Mention the name of Jimmy Burke or Jimmy Conway and the film "Goodfellas" you will probably think of the scene in the bar with De Niro, Pesci & Frank Vincent as"Billy Batts". Burke was a major villain in The Big Apple, but was not a member of the Mob, as he was of Irish descent. His standing in the Underworld made him a prized asset for any of the Five Families, as they liked what was termed "Good earners". His stock -in- trade was lorry hijacking, in which it was believed he committed hundreds a year, all over New York State. He was also a cold & ruthless killer, events later on which were to prove. Bodies popped up all over New York.
Burke was born in July 1931 to a woman named Conway, but as a young child, it was decided that his mother was neglecting him, so he was passed around various foster-parents, where he ran the usual gauntlet of violence, sexual abuse, torment and genuine affection. His mind blocked out the names of most of these foster-carers. One day, one foster father, with a hair trigger temper, driving a car, turned to hit him but lost control and crashed, killing himself. His foster mother continuously blamed fhim for the death and systematically beat him, so he started absconding and committing petty crimes, resulting in stints in Juvenile Reformatories. At the age of eighteen, he was arrested for passing fraudulent cheques for a known fraudster, and given a beating in the Precinct House, in order for him to name the fraudster, Dominick Cerami. He refused and was sent to Auburn Prison for five years. He was greeted by a small crowd of inmates, impressed by his actions of a "Stand up guy". This was his introduction to the world of Organised Crime.
Over the years, Burke was the leading hi-jacker in the City, and his main location was Kennedy Airport. In his crew came Tommy Desimone(Pesci) and Henry Hill(Liotta). The central scene in the film was the murder of Batts. He was a made man in the Gambino Family, and part of a crew run by John Gotti. He insulted Desimone, who returned later and he and Burke laid into Batts, thinking he was dead. They loaded his body into the boot of a car and drove off to bury him somewhere. Batts was not dead, so they finished him off with a shovel and tyre iron, rather than a gun and knife as in the film. But later on, Desimone was killed as payback for Batts.
His biggest heist was the Lufthansa Airport robbery on December 11th 1978, in which a group of men stole just under six million dollars in cash and jewellry. After the robbery, with intense activity from the Police and FBI, plus the carelessness of some of the gang, bodies started piling up. Guys talked too much, did not keep a low profile and also the fact that Burke really wanted the lions share of the job, if not all of it. Henry Hill was arrested for drugs and turned informant, sending Burke, Paul Vario, a crew leader for the Lucheese Family and other mob guys, down. Burke died in prison in the nineties.