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John Stanley Joseph Wojtowicz
(March 9, 1945 - January 2, 2006) USA

John Wojtowicz

Bank robber

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John was the son of a Polish father and an Italian-American mother. He married Carmen Bifulco in 1967. They had two children and separated in 1969. In 1971, Wojtowicz met Elizabeth Eden at the Feast of San Gennaro in New York City. The two had a public wedding ceremony that year.

On August 22, 1972, Wojtowicz, along with Salvatore Naturale and Robert Westenberg, attempted to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan bank at 450 Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. The Los Angeles Times reported the heist was meant to pay for Eden's sex reassignment surgery. However, Arthur Bell, a respected Village Voice columnist and investigative journalist who knew John Wojtowicz (and was tangentially involved in the negotiations), reported that paying for Eden's sex change was only peripheral to the real motive. The attempted heist was, according to him, a well-planned Mafia operation that went horribly wrong.

Wojtowicz and Naturale held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for 14 hours. Westenberg fled the scene before the robbery got underway, when he saw a police car on the street. John Wojtowicz, a former bank teller, had some knowledge of bank operations. Wojtowicz was arrested, but Naturale was killed by the FBI during the final moments of the incident.

According to John, he was offered a deal for pleading guilty, which the court did not honor, and on April 23, 1973, he was sentenced to 20 years in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, of which he served five. He made $7,500, equivalent to approximately $40,000 today, by selling the movie rights to his story. He also received 1% of the movie's net profit. Ultimately, this helped finance Eden's sex reassignment surgery.

Wojtowicz was released from prison on April 10, 1978 but was rearrested and did two more stretches in prison for parole violations, in 1984 and 1986-87. He was released in April 1987, and, he said, Eden visited him in New York about once a month. Eden, who married someone and then divorced, died of AIDS-related pneumonia at Genesee Hospital, in Rochester, New York, on September 29, 1987. John attended her funeral and delivered a eulogy.

Wojtowicz's story was used as the basis for the film Dog Day Afternoon (released in 1975), starring Al Pacino as Wojtowicz (called "Sonny Wortzik" in the film) and John Cazale, one of Pacino's co-stars in The Godfather , as Naturale. Elizabeth Eden, known as "Leon" in the film, was portrayed by actor Chris Sarandon.

In 1975, John wrote a letter to The New York Times out of concern that people would believe the movie version of the events, which he said was only 30% accurate. John's main objection was the inaccurate portrayal of his wife Carmen Bifulco as a plain, overweight woman whose behavior led to his relationship with Eden, when in fact he had left Carmen two years before he met Eden.

Wojtowicz praised Pacino and Sarandon's characterizations of himself and Elizabeth Eden as accurate. In a 2006 interview, the movie's screenwriter, Frank Pierson, said that he tried to visit Wojtowicz in prison many times to get more details about his story when he wrote the screenplay, but Wojtowicz refused to see him because he felt he was not paid enough money for the rights to his story.

In 2001, The New York Times reported that John Wojtowicz was living on welfare in Brooklyn. He died of cancer in his mother's home, aged 60.

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Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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