City Room - Blogging From the Five Boroughs
August 21, 2012, 7:41 pm
Recalling the Real ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ 40 Years On
By AARON EDWARDS
The woman's body stiffened with each passing second as she sat anxiously in the back row of a 14-person limousine. Suddenly, a man sitting near her was fatally shot - killed by an F.B.I. agent, the culmination of nearly 14 hours of one of the more gripping criminal episodes in recent New York City history.
She wore a navy blue dress suit with a modest skirt, white button-down blouse, heels and stockings. Considering that she had spent more than half a day as a hostage inside a Brooklyn bank, she was remarkably well put-together and deceivingly composed. She had not cried, but she was terrified.
After what felt to the woman like an hour inside the limo, which had parked near a runway at Kennedy International Airport, the agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned from the driver's seat and shot the man - one of the robbers who had taken hostages inside the bank - in the chest. The side doors were flung open by police officers.
"Out! Everyone out!" they yelled. "Get out!"
Dolores Goettisheim was that woman in the car. Her recollection of those last moments was spotty, shrouded in forgetfulness not only from the passage of time, but also from an honest effort to leave it all behind.
Today, she is 88 years old. Then, she was 48.
It was Aug. 22, 1972. The events - an attempted bank robbery, hostages seized, a news media circus and the F.B.I. shooting at the airport - were the inspiration for the 1975 crime drama "Dog Day Afternoon."
For Ms. Goettisheim, who was one of nine bank workers held hostage, it was one of the worst days of her life. But even an event that is vividly stored in the city's institutional memory can be a blur to those directly involved.
Forty years ago Wednesday, two men, John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Natuarale, entered a Chase Manhattan bank branch on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Their plan was to rob the bank and lock the employees inside the vault while they escaped.
Instead, the police were alerted, and the robbers ended up using the workers as bargaining chips. They demanded a plane to take them out of the country. It was later revealed that Mr. Wojtowicz wanted money to pay for a sex-change operation for his boyfriend.
Ms. Goettisheim's day had started like any workday. She chose her outfit and touched up her hair. She had a decent job that helped pay the bills.
"It was the only job I ever had," said Ms. Goettisheim, who was the bank's assistant manager. She started working at the branch when she was 18 and stayed for 42 years. "I never looked for anything other than that," said Ms. Goettisheim, who never married and who lives in Brick, N.J. "We opened up in the morning and you'd take care of the customers who came in."
About 3 p.m., when the branch was preparing to close, an ordinary day took an extraordinary detour. Ms. Goettisheim said she had not noticed Mr. Natuarale entering the bank, but moments after he did, he pulled a gun and pointed it at the bank manager. A routine phone call from a Chase branch in Manhattan allowed the manager of the Brooklyn branch to cryptically provide news of the robbery. Soon, the bank was surrounded by throngs of police and F.B.I. agents, reporters and onlookers.
But Ms. Goettisheim's focus was elsewhere.
"I was concerned about the girls working in the bank," she said, adding that she was something of a matriarch to the young tellers, all of them women, some of them in their 20s. "They were younger than I," she said, "and they were getting upset. I walked back to where the youngest girl was and said, 'Come on girls, don't get too upset here, we'll say some prayers for God to protect us.' "
Raised a devout Catholic and with a sister who is a nun, Ms. Goettisheim said she prayed often during the ordeal, encouraging other workers to do so, too.
At one point, one of the tellers had to use the bathroom. Escorted by one of the robbers, Ms. Goettisheim brought the teller to the restroom and then told the robber, "You're not comin' in here."
After the day ended at the airport - with Mr. Natuarale dead and Mr. Wojtowicz in custody - Ms. Goettisheim was picked up by a cousin at about 6 a.m.
She went home, put her navy suit and stockings in the wash, took a bath and put on a new set of clothes without resting or eating.
Mass was in just two hours.
"The first thing I figured when I got home was that I had asked God for help, and he gave it to me," she said. "I had to thank him."