HENRY HILL WASN'T KILLED, BECAUSE STREET GUYS BLAMED PAUL VARIO FOR HILL FLIPPING
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Henry Hill was an informant, and couldn't tell the truth to save his life, but one of the bigger questions often asked about Hill. How was he able to just walk freely without the mafia, or more specifically Jimmy Burke killing him?
As many people who have watched Goodfellas, you're probably familiar with Hill and his exploits. From hanging around a cab stand, to working his way into the Lucchese crime family and ultimately becoming what he loathed the most, A RAT. While many know of Hill's exploits and life, many believe Goodfellas to be autobiographical and accurate. While certain elements are, it is very much a bastardized version of events crafted closely by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese. While reading the book Wiseguy one has to wade the waters between what's actually real and what's absolute falsehoods. While Pileggi covered many aspects of Hill's life from court hearings, court transcripts, there was more of an emphasis on the words of Henry Hill, who noted often times in his life, he was a complete degenerate and liar.
Henry could never stay out of trouble, even after testifying against Paul Vario and Jimmy Buke and dozens of others. Hill would enter the witness protection program shortly after his testimony, but was unable to just keep a low profile which led to him being moved around to different states a dozen or so times by the FBI. In one particular scheme while he was in the Midwest he attempted to form a tourist trap business by utilizing one of New York's more notable traps. Horse drawn carriages. As he began to formulate his plan, the FBI would step in, and ensure it didn't happen. They would move him yet to another destination. He frequently would be arrested for drunk driving, drug possession, and was eventually removed from Witness Protection as a result of not only not being able to stay away from criminality but his refusal to adhere to Witness Protection rules, which included staying the hell out of New York City, and not contacting family and friends.
Even after being tossed from Witsec, he still continued to get arrested non stop. He still came back to New York, to his old stomping grounds. The question has always been, did the mob know where he was, and why didn't anyone take a shot at him, why didn't anyone avenge the convictions he helped acquire? Surely it would have been simple for Vario to reach out and have him clipped. Surely Burke had enough power to put an end to Hill. Was it because Hill was too high profile? Wouldn't that murder bring heat from all directions? Was the price not big enough for someone looking to make a name for themselves not good enough? Did the penalty out weight the profit? In short, all of the above could be a reasonable excuse for why Hill was never killed, but the truth is, the streets blamed Vario for Hill.
While Paul Vario was a very powerful and dangerous guy, and a wealthy one at that. He was a man's man and a gangster by every definition. The problem was, everyone blamed Vario for what Hill did. They didn't blame Hill for just easing up, getting scared, and just running to the feds for help. They blamed Vario, how he treated Hill, and how he acted towards Hills family for the reason why Hill would eventually flip. While most mobsters cannot entertain any kind of informant on any level, Hill was the one guy who many off the record felt bad for. Hill always did as he was told, especially in a world fermented by treachery, lies, murder and greed. While Hill was an admitted fuck up in many ways, one of the things that made Hill different prior to his move against the mob, was that he was loyal. He closed his eyes and ears and mouth, and even when he was put on the stand intentionally forgot many of the things he saw and heard while in the mafia. It's not to admonish Hill for becoming an informant. He's still a vile, lying, unsavory piece of shit in my eyes, and always will be, however on the streets it was a different story. While Hill expanded much of his abilities, because believe me Ray Liotta's portrayal of Hill, while magnificent, was the furthest thing from what Hill truly was. Hill was closer to the version of Al Pacino's characterization of Benjamin "Lefty-Guns" Ruggiero than Ray Liotta. Hill was a gangster, but he was also a drunk, an addict, who often times didn't have a dime to his name. One would think after the Lufthansa heist, he would have been wealthy, but he wasn't, which is what led Hill to begin selling drugs.
It would have been easy to kill Hill. Too easy. The feds surely would have been irate, but this is a guy who was a thorn in the side of the FBI non stop. While any murder would be investigated, and the murder of Hill would have been huge news, it would have died and gone in the pile of unsolved murders like Hoffa. They didn't care that much about Hill. What I can report, is that Hill was a marked man. Not only did Jimmy Burke want him dead, but Paul Vario wanted him essentially crucified publicly if ever given the chance. The thing is, that most guys in that circle, while they didn't like what Hill did, they liked Hill. Hill if anything had the mutual respect of a lot of street guys, and while there likely would be, and justifiably some sort of retributive thoughts, nobody was willing to, not because the money wasn't good enough, it was because they felt Vario put Hill in the situation and gave him no other choice.
We talk all the time about choices and decisions over on our radio show MOB TALK RADIO, and while I stand by my credo of their is no justification for telling on people, this is by no means a pass from me to Hill. I still feel as I do, but the perspective of the streets, at least at the time says a lot. So what did Vario do to justify any of that? The truth is, there is no justification and people blaming Vario it's a bit funny to me from a street perspective, but they may have an opposing viewpoint that may make at least sense from the perspective of Hill. Don't take this out of context, I still think Hill should have been put into a drum into the ocean, but this is about how others felt, not me. Many street guys felt, that Vario not helping Hill out when he was locked up was disrespectful. It's the same thing Jimmy Burke did. If we go back to the film Goodfellas we see Hill talking to his wife Karen in the mess hall at a prison, explaining that "this is what happens when you go away, nobody cares, nobody helps, they are left to fend for themselves." While in certain aspects that is an accurate statement, we have to look back and admit a few things. Hill was basically shelved. His rackets, while small, were absorbed by Jimmy. If we go back to the early days, often capo's or bosses would take care of a guys family. They would want for nothing, especially since that someone was loyal to them. In the case of Hill, he was loyal. He did as he was told. Both Vario and Burke had helped others when they went away, but for some reason, they balked at helping Hill, but had no problems taking his money, absorbing his rackets, which rightfully they could do. For Hill, and I am not speaking for him, saw it as an insult. There were others on the streets who were less powerful that Vario, who did help the Hill Family. It was a slap in Hill's face. How Hill grew up, how he interacted predicated help. When others in that crew went away, Hill stepped up and helped, but the reality of two people he was close with, made money with, just abandoned him, forced him to go into the drug business when he got out of prison.
In Goodfellas, there is a scene where Paul Vario, bemoans Hill for selling drugs, but understands that it was a necessity, but that considering he was out of prison he needed to just go back to business because drugs was a business that brought too much heat to the family. While it's a great scene to watch, it's not true. Vario was into drugs, had no problem with them. If you just take a second to look back just at the film, Burke was moving drugs, why didn't Vario take issue with him? Was Burke somehow more less culpable? No. Jimmy was also active in the drug business with Hill. The reality is, when Hill exited prison he had nothing. His family was left on welfare, without anything. I would love to tell you that Vario handed him money to get started once he got out, and that Hill really went out and bought the Christmas tree, and moved his family to a new home. The reality is, nobody helped Hill, they didn't give him a dime, specifically neither Burke or Vario. Guys on the streets saw Vario as a greedy pig, who attempted to hook up with Karen Hill. It's another issue guys on the streets had with Vario. It's one thing to put a guy in the lurch, and not give a shit, but the idea that Vario was anything like Paul Sorvino's portrayal was laughable.
Guys on the streets felt, not only did Hill get treated like shit by Vario, but then for him to just refuse to help Hill's family, then attempt to hook up with Hill's wife, they felt was conduct unbecoming to being a gangster. Guys on the streets feel a kind of way about a guy whose greedy, and then attempts to bed others wives. While they may in the shadows feel repulsed and angry, then have to keep it in check, because let's not forget Vario was no slouch when it came to murder and mayhem, even if he looked like the Star Kist Tuna fish. This is why nobody ever took the contract on Hill, they felt he got put into a corner he couldn't get out from. Would Hill have ratted if the circumstances were different? Probably would have either way, as rats are born not made, in my opinion, but street guys just saw Vario as a guy who just didn't show any loyalty, and he could have avoided pushing Hill that direction with his actions, and maybe they are right, at least from the perspective that they could have delayed the evitable, but we will never know how things could have been different because Hill did what he did.
We can argue to and for why it's no anyone else's responsibility to take care of subordinates, but there is a code, whether you like it or not. Does that give Hill the right to do what he did? No. Had Hill been not a junkie, and degenerate maybe then he would have saved and wouldn't have to rely on anyone but himself, and maybe that's why Vario and Burke abandoned him. They would be justified in doing so, especially if Hill had become a bit to reckless for them. No matter how to dice it, we could probably make an excuse on either side for actions taken or not taken, but in the end those who would have gained from killing Hill, just saw it differently.