Parnell Steven "Stacks" Edwards (January 15, 1947 South Bronx – December 18, 1978 Morningside Heights, Manhattan) was an African-American supporter of the Black Panther Party who became associated with the infamous Jimmy Burke and the Vario crew in 1967. Edwards was portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the film Goodfellas.
Edwards was born in the South Bronx, to parents from North Carolina and Northern Virginia. He was said to have been chubby at 5'8", 285 pounds, but became muscular from his visits to prison. He was a bodyguard for Muhammad Ali. He met mobster Tommy DeSimone as a struggling blues-rock musician, singer and songwriter on Queens Boulevard sometime during 1967, earning money as a street performer. At the time DeSimone was selling stolen Rolex watches. DeSimone began to think of Edwards as a "brother" and the two became close friends. Around this time, DeSimone adopted the same integrationist stance later adopted by Colombo crime family mobster Joe Gallo and Gallo associates, believing that Italian organized crime should work with black organized crime to increase power and profits.
Edwards and DeSimone became involved in credit card fraud and carjacking with Henry Hill. Edwards later moved to East Harlem after becoming an associate of the Vario Crew. Edwards was a heavy drug user, smoking marijuana before moving on to heroin.
As a child growing up he was a fan of jazz, jump blues and gospel. Growing up, his interest in music increased and he learned to play the acoustic guitar. 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 When rhythm and blues became outdated he listened to Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and James Brown and started performing blues-rock. Edwards worked the nightclub circuit and was hired on occasion by Burke for performances at Robert's Lounge from 1967 to 1978, and by Hill at his night club The Suite as a regular performer from 1967 to 1972.
When interviewed, Al Joreid said: I knew Stacks in the late '60s from South Ozone Park (Queens, NY). He invited me to dinner at his mom's house on more than one occasion. I always thought it was to show his mom that not all his friends were mobsters and drug addicts.
Edwards formed a band called Grand Central Station in the early 1970s. He relied increasingly on organized crime rackets as a means of making money following his introduction into the Vario Crew by DeSimone.
Edwards earned a reputation within 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. He had a girl from South Ozone Park, Queens who worked for MasterCharge, delivering cards. She would bring Edwards official office memos keeping him informed about security checkups and credit checks. Among his contacts Edwards included a female associate who worked at a local bank. She 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, Edwards would have a duplicate. If a 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 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 Edwards usually had enough time to make purchases on the certain card for about a month before it would be reported stolen.
In 1978 Hill, working from a tipoff from bookmaker Martin Krugman, told Burke of vast sums of cash being held overnight in a safe at the Lufthansa terminal at JFK airport in New York. Burke analyzed the possibilities and concluded that six men and two panel trucks would be needed to successfully steal the cash. This was the first stage of the heist.
Burke assembled a crew, his son Frank James Burke, Joe Manri, Robert McMahon, Louis Cafora, Tommy DeSimone, Paolo LiCastri, Angelo Sepe, and Edwards. During the robbery, Edwards slugged Lufthansa employee Kerry Whalen. His 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 Edwards neglected his duty and used cocaine and marijuana, visited his girlfriend Shelly, and fell asleep at her house. The police found the panel truck, parked in a no parking zone, with a muddy boot print matching a pair of shoes owned by Edwards.
Sometime after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, Edwards, like many other African-Americans, became involved in the civil rights movement, supporting the Black Panther Party. He agreed with Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton's rejection of the integrationist stance of Martin Luther King, and with their rejection of what they called the "power struggle."
Edwards's involvement in the Counterculture movement of the 1960s angered Burke and other mobsters, causing him to be a further outcast among the fellow robbers.
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. The party was being thrown by Burke following the apparently successful Lufthansa heist. 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. Hill later recalled the attendance of Edwards at the party in Wiseguy: Life In A Mafia Family:
Hill recalled later in Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy: My Life In A Mafia Family that he "knew that Stacks had signed his death warrant that day."
Edwards's ambition was to be a successful blues singer and as such he performed at Burke's bar, Robert's Lounge, in South Ozone Park, Queens. His booking agent was Dante Barzotini. Edwards met Barzotini through DeSimone in 1967. He acted as a chauffeur for Burke and Paul Vario and was usually paid in stolen goods. He would take the stolen goods and sell them to independent stores in Harlem and Jackson Heights or at flea markets in the area.
DeSimone was conflicted when mobster Joseph DiPalermo ordered him to kill Edwards, since Edwards was a close friend of DeSimone's. At Edwards' home that fateful night was Susan Conboy. When interviewed she said: "My sister and I were at his house the evening he was "taken-out". He gave us money to go to Lucky's Chinese for egg rolls. He knew they were coming or I don't think we would be here today." Although DeSimone had killed several people, he felt no closer to becoming a made man and as such wasn't pleased about killing his friend. However, DiPalermo told him that he could be 'made' if he carried out the murder.
Edwards went into hiding in a South Ozone Park, Queens tenement. While there one morning sitting at his kitchen table eating a piece of chicken at breakfast, DeSimone and Sepe visited him. After Edwards allowed DeSimone and Sepe to enter, DeSimone killed Edwards with a .32 silencer-equipped pistol.
His girlfriend Shelly found him after coming home from shopping. The next day a distraught DeSimone called Edwards's mother, with whom DeSimone was close, and said, "I'm so sorry, mom, about what happened to Stacks." She asked what happened, and DeSimone hung up. She didn't find out what happened until Edwards's sister Essie called and told her. Shelly had called Essie the night before and told her.
Hill spent the week before Christmas 1978 with Edwards's distraught family; DeSimone never attended.