Real Life Mafia Story Behind “Dog Day Afternoon” Movie

Phillip Crawford Jr.
5 min readJul 13, 2020

On August 22, 1972 John Wojtowicz and his 18-year-old partner-in-crime Sal Naturale — a “slender, fair-haired youth” with a long history of juvenile delinqency and barbituate abuse — robbed a Brooklyn branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank which became the basis for Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino as Wojtowicz and John Cazale as Naturale.

The principal motivation for the robbery was so Wojtowicz could afford the gender reassignment surgery for his transgender wife Liz Eden whom he had married a year earlier after meeting at the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. However, Wojtowicz apparently also was in debt to Mafia loansharks which included the money he borrowed to pay for the wedding according to Eden.

According to FBI documents Wojtowicz and Naturale had met a month prior to the robbery at the gay bar Danny’s at 140 Seventh Avenue South, and Naturale moved into Wojtowicz’s apartment at 250 West 10th Street which then was an all-male rooming house known as Boystown. At the time Naturale was employed as a stock clerk and errand boy at the Penny Candy Store at 136 Seventh Avenue South.

Often lost in the story behind the bank robbery was the persistent rumor that the Mafia may have had a role. Wojtowicz was a close associate of Mike Umbers who fronted several gay bars, callboy rings and smut operations for the Gambino and Genovese crime families. At the time of Wojtowicz’s arrest he was in the possession of a handwritten list of several gay bars, bathhouses and restaurants with their telephone numbers and the names — albeit redacted in the released FBI documents — of the individuals associated with those enterprises. The list reads like a pocket guide to the gay apple for 1972, and several of the identified establishments long had been suspected of Genovese and Gambino ties.

In his review of Dog Day Afternoon critic Eric Holm laments how “left out of the film entirely is any mention of Wojtowicz’s reported Mafia connections”:

Wojtowicz had decidedly fallen out of favor with the Gay Activist’s Alliance in Summer 1971 over his association with Mike Umbers, the Mafioso manager of Christopher’s End (a gay bar) and

Phillip Crawford Jr.

The Mafia and the Gays, Railroaded: The Homophobic Prosecution of Brandon Woodruff for His Parents’ Murders, Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men & Jersey Queens.