FBI agents have begun a search of a New York City home that was once occupied by James Burke, the infamous mobster who inspired Robert De Niro’s character in the 1990 movie Goodfellas.
Investigators arrived at the red-brick terraced house in the Ozone Park neighbourhood of Queens this week armed with shovels and pneumatic drills, after an informant reportedly claimed a long-missing mob associate might be buried in the basement or back garden.
Late last night an FBI spokesman said the dig had turned up remains that were possibly human. The material is being sent for analysis.
Burke, known as Jimmy the Gent for his habit of tipping generously, died in prison in 1996, aged 64. An associate of the Lucchese crime family, he was never fully inducted into La Cosa Nostra because he was not 100 per cent Italian. Law enforcement officials said his criminal activities included hijacking, loan sharking, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking.
In 1978 Burke allegedly masterminded the robbery of almost $6m (£3.8m) from a Lufthansa freight area at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport, one of the biggest cash thefts in US history. He is believed to have murdered most of his accomplices afterwards, fearing they would confess. The cash was never found, and Burke was never prosecuted for the heist.
He was eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison for taking part in a college basketball match-fixing scam. While still in jail, he was also convicted of the murder of drug dealer Richard Eaton and sentenced to a further 20 years behind bars. Eaton’s body was found hog-tied and hanging inside a meat freezer truck.
Burke was suspected of several other killings in his lifetime, and gained a reputation for burying his victims in familiar locations, including Robert’s Lounge, the saloon he owned not far from his Queens home.
Henry Hill, the Lucchese associate who later informed on Burke to the FBI, described the saloon as Burke’s private cemetery.
“Jimmy buried over a dozen bodies… under the bocce courts,” Hill wrote in his memoir, A Goodfella’s Guide to New York.
The home now being searched is currently rented to an elderly couple, but still owned by Burke’s daughter Cathy.
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