Dog Day Afternoon – The Sex Change Love Story
John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile were involved in the true story of a daring daytime bank robbery in Brooklyn, for which the film Dog Day Afternoon was based.
On August 22, 1972, Wojtowicz, along with Salvatore Naturile and Robert Westenberg, attempted to rob a branch of the Chase Manhattan bank on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Wojtowicz and Naturile held seven Chase Manhattan bank employees hostage for 14 hours. Westernberg fled the scene before the robbery was underway when he saw a police car on the street. Wojtowicz, a former bank teller, had some knowledge of bank operations. However, he apparently based his plan on scenes from the movie The Godfather, which he had seen earlier that day. Ironically, Al Pacino, star of The Godfather, would later go on to portray Wojtowicz in Dog Day Afternoon. The robbers became media celebrities. Wojtowicz was arrested, but Naturile was killed by the FBI during the final moments of the incident.
When entering the limo to be chauffeured to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in South Ozone Park, Queens, Wojtowicz told Naturile to sit with bank employee Shirley Ball and another co-worker in the third row, while the others sat in the fourth, reserving the fifth row for himself and the two remaining hostages. There was a .38 caliber handgun hidden in the front seat of the limousine that John missed when searching the limo upon first arriving at the bank. FBI Special Agent Fred Fehl positioned himself on the driver’s side of the limo next to the open window closest to Salvatore, who sat between two hostages in the third row. FBI Special Agent Dick Baker took up a position on the right side of the car closest to John, who was still situated in the rear seat. NYPD Police Chief of Detectives Louis C. Cottell, who headed the negotiations during the initial standoff, stayed 15 feet away from the rear of the limo.
When everyone prepared for the final standoff, the Hansa Jet rolled out onto the tarmac where they sat in the limo. Baker asked a police officer identified only as “Murphy” to ask whether the group wanted any food on the flight. He took advantage of this opportunity to assess the threat Salvatore and John posed, from where they were situated in the vehicle. Baker grabbed the handgun with his left hand and ordered the two men to “freeze”. Simultaneously, he wrestled with the barrel of Naturile’s shotgun, knocking it toward the ceiling and shooting him in the head point blank. Naturile slumped in the seat, mortally wounded. He was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance that was waiting at the scene but was pronounced dead on arrival.
He Did It For Love
The heist was meant to pay for John’s gay lover’s sex reassignment surgery.
Years before the famous robbery, John met Ernest Aron (later to be known as Elizabeth Eden) in 1971 at an Italian feast in New York City. The two were married on December 4, 1971, in Greenwich Village.
Elizabeth Debbie “Liz” Eden (born Ernest Aron, August 19, 1946 – September 29, 1987) was an American transsexual woman whose boyfriend John Wojtowicz attempted to rob a bank to pay for her sex reassignment surgery. The incident was made into the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. The character Leon Shermer (played by Chris Sarandon) is loosely based on her.
Eden, then known as Ernest Aron, and Wojtowicz were married on December 4, 1971 in Greenwich Village. At the time of Wojtowicz’s attempted robbery of a Chase Manhattan bank branch in Brooklyn, New York, on August 22, 1972, she was in a psychiatric institution, following a series of suicide attempts. Eden was not previously aware of his plans.
After the failed heist, Wojtowicz was sentenced to 20 years, although he was released in April 1987; while imprisoned, he sold the movie rights to the story for $7,500 and subsequently was able to help finance Eden’s sex reassignment surgery.
Eden, born in Ozone Park, Queens, died of pneumonia resulting from AIDS in Rochester, New York. Her personal papers and photographs were donated posthumously to the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center on June 14, 1990.