians could become a 'made' man - i.e. inducted as a full member of the Mafia, meaning Hill's Irish heritage limited how far he could rise in the organisation. Nevertheless, Hill forged strong links with the Lucchese family, and from 1955 carried out truck hijackings, loan sharking and drug dealing alongside its members. He spent four years in jail in the 1970s, following his conviction for involvement in Mafia extortion activities. In 1978, following his release from jail, Hill took part in the Lufthansa heist at JFK airport. Planned by Jimmy Burke, another associate of the Lucchese family, the robbery at JFK airport was considered the biggest money heist in US history. In total, the robbers made off with an estimated $5 million in cash, and $875,000 worth of jewellery. Following the Lufthansa heist Hill became involved in narcotics trafficking, while also becoming addicted to drugs himself. According to various interviews with Hill, he became increasingly paranoid that he would soon be killed by the Mafia. As such, he decided to become an informant for the FBI, in the hope of escaping the wrath of his former associates. His court testimony led to the arrests of over fifty prominent gangsters and Hill and his family were put into the witness protection program. Hill remained on the program for most of the eighties, anonymously moving from state to state to preserve his and his family's safety and identities. In the early 1990s Hill left the witness protection program. Various interviews, such as one given to the Daily Telegraph in 2010, reveal that even in the final years of his life he lived in fear of retaliation from the Mafia. Henry Hill passed away, from natural causes, in 2012. The insights he offered into New York's underworld however, are still influential today.]]>

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