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June 13, 2022

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight


The 1960s were wild times in Boston. With a gang war playing out in the background, there must have been a bit of a wild west feel in the air between the amazing bank and armored car heists pulled off by Jack Kelley and his crew and the equally amazing failures that others attempted to pull off. 1968 was especially busy and many of the suspects from that year have popped up in the 1990 Gardner Museum Heist investigation.

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Transcript

Lara:

 

Welcome back everyone! The 1960s were wild times in Boston. With a gang war playing out in the background, there must have been a bit of a wild west feel in the air between the amazing bank and armored car heists pulled off by Jack Kelley and his crew and the equally amazing cluster fucks that others attempted to pull off. When Nina and I were doing research for our book, we realized that many of the men who were on an FBI suspect list from 1968 were also on the FBI’s list of Gardner Museum Heist suspects.



Nina:

 

Well, you’re the one who gave Richie that list back in 1995 when Mary Ferrell released it! 

 

The first names that caught our eyes were of course Lara’s dad and Carmello Merlino. Then Bobby Guarante. More recently James Marks (who is now deceased) and Richard Megna have been named in connection with the Gardner. And let’s not forget Bobby Donati, but we won’t be covering his escapades today since he was in the can in 1968 for his very own botched heist from 1965.



Lara:

 

We have to throw Hobart Willis into the mix. I’ve never seen Hobart’s name in connection with the Gardner, but I have seen references to dad and Hobart being the same person. The Boston Herald used to run a “have you seen me” piece around the anniversary of the Gardner Heist. 




Nina:

 

How could anyone be looking for Richie?




Lara:

 

It sounds so ridiculous since it wasn’t as if he could blend into the background and he certainly wasn’t hiding but the Hobart theory gave dad and me a good laugh!



Nina:

 

I bet! 

As for ‘68, it was a busy year for the local thieves. 



Lara:

 

There was one day that saw six heists. Granted the six were in the New England area and not just the immediate Boston area, but still an insane number.

 

We’ll cover the thefts in chronological order, and give more details about our Gardner suspects along the way as well as the other perpetrators. 



Nina:

 

Let’s jump right in with the first robbery of the year. On January 23rd the Milton Bank and Trust Company was hit in Quincy, MA. The trio was pinched less than a mile from the bank. But the cops had to release them the following day. 



Lara:

 

On that same day two masked men, one armed with a pistol, robbed the Newton South Cooperative Bank in Newton Highlands. Three employees were held at gunpoint while the other thief cleaned out the teller drawer for a total of $2000. The getaway car which had been stolen from the home of a Newton attorney the evening before was found abandoned less than a mile away from the bank.



Nina:

 

The South Medford Savings Bank that had recently opened on January 29th was the site of back to back robberies. On the evening of February 19th, a local restaurant manager was making the night deposit containing the weekend’s proceeds of some $20,000. A lone gunman struck him on the head and fled. The following morning just before 11:00 am, another lone gunman appeared at the branch and made off with $5000.



Lara:

 

It would be another month before there was a headline to top that one. On March 21st, a gunman entered the First National Bank at Brigham Circle, but when he approached the teller tucked safely behind the bulletproof glass the teller smiled and pressed the alarm. The would-be thief ran out and commandeered a taxi cab. Just 20 minutes later a man wearing a taxi driver's cap fitting the same description as the unsuccessful robber walked into the Putterham branch of the Brookline Savings Bank this time making off with $4600. Not long after, the Brookline Savings Bank on Washington St in Brookline Village was robbed of $3500. He too was seen fleeing in a taxi that was later found abandoned not far away on the Jamaica Way.



Nina:

 

That had to be the same guy!



Lara:

 

Oh I agree. I mean what are the odds that three different guys decide to car jack taxis and rob three banks in a couple of mile radius of each other?



Nina:

 

Even taking into account that it was Boston, I’d still say slim.



Lara:

 

Anyhow while that commotion was going on two masked men robbed the Rockland Trust in Hanson, MA of $6000. Three masked men in Stamford, CT hit the State National Bank for $32,500, and last but not least the Casco Bank in good old Portland, ME was hit by a lone bandit for $4620.

 

A very busy day indeed!



Nina:

 

The following month on April 23rd the Feds and the BPD arrested David W. Donovan of Dorchester on suspicion of the attempted robbery at First National Bank, but that wasn’t the only reason they wanted him. There was a federal warrant out for Donovan for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Donovan was suspected of murdering a 24 year old woman who was found naked and strangled in his hotel room in San Juan and held without bail.

 

Donovan was indicted the following month for the failed robbery. In August he pleaded guilty to the Roxbury attempted heist and the two Brookline robberies. I couldn’t find what happened with the murder charge.

 

Lara:

 

I came up empty handed also. The next robbery was on April 1st.



Nina:

 

I still don’t understand why anyone thinks pulling an armed robbery on April Fool’s Day is a good idea!



Lara:

 

I know, even superstitious Jack made that mistake!



Nina:

 

At around 11:00 am six masked men armed with Army issue carbines entered the Sunbeam Baking Co. garage in Dorchester. They overpowered two armed guards and five employees. A Skelly armored truck had pulled into the garage roughly five minutes before the robbery. They made off with somewhere between $8 and $10,000, but the haul should have been over $40,000. The pickup that was scheduled prior to Sunbeam had been rescheduled until later in the day at the last minute obviously unbeknownst to the thieves. A week later, Gerard Presutti and Paul Averbuck were arrested and held on $100,000. Both managed to make bail and a hearing was scheduled for May.



Lara:

 

OMG! Paul Averbuck! Aka Sawbuck! I forgot all about him. Dad used to take me to visit him when I was little. Often on the same days we went to visit Roy Appleton. Sometimes Paul would be at Roy's house too. His wife was a secretary to old man Bellotti!



Nina:

 

Why did they call him Sawbuck?



Lara:

 

I assume because it rhymed with Averbuch, and since it was slang for a $10 bill it seems appropriate for a bank robber.

Nina:

 

What were some of the other amounts in those days called?



Lara:

 

We all know a buck is a dollar. That’s probably the only one that doesn’t seem archaic. Finnif for a $5 bill, double sawbuck for $20, a two bidder I think was $25, half a yard for $50 and of course the classic c-note for $100 and a g-note or a grand for a $1000. And our little Eastern European circle had a smattering of their own lingo. Kapusta and babka for money which translates to cabbage and cake or old lady. A common phrase about money in your pocket back in those days was “scratch in your kick” but in my house it was “pedah in your kick.” Pedah are basically pierogies. When I think about how I talk sometimes, I realize I sound like an old hoodlum from the ‘50s or 60s.



Nina:

 

Yeah and you’ve got me sounding like that too sometimes, but I don’t mind.

 

Back to Sunbeam. Later that month, two brothers from Quincy named James and Wayne Smith were arrested also.

 

On May 13th, 29 year old Gerard Presutti was found shot twice in the head lying in the driveway of a Quincy home. Presutti wasn’t just free on bail for the Sunbeam heist, but also for a Braintree housebreak and the robbery of a Cranston, RI jeweler and his wife at their home in January earlier that year. Paul Averbuck and Robert Wilkinson were also arrested for that theft.



Lara:

 

Another instance of where he would have been better off staying in jail. Presutti was actually shot outside of the home of the Smith brothers. Their mother told Presutti that they weren’t home. As she was settling back in her living room she heard the shots ring out.

 

The authorities said that he had been on the hit list for over a year because he talked too much.

They determined that after the first bullet hit him, the killer then stood over him and fired one more shot to ensure the job was complete, but he was still alive when the ambulance arrived. He never named his killer and died while being transported to the hospital. His co-defendants were all brought in for questioning, but no one was ever charged in Presutti’s murder. 




Nina:

 

Now what happened to the charges against them for the robbery is another story. I couldn’t find anything.



Lara:

 

I have to assume the case was thrown out or they were acquitted. As I said earlier Paul was around when I was little. Paul will be back in season 2. 

 

Let’s bounce back to April. On April 2nd the Coolidge Corner Cooperative Bank in Brookline was robbed for the third time in five years. The nonchalant thief was described as 5’10”, stocky, dark skinned and wavy hair made off with a brown paper bag filled with $5100. No one was able to say whether he fled on foot or had a vehicle waiting for him. No one was ever arrested.



Nina:

 

They say three times is the charm, but that wasn’t the case for the three men who decided to pull off the third robbery in three days. On April 3rd Francis Garney, James McGrath and Richard Martell robbed the Stop & Shop on the Truman Highway in Hyde Park of $15,000 in cash and checks. A witness reported seeing the men enter the home of a neighborhood woman and called the police. The three men were also considered suspects in the Sunbeam heist at the time of their arrest.

 

Frances Garney and Richard Martell made bail, but McGrath was stuck in Charles St. Jail. It appears that Martell went straight, but his partners in crime had other plans. On August 19, McGrath and another inmate named Harold Waterman made an escape attempt. They didn’t even make it out of the yard. Both faced additional charges. Garney’s freedom came to an end in October after four detectives crashed through the doors of a rented garrison colonial home in Winchester, MA. Inside were Garney, Frederick Dunker and William Shea accompanied by two women one of whom was pregnant. The pregnant one had five other kids who were living with other family members. The cops seized a small arsenal of weapons. They were wanted for three grocery store robberies including the Stop and Shop one on April 3rd.



Lara:

 

I’d swear that Stop and Shop is the same one Mello Merlino robbed in the ‘50s.

Anyhow there’s so much I could say, but I bet that crew had late night Christening parties and baby showers.




Nina:

 

With no shortage of booze and brawls!



Lara:

 

No question! 

 

Alright, enough snarkiness. Back to the robberies.

 

On April 8th, the State Street Bank and Trust was robbed by three armed men who made off with $31,823, but not for long. Albert McNamara, the owner of McNamara Concrete spotted the three gunmen and tailed them. He had a two way radio from his office that he used to relay the vehicle info to the Boston Police. Four patrolmen apprehended them and charged them with armed robbery. Christopher Shine, Daniel MacLeod and William Randall were held on $100,000 bail each.

 

Shine had been arrested on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia including hypodermic needles in January of that year and sentenced to a year in jail in February, but was somehow free by April. MacLeod and Randall appeared to have no record. Another one of those instances where the case just seemed to disappear.



Nina:

 

The following month on May 14th, Ralph DeLeo robbed the Coolidge Bank & Trust in Cambridge for $35,000. Like more than a few of the other guys DeLeo was out on bail at the time of the robbery. 



Lara:

 

Out on bail? Three times over for a total of $107,000! A Cape Cod bank holdup, a stickup at Bradlee’s in Dorchester back in April and a grocery store robbery in San Juan, Puerto Rico and they set bail a fourth time!

 

Nina:

 

And it was only $5000! Needless to say DeLeo remained on the street and found himself behind bars for another bank robbery in January the following year.




Lara:

 

I suspect we’ll be revisiting Ralph’s adventures again! 

 

The next robbery was in Natick, MA on July 8th. John Collin Martins of Newton, Stanley Puchalski of FL and Angela Sciascia of NJ were arrested. They were each held on $6000 bail and the authorities in Louisville, KY also had warrants for their arrest there for armed robbery.

 

Another case that just seemed to disappear.



Nina:

 

July 16th was another one of those busy days with three robberies. The first one was in Medford at the Tufts University branch of the Middlesex County National Bank when three armed men robbed the tellers of roughly $4500. Just a few minutes later a lone gunman hit the North Avenue Savings Bank in Cambridge. He made off with nearly $2500. And to wrap up the day, two gunmen stole $2500 from the Suffolk Franklin Bank located at 139 Mass Ave in Boston.

No arrests were made at that time, but ten days later 19 year old Charles Fuller was arrested for the Tufts job. He was indicted on August 12th. In November he was sentenced to seven to ten years in Walpole. No one was ever arrested for the other two robberies.




Lara:

 

The following week on July 22nd there was another triple header. The first robbery of the day was the First National Bank of Boston at the Northgate Shopping Center in Revere. Five men all armed, muscled past a half dozen customers at around 9:30 in the morning.They fled with $60,000 in a stolen white Oldsmobile. The second robbery was the Grove Hall Savings Bank in Dorchester that was robbed at 11 am by a lone gunman who escaped with an undetermined amount of cash. And the final stickup took place at 12:30 pm a bearded heavy set armed robber who hit the Warren Cooperative Bank on Washington St. near the Dudley Terminal for $1186. 



Nina:

 

Only the First National Bank thieves were arrested, but not until the beginning of 1969, so let’s move onto the next robbery. 

 

On July 23rd, the Security National Bank in Lynn was robbed by two armed men who then fled in two separate getaway cars. Their total haul was $138,000.



Lara:

 

That sounds an awful lot like a Jack job, but I don’t remember dad talking about that heist.



Nina:

 

It had to have been Jack and his crew. 



Lara:

 

We should have those recordings of dad at the beginning of next week, so maybe we’ll have an answer.



Nina:

 

Cool. 

 

The following day on July 24th, the Milton Bank and Trust in Braintree Five Corners was robbed of $1000 by two armed men. Not to break the streak,the following day, two sunglass clad gunmen entered the Arlington National Bank in Lexington and made off with $8000. And while that was happening, three masked men held up the American Finance Company in Salem, but they didn’t make it too far. Stephen Dalton, Donald Williams and Raymond Michaud were all arrested while making their getaway. 



Lara:

 

And the streak came to end for July, but by August 1st another crew was in action. The Roslindale Cooperative Bank in Roslindale Sq was robbed by three loudly dressed young men carrying snub nose revolvers for a total of $15,078. The leader of the three who was called Harry was sporting green trousers and a purple sports jacket, another wore a blond wig and all donned sunglasses. 

 

The following month on September 27th, the green and purple ensembled man was arrested. Richard Megna was held on $100,000 bail. He had been released from the Billerica House of Corrections early that summer. But he was already out on bail for robbing the Arlington Heights Branch of the Arlington Five Cent Savings bank on August 23rd.






Nina:

 

So Roslindale was actually his fourth bail. We need to back up a little to the morning of July 8th when Megna and James F. Marks were arrested after being tracked down by German Shepherds at the old Lechmere warehouse in Cambridge after attempting to steal a truck loaded with $20,000 worth of merchandise. They were free on $2500 bail when they pulled off the Roslindale heist. 



Lara:

 

Before we move on with Marks and Megna’s adventures and the other heists of ‘68 tell us a little about them. 



Nina:

 

James Francis Marks was born on July 20, 1940 to James and Julia Marks in Lynn, MA. The first time his name appeared in the newspapers was in December of 1958 when he was involved in a freak auto crash. By the 1960s he was living in Southie and getting into trouble. In January of 1965 he and James Coffey were arrested on illegal weapons possession and motor vehicle violation charges. James' name might be familiar to some of you because he was recently named as a person of interest in the Gardner Museum Heist; he was killed on February 20, 1991. 



Lara:

 

And James’ old partner in crime, Richard Megna who also happens to be a cousin of the late Lenny DiMuzio a Gardner heist suspect himself. Megna was also a cousin of Frank Strazzulla who was an associate of Sal Cesario. Megna’s family was from Palermo Sicily and he is rumored to be an associate of both the Colombo family and Bonanno family. Richard has been in Florida for decades running nightclubs.

 

Now, I’m a little uneasy about dragging Megna’s name into the Gardner mess just because of his past association with “suspects.” Yes he has an old record for theft but because he was related to or knew a handful of suspects doesn’t make him a suspect. If that was the qualifier, then I’m in trouble too I guess.





Nina:

 

I agree, so let's stick to what Megna was up to in 1968.

 

As I said a little while ago Megna was free on four bails at one time the other was from a robbery that occurred on September 13th in Billerica. 

 

And why is there a silent e in Billerica? It’s so confusing!

 

Megna, Marks and Coughlin hit the Union National Bank for $28,500. Their escape wasn’t a smooth one. The white station wagon they used as their getaway car was found crashed into a tree on the Billerica/Bedford line with $3000 of the loot and a .22 pistol in the vehicle.

 

After the crash they took off on foot. Megna and Coughlin were finally captured after an 8 hour manhunt that included dogs, a Coast Guard Helicopter, and a private plane. They led the police to the money they’d stashed in the woods off the Middlesex Turnpike. Marks was in the hospital because he’d been shot in the left leg by a homeowner as he ran through their backyard trying to escape the police. He was arraigned while laying on a stretcher. 



Lara:

 

Snarky comment alert!

 

Why is it that the suspects in these major cases are always a bunch of losers who were constantly taking pinches? Wouldn’t it make sense that the guys who were capable of successfully pulling off a major heist were the guys who weren’t going to the can every other crime they committed? Is it just easier to pull from the pool of usual suspects?



Nina:

 

It’s that Mary Ferrell list! And have you looked at the picture of Megna from the Billerica arrest?! Mastermind isn’t the first thing I think of when I look at that photo! These guys all look like they’re straight out of central casting. 



Lara:

 

I know! Glad he moved onto the strip club business and left the armed robbery in the past.

 

Let’s jump back to August. On the 22nd, two bank heists took place, one in Medford and one in Brighton for a total haul of about $24,000. Two armed men, one wearing a steel helmet walked into the Commonwealth National Bank and took about $20,000 before fleeing on foot and a motorcycle. Three men hit the Community Cooperative Bank and made off with at least $4000. No one was ever arrested for either of those two robberies.



Nina:

 

On August 30th, two gunmen entered the Charlestown Savings Bank in Roxbury near Brigham Circle and made off with $7000. Later that afternoon six robbers hit the Workmen's Cooperative Bank in Mattapan and stole $1700. Like in the previous robberies no arrests were made.

 

But on September 20th another one of our Gardner suspects managed to get himself locked up after a botched robbery and baby hostage situation.



Lara:

 

Ahhh another criminal mastermind that looked like he came out of central casting, Bobby Guarante.



Nina:

 

Oh there’s a picture of him being booked that gives the Megna pic a run for its money.

I’ll spare our listeners another dose of snarkiness and jump right into the heist. On Friday September 20th Guarante, Thomas Parry of Erie, PA and John Michelson robbed the First National Bank located in a shopping plaza in Natick at the intersection of Rte 9 westbound and rte 27. They made off with $12,000, but things didn’t go as planned and the cops were in pursuit from the beginning of their attempt to flee. While Michelson managed to escape, Guarante and Parry threatened mothers and small children. Guarante held one woman and her little boy hostage for 45 minutes before the cops captured him.



Lara:

 

The following day Michelson was arrested and the trio appeared in court, and were held on $40,000 bail.

 

One week later, the district court judge in Natick found probable cause against all three men. Guarante and Perry were held without bail at Billerica, but Michelson was freed on $40,000 bail.

 

Parry was also wanted in PA and had been under surveillance for at least 10 days prior to his arrest in Natick. He was believed to be part of a crime ring that wasn't just focused on theft but had also plotted to kill a prosecutor in Michigan. But Parry and the others were freed on bail.

 

Prosecutors didn’t waste any time and hearings began on September 28th. Some 20 witnesses were sworn in on the first day.



Nina:

 

The first witness pointed out Gaurante as the man who tried to force him to open the vault. But a trial date was never set for the local case. The boys may have thought they were going to coast but in a few months they’d learn otherwise.

 

In the meantime the robberies continued. On Friday October 11, the First Federal Savings and Loan Bank on Summer St was hit. An unsuspecting Boston Police Officer walked into the bank while the thieves were in the middle of their heist. 52 year old traffic officer Paul Curley was shot in the head. Miraculously, the husband and father of four survived. When he was conscious he told his fellow officers that he had no idea that a robbery was in progress when he entered the bank. Former FBI SA Edmund McNamara who was now chief of the BPD called upon his fellow officers to donate blood since Curley faced several surgeries in order to remove the bullet lodged in his head.

 

The thieves netted $1700 and it wouldn’t be until December that a Federal Grand Jury was convened.



Lara:

 

Just five days later three men attempted to rob the First County National Bank in Brockton, but their plans were foiled by an off duty police officer. Gustavus Carmichael, Roger Brown and William Royce were arrested without incident and held on $100,000 bond. As they were being transported to the Plymouth House of Correction, they overpowered the guards and kidnapped one of them. The guard was dropped off in the North End of Boston unharmed later that evening.

 

On October 24, Royce was pinched at a Saugus Motel with $2000 in cash and a pistol in his possession. Another one of those great photos that could have easily been part of a movie.

 

Brown and Carmichael avoided being apprehended until December. They were picked up in a Reno, Nevada motel. All three were facing charges for multiple robberies including one that ended with a fatality.



Nina:

 

To finish off the year two holdups took place on December 20th: the Employee Credit Union of the Boston Gas Company was robbed of $50,000 and The Commonwealth National Bank on Broad St. in downtown Boston was hit for an undisclosed amount. And with that robbery 1968 came to an end. But the story was hardly over. 



Lara:

 

In late January of ‘69, an investigator at DA Garrett Byrne’s office made contact with Michelson who was still locked up awaiting trial. Michelson agreed to turn informer in exchange for time shaved off his sentence. Another member of the gang backed up Michelson’s version of events and the Feds now had a case thanks mostly to the work of the DA’s office.



Nina:

 

This reminds me of the Harvey Bistany story. The Feds couldn’t make their case and had to get Bistany and Jacobanis to make their case for them.



Lara:

 

Exactly and just three weeks later, the Federal indictments came down and warrants were issued against 11 men: Chris Calabrese, Anthony Chiodi, James Kearns, Hobart Willis, Joseph Curnane, Paul Durant, Joseph Marino, Cesare Montevecchio, Bobby Guarante, John Michelson, and Daniel Pagliarulo. 

 

Hobart along with Calabrese, Montevecchio, Guarante and Michelson were charged with the July 2nd Coolidge Bank and Trust Heist. Marino was charged with the Milton Bank and Trust from July 23rd. Marino, Pagliarulo and Guarante were charged with the first heist of the year that took place on January 23rd in Quincy.



Nina:

 

In July four of the men pleaded guilty. Let’s start with Hobart Willis. He copped to the Coolidge Bank Trust. His sentencing was scheduled for later that fall.

 

In October, a man named Donald McKenzie was indicted for trying to poison Michelson in Suffolk County Jail. Byrne’s office alleged that McKenzie had offered the cooks $10,000 to put lye in Michelson’s food.

 

Two days later, five of the bank robbers pleaded guilty in front of Judge Charles Wyzanski. Hobart was given a 20 year sentence. Montevecchio and Calabrese were each sentenced to 15 years for participating in the same job. Joseph Marino and Bobby Guarante also got 20 years each for their roles in a November 1967 job that got them $2000. Imagine getting 20 years for $2000 lousy dollars. Obviously Wyzanski was less than sympathetic to these guys. Their sentences were set to run concurrently with the other prior sentences they’d been given for the other jobs.

 

Hobart would move on to narcotics upon his release from prison. There will be more to come about him in season two.



Lara:

 

We have to get this last story about Richard Megna in! In July 1970, the cops found Richie Megna in New Hampshire at Hampton Beach! The cops apparently thought they’d have to jump into the lake to capture him, so they changed into swim trunks before carrying out their search. Megna had failed to appear in court the previous month. He’d been facing charges of armed robbery, larceny, conspiracy, breaking and entering and receiving stolen goods. When he failed to appear in court, his lawyer took the guilty verdict for the Billerica job. Megna was sentenced to nine to 15 years at Walpole ten days after he was captured.

 

There will be more to come about Richie Megna in the next season.



Nina:

 

And more to come about Gaurante too of course. 



Lara:

 

Next week we’re heading back to Providence, RI.



Nina:

 

It’s about time!



Lara:

 

I know you miss me quoting Raymondisms, so I’m going to have to find a few for next week. We’ll be discussing the Willie Marfeo murder, Angelo diPalma murder and the death of Frank Melei Jr. 



Nina:

 

Don’t forget we’ll be digging deeper into Max Inserra and Louis Manocchio.



Lara:

 

And of course what Raymond Patriarca was up to!

 

Thank you all for listening!



Nina & Lara:

 

Bye!