jimmy conway parole 2004He was born James Conway in Bronx, New York as the illegitimate son to Jane Conway, a prostitute who was an immigrant of Anglo-Irish lineage from Dublin, Ireland. The father of James has never been identified. At age two he was placed in a foster home by his mother, where he spent most of his early years in a Roman Catholic orphanage run by nuns, never to see his birth parents again. He was shuttled around various homes and orphanages, where he suffered physical abuse and sexual abuse at the hands of various foster fathers and foster brothers. When he was 13 years old, Burke's foster father died in a car crash—he lost control of the car when he turned around to hit Burke, who was riding in the back seat. The deceased man's widow, who was in the car as well but survived, blamed Burke for the accident and gave him regular beatings until he was taken back into care.
He was finally adopted by the "Burke" family and he took the family name of Burke during this time. Jimmy lived with them in a large wooden boarding house located on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Ocean Promenade in Rockaway, Queens. His time spent there during the beginning of his adolescence was a time of peace and calm. He remained close to the Burke family visiting his adoptive mother and father each Mother's Day, Christmas and on his adoptive parent's birthdays. On a monthly basis he would send them several thousand dollars in an unmarked envelope as appreciation for their attempt at raising him. It is rumored that he buried a portion of the loot from the 1978 Lufthansa heist which he orchestrated and helped carry out, on the site of his childhood foster home. Except for a quarter of the estimated millions taken in the heist the rest of the gold, silver and currency has never been recovered.
As he approached his teens, Burke began to get in trouble with the law and spent considerable time in jail. In 1949, aged eighteen, he was sentenced to five years in prison for forgery. He passed counterfeit checks for Dominick Cersani. Burke did not act as an informant for the authorities and that helped him gain favor amongst his Mafia contemporaries. Behind bars, he mixed with a number of Mafia members and made many contacts. Being of Irish descent, Burke could not become a full-fledged member of the Mafia, as only Italians were accepted into their ranks. However, they were happy to have associates of any ethnic background so long as they made money and did not cooperate with the authorities. Italian-American mobsters dubbed him "the Irish guinea."
Burke was an immense presence: burly, tall, and with brick-layer arms as result of earlier work as a bricklayer for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, along with a temper to match. His job as a union bricklayer during the New York City construction boom was short lived and he gave it up to pursue a life of crime. He was known to be very polite and charming, but was a stone-cold killer. Said Henry Hill, "He was a big guy and knew how to handle himself. He looked like a fighter. He had a broken nose and he had a lot of hands. If there was just the littlest amount of trouble, he'd be all over you in a second. He'd grab a guy's tie and slam his chin into the table before the guy knew he was in a war.... Jimmy had a reputation for being wild. He'd whack you."
 "Jimmy the Gent"
Prior to that, It is rumoured that Burke committed a number of murders for the Mafia during the 1950s in addition to many other crimes such as importing cheap untaxed cigarettes and buying even cheaper liquor. He married in 1962 and fathered two daughters, one of whom was Catherine Burke and two sons: Frank James Burke and Jesse James Burke, (named after the famous outlaw brothers of the Old West). Jesse James suffered from a stutter speech impediment and was widely ignored by Jimmy, and left to play in their home's basement filled with stolen toys. Burke is rumored to have murdered and dismembered an ex-boyfriend of his bride because he was being a nuisance. The police found his body cut up in pieces all over the inside of his car.
Burke was a mentor of Thomas DeSimone, Henry Hill and Angelo Sepe, who were all young men in the 1960s. They carried out jobs for Burke, such as selling stolen merchandise. They eventually became part of Jimmy's crew and worked out of South Ozone Park, Queens and East New York, Brooklyn. The pair helped Burke with the hijacking of delivery trucks. According to Hill, Burke would usually give $50 to the drivers of the trucks they stole, as if he were tipping them for the inconvenience, which led to his nickname "Jimmy the Gent".
Corrupt law enforcement officers, bribed by Burke, would tell him about any potential witnesses or informants. As many as 12 or 13 bodies a year would be found tied up, strangled, and shot in the trunks of stolen vehicles abandoned in the parking lots surrounding JFK Airport. Said Henry Hill about Burke: "Jimmy could plant you just as fast as shake your hand. It didn't matter to him. At dinner he could be the nicest guy in the world, but then he could blow you away for dessert."
He owned a bar in South Ozone Park, Queens called Robert's Lounge. It was a favorite hangout of Burke and his crew, and many other mobsters, bookmakers, loan sharks, and other assorted criminals. Burke ran a loan shark and bookmaking operation that was based at the bar, and high stakes poker games in the basement, of which he would receive a cut. Burke also owned a dress factory, also in South Ozone Park, Queens, called Moo Moo Vedda's, which kept him awash in laundered money. Though Burke was not a made member of the mafia, he nonetheless had the respect of a capo in mob circles.
In 1972, Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill were arrested for beating up a man named Gaspar Ciaccio in Tampa, Florida who owed Casey Rosado, a Union boss friend of theirs, a large gambling debt. They were charged with extortion, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
Burke was paroled after six years, then went straight back to crime, as did Hill, who got out around the same time. Hill shortly began trafficking in drugs; Burke was soon involved in this new enterprise, even though the Lucchese crime family — with whom they were associated — did not authorize any of its members to deal in drugs. This Lucchese ban was made because the prison sentences imposed on anyone convicted of drug trafficking were so lengthy that the accused would often become informants in exchange for a lighter sentence. This is exactly what Henry Hill would eventually do.
From a very young age, his mid teens, Burke was a willing hitman for the mafia and would kill anyone who stood in his way. His victims included the children, spouses, and other relatives of his enemies. The FBI believes he was involved in at least 50 murders during his career.
He notably slew nine people following the Lufthansa Heist. After Jimmy Breslin had written a disparaging and accusative article on Paul Vario, Burke strangled the journalist almost to death in front of a bar full of witnesses. He ordered the murder of his best friend, Dominick "Remo" Cersani, who became an informant and helped the New York City Police Department (NYPD) arrest Burke on a truck hijacking charge. Burke had Remo's body buried next to the bocce court behind Robert's Lounge. It was said that whenever Burke played bocce there with friends, he would jokingly say "Hey Remo, how're you doing?"
Burke frequently liked to lock his victims, notably the young children of his victims, in refrigerators. When Burke had a problem collecting money he was owed, and the unfortunate debtor had children, he would pick the child up in his huge arm, open the refrigerator with the other, and put the child inside and would say "if you don't do whatcha supposed to, I'm gonna lock your kid inside the fuckin' refrigerator" (1).
Much later, Burke allegedly attempted to kidnap and possibly hold to ransom, or kill Henry Hill's wife, Karen, and their two children when he suspected Henry of being an informant.