The Real Story Of Tommy DeSimone — The Psycho Gangster Behind Joe Pesci’s ‘Goodfellas’ Character

Published April 29, 2018
Updated July 1, 2018

In "Goodfellas," Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito is a complete psychopath. As it turns out, Tommy DeSimone was even crazier in real life.

Goodfellas

Warner Brothers/Getty ImagesRay Liotta as Henry Hill, Robert De Niro as James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway (Jimmy Burke), Paul Sorvino as Paul “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Vario), and Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito (Tommy DeSimone) in the 1990 film Goodfellas.

Goodfellas is often considered one of the best Mafia movies ever made. And part of what makes it great is Joe Pesci’s scene-stealing character, Tommy DeVito. DeVito can be charming and often gets a laugh, but he’s also always ready to snap into a murderous rage at a moment’s notice. He’s a psychopath with a hair-trigger temper.

Of course, Goodfellas is based on the real story of mobster Henry Hill. And while many movies based on true stories take liberties with the characters, Pesci’s character is a pretty faithful representation of a very real and terrifying mobster: Tommy “Two Guns” DeSimone.

The Making Of A Gangster

Tommy DeSimone And Joe Pesci

YouTubeTommy DeSimone and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

DeSimone grew up in New York surrounded by mafia influences. His uncle and grandfather were both major figures in organized crime, and his brothers ended up becoming associates of the Gambino family. DeSimone followed their example and began a life of crime early on, joining the crew of Lucchese family mobster, Paul Vario.

Through Vario, DeSimone met Henry Hill and together, they worked on a number of criminal schemes. Hijacking trucks and fencing the goods was a favorite, and DeSimone had an unusual habit of carrying his gun for these hijackings in a paper bag. According to Hill, “He looked like he was bringing you a sandwich instead of a .38.”

However, DeSimone wasn’t shy about using his gun. He supposedly committed his first murder at just 17. While walking down the street with Hill, he spotted a total stranger strolling in front of him. He then turned to Hill and said, “Henry, watch this,” before gunning the man down in cold blood.

Unhinged And Violent

Henry Hill And Paul Vario

Wikimedia CommonsThe mugshots of Henry Hill and Paul Vario.

That kind of impulsive violence would follow DeSimone and get him in trouble later in an incident that was depicted in Goodfellas. According to Hill, the crew was holding a party for William “Billy Bats” Bentvena, a made man in the Gambino family who had just been released from prison.

At the party, Bentvena ran into DeSimone and made a comment about the fact that DeSimone had shined shoes as a kid. It was meant as a joke, but DeSimone wasn’t the type of person you wanted to joke with.

DeSimone had a life-long inferiority complex. His brother had also been an informant for the FBI, which meant that DeSimone always felt the need to prove himself. He wanted respect more than anything, especially from other gangsters.

Bentvena’s joke instantly set DeSimone off. A few weeks later, he and his crew tracked “Billy Bats” down and viciously murdered him. Just as in the movie, DeSimone’s crew helped him bury the body, stopping at DeSimone’s mother house with the body still in the trunk.

In another incident that made it into the movie, DeSimone’s impulse for violence had deadly consequences for Michael “Spider” Gianco. Gianco was a young mob associate who was serving as a bartender when he forgot DeSimone’s drink. DeSimone quickly pulled out a gun and shot Gianco in the foot after demanding that he dance for him.

A few weeks later, Gianco ran into DeSimone again, this time wearing a leg cast. After DeSimone started making fun of his cast, Gianco told him to, “go screw himself.” DeSimone was ready to let it go until another mobster said that he must be going soft. Once again wanting to prove himself, DeSimone shot Gianco three times in the chest.

The “Lufthansa Heist”

James Burke Arrested

Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesJames Burke (Jimmy the Gent), arrested and taken to Federal Court.

In spite (or maybe because) of his casual brutality, DeSimone remained an important part of Vario’s crew. When fellow gangster Jimmy Burke needed someone to help him carry out the biggest heist in U.S. history, he included DeSimone in his plan.

Together, Burke, Hill, and DeSimone carried out the infamous “Lufthansa Heist,” stealing almost $6,000,000 from JFK International Airport in New York. Over the next few weeks, DeSimone served as a hitman, silencing anyone who could tie Burke to the robbery. But what DeSimone didn’t know was that his own murderous past was about to catch up with him.

A few weeks after the heist, DeSimone got the news he had been waiting almost his entire life for. He was going to be “made.” He would finally be someone that other mobsters had to respect.

Of course, the truth was that DeSimone was walking into a trap. Someone, probably Paul Vario, revealed to the Gambino family that DeSimone had murdered Bentvena. According to the code of the mafia, murdering a made man without permission meant death.

The End Of “Two Guns”

Tommy DeVito Death Scene

YouTubeThe death of Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito (Tommy DeSimone) in Goodfellas.

In January of 1979, DeSimone disappeared. He has never been seen since and was declared legally dead in 1990. Officially, no one knows what happened to him.

But according to several sources within the mafia, he was murdered in revenge for the killing of Bentvena. Henry Hill maintains that Jon Gotti, future don of the Gambino family, killed DeSimone himself. According to another mobster who claimed he was at the scene, his death was slow and painful.

If these accounts are true, then the body of Tommy DeSimone is probably buried in one of the “mafia graveyards” on the outskirts of New York.

In the end, he was a victim of the lifestyle he had always wanted to live and his own murderous temper.


Enjoy learning about Tommy DeSimone? Next, read more about Henry Hill and the “Goodfellas” crew. Then learn about the executions, informants, and flamboyance of the American Mafia in the 1980s.

Wyatt Redd
Wyatt Redd is a freelance writer from Nashville, Tennessee.
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