On 22 August 1972, John Wojtowicz and an accomplice attempted to rob a Brooklyn branch of the Chase Manhattan bank. Wojtowicz was motivated to rob the bank because he wanted to pay for his partner’s gender reassignment surgery.
As a young man, Wojtowicz was a Barry Goldwater Republic. He lived with his doting mother for decades and was a loving sibling to his brother with special needs. He worked as a bank teller at Chase Manhattan and married a co-worker named Carmen Bifulco. He fought in Vietnam and afterwards, had two children with his wife. However, it was during his stint in the army that Wojtowicz claimed he realised he was sexually attracted to men. During the relationship, Bifulco said that Wojtowicz was demanding and bossy and eventually the couple divorced.
By his own admission, Wojtowicz was a sex addict and polygamist. He said that when he joined the Gay Activists Alliance, “I met people, I liked the people and we had sex.”1 Nevertheless, Wojtowicz was ahead of his time and was openly gay at a time when America had little tolerance for a burgeoning gay liberation movement. In fact, he played a key role in the Gay Activists Alliance where he gave himself the nickname Little John Basso “because my prick was little.”2 It was here that he met Liz Eden, who was born as Ernest Aron.
Then in December of 1971, Wojtowicz enlisted a gay priest to marry him and Eden. It was “the first pubic drag wedding in the history of the United States,” said Wojtowicz.3 “Lizzie was his number one,” said John Miller, an ex-lover of Wojtowicz. “John was a gay polygamist, but it was all about Lizzie. He loved her and was obsessed. The rest of us were just a distraction.” In August of 1972, Eden was sectioned to the Bellevue Hospital after attempting to commit suicide with a drug overdose. Her depression was brought on by her desire for gender reassignment surgery; she was a woman trapped in the wrong body. “We had our ups and downs as most couples do and I tried my best to get him the money he needed for his sex change he so badly needed,” said Wojtowicz. But gender reassignment surgery is expensive and Wojtowicz didn’t have that kind of money, so he came up with a solution.
At around 2:50PM on the 22nd of August, 1972, Wojtowicz and an accomplice, Salvatore Naturale, walked into a Chase Manhattan bank on Avenue P and E. Third Street with a rifle. What the two men had anticipated would be a five minute stickup turned into a 14-hour ordeal when FBI surrounded the bank as they attempted to leave. The two men retreated back into the bank and held seven bank employees hostage; the entire ordeal was televised live. When police rushed to the scene, Wojtowicz attempted to bargain with them. “Well I want them to deliver my wife here from Bellevue. His name is Ernest Aron. It’s a guy. I’m gay,” he told the negotiator.4 He demanded a private jet so that he could fly his lover to Denmark for her gender reassignment surgery. He ordered pizza for the hostages. He threw cash out the window and gave bizarre interviews and allowed the hostages to call home to let their family know they were okay.
At around 2:30AM, FBI agents had a two-engine Hansa jet brought to the airport. An hour later, they had a limousine pull up outside the bank like Wojtowicz had demanded. Wojtowicz then came out of the building with a rifle slung over his shoulder and checked to make sure nobody was hiding in the limousine to ambush them. Satisfied, he climbed into the vehicle with Naturale and the seven hostage as well as the $29,000 loot they had stolen from the bank. An FBI agent drove them to the airport, arriving at around 4:45AM. When the vehicle reached the airplane, the FBI driver turned around and shot Naturale in the chest, killing him almost instantly.
Wojtowicz was apprehended unharmed and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison but not before addressing the judge: “I said don’t you love your wife? He goes, yeah. I said well, imagine your wife is dying of cancer, and you needed $10,000, and you couldn’t get it. You tried everything to get it. You tried to borrow it, tried to make deals – nothing worked out. Wouldn’t you do something illegal to get the 10,000 to save your wife? He said no. I said then you don’t fucking love your wife because if you loved your wife you would do anything for her to save her. You don’t even know what the fuck love is all about. And then he sentenced me.”
In 1975 – while Wojtowicz was still behind bars – a movie about the event titled “Dog Day Afternoon” was released with Al Pacino as the lead. It was a hit and billed as one of the best movies of 1975. After serving seven years, Wojtowicz was released. He nicknamed himself “The Dog” and gave the money he had been paid for the rights to his story as well as 1% of the film’s earnings to Eden and she was finally able to have the gender reassignment surgery she had wanted for years. Eventually Eden broke up with Wojtowicz and died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987. Wojtowicz attended the funeral and gave an eulogy, declaring: “I loved him. I didn’t want him to get his sex change, but I wanted him to be happy…”
John Wojtowicz died of cancer on the 2nd of January, 2006, just short of his 61st birthday.
- The Orange County Register, 7 August, 2018 – “A Disturbing Look at the Antihero Who Inspired ‘Dog Day Afternoon’”
- The Independent, 18 February, 2015 – “Sex Addict Heist”
- The Lompoc Record, 14 March, 1977 – “‘Dog Gay’ Has His Say From FCI Prison Cell”
- All Things Considered, 8 August, 2014 – “The Shaggy Story of a Real-Life Dog”