Parnell Edwards

Parnell Steven "Stacks" Edwards (January 15, 1947 South Bronx – December 18, 1978 Morningside Heights, Manhattan) was an African-American petty thief and supporter of the Black Panther Party who became associated with the infamous Jimmy Burke in 1967. Steven Edwards was portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the film "Goodfellas".


Steven Edwards was born in The South Bronx, to parents from North Carolina and North Virginia. He was also a former bodyguard for Muhammad Ali. He met Tommy DeSimone as a struggling blues-rock musician, singer and songwriter on Queens Boulevard sometime during 1967 while earning money as a street performer. At the time DeSimone was selling stolen Rolex watches. Thomas began to think of Parnell as a "brother" and the two became close friends. It was around this time that Thomas adopted the same integrationist stance of Martin Luther King, that was adopted by Colombo crime family mobster Joe Gallo. This greatly angered the senior mobsters like Paul Vario and Anthony Corallo. At this point of time in la Cosa Nostra, one had to be of pure Italian pedigree to be accepted. This would later be changed on the account of Joe Gallo to accept members of other ethnic backgrounds, although the mob associate's father had to be Italian. The racial segregation towards African-Americans never ended. The two became involved in credit card fraud and hijacking together with Henry Hill. Parnell was a South Bronx-born black man who was the offspring of one light skinned parent and one black parent. He was said to have been chubby 5'8" 285-pounds and became muscular from his visits to prison. He later moved to East Harlem after becoming an associate of the Vario Crew. Parnell was a heavy drug-user, smoking marijuana and in the 1970s started injecting heroin. As a child growing up he was a large fan of jazz, jump blues and gospel). Growing up his interest in music increased and he learned how to play the acoustic guitar. He was introduced into the life of crime by Tommy DeSimone. As Edwards got older his tastes turned to Fats Domino, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Frankie Ford, Irma Thomas, The Neville Brothers and Dr. John. When rhythm and blues became outdated he listened to Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and James Brown and started performing blues-rock. Parnell worked the night-club circuit and was hired on occasion by Jimmy Burke for performances at Robert's Lounge from 1967 to 1978, and by Henry Hill at his night club The Suite as a regular performer from 1967 to 1972 until Hill was sent to prison. He formed a band call Grand Central Station in the early 1970s. Edwards was part of the New York City underworld's caste system, one of the highly expendable "suckers" - non-la Cosa Nostra employees who were routinely exploited by Jimmy Burke and Paul Vario. He was a quasi-wiseguy who got the "dirty work" and was packed off to jail with a false camaraderie and $300-a-month if he was lucky. It is suspected he was a small-time drug courier for Leroy "Nikki" Barnes. His Italian counterparts referred to him as a "Yam", a shortened Italian word for eggplant, used derogatorially by Mafioso toward African-Americans.

An under-the-limit master

Parnell earned a reputation with the Vario Crew as being an "under the limit" master in credit card fraud. He would go to a shopping center with a panel truck and purchase merchandise from the stores until he ran out of room on the truck. He would make $45 purchases on a card with a $50-expenditure limit every afternoon. His rampant shopping sprees would consist of blenders, transistor radios, cigarettes, razor blades and within two hours of steady shopping, call it quits for the day. He had a girl from South Ozone Park, Queens who worked for MasterCharge in delivering out the cards. She would bring Parnell official office memos keeping him informed about security checkups and credit checks. Among his contacts Parnell also had a female associate who worked at a local bank branch. The bank clerk would give him duplicates of the cards and inform him of the amount of credit that was attached. Before a card was put in an envelope for delivery to the cardholder, Parnell would already have a duplicate. If a certain card had a $500 credit line he would go into stores where he and members of the Vario Crew were known, or visit places like The Suite, The Bamboo Lounge and Robert's Lounge where he would punch out credit card slips. The associates like Jerome Asaro he knew in the stores would call the bank and get authorization for whatever merchandise he wanted. The cardholder waiting for his card would never receive it and Parnell usually had enough time to make purchases on the certain card for about a month before it would be reported stolen.

Involvement in Black nationalism and the Black Panthers

Sometime after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, Parnell, like many other African-Americans became involved in the civil rights movement, supporting the Black Panther Party. It was at this time that the Black Panthers were becoming more radical. He agreed with Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton's rejection of the integrationist stance of Martin Luther King, and also agreed with their rejection of what they called the "power struggle". At the time of Edward's followership, Bobby Seale was attempting to reform the Black Panthers to an institution for worldwide social justice, regardless of the nationality or ethnicity of the oppressed people. The Black Panthers supporters eventually rejected cultural nationalists as black racists. Parnell's involvement in the Counterculture movement of the 1960s angered Jimmy Burke and fellow mobsters, causing him to be a further outcast among the fellow robbers. Parnell was a firm radical believer in the Black Panther Party and he adopted the party's radical views on white people. He complained about suffering from racism at the hands of the Italian mobsters. His black radical nationalist views were displayed to the fellow hijackers while he was attending a Christmas Day celebration at Robert's Lounge in South Ozone Park, Queens that was being thrown by Burke. Edwards attended the party even after it was known that the authorities had found the panel truck he was supposed to dispose of. That truck included fingerprints on a wallet stolen from one of the Lufthansa employees who was attacked during the robbery. Henry Hill later recalled the attendance of Edwards at the party in "Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family" with the following passage:

:"We were all having a good time when "Stacks" sees my amount of money on me, and started to do his "black dude" number, "How come I'm fucking broke and all you whities got the money?" And then Edwards would persist in making racial jokes about the "May-fia guys who got all those millions from the airport".

Hill recalled later in Nicholas Pileggi's "Wiseguy: My Life In A Mafia Family" that, "I knew that Stacks had signed his death warrant that day."

Parnell's Black nationalism, and his bungling of the Lufthansa heist pushed Burke and the fellow gangsters to the limit, and Parnell was murdered a short time afterward.

Robert's Lounge

Stacks' ambition was to be a successful blues singer and as such he performed at Jimmy Burke's bar, Robert's Lounge in South Ozone Park, Queens on weekends. His booking agent was Dante Barzotini, who also worked with Frank Sinatra Jr.. Parnell met Dante Barzotini through Tommy DeSimone in 1967. He acted as a chauffeur for Jimmy Burke and Paul Vario and was usually paid in stolen goods. He would take the stolen goods and sell them to independent stores in the neighborhoods of Harlem, Queens and Jackson Heights or at flea markets in the area.

Involvement in Lufthansa heist

In 1978 Henry Hill, working from a tip-off from bookmaker Martin Krugman, told Jimmy Burke of vast sums of cash being held overnight in a safe at the Lufthansa terminal at JFK airport in New York. Burke analysed the possibilities and drew the conclusion that about six men, according to airport insider Lou Werner, and two panel trucks would be needed to successfully steal the cash. The money was in the millions and was in totally untraceable money, i.e., once they had the money they could, within limits, spend it without question. This was the first stage of the Lufthansa heist. Burke assembled a crew, his son Frank James Burke, Joe Manri, Robert McMahon, Louis Cafora, Tommy DeSimone, Paolo LiCastri, and Angelo Sepe, including Parnell Edwards. During the robbery, Parnell Edwards was the individual who slugged Lufthansa employee Kerry Whalen. This is confirmed by police having found his wallet in the stolen panel truck which Edwards was to drive away. Edwards' job was to take the panel truck used in the heist and drive it to a junkyard in New Jersey, where mafia contacts would compact it and the evidence would be destroyed. The heist worked out better than Burke could have imagined, but Parnell had neglected his duty and had used cocaine and marijuana, visited his girlfriend Shelly and fell asleep at her house. Unfortunately for Parnell the police had found the panel truck, parked in a no parking zone, with a muddy boot print (matching a pair of shoes owned by Parnell) and fingerprints had been taken from the wheel.


Thomas DeSimone was at first torn apart when mobster Joseph DiPalermo ordered him to kill Edwards, a close friend of DeSimone's. Although DeSimone had killed 8 or 9 people up to that point in his life he was still, he felt, no closer to being a made man and as such wasn't pleased about killing Edwards, but DiPalermo sneakily told him that he could be 'made' by this murder.

Edwards had gone into hiding in an South Ozone Park, Queens tenement and had been sitting at his kitchen table eating his breakfast one morning when Tommy DeSimone and Angelo Sepe visited him. Edwards allowed DeSimone and Sepe to enter. DeSimone barged in as Edwards was eating breakfast and fired several shots into Edwards' head and back as he ate a piece of chicken using a .32 silencer-equipped pistol, killing him. His girlfriend Shelly found him after coming home from shopping. The next day DeSimone called Stack's mother and said "I'm so sorry mom about what happened to Stacks". She replied "what happened?" then he hung up. She didn't find out until Tues when Stack's Sister Essie called and told her. Shelly had called Essie the night before and told her.

As a gesture of good will Henry Hill spent the week before Christmas 1978 with the distraught family of Edwards at his wake; curiously DeSimone, supposedly a loyal friend, never attended. He told Henry to inform them that he was not allowed to leave the halfway house where he was residing. This is incorrect. Tommy and his mother went to visit Stack's mother at her home. Stack's father was in New Mexico visiting Essie and her son Robert. This correction and the corrections to Stack's birth home done by his nephew, Robert.

In popular culture

*In the 1990 film "GoodFellas" Parnell Edwards was played by actor Samuel L. Jackson
*In the 2001 film for TV "The Big Heist", he was portrayed by Bo Rucker.


*"Wiseguy" written by Nicholas Pileggi and Henry Hill
*"Gangsters and GoodFellas" Henry Hill as told by Gus Russo

External links

* [ All about the Lufthansa Heist] by Allan May

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