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With Remains Identified, An Old Killer Comes Back Into Focus06:47
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In this courtroom sketch, former Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme appears before a judge in Boston federal court on Nov. 10, 2004. Salemme is likely to be a suspect in the murder of Steven DiSarro, whose remains were found in Providence and just identified. (Constance Flavell Pratt/AP)
In this courtroom sketch, former Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme appears before a judge in Boston federal court on Nov. 10, 2004. Salemme is likely to be a suspect in the murder of Steven DiSarro, whose remains were found in Providence and just identified. (Constance Flavell Pratt/AP)

Federal authorities have identified a body discovered two-and-a-half months ago behind an old factory in Providence as that of long-missing Boston nightclub manager Steven DiSarro.

DiSarro, of Westwood, Massachusetts, disappeared in 1993.

The FBI says it is continuing an investigation into DiSarro's death. That investigation has long centered on a former organized crime boss who admitted to eight murders but denied any involvement in this presumed one.

The Journey Of 'Cadillac Frank'

Frank Salemme is seen in an undated FBI handout photo
Frank Salemme is seen in an undated FBI handout photo

Hidden bones and other secrets are valuable. That's why they often come to the surface.

"You're not going to beat the government. Let's face it. One way or the other, they're going to get you." That's what Frank Salemme told me in an interview back in 2004, the last time he appeared to be riding into the sunset. It seemed the hard-earned wisdom from a road well-traveled.

At various turns along the way, "Cadillac Frank" has been a gangster, admitted killer, Mafia Godfather and witness for the government.

He has been a target for prosecutors and his own partners in crime, who betrayed him in breathtaking fashion. He is also the first don in the history of La Cosa Nostra to testify against fellow criminals.

It first looked like he was riding into the sunset in 2003, after he helped convict the corrupt FBI Agent John Connolly. An appreciative judge and Justice Department sent him into the Witness Protection Program. But a year later I found Salemme back in a diner in Brookline.

"Shame on me if I get back in the game or even attempt to," he said then. "I’m done with that life."

And maybe he really was done with that life -- until history and a set of old bones in Providence caught up with him.

'Steve DiSarro Was The Straw'

Back in 1999, when he pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, Salemme had promised to tell the government everything. He admitted to committing eight murders.

But Salemme did not admit to the murder now in question, the murder of DiSarro, the manager of the South Boston nightclub The Channel.

"They were talking about opening a strip club. We were building the club," said William St. Croix, the son of mobster Steven Flemmi. Flemmi was a criminal partner of Salemme and Salemme's son, who is known as Junior.

St. Croix says the mobsters hid their financial interest in the club behind DiSarro. "He was a straw for Frankie Junior [who owned the club]," St. Croix recounted. "And of course Frankie Salemme couldn't get a license. That wasn't going to happen. So Steve DiSarro was the straw."

DiSarro was a leading real estate developer until the market crashed in the early '90s and he lost millions. "He was a very nice man," a member of his family told me, "but he hung around with the wrong guys."

And he made the mistake of talking about his connections, even bragging, St. Croix says. St. Croix says he warned the older mobsters.

"It didn't surprise me that Steve ended up missing," he said. "Because he was just shooting his mouth off and everyone was talking about it."

After DiSarro disappeared, his wife told the Westwood police chief that DiSarro was being followed by federal agents. They were even going to the club seeking his help, she told me, "in front of the wise guys."

Organized crime investigators — who can't speak publicly about ongoing cases — say one FBI agent approached DiSarro and questioned him in the streets of Boston's Combat Zone, thereby jeopardizing DiSarro's life. Salemme Jr. saw the two men talking.

"There was a lot of chatter among organized crime members that Steve DiSarro could hurt Frankie, Frankie Junior, my father, and he might hurt [James "Whitey"] Bulger," St. Croix said.

DiSarro, who was 43 years old, was last seen leaving home on the morning of May 10, 1993.

An Unlikely Eyewitness

The description of the car he got matched a car owned by Salemme Jr.'s girlfriend, who later told me he sometimes borrowed it.

Within a few days of the disappearance, the investigators told me, they learned that one of Salemme Jr.'s associates had used the car to pick DiSarro up and drive him to the Salemme home in Sharon to be murdered.

The source, I was told, was an FBI informant and close criminal associate of Salemme. According to the informant, Salemme said that he, his son and his brother had strangled DiSarro with the help of his son and brother.

But the case went nowhere. And Salemme adamantly denied the allegation.

"I had full immunity. I had absolute immunity" for any murders he had committed, Salemme reasoned, and "I admitted to those. So why wouldn't I come forward with other ones? I had full immunity. Why not?"

But Salemme was arrested later that year, in November 2004, and charged with lying and obstruction of justice.

The government said it had an eyewitness to the murder. The new witness was none other than Flemmi -- Salemme's partner, his lifelong friend and a secret FBI informant going back to 1965.

In a federal report, Flemmi said he walked into Salemme's house in May 1993 just as the Salemmes were murdering DiSarro in the kitchen. But if Salemme admitted it, he would have implicated both his son and brother.

Instead, he denied any involvement, even after pleading guilty to lying.

"I can't admit to them. I had nothing to do with them," he said.

Without Disarro's remains, the government did not proceed any farther.

But hidden bones and secrets are valuable.

And so they surfaced in Providence at the end of March after the owner of the property got in trouble with the FBI.

Now that DiSarro is accounted for, Salemme is likely to return once again, and so too his nemesis, Flemmi, in a case where the past isn't dead; it isn't even past.

This segment aired on June 10, 2016.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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