On the 30th anniversary of the release of Goodfellas (1990), it’s a great time to match the historical record with the events depicted in the classic Martin Scorsese film. And for that you have to turn to Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, the 1986 Nicholas Pileggi book that tells the story of Henry Hill.
Hill, played by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, told his story to Pileggi after opting to join the Witness Protection Program. In the course of their conversations, Hill revealed how his crew pulled off the Lufthansa heist and other famous jobs as New York mobsters.
The story only starts there, of course. As Scorsese laid out in his film, the dark side to mafia life couldn’t get any darker. In between the scores and the comfortable prison stays, Hill witnessed one senseless murder after another.
That included the killing of Spider (portrayed by Michael Imperioli), a kid who used to hang around Hill’s crew while they drank and gambled. As Hill told it, Spider’s story went almost exactly the way Scorsese put it on film.
Spider was a real kid who was shot in the foot as depicted in ‘Goodfellas’
In Goodfellas, Spider is a gopher-type who brings drinks to gamblers at a quiet bar/club. When we first see him, Spider goes about his business, slowly, while the fast-talking Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) heckles him and orders him to dance while Tommy shoots at Spider’s feet.
If that sounds like a sick game, it is. It’s also exactly what happened. One night, Tommy (real last name: DeSimone) shot local kid Spider in the foot after he wouldn’t dance around. Vincent Ansaro, who worked for the Bonanno crime family, took Spider to get his foot bandaged. (Ansaro later corroborated this point.)
As Hill told it in Wiseguy, his crew let Spider sleep for the following weeks at Robert’s, a Queens bar and gambling joint owned by Jimmy Conway (played in Goodfellas by Robert De Niro). And that’s when Tommy (Pesci) had his second encounter with Spider.
In Hill’s recollection, Spider came in late one night (around 3 a.m.) when the crew was “smashed out of our minds.” Again, Tommy insisted on Spider dancing. But Spider still wouldn’t do it. And he even talked back to Tommy.
Tommy DeSimone killed Spider and buried him in the basement of a Queens club
In Wisguy, Hill sets the scene in the wee small hours in Robert’s basement. After Tommy orders the bandaged-up Spider to dance again, the kid crosses a line. “For some reason Spider tells Tommy to go f*ck himself,” Pileggi quoted Hill saying.
And, as in the film, Hill and Conway start egging on Tommy. “‘You take that sh*t from this punk?’” Hill recalled Conway saying to Tommy. “Then, before anyone has any idea what he’s going to do, [Tommy] puts three shots into Spider’s chest.”
For Hill, it was the moment he realized his associate Tommy was “a total psychopath.” As for the business of disposing of Spider’s body, that took place almost immediately. Conway, furious with Tommy, told his hothead friend told him he’d be digging the hole this time.
“Conway made Tommy dig the hole right there in the cellar,” Hill said in Wiseguy. “All the while, Tommy was grousing and pissed off that he had to dig the hole.” In short, Spider lived and died almost exactly as seen in Goodfellas. However, police have never discovered and identified Spider’s remains.
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