Mob’s most infamous ‘rat’ broke every gangster code then evaded mafia for years

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Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster.

Ray Liotta immortalised that line when playing Hill in classic Martin Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas long after America's most infamous ex-gangster stopped working for the mafia – but it was definitely true.

The Manhattan-born mobster, who died exactly nine years ago, on June 12, 2012, a day after his 69th birthday, became the most notorious 'rat' in history.

But before that, he was both respected and revered among his fellow gangsters.

Hill was half-Irish and half-Sicilian, so organised crime was never too far from his inner-city upbringing.

As an 11-year-old he started working for Lucchese crime family boss Paul Vario (Paulie Cicero in 'Goodfellas'), selling stolen cigarettes.

By 15, Henry was making fraudulent payments with stolen credit cards and shunning any police cooperation.

That loyalty at such a young age won him favour from 'made man' Vario and up-and-comer Jimmy Burke, who thought Hill had real potential.

Burke was played by Robert De Niro and his name was changed to Jimmy Conway in the iconic Martin Scorsese film.

A former foster child who saw the mob as a chance to fit in, Burke had carried out his first hit at a very young age and was trusted by Vario, despite his all-Irish roots.

Neither Burke nor Hill could ever be made men as they weren't fully Italian, but did appeal to Vario's tolerant attitude with their immense loyalty and audacious risk-taking.

Hill was first arrested at 16 for using a stolen cards but offered only his name, further impressing Vario and Burke.

He then joined the army as a 17-year-old, spending three years as a good soldier and part-time mobster.

Teenage Henry kept up his relationships with the family and sold cigarettes to bored enlisted men, but was briefly punished for brawling with a stranger at the local bar.

In 1963 as a 20-year-old he returned to Manhattan to become an associate member of the Luccheses.

The prestigious rank is between soldier and made man, and saw Hill given extra responsibilities as a reward for his almost 10 years of service to the mob.

Henry, Jimmy and other Lucchese mobsters hung out at Queens bar Robert's Lounge, which was owned by Burke. The saloon was a mob headquarters for almost 25 years.

Years later Hill said Jimmy used to bury bodies under the bowls court, including notorious gangsters Dominick "Remo" Cersani and Michael "Spider" Gianco.

Hill wrote in his 2003 book, A Goodfella's Guide to New York: "If you go there today and look down the left side of the building, you'll see piles of dirt.

"After I went into the program, Jimmy had the feds and media over to witness the courts being dug up."

The years 1963-1972 were the most prolific in Hill's mob career. He regularly committed arson, hijacking and robbery.

The Air France heist in 1967 saw Henry and associate Thomas 'Tommy' DeSimone stroll into JFK airport with a big suitcase and walk out with $420,000.

No one was hurt.

That was Hill's style but it wasn't DeSimone's, who relished violence.

He was brought to life by Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in an Oscar-winning performance, which included the beloved, improvised "You think I'm funny?" scene.

Hill later said DeSimone tried to rape his wife Karen Friedman, who he had met in 1965 and married the same year.

According to Hill, DeSimone even allowed his own brother Anthony to be killed after working as a police informant.

The downfall of the Lucchese mob began in 1970 when Tommy brutally killed recently released gangster William "Billy Batts" Bentvena.

Batts made an offhand comment about Tommy's past shining shoes, which the sociopathic gangster took issue with.

Two weeks later he killed Batts by hitting him repeatedly with a gun.

The body was put in the trunk of their car and taken to a friend's dog kennel upstate, where he was dumped.

That incident was famously depicted in Goodfellas, with 'The Sopranos' actor Frank Vincent playing Batts.

Scorsese's film opens with Hill driving Conway and DeVito to dispose of the body in the countryside.

When they hear banging from the back, Hill pulls over and they open the boot to see Batts still alive.

Tommy finishes him off with a knife and Jimmy adds 5 bullets.

That part is fictionalised, but very little of Goodfellas is unlike Wiseguy, the 1986 book co-written by Hill and author Nicholas Pileggi.

Hill was arrested again in 1972 and this time was sent to jail, getting a 10-year sentence for beating up an indebted gambler in Florida.

Vario served a concurrent sentence alongside Hill, with the prison kitchen used for all kinds of Italian cooking traditions.

When Hill was released in 1978 he began trafficking and dealing drugs, quickly becoming addicted himself.

Vario had no interest in drugs, fearing the massive mandatory prison sentences dished out by the authorities.

He began to shun Hill, who depended instead on the rogue Burke.

This schism was illustrated by the "turn my back on you" scene in Goodfellas.

In December 1978 the infamous Lufthansa Heist took place, with almost $6 million ($23m in today's money) stolen from JFK in the form of cash and jewellery.

Hill wasn't directly involved but Burke masterminded the operation.

It was at the time the biggest heist ever conducted on American soil.

But sloppy mistakes were made and the getaway van was found by police instead of being destroyed.

This led investigators straight to Burke and his associates within days, which meant immense pressure and scrutiny on the mob.

Burke became paranoid and furious at his gang's errors, enacting revenge against those who had tripped up – and others too.

Getaway van driver Parnell "Stacks" Edwards was the first to be killed, having been gunned down within a week of the massive heist.

Tommy is thought to have carried it out.

Three weeks later DeSimone himself was killed by the rival Gambino family for the murders of Batts and Ronald Jerothe.

Over the next three months five more of the Lufthansa gang were killed, and in May and June 1979 another 3, all at Burke's request.

It was this ruthlessness from Burke which convinced Hill he had to get out.

If Hill was arrested and charged with an offence of any kind, he knew Burke would rather have him killed than risk him becoming an informant.

The Witness Protection Program seemed like a safe way out of Hill's conundrum, allowing him to cooperate with law enforcement while not being vulnerable to mob revenge.

So after an arrest for a drugs trafficking offence in 1980 Hill agreed to rat on Burke, Vario and the rest.

Investigators even played a tape of Burke telling Vario Henry had to be "whacked" to convince him to collaborate with their efforts.

After a meeting with Burke, Hill was convinced he would be killed on his next job in Florida.

He was arrested as a witness in the Lufthansa Heist in May 1980 and agreed to become an informant.

Hill's historic, shocking testimony in front of the mob associates he had idolised for years led to no fewer than 50 convictions worth hundreds of years in prison time.

That included Vario and Burke, both of whom died in prison in 1988 and 1996, respectively.

Hill, Karen and their children Gregg and Gina entered Witness Protection and spent time in Seattle, Ohio, Nebraska, Montana and Kentucky.

In an interview shortly before his death in 2012, Hill said he no longer feared a mafia hit because all the mob bosses of his day were dead.

Burke's death in 1996 was the event he needed to feel safe again.

But that doesn't mean Hill didn't have regrets.

Not about the crimes he committed or killings he witnessed – though he ultimately said he never killed anyone – but rather about ratting on his friends.

Hill told Empire in 2010: "I couldn't forgive myself.

“Because there was a time when I would have put a f****n’ gun in my mouth and blown my brains out rather than testify against these f****n’ people.

"It was a process for me to forgive myself for being an informant, a rat, you know?”

Hill divorced Karen in 1989, with proceedings not finalised till 2002.

He married Kelly Alor in 1990 but the pair divorced in 1996.

He then settled down with Lisa Caserta in 2006. A former alcoholic herself, she and Ray Liotta tried to get Hill sober.

They never succeeded.

He was arrested for numerous minor drug offences during the 1980s and 1990s, though his addictions became much less serious in later life.

Hill died after a heart attack on June 12 2012, one day after his 69th birthday.

In a statement after his death, Liotta told TMZ Hill lived an eventful life.

Liotta said: "Although I played Henry Hill in the movie ‘Goodfellas’, I only met him a few short times so I can’t say I knew him but, I do know he lived a complicated life.

"My heart goes out to his family and may he finally rest in peace.”

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