One NYC Bank Robbery Among Hundreds in 1970s Stands Out



In many ways, Aug. 22, 1971, was like any other day in New York City: There was a bank robbery in progress. As Daniel Edward Rosen writes in City Journal, bank heists were a daily occurrence in Gotham at the time, with 469 occurring in 1970-71. But the one at the Chase Manhattan in Gravesend, Brooklyn, still stands out. It’s not because it became a hostage situation or because someone was killed, though those elements certainly add spice to the story. The Gravesend robbery gained legendary status because of ringleader John Wojtowicz, “a Goldwater Republican” who returned from Vietnam “with his brain scrambled, and somehow in the Army discovered he liked having gay sex.”

Wojtowicz’s lover, Ernest Aron, was a tall, slender cross-dresser who wanted a sex change operation and declared, “I want to have a sex change, or I want to die.” That’s why Wojtowicz needed money, as a Daily News reporter learned early on during the robbery. That’s also why the event sparked public fascination, and agent Jim Murphy of the FBI’s Bank Robbery Squad had to wade through thousands of spectators when he arrived on scene. Eventually, the FBI agreed to give Wojtowicz and his partner-in-crime, Sal Naturale, a ride to the airport. As anyone who saw the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon knows, it was a trap, and Murphy ultimately shot Naturale dead. Wojtowicz surrendered, served five years, and was later reunited with his love. Murphy, now in his 90s, was labeled a villain and murderer by many, but it’s hard to see how that day could have ended without someone getting shot. Read more here. (Read more Dog Day Afternoon stories.)

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