The Real Story Of Billy Batts That ‘Goodfellas’ Didn’t Tell

Published April 13, 2024

Although Goodfellas famously depicted the murder of Gambino mobster William "Billy Batts" Bentvena, the real story was far too bloody for the movie to portray.

It was May 1970, and Gambino family mobster William Bentvena, better known as Billy Batts, was at Robert’s Lounge, a bar in Queens, New York owned by Lucchese family associate Jimmy Burke. Batts had just gotten out of prison after doing time for a drug-related charge.

Billy Batts William Bentvena

Wikimedia CommonsA photo widely said to depict William Bentvena, better known as Billy Batts, though its authenticity is disputed.

According to Burke’s partner in crime, Henry Hill — who later told his life story to author Nicholas Pileggi in the book Wiseguy, which would then inspire Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film Goodfellas — Mafia families would throw a “welcome back” party any time one of their own got released from prison.

As Hill tells it, at Billy Batts’ welcome back party, Batts made a snide comment to fellow wiseguy Tommy DeSimone, asking him to shine his shoes. DeSimone was notoriously hypersensitive, quick to violence, and a complete loose cannon.

Billy Batts In Goodfellas

Warner Bros.Frank Vincent as Billy Batts in Goodfellas, the 1990 film that famously dramatized his grisly 1970 murder.

DeSimone fumed about the comment all night, but since Billy Batts was a “made man” in the Gambino family, he was untouchable. As Hill said, “if Tommy so much as took a slap at Billy, Tommy was dead.”

DeSimone had to swallow his anger and bide his time, but a few weeks later, on June 10, 1970, he got his opportunity for vengeance. This time Batts was at The Suite, a club owned by Hill, when DeSimone came in and brutally murdered him — but that was just the beginning of this grim tale.

This is the grisly story behind the murder of Billy Batts and the parts that Goodfellas left out.

The Early Life And Crimes Of William Bentvena, The Real Billy Batts

While much of William Bentvena’s early life is something of a mystery, there are a few concrete details about his younger years that can be gleaned.

William Bentvena was born on January 19, 1921, in New York City, growing up in roughly the same area as DeSimone and Hill. For some time, Bentvena disappears from the record. Details about his education, family life, and upbringing, among other things, are effectively nonexistent, but what is clear is that by the late 1950s, he had gotten involved with New York City’s mobsters.

In 1958, for example, when Bentvena was 37 years old, he became a member of a heroin smuggling ring known as the Ormento Group. The group was put together by Lucchese crime family member John Ormento, with the help of Carmine Galante and Anthony Mirra, according to U.S. court documents.

In 1959, William Bentvena became an associate of the Gambino crime family and also took on a job for “Joe the Crow” DelVecchio and Oreste “Ernie Boy” Abbamonte to conduct a drug deal in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Unfortunately for Billy Batts, this deal would lead to his arrest by undercover police, landing him charges of possession and exchange of narcotics.

Bentvena managed to avoid extensive jail time, however, and in 1961 he became a full member of the Gambino crime family. The cops would come for him again a year later, though, when he and Galante were busted in 1962, Bentvena received a 15-year jail sentence.

Billy Batts was released in 1970, but his newfound freedom was, of course, relatively short-lived.

The True Story Behind The Brutal Death Of Billy Batts

Murder Of Billy Batts In Goodfellas

Warner Bros.The murder of Billy Batts at the hands of Tommy DeSimone and Jimmy Burke as depicted in Goodfellas.

What should have been a celebratory night for Billy Batts ultimately proved to be the night that doomed him. He had been locked away for quite a while, and the last time he saw Tommy DeSimone, the latter was a young man, shining shoes and working his way up from the bottom.

But DeSimone wasn’t a rookie anymore. He had made a name for himself — and he was prone to violence.

During Billy Batts’ welcome-home party in May 1970, it’s likely that he didn’t mean to insult DeSimone when he asked him “if he still shined shoes,” as Henry Hill put it, but his intention didn’t matter. DeSimone was livid, and he told Hill and Jimmy Burke, “I’m gonna kill that f***.”

Two weeks later, on June 11, DeSimone followed through on that promise.

At The Suite, Hill wrote that Burke held Billy Batts down while DeSimone shouted “Shine these f***ing shoes!” before proceeding to beat Batts in the head with his gun.

Tommy DeSimone

Public DomainThe inspiration for the character famously portrayed by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Lucchese family mobster Tommy DeSimone was just as quick to violence as his onscreen counterpart.

The other wiseguys present at the scene panicked, knowing that the retribution for William Bentvena’s murder would be ferocious, and helped stuff the body into Hill’s car before rushing off to bury it.

Unfortunately for them, Billy Batts was not actually dead, and when they opened the trunk he “had to be killed again,” this time with a shovel and tire iron, instead of a kitchen knife and a gun, as portrayed in the notorious scene from Goodfellas.

As Hill later put it, “It was f*cking sickening… They didn’t actually shoot him. Tommy just stabbed him 30 or 40 f*cking times. F*cking horrible.”

Former JFK airport employee Kerry Whalen, who was working the night of the Lufthansa heist, wrote his own account in the 2015 book Inside the Lufthansa HEI$T: The FBI Lied that shed some new light on William Bentvena’s death.

Whalen used the Freedom of Information Act in 2001 to obtain FBI documents relating to the heist. He received about 1300 pages, although much of the vital information (including names of agents) were redacted.

One of the FBI documents, dated August 8, 1980, recounts the murder of “William Bentvena AKA Billy Batts” and confirms what Hill had described: Batts and DeSimone were out at Robert’s Lounge, a bar owned by Burke, when Batts sneeringly asked DeSimone to “shine his shoes,” a comment that caused DeSimone to go berserk.

Jimmy Burke

Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesAs dramatized in Goodfellas, Jimmy Burke helped Tommy DeSimone kill Billy Batts in 1970.

Two weeks later, DeSimone and Burke encountered Batts at The Suite in Queens. The insult clearly had not been forgotten, as they then proceeded with the “vicious beating of Bentvena.”

To be sure, the death of the real Billy Batts was much worse than the movie. The true story behind what happened in Goodfellas was grislier than any film could have ever shown.

The Fate Of Billy Batts’ Murderers And The Full Story That Goodfellas Didn’t Tell

DeSimone did not escape reprisal for William Bentvena’s murder, although the true details of his own gruesome end did not emerge until nearly 30 years later.

According to the 2015 book Hill published with journalist Daniel Simon entitled The Lufthansa Heist: Behind the Six-Million-Dollar Cash Haul That Shook the World, Tommy DeSimone was done in by three bullets from the gun of Billy Batts’ old friend, John Gotti.

Hill claimed he withheld the details of the murder (which he had learned from a fellow mobster-turned-informant) from Pileggi during the writing of Wiseguy for fear of reprisal from those implicated.

Henry Hill

Wikimedia CommonsHenry Hill later revealed how Tommy DeSimone and Jimmy Burke killed Billy Batts, and exactly how gruesome it was.

As Hill tells it, the Gambino family had been stewing over DeSimone’s murders of Billy Batts and another one of their men, Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe. Things finally came to a head when Gotti heard DeSimone was about to become a “made man” himself — and therefore untouchable — and asked to meet with the Lucchese family capo, Paul Vario.

Vario, as it turned out, had his own reasons for wanting DeSimone out of the way.

Not only had the volatile gangster put the Lufthansa heist, which Vario’s gang orchestrated, in jeopardy when he lifted his ski mask, but he had also attempted to rape Hill’s wife (whom Vario happened to be having an affair with) while her husband was in jail.

John Gotti reportedly told Vario that for him, DeSimone being made after having murdered his friend was “as bad as putting a cactus up my ass. I wanna whack the bastard, and I want you to give me the green light.”

Vario gave his assent, Gotti pulled the trigger, and DeSimone never emerged from the Italian restaurant he stepped into one January night in 1979.

In the end, the man who killed Billy Batts met his own violent end, a fitting conclusion to one of the Mafia’s most infamous blood-soaked tales.

After learning about William Bentvena, a.k.a. Billy Batts, and his gruesome murder, check out Richard Kuklinski, the most prolific Mafia hitman of all time. Then, read about Henry Hill’s wife, Karen Friedman Hill.

Gina Dimuro
A graduate of New York University, Gina Dimuro is a New York-based writer and translator.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Dimuro, Gina. "The Real Story Of Billy Batts That ‘Goodfellas’ Didn’t Tell.", April 13, 2024, Accessed May 21, 2024.