Louis Cafora

Louis Cafora

Louis Cafora-Carfora II, aka "Fat Louis" or "The Whale", (d. May 1979 South Ozone Park, Queens) was a Colombo crime family loanshark and drug trafficker for the Lucchese crime family. Cafora allegedly participated in the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK airport in New York City.


Early life and marriage

Louis Cafora II was allegedly the son of Louis Cafora-Carfora the 1st (April 21, 1934 - June 15, 1989), an Italian-American immigrant from Senerchia in Campania, Italy. It is thought that Louis' actual family surname was "Carfora", but it was either shortened and simplified when his parents arrived as new immigrants in New York City or accidentally misspelled by the INS. It is also thought that Louis may have altered his last name to protect his family from his criminal behavior when he was mentioned in the newspapers or on television. He is not to be mistaken as a relative to Genovese crime family capo Vincent Cafaro.

As a child, Cafora was always conscious of being tall and overweight and reportedly felt less attractive than his classmates. By the time Cafora graduated from high school, he stood six feet tall and weighed between 300 and 380 pounds. Throughout his life, Cafora would suffer from hypertension, nausea and fatigue. Despites these ailments, Cafora was noted for his physical strength. Cafora was passionate about cooking, often preparing Italian specialities for mob members. Cafora was described by mob informant Henry Hill as having a monstrous appetite, and driving a gaudy pink 1979 Cadillac thinking of himself jokingly as a reincarnate of Al Capone. Louis' life as a gangster revolved around food for logical reasons, because he would eat wherever he went. His agenda was to start with his colleagues over breakfast, then sip some coffee with another friend, then off to his, or a friend's place of business, which was usually a restaurant, where he would hang out with friends until he went out for another meeting over a light meal and drinks. Then after his day was done, he would return home to have a large dinner with his family.

In the 1960s, Cafora married for the first time and had a son, Louis Cafora III. The marriage fell apart after Louis was arrested in 1976 for extortion and sent to federal prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His first wife got custody of Louis III and father and son became estranged. Louis met his second wife Joanna and they had an affair in 1977. When he was sent to prison, Joanna swore that she would wait for his release. In April 1978, Cafora and Joanna were married.

Activities in the Mafia

As a young man, Cafora became involved with the Lucchese crime family. Unlike other mob members or associates who specialized in street crimes, Cafora pursued legitimate business ventures for the family. Cafora managed a leased parking lot in Downtown Brooklyn. Through the management of the parking lot, Cafaro gained significant influence within the New York State Department of Transportation. Cafora's official Italian capo, Paul Vario would meet in his parking lot for "walk and talks" with his subordinates to avoid voice recordings by the police. Cafora also stored stolen cars for Henry Hill in the lot while they awaited transportation to be delivered to Edguardo Rigaud.

As his earnings increased, Cafora became more confident that he would become a made man, or full member, of the family. By 1979, Cafora had been convicted of drug trafficking, arson, loansharking and transport truck hijacking. While in prison, Cafaro became a close and personal friend of Jimmy Burke. He had worked his whole life to finally achieve a position of power in the Lucchese crime family, a position where he felt in charge, secure and free to do exactly as he pleased.

Louis's Second Coming

Louis married his second wife, Joanna, and moved from the middle-class, violent neighborhood of South Ozone Park, Queens to Dix Hills, New York in 1979. The marriage celebration took place in the most expensive banquet hall in Ozone Park, Queens and all the members of the Vario Crew attended in a show of congratulations, though they did speak of their qualms about Louis being so close to Joanna. Before meeting Joanna he had usually appeared glum in photographs with the Vario Crew. Now his associates, Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill would often find him in relatively high spirits at their meetings at Robert's Lounge with him, even when contract killing was on the agenda. With an adolescent-like glee, Cafora doted on Joanna, taking her to the Villa Capri, Bobby's, The Spice of Life located at 32 Cedar Street in Hanover, New Jersey and Robert's Lounge, denying her nothing. Louis bought a brand new 1979 Cadillac DeVille for Joanna as an early engagement present and after the Lufthansa heist, bought himself a 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

He did not disguise his affection for Joanna in front of the Vario Crew. She would always be around him, even when Jimmy Burke or his capo Paul Vario would be sitting in Robert's Lounge discussing important affairs of state, Joanna would be hovering over the gathering all the time. This raised concern in Jimmy Burke, Henry Hill and most definitely the reclusive and secretive Paul Vario, whose respected wives closest contact with their husbands' business dealings would be to greet guests arriving for meetings at the front door. As Louis became more and more infatuated with his then-fiance, he received much disapproval from the senior members including Vario, Victor Amuso and Anthony Corallo. This behavior was deemed inappropriate as a clear violation of the La Cosa Nostra code the senior Lucchese crime family mobsters had all lived by for the past three centuries. But Louis, luxuriating in his second spring, was oblivious to the growing disapproval that he was receiving, albeit guardedly, from his associates. He did not impress his friends with his tales of extortion and loansharking, but when he boasted of his influence to Joanna she would listen intently and applaud. He was also brazen enough to involve Joanna, who was at the time still his fiance, to pick him up at a rendezvous in his gaudy pink Cadillac Fleetwood after the 1978 Lufthansa heist several blocks away from the JFK Airport Air Cargo Center.

After the Lufthansa heist, Cafora became a full-time partner with Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke in their drug trafficking operation which was organized in secret from their capo Paul Vario. In the 1970s Louis became highly addicted to cocaine and it is said in "Wiseguy" that Louis Cafora was doing more than ten grams of cocaine a day, which is what Hill estimates to have been his drug consumption limit for that time period. Although he only became associated with the Vario Crew and their capo Paul Vario in late 1978, Paul spoke of having the intelligent and prosperous Louis to become officially initiated into the Lucchese crime family as a made man. The relationship with Joanna almost mimics the relationship between Paul Castellano and his Colombian maid Gloria Orlate.

Confrontation with Henry Hill

Henry Hill first met Louis at Leavenworth in 1972 after Hill was convicted of extortion and allegedly burned down the popular discoteque "Rumors" on Long Island, owned by Phillip Basile. At the time, Cafora was incarcerated for arson relating to insurance fraud. After a scuffle with another prisoner, Carfora felt that Hill was weak and referred to him in front of the general prison population as a "faggot". Jimmy Burke learned of this incident when Henry brought it up in 1978 during the planning of the Lufthansa heist, and decided not to have Hill join the heist team in order to avoid an unnecessary and possibly damaging confrontation with Cafora. This may have proven very fortunate for Henry Hill, enabling him to avoid death related to the heist.

Involvement in Lufthansa

When Jimmy Burke was looking to bring together a team to pull off the Lufthansa heist he contacted his old Leavenworth cell mate Louis. His brand new Cadillac was bugged by the FBI and they had attempted to implicate him in the death of Richard Eaton. He was also seen before the robbery by witnesses to be in possession of a revolver. By picking Cafora up near the JFK Airport Air Cargo Center after the heist, Joanna is the only known female suspect to allegedly be involved in the heist, other than Theresa Ferrara who is thought to have been a money launderer.

After the Lufthansa Heist

In March of 1979 shortly after Louis and his new bride, Joanna Cafora, married, they disappeared, supposedly victims of Angelo Sepe and Jimmy Burke. The Caforas are either missing or presumed dead of unknown causes, and both declared dead in absentia. They were reported by his wife Joanna's parents. They had been missing for several days and they had not received word from their daughter. Louis and Joanna Cafora were both legally declared dead by their respected relatives in 1985. Crime writers Ernest Volkman and John Cummings claim detectives from the 113th Precinct in South Ozone Park, Queens relentlessly questioned of Cafora in the stationhouse squad room in the presence of his now new wife Joanna. He initially denied having any role in the 1978 Lufthansa heist. Finally with anxiety that his new lovely wife brought on, having her new husband go to prison and leave her, Louis agreed to inform the police about his role and the organizers of the robbery if the police would arrange to have him entered into the Witness Protection Program. A very exhausted and anxious Louis left the stationhouse with his wife promising to visit them again within the next week. He wanted to start planning his entry into the Witness Protection Program. Ironically, none of the New York Times articles covering the actual robbery, subsequent arrests, gang land executions or related disappearances ever brought up the names of Louis or Joanna Cafora. They were last seen leaving the home of Joanna's parents in South Ozone Park, Queens announcing their marriage. In the film GoodFellas, Cafora's character is known for the "Pink Cadillac" incident.In the film his death is portrayed as the way suspects Joe Manri and Robert McMahon were found murdered after the robbery. That scene is filmed under the trestle of the Long Island Railroad tracks at 11711 Hillside Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens. Cafora is portrayed in the 1990 film GoodFellas by actor Johnny Williams. In the film, he is called "Johnny Roastbeef".

Following His Disappearance

Louis Cafora had been raised a Catholic and he and Joanna had raised his child from his previous marriage, Louis Cafora The Third as Catholics. Louis and Joanna's wake was held in Long Island. Among those present were Cafora's first unidentified wife, his son Louis The Third and his wife's family. Louis had a tombstone set in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Dix Hills, New York beside his unlucky, short-lived wife Joanna, whose empty casket was later interred in a grave separately, later marked by a tombstone bearing her unknown maiden name. Those who were aware of the impossible bind Big Lou was in at the time of his death knew that, in the end, fate had been merciful to him. He successfully was able to avoid the 1985 Lufthansa heist investigation unlike Paul Vario and Jimmy Burke.

Louis's Fate

If Louis had not met his fate in the immediate aftermath following the Lufthansa heist he likely would have met his fate in 1986 during Mafia Commission Trial investigation, for which he would most likely have been indicted under the RICO Act on charges stemming from his extortion, drug trafficking and contract killing. At the trial his powerful crime family don Lucchese crime family Anthony Corallo and Christopher Furnari were convicted. This also included La Cosa Nostra bosses Anthony Salerno, Paul Castellano, Carmine Persico, and Phillip Rastelli et al.--- received long sentences plus fines as much as $250,000. (Paul Castellano was murdered by rival members of the Gambino crime family before his conviction). If Big Lou had received such a sentence--- and he would have certainly received one-- he would have been condemned to spent most likely, the remainder of his life behind bars, with no hope of parole. For the luxury loving mobster it would have been a devastating retirement to he and his new wife. Louis and Joanna left their relatives' home in South Ozone Park, Queens and were never heard from or seen again. Theoretically, Louis and Joanna may have escaped the police under the ruse of cooperating and made off with their share of the Lufthansa heist loot. But looking at the murder spree committed by Jimmy Burke, Tommy DeSimone and Angelo Sepe (who later himself, became a suspected victim of the aftermath), it is mutually agreed with the FBI that Louis and Joanna joined the list of victims in the murderous aftermath that followed the robbery. No one was ever investigated or convicted of being involved in their disappearance. Other than Martin Krugman, whose death was later confirmed to Henry Hill, the alleged slaying of Louis and his newly wed wife were never brought up or discussed. Henry Hill would later state his thoughts that in fact the married couple did not in fact survive. It is likely that the two were murdered by Burke, Tommy DeSimone, who was still alive for a short while longer before meeting his own death, and, or Angelo Sepe. They were most likely dismembered and then buried in an unmarked grave at an unknown location. Their suspected burial grounds were most likely in the unfinished basement of Jimmy Burke's Robert's Lounge or in the basement of the now demolished South Side Inn located in South Ozone Park, Queens. After Henry Hill informed the FBI of these gangland execution burial grounds, it is suspected Jimmy Burke exhumed their now skeletal remains and transplanted them to an unknown location.

In popular culture


  • 'Gangsters and GoodFellas' Henry Hill as told by Gus Russo
  • 'Wiseguy' written by Nicholas Pileggi and Henry Hill
  • www.genealogy.com

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