Infamous for his key role in the Lufthansa cash and jewelry heist that occurred at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 1978, Burke had ties to both the Lucchese and Bonanno crime families of New York City and was directly or indirectly involved in dozens of murders.
A ward of the foster care system, he suffered a traumatic childhood that involved all manner of abuse. In his early adulthood years, he was responsible for the murder of his wife's former boyfriend.
Before being apprehended by police, Burke owned and operated a Queens bar called Robert's Lounge that was a popular gathering place for those involved in organized crime.
Born James Conway, he was the child of Irishwoman Jane Conway. He and his wife Mickey raised children named Frankie and Catherine Burke.
Burke was the inspiration for Robert De Niro 's "Jimmy The Gent Conway" character in the famous mafia-themed movie Goodfellas.