Front cover, issue #6

What Have I Got to Lose

19720901-01On Wednesday, 23rd August, there were more recorded murders than ever before in one 24-hour period in one city. This total does not include the shooting of Salvatore Naturelle by an F.B.I. agent at Kennedy airport after he and John Wojtowic had held up a bank in Brooklyn and had attempted to arrange a getaway by jet, using seven hostages whom they had held for several hours as bargaining counters. The place was New York City.

In such a city, on such a day, it is perhaps surprising that both major London evening papers devoted their headlines to the story in most editions from noon onwards. They did so not only because the gunmen might have got away with eleven and a half thousand pounds, not only because they held seven hostages and said they would not be afraid to kill them, but because the gunmen were gay and had said so.

John has fought in Vietnam. He has been married. He had also been through a form of marriage ceremony with Ernest Aarons after leaving his wife. One of the conditions he imposed upon the police in attempting to arrange his getaway was that his gay wife should be brought to him from psychiatric hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Clearly John was a man under considerable mental strain himself, and this was probably one of the factors which led him to act upon the information from one of the bank’s employees in attempting to steal the $29000.

John and Salvatore had been on the point of leaving the bank with the money when the police arrived. They seized seven hostages and retreated inside the bank, from where John conducted negotiations with the police and interviews with the press. He said that they would not be afraid to shoot any of the hostages, since the Supreme Court had declared the death penalty a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ (thus banning it under the US constitution). “What have I got to lose? The Supreme Court did away with the chair . . . What have I got to lose? I am a homosexual. I told the cops to get my wife – he’s a male . . . I told them if they bring him here I will release half the hostages.” But Ernest refused to join John, saying that John “doesn’t love me any more”. Under the circumstances. John was clearly right. What did he have to lose?

John’s mother, like most mothers, believed that John was being led astray by Salvatore . . . “He’s not a mean kid he’s not the type that would hurt anybody.”

Eventually the police brought a limousine to the bank, driven by an FBI agent, to take the robbers and their loot and hostages to the airport, where a twin engined jet was waiting for them. They were escorted by a 21-car motorcade.

At the airport. Special Agent Richard Baker approached the limousine as it drew near the waiting plane. Engaging the occupants in conversation, he drew their attention away from the agent/driver, who turned and shot Salvatore through the chest, killing him. (Who needs the Supreme Court to exact a death penalty?) John then gave himself up, and the money and hostages were recovered intact.

The most amazing thing about the robbery, taking place as it did in a crime-ridden city was that it received such wide and urgent coverage in the London press . . .

(midday) EVENING STANDARD . . . GAY GANGSTERS HOLD 7 HOSTAGES

EVENING NEWS . . . GAY GUNMEN HOLD GIRLS HOSTAGE

(Late) EVENING STANDARD . . THE GAY GUNMEN GET AWAY WITH SEVEN HOSTAGES

EVENING NEWS . . . GAY GUNMEN FLEE BANK WITH GIRL HOSTAGES

(Late Extra) EVENING STANDARD . . . THE GAY GUNMEN AIRPORT BATTLE – HOSTAGES FREED

EVENING NEWS . . . GAY GUNMEN DRAMA ENDS IN DEATH

Did you notice? Our own, non-medical, non-derogatory term for ourselves used without obvious explanation or apology. It seems so petty a point to have arisen from such dramatic and painful occurrences, but nevertheless, so important. Is it also petty to point out that the press made no attempt to connect homosexuality with gun-toting and bank robbing – after all, we’ve been bracketed with criminals for a long time. Perhaps all the effort over the years does have an effect on people after all.

Such a pity, too that one daily paper should choose to belittle the whole thing the following morning by calling it a ‘farce’ and ‘exotic’. I do not share their sense of humour.

I feel sorry for John and Salvatore and Ernest. Perhaps I’m not supposed to.