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Retired Detective Remembers The Real ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ 40 Years Later

Actor Al Pacino, seen here in January 2011, starred in "Dog Day Afternoon." (credit: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

Actor Al Pacino, seen here in January 2011, starred in “Dog Day Afternoon.” (credit: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - It was 40 years ago today that a Brooklyn branch of Chase Manhattan Bank was held up in a botched robbery and hostage situation that gripped the city and would later leave movie audiences on the edge of their seats.

WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Story

Retired New York City Detective Wally Zeins was there on that real dog day afternoon on Tuesday, August 22, 1972 when John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturile took hostages at 450 Avenue P & East 3rd St.

They stuck up the bank to get money to pay for a sex change operation for Wojtowicz’s boyfriend.

“He wanted him to have a sex change operation. He was in love with him and he wanted him to have that change and it was an expensive operation. He didn’t have the money. So, that’s why he went in and held up the bank,” Zeins told WCBS 880 reporter Irene Cornell.

Zeins’ job was to bring the boyfriend, born Ernest Aron, to try and talk the lover out of the bank.

“I brought the boyfriend to the FBI command post, where they debriefed him,” he said.

The FBI was running the scene then, Zeins recalled, and they had no uniforms or badges to identify them.

“But what they did have was a box of White Owl cigars and every FBI agent and anyone that was invited into the inner perimeter had to have a White Owl cigar in their breast pocket,” Zeins said.

As it happened, Zeins’ best friend was the late Jerry Nachman, a reporter who was covering the story for WCBS 880.

Zeins made sure Jerry got the cigar and the inside track.

“Course Jerry did not have that physical appearance of an FBI agent. He looked the Michelin man. The FBI agent went over and said to him, ‘You don’t look like an FBI agent’ and Jerry responded, ‘I didn’t know you have to smoke White Owl cigars to be an FBI agent.’ which was very funny,” Zeins said.

So Nachman gave up the cigar.

Zeins went on to become a police hostage negotiator.

Bank robber John Wojtowicz served six years in prison and sold the movie rights to his story. The movie made was “Dog Day Afternoon” – directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino and John Cazale. It did pay for Ernest Aron to get the sex change operation and become Elizabeth Eden.

His partner in the robbery, Salvatore Naturile, was shot dead during a struggle with police in an automobile at JFK Airport, where he and Wojtowicz had demanded a jet as ransom.

None of the hostages was killed.