The Lufthansa Heist Revisited
The Lufthansa Heist
The Robert's Lounge Gang had been growing impatient waiting for Louis Werner to notify them when a large volume of money would be on hand. November had slipped into December and on the afternoon of December 8, the call that the crew had been waiting for came. After final preparations were made that weekend, the robbers took off for the cargo terminal, arriving just before 3:00 a.m. on Monday, December 11.
Instead of five men in the van, as originally planned, there were six. This last participant was believed to be Paola LiCastri, at least by Volkman and Cummings. On this brutally cold morning the van pulled in front of the Lufthansa Cargo terminal and four men alighted and moved inside the building.
As Werner had told them, the guard was on break and the men headed up a flight of stairs. Meanwhile, the van pulled down a driveway beside the building where it encountered a padlocked gate. One of the robbers exited the van with a pair of bolt cutters and sliced through the lock. Once the van moved inside, the chain was replaced and another lock put on, which was then left open. Soon a late model Buick positioned itself in the terminal parking lot with its lights off.
Inside the terminal John Murray, a senior cargo agent who was attempting to take a nap at his desk, was the first employee to be captured. Murray was pulled out of his seat and his suit jacket ripped off. He was ushered into the lunchroom where five other Lufthansa employees were ordered to lie flat on the floor with their eyes closed. Murray was asked who was in the warehouse. He said that Rudi Eirich, the night shift cargo traffic manager, and Kerry Whalen, a transfer man, were there. Murray was hustled back to his office to call Eirich to come upstairs under the guise of taking a phone call from Frankfurt.
While the drama was playing out inside the terminal, the robbers in the van were getting nervous. The plan was behind schedule. As they sat sweating, they pulled their masks off. Just then the two men were startled by the appearance of a Lufthansa van driven by Kerry Whalen, the transfer man, who was returning after making a delivery. Whalen assumed the other van was making a drop-off and thought nothing of it as he walked past. Whalen suddenly found himself facing a masked gunman and being told to get into the van. Instead, Whalen turned to run only to be tackled and pistol-whipped about the head. The bleeding transfer man was dragged back to the van and ordered to lie quiet.
Inside the warehouse Rolf Rebmann heard the commotion and went to investigate. Described as a "RV buff," Rebmann instantly recognized the vehicle parked outside as a Ford Econoline 150 van. He then recognized a gun aimed at him. The man holding it still had his mask off and Rebmann took note of his features a mustache and expensively styled hair, his shoes were brightly shined. He was ordered to lie down beside Whalen in the van.
Eirich, by now, had received the phone call and headed upstairs. He was soon face-to-face with two gunmen. He was pushed into the lunchroom where he saw six fellow employees lined along the floor guarded by a fat masked man.
"Who's missing?" he was asked.
"I can't tell for sure," Eirich replied.
"Where's the guard?" one of the robbers demanded.
"I don't know," answered Eirich.
"Look, you son of a bitch," a robber with a sawed-off shotgun announced. "We've got your address, and we'll kill your family if you don't cooperate."
Eirich was ordered downstairs to help round up the remaining employees. Eirich and his armed escorts searched for the three remaining employees unaware that two of them were already held captive. It was a harrowing experience for Eirich. The robbers felt he was playing a trick when the men couldn't be located. Soon security guard Samuel Veltri, newly scheduled at the terminal, was seen in the warehouse reading his instruction list. He was quickly captured.
Still waiting for word from inside, one of the robbers in the van replaced his mask and poked his head inside. Seeing one compatriot surveying the warehouse for the unaccounted for employees, he informed him that they had them in the van. Rebmann and Whalen were ordered inside and the cargo bay door was opened. The van moved inside and backed up to the doors of the vault. Rebmann and the bloodied Whalen were taken upstairs to the lunchroom and handcuffed with the others.
With all of the employees secured, the gunmen turned their attention to Eirich and the vault. The armed robbers threatened Eirich, claiming they knew all about the alarm system and that men were at his house ready to kill his family if he didn't cooperate. The gunmen knew the security procedures and it was obvious to Eirich that they had inside information. He had no choice but to follow their instructions. In minutes the robbers found what they had come for.
The gang removed 72 fifteen-pound cartons of untraceable money from the vault and placed it in the van. Eirich was taken to the cafeteria. While most of the captives were handcuffed, Eirich had his wrists bound with plastic tape. After removing the car keys from the employee's pockets, and a wallet from Whalen, the robbers told their captives not to move for ten minutes. It was 4:21 am.
The van pulled to the front of the building and the crash car pulled in behind. Two gunmen climbed in the van as the others got into the Buick. The two vehicles pulled away from the terminal and off the airport grounds without encountering any difficulty.
Back in the lunchroom, John Murray, who had his wrists tied together with rope instead of handcuffs, wriggled free and called the Port Authority Police Department.
When the robbers arrived in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, they found the auto repair shop they were looking for, where Jimmy Burke was awaiting them. The boxes of money were removed from the van and placed in the trunks of the two automobiles. Burke and his son drove off in one car. Four others Manri, McMahon, DeSimone and Sepe drove away in the second car. Cafaro met his wife, who was driving his white Cadillac, a few blocks away. LiCastri took the subway home and Edwards was left behind to ensure disposal of the van.