DeSimone in January 1979
Thomas Anthony DeSimone|
May 24, 1950
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
January 14, 1979|
New York, New York, U.S.
January 14, 1979 (aged 28)|
New York, New York, U.S.
Associate of the Lucchese crime family|
Portrayed by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas
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Thomas Anthony "Tommy" DeSimone (May 24, 1950 – disappeared January 14, 1979), also known as "Two-Gun Tommy", "Tommy D", "Animal", or "Spitshine Tommy", was a Sicilian-American gangster and associate of the Lucchese crime family in New York City, one of the Five Families of the American Mafia. DeSimone was a grandson and nephew of Los Angeles mob bosses Rosario and Frank DeSimone, respectively. He was married to Angelica "Cookie" Spione, but had many mistresses, including Theresa Ferrara. He is best known as the basis for Joe Pesci's character Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas.
Tommy DeSimone had two sisters, Dolores and Phyllis, and two brothers, Robert and Anthony. Both of DeSimone's brothers were associates of the Gambino crime family; Anthony was murdered by mobster Thomas Agro in 1979. Phyllis was Jimmy Burke's mistress from the time she turned sixteen. DeSimone was the brother-in-law of mobster Joseph "The Barber" Spion, who was slain for refusing to help kill DeSimone in the late 1970s. DeSimone was also the ex-son-in-law of Gambino associate Salvatore DeVita.
DeSimone's father owned and lost a printing shop, due to a compulsive gambling addiction. Both DeSimone's paternal grandfather, Rosario DeSimone, and uncle, Frank DeSimone, were bosses of the Los Angeles crime family. Rosario became the boss of the Los Angeles family after Vito Di Giorgio was killed in Chicago in 1922. Frank was a criminal attorney turned mobster; "Uncle Frank", as he was known, replaced the deceased Jack Dragna in 1956, and became the second DeSimone family member to assume control of the Los Angeles family.
In 1965, when he was 15 years old, DeSimone was introduced to crew of Lucchese family caporegime Paul Vario. Henry Hill, a Vario associate who was in his early 20s at the time, later recounted his first meeting with DeSimone, describing him as "a skinny kid who was wearing a wiseguy suit and a pencil mustache." DeSimone worked under Vario, Burke, and Hill, among others, becoming involved in truck hijackings, dealing and fencing of stolen property, extortion, fraud and murder.
DeSimone was infamous for his violent temper. While playing pinochle with Agro and Joseph Iannuzzi, he would throw darts at the other players when he started losing. Hill later described DeSimone as a "pure psychopath" and "a fucking loose horse, a fucking homicidal maniac and was always strung out on coke constantly." Hill suggested that DeSimone had something to prove because his brother Anthony had allegedly been killed by the Gambino family for turning informant.
During the 1960s, DeSimone, Hill, and fellow associates Jeff Zins and Stanley Diamond would go on regular hijackings. While hijacking, DeSimone would always carry his gun in a brown paper bag. "Walking down the street, he looked like he was bringing you a sandwich instead of a .38." Hill said.
DeSimone committed what is believed to have been his first murder on March 15, 1968, at the age of 17. He was walking down the street with Hill when DeSimone spotted Howard Goldstein, a passing pedestrian, a random stranger unknown to either gangster. Hill recalls DeSimone turning to him and saying, "Hey, Henry, watch this." DeSimone yelled, "Hey, cocksucker!", pulled out a .38 caliber pistol, and shot and killed Goldstein. Hill exclaimed, "That was cold-blooded, Tommy!" DeSimone replied, "Well, I'm a mean cat."
In Wiseguy, Hill mentioned that DeSimone had killed "around" four people in prison, bringing his body count to approximately eleven. Hill commented that DeSimone would sometimes kill someone just because he wanted to try out a new firearm and wouldn't hesitate to use someone for target practice. Hill stated that he and Burke didn't exactly know how many people DeSimone had killed in total.
Murder of William "Billy Batts" Bentvena
On June 9, 1970, a "welcome home" party was thrown for William "Billy Batts" Bentvena, a made man in Carmine Fatico's Gambino crew, at a hangout owned by Burke called Robert's Lounge. At the party, Bentvena, who had just been released from prison after serving a six-year term for drug possession, saw DeSimone and asked him if he still shined shoes, which DeSimone took as an insult. A couple of minutes later, when the issue was apparently forgotten, DeSimone leaned over to Hill and Burke, and told them, "I'm gonna kill that fuck." Two days later, on June 11, Bentvena went over to "The Suite", Hill's establishment in Jamaica, Queens, to go drinking with Hill, DeSimone, and Burke. Later that night, DeSimone took his girlfriend home, and Burke started making Bentvena feel comfortable. Twenty minutes later, DeSimone returned with a .38 revolver and a plastic mattress cover, walked over to Bentvena at the corner of the bar, and attacked him. Burke restrained Bentvena while DeSimone pistol whipped the mobster with the revolver. Bentvena was so intoxicated that he couldn't defend himself.
In the book Wiseguy, Hill said that before DeSimone started to beat Bentvena, DeSimone yelled; "shine these fucking shoes!" DeSimone killed Bentvena not only because the latter had insulted him, but also because Burke had taken over Bentvena's loan shark business while Bentvena was in prison. According to Hill, Bentvena had been complaining to Joseph N. Gallo about getting back this racket. Not wanting to return the business to Bentvena, Burke knew sooner or later Bentvena would have to be killed. After the beating, the three men put Bentvena into the trunk of Hill's 1970 Buick Electra and later, while the three men were driving on the Van Wyck Expressway, they discovered that Bentvena was not dead. They visited DeSimone's mother's house to get a knife, lime, and a shovel. Later in the drive, closer to their destination, Hill said it had been an hour of DeSimone's driving, and DeSimone kept getting mad about the noises in the trunk, so he finally slammed the brakes, leaned over for the shovel, and then Burke and DeSimone "didn't actually shoot him, they just stabbed him, thirty or forty fucking times, fucking horrible."
Hill does not mention a knife, but claims Burke and DeSimone finished Bentvena off by beating him with a tire iron and the shovel, respectively, and the men later buried him under a dog kennel. At the time of the murder in 1970, Bentvena was 49 years old and was a made man in the Gambino crime family, as well as a personal friend of future Gambino boss John Gotti. Murdering a made man without the official consent of his family's leadership was an unforgivable offense in the Mafia. Years later, the murder of Bentvena would cost DeSimone his life as well.
Murders of Gianco, Cersani, and Jerothe
DeSimone's third murder is described by Hill in Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy and is portrayed on film in Goodfellas. A young man named Michael "Spider" Gianco was serving as a bartender at a card game, where he and DeSimone had an argument (after Gianco forgot about DeSimone's drink) that resulted in DeSimone's pulling out a handgun and demanding that Gianco dance for him. DeSimone shot him in the foot when Gianco refused. A week later, when Gianco was again serving drinks (now in a full leg cast), DeSimone started to goad him about his wounded foot, spurring Gianco to tell DeSimone to "Go fuck himself". After a stunned silence, a delighted and impressed Burke, having now developed a respect for Gianco for sticking up for himself, gave Gianco some money before jokingly teasing DeSimone, who hadn't said or done anything in retaliation, about "going soft". DeSimone, in his usual way, took the teasing seriously and lost his temper, fatally shooting Gianco three times in the chest, angrily demanding of Burke if that was "good enough for him". Burke and Hill were furious with DeSimone. Burke yelled, "all right, you dumb jerk, if you're going to be a big wiseguy, you dig the hole!" and made him bury Gianco's body in the cellar by himself.
Hill stated that after he saw this he was truly convinced that DeSimone was a total psychopath. It is believed that Gianco's body was subsequently moved, because it was not found in that location. On the Howard Stern Show, Hill said that "Spider" was buried next to Robert's Lounge, which was owned by Jimmy Burke, along with other bodies. There was a later interview on the Howard Stern Show with "Spider's" sister, who wanted to know where the body was.
His fourth murder, according to Hill, occurred when DeSimone and another associate named Stanley Diamond (1922-1991) got carried away after being asked to "rough up" a witness to a robbery. After a truck heist, a foreman had refused to allow Burke to unload the cargo of a hijacked truck in his warehouse and vehemently protested because they had no union cards. Burke attempted to reason with the man, who stood his ground and refused to be intimidated. Burke later sent DeSimone and Stanley Diamond to the man's house in the boondocks of New Jersey, with instructions to threaten and "rough up" the man to ensure he would cooperate with Burke in the future. DeSimone and Diamond, angry and worked up about having to drive all the way to New Jersey, ended up beating the man to death.
DeSimone's fifth murder occurred when Jimmy Burke ordered the murder of his best friend, Dominick "Remo" Cersani, who became an informant and was going to set Burke up in a cigarette hijacking so Burke would get arrested. Burke got suspicious about Cersani and later found out from one of his friends from a Queens, New York DA's office that Cersani was talking to the NYPD, and that they were going to arrest Burke on a truck hijacking charge. DeSimone and Burke killed Remo that same week. The pair met Remo at Robert's Lounge and said to him, "let's take a ride." DeSimone strangled Remo with piano wire. Henry Hill said in Wiseguy: "Remo put up some fight. He kicked and swung and shit all over himself before he died." Burke had Remo's body buried next to the bocce court behind Robert's Lounge. It was said that whenever Burke and DeSimone played bocce with their friends, they would jokingly say: "hi Remo, how ya doing?"
DeSimone killed Gotti protégé Ronald "Foxy" Jerothe on December 18, 1974. DeSimone had dated Jerothe's sister and had beaten her up, prompting Jerothe to threaten to kill him. When DeSimone heard about the threat, he went to Jerothe's apartment and knocked on the door. Jerothe opened the door and punched DeSimone in the face. DeSimone then shot Jerothe between the eyes.
Lufthansa heist and Edwards Murder
DeSimone was alleged to have taken part in the December 1978 Lufthansa heist from JFK International Airport, the largest robbery in U.S. history at the time. The money stolen is reputed to have amounted to almost $6,000,000, of which only a fraction was recovered. DeSimone was apparently spotted during the heist as suspicious because he had very well polished shoes, too well polished for an airport employee. DeSimone also allegedly lifted his ski mask during the heist to wipe sweat from his cheeks, infuriating Jimmy Burke and Paul Vario, who feared an eyewitness airport employee may have seen enough of DeSimone's face during the heist to identify him after the robbery. Burke, who had a fond relationship with DeSimone, apparently ignored DeSimone's potential error of revealing his face, partly because Burke viewed DeSimone as essential "muscle" in the crew and hoped DeSimone would act as a hitman to silence various participants in the heist. DeSimone was the one who suggested recruiting his ex-cell mate Angelo Sepe for the heist.
Soon after the heist, DeSimone murdered Parnell "Stacks" Edwards, an African-American blues musician and career criminal. Edwards had been a good friend of DeSimone's since their teenage years, and DeSimone was disappointed to learn that Edwards had failed to get rid of the truck which had been used in the Lufthansa Heist. Edwards was supposed to have driven the vehicle to New Jersey, where it (along with any potential evidence inside) was to be destroyed in a junk yard belonging to John Gotti. Instead, Edwards parked the truck in front of a fire hydrant, where police discovered it two days after the heist. Paul Vario subsequently ordered DeSimone to carry out a hit on Edwards. Once he found out where Edwards was hiding, DeSimone and Angelo Sepe visited Edwards and shot him six times in the head with a silenced pistol.
Disappearance and death
It is believed that DeSimone was murdered as a reprisal for having killed two of John Gotti's close friends, William "Billy Batts" Bentvena and Foxy Jerothe. However, the murder may also have been related to $250,000 of the Lufthansa heist robbery money that had gone missing; his lover was a suspect in stealing the money. The facts that DeSimone would have had access to the money, plus the certainty that he would have known his lover (Theresa Ferrara) was an informer for the FBI, sealed his fate. On January 14, 1979, DeSimone's wife, Angela, reported him missing. She said she had last seen DeSimone a few weeks earlier when he borrowed $60 from her.
Following the Lufthansa heist, Theresa Ferrara, Martin Krugman, Robert McMahon, Joe Manri, and Paolo LiCastri had all been murdered by Burke, who wanted to avoid paying them their share of the loot. For years, the NYPD and the FBI believed that DeSimone had either been murdered by Burke, or that he was in hiding to avoid being killed. DeSimone's brother-in-law, Lucchese family member Joseph "The Barber" Spione, also disappeared shortly afterward.
When Hill became an FBI informant in 1980, he told authorities that DeSimone had been murdered by the Gambino crime family. Despite the oft-given date of death of January 14, 1979, the exact date of DeSimone's murder is uncertain. Hill claimed that in "the week after Christmas," he and Burke had gone down to Florida to straighten out a drug deal gone bad. DeSimone had remained behind in New York, because he was going to be made. When Burke called to see if the ceremony had occurred (the code phrase was to ask if DeSimone had seen his godmother yet), Burke was told that it had been called off due to a heavy snowfall. The next day, Burke found out that DeSimone had been murdered; he slammed the phone down and began crying, as depicted in the film Goodfellas. Hill also indicated in both the book Wiseguy and the DVD commentary to Goodfellas that DeSimone had already been killed when Martin Krugman disappeared on January 6, 1979.
In 1994, Hill, in his book Gangsters and Goodfellas, gave an expanded story of the events leading up to DeSimone's death. Hill's wife, Karen, had been having an affair with Hill's boss, Mafia caporegime Paul Vario. When Hill was sentenced to prison, DeSimone approached Karen. When she turned him down, DeSimone attempted to attack her. In retaliation for the attempted rape, Vario approached the Gambino crew and revealed that DeSimone had murdered Jerothe and Bentvena without first seeking permission from the Gambino crime family, violating Mafia protocol. Sometime in late December 1978 or early January 1979, DeSimone was contacted and told that he was going to be "made." Peter Vario (Paul Vario's son) and Bruno Facciolo took him to an unknown location, where he was murdered.
There are two theories as to who killed DeSimone. According to mob informant Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi, Thomas Agro said in 1985 that he had murdered Thomas DeSimone. Agro also claimed to have murdered DeSimone's brother Anthony after he turned informant. Agro also suggested murdering the eldest and last remaining brother, Robert. According to Ianuzzi, Agro would often laughingly refer to killing the third DeSimone brother, stating: "Maybe it's time to go for the DeSimone trifecta!" Another account, told by Hill in Gangsters and Goodfellas, states that John Gotti himself was the assassin, although in the presence of Thomas Agro. On May 17, 2007, on the Howard Stern Show, Hill reaffirmed that Gotti had killed DeSimone. He also added that the death "took a long time," as Bentvena had been a personal friend of Gotti's, and he wanted DeSimone to suffer before he died. Gotti's role as the assassin was repeated in the 2015 book The Lufthansa Heist, cowritten by Hill and journalist Daniel Simone, although this account claims that DeSimone's death was instantaneous from three gunshots to the head. According to Sal Polisi, DeSimone was killed by Thomas Agro (in the presence of John Gotti), and that Agro slowly tortured him to death.
DeSimone was declared legally dead by the FBI in 1990, the same year Goodfellas was released. He was thought to have been buried in a suspected "Mafia graveyard" on the Brooklyn-Queens border near John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the body of Al Indelicato was found in 1981, and the bodies of Philip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera were recovered by police in 2004.
In popular culture
DeSimone was depicted by Joe Pesci in the 1990 movie Goodfellas, a role for which Pesci won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The movie changed some details: DeSimone was renamed Tommy DeVito in the film, and portrayed as the same age as Hill, where DeSimone was six years younger than Hill in real life. While depicted in the film as a small man with an attitude, DeSimone was a large, burly enforcer, standing 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall and weighing around 225 pounds. Paul Cicero (based on Vario) at one point states that Tommy is a "good kid, but a cowboy with too much to prove."
Although based on DeSimone, Tommy DeVito also functions as a composite character. The DeVito character is substituted for various individuals not portrayed in the film; for example, in the double date scene where Hill meets his future wife, Tommy DeVito is substituted for Paul Vario's son, Paul Jr., who actually went on the date.
Hill, nevertheless, calls Pesci's portrayal "between 90 and 95 percent accurate", mentioning only that the diminutive Pesci did not physically resemble the tall, muscular DeSimone. Pesci was 46 years old during production of Goodfellas, while DeSimone was only in his teens and twenties during the real-life events depicted in the film, and is believed to have been murdered at age 28.
Also, in real life, Vario allowed the Gambinos to kill DeSimone in retaliation for the murder of Bentvena and Jerothe, whereas in the film, elder members of the family solely execute Tommy DeVito for killing a "made man" without permission, shooting him in the back of the head. Hill's narration makes a reference to the true events, saying DeVito was murdered as "revenge for Billy Batts and a lot of other things." In the film, DeVito is shot and killed by Tuddy, based on Paul Vario's younger brother Vito and by Vinnie (Charles Scorsese), based on Bruno Facciolo. In the film, it is said that he was "shot in the face" so that he could not be given an open-casket funeral; in real life, his body has not been found.
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