The unglamorous underworld of jewel thieves
THE PIERRE HOTEL AFFAIR: HOW EIGHT GENTLEMEN THIEVES ORCHESTRATED THE LARGEST JEWEL HEIST IN HISTORY
Pegasus Books, $27.95, 401 pages
In the predawn hours of Jan. 2, 1972, eight armed thieves dressed in tuxedos and transported by limousine invaded the Pierre Hotel in New City. Wearing sunglasses, fake noses, beards and mustaches with their formal wear, the crooks tied up the security guards, the night shift staff and any residents and guests they came across. They even trapped two NYPD officers in the basement after the freezing cops came into the luxury hotel for coffee.
As the hostages were rounded up and detained in an alcove, two members of the gang ripped through selected safety deposit boxes in the hotel vault. The gang escaped with reportedly $28 million dollars in cash, bearer bonds and jewelry. To this day the case is considered to be unsolved, although the two primary crooks, Bobby Comfort and Sammy ‘the Arab” Nalo, went to prison on related charges.
But as David Simone tells us in ‘The Pierre Hotel Affair,” the organized, professional and bold gang of thieves who committed “the perfect crime” did not thrive with their “swag.” The greedy and duplicitous gang members promptly double-crossed each other. The two leaders held out some of the jewels from the rest of the gang while two other members of the gang escaped to Europe with most of the stolen jewels. Three of the thieves were later murdered by other gang members.
Nick “the Cat” Sacco, a former jewel thief and the sole survivor of the gang, wrote the book with David Simone. Written in a sensational and lurid style, reminding me of an early Mickey Spillane crime thriller, the book recounts the detailed planning of the robbery, the robbery itself and the bloody aftermath. The book also introduces us to the motley crew of crooks, which included a stone cold hitman for the mob, a degenerate gambler and serial double-crosser, and professional jewel thieves like Comfort and Sacco.
Sacco, then an associate of Lucchese organized crime family consigliere Christie “the Tick” Furnari, received the backing of the Cosa Nostra boss for the Pierre robbery.
The deadly serious robbery had its comical moments, such as when the crooks had to call the cops. During the robbery one of the hostages appeared to be having a heart attack. Fearing that his death would bring on a murder charge against them, Comfort called 911. They herded the hostages into the vault and out of sight. An ambulance arrived along with three police officers who did not suspect that a robbery was taking place. Once the EMS workers and officers left with the ailing man, the crooks moved the hostages back into the alcove and the crooks went back to looting the safety deposit boxes in the vault.
Another comical event occurred when a wealthy South American businessman on his honeymoon with his bride and the bride’s mother, called down for an elevator so he could visit his girlfriend on another floor. The businessman, his bride and mother-in-law were all brought down and held with the other hostages, which included the girlfriend. The bride and girlfriend hurled insults at each other as the crooks attempted to calm down all of the hostages.
When they were done looting the selected safety deposit boxes, Comfort asked the hostages if any of them had a safety deposit box. None did, and Comfort then delivered a prepared speech to the hostages. Noting that there was no law compelling them to be witnesses, he asked that they not identify them. As a token of gratitude, Comfort gave each of the hostages a crisp $20 bill. He declined to “tip” the four security guards, stating they had a “cop mentality.”
The crooks then piled into the limousine and took off to two parked getaway cars. Discovering that one of the cars had a dead battery, they had to attach jumper cables from one getaway car to the other getaway car.
Comfort and Nalo, who were suspected of an earlier hotel robbery in which Italian movie star Sophia Loren was robbed of her expensive jewelry by gunpoint, were immediately suspected by the NYPD and FBI of committing the Pierre robbery. Comfort and Nalo were later arrested on other charges and received a light sentence of four years in prison, thanks to a judge who had taken a hefty bribe from Furnari the mob boss.
Sacco was also later sent to prison for another crime. He was eventually released and entered the Witness Protection Program after he testified against two vicious killers.
“The Pierre Hotel Affair” is a tale of mendacity, greed and violence. The book takes the reader into the unglamorous underworld of jewel thieves, murderers, mobsters, crooked cops and bent judges.