CHELSEA — The cinder block fortress known as King Arthur’s Motel and Lounge has long been a kind of unofficial wild west for Greater Boston, the site of murders, a legendary police brutality case, a bombing and, of course, countless men tossing dollars in the dim light at nude women gyrating on stage.
Though less infamous than Boston’s old Combat Zone, King Arthur’s location just over the Mystic River made it irresistible to certain men on lunch break and criminals alike. Recently, a felon hoping to cash in on Steve Wynn’s plans for a $1.6 billion casino in nearby Everett attempted to take over the place.
But city officials, hoping to erase bad memories, have closed King Arthur’s, seizing on the owners’ failure to pay $300,000 in taxes as a chance to revoke the club’s liquor, nude entertainment, and innholder licenses. The owners vow to fight, but city officials hope this is the end of a tawdry 37-year era.
“I’m not sad to see King Arthur’s go, just the opposite. It’s another one of those ties to the past that we’re happy to have lifted off of our shoulders,” said City Manager Jay Ash, who is trying to promote a new Chelsea free of the corruption and sins of its past. “There’s a lot of good things going on in Chelsea; King Arthur’s was not one of them. Seeing them close is a good thing.”
Beverly Guttadauro, who took over the bar after the original King Arthur — her husband, Arthur — died in 2007, said she was disappointed with the licensing commission’s decision to revoke her licenses. She has appealed the liquor license ruling to the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
“I didn’t think it was fair,” said Guttadauro in a brief interview.
But Guttadauro and her son Stephen were on the verge of losing the club anyway after they fell behind on payments for an $865,000 mortgage from a company run by an associate of Charles Lightbody, the felon with a history of assaults at the center of controversy over Wynn’s proposed casino a mile away.
Clearhead Capital, run by Lightbody business partner Jamie Russo, had begun foreclosure against the Guttadauros. But some suspect Russo was trying to take over the strip club on behalf of Lightbody, who was looking for a new way to profit from an Everett casino after Wynn pressured him to sell his share of the land where Wynn plans to build.
Lightbody even boasted that he was acquiring the strip club in a conversation with an imprisoned mobster that was captured on tape.
“It’s the best thing you can have with a casino,” Lightbody told inmate Darin Bufalino, according to a transcript of the June 2013 conversation provided by gambling regulators. “There’s only two things, women and booze, right around the corner.”
But the connection to Lightbody, which surfaced in April, intensified Chelsea’s focus on King Arthur’s. Now, with the license revocations, Chelsea has put up an official roadblock that protects the city from a criminal-run strip club.
“It’s something Chelsea doesn’t need anymore. Chelsea has had enough negativity over the years and it’s crawled its way out of a big hole,” said James Dwyer, chairman of the Licensing Commission in an interview earlier this month.
Lightbody and Russo could not be reached for comment.
For many Chelsea old-timers, the ethos of King Arthur’s can be defined in just three words: drinking, drugs, and death.
‘This was a place where nothing good ever happened.’
Located on a rutted road in the shadow of Everett’s liquefied natural gas tanks, King Arthur’s has been intimately connected to at least four deaths over the years: a man sleeping off a drunk in his motel bed was killed by an off-duty Everett cop wielding a baseball bat; a construction worker was killed by a man who emptied his gun into him during a strip show. And at least two people were killed by drivers who had been drinking at the bar before they hit the road.
Locals first took notice of the bar after Arthur Guttadauro purchased the old rooming house in 1977, renamed it King Arthur’s, and began featuring nude dancing in Chelsea. By the late 1970s, the strip club was often packed by noontime with truckers, well-dressed businessmen, and small-time hustlers, according to Josh Resnek, a former editor of the Chelsea Record.
“This was a place where nothing good ever happened,” said Resnek, who said he witnessed everything from prostitution to drug dealing to beatings on the premises, and remembers when a bomb blew up the bar manager’s car, and shattered the front windows of the strip club in 1981.
King Arthur’s became a household name statewide in July 1982, when it was the scene of what Superior Court Judge Robert Barton would later call one of the seminal examples of police brutality in the 20th century, leading to murder convictions for two police officers.
The incident began after John McLeod, an off-duty Everett officer, got into a fight while drinking in the bar after hours. About 4 in the morning, he reported the dust-up to Everett police, and several Everett and Chelsea cops soon responded carrying guns, bats, clubs, and tire irons. By that time, a dozen people, including the bar manager and Beverly Guttadauro, had barricaded themselves in a tiny motel room above the bar.
“We are the police and we’re going to kill you,” police announced as they tried to break down the door, according to trial records.
Within minutes, the officers chopped the door down with an ax and several men were beaten with a bat and tire iron. Vincent Bordonaro, an Everett bar owner, who was sleeping on a bed in the room when attacked, died of his injuries a week later.
“It was just a nightmare, a slaughter,” victim Nicholas Medugno told the Globe in an interview last year.
McLeod and another Everett officer, Richard Aiello, eventually were found guilty of second-degree murder. It marked the first time in the Commonwealth’s history that an on-duty police officer — Aiello — had been found guilty of murder. Another Everett officer, John Macauda, was found guilty of manslaughter. Also, five Chelsea cops later admitted that they filed false police reports about the beatings, and entered into a plea agreement.
Chelsea city government didn’t change much in the years after the police brutality scandal, according to Resnek, and, in many ways, the city’s problems got worse. In 1991, the state appointed a receiver and abolished the mayor’s position after Chelsea couldn’t pay its bills.
Two years later, a federal corruption probe into a bribery scandal ensnared four former Chelsea mayors, two of whom — Thomas Nolan and James Mitchell — served time in jail. Three Chelsea cops including Leo “Buddy” McHatton, the captain of the vice squad for the Chelsea police, also served jail sentences.
Since then, Chelsea has worked to clear away its reputation for corruption. Over the last 17 years, Ash, the city manager, said almost $1 billion of new development had occurred in Chelsea, including new Wyndham and Marriott hotels and the construction of about 2,000 market-rate residential units. During that time, both of its shopping centers were revamped with chains like Home Depot, Market Basket, and even Starbucks setting up shops. In addition, the FBI is set to break ground on a new regional headquarters in Chelsea this summer.
Though Chelsea still has serious problems, including poverty, gang violence and drug dealing, city leaders today are protective of it’s progress.
“In the ‘Old Chelsea’ it was easy to bribe your way through the system. Now, it’s not part of the culture and it’s purposely been made almost impossible because government is more of a transparent process,” said City Council President Matt Frank.
Chelsea Police Lieutenant Edward Conley, who used to run undercover prostitution stings in the King Arthur’s parking lot, also believes the closing of the bar represents an end of era that many still call a stain on the city.
“It certainly is a metaphor for the ‘Old Chelsea’ and the way we used to do things at the police department,” said Conley.
Despite all the talk of King Arthur’s demise, Beverly Guttadauro wants to see the bar and strip club reopened by a new owner. But no sale appears imminent, as a power struggle over the future of the bar has shifted to the courts. Soon after Chelsea revoked the licenses, the city received a $300,000 bank check for the bar’s back taxes. City officials are unsure who paid the bill and John Martino, an attorney for King Arthur’s, said the money didn’t come from the Guttadauro family. Meanwhile, a foreclosure auction scheduled earlier this month was canceled after Russo’s company Clearhead learned that the bar had declared bankruptcy.
Guttadauro doesn’t know if the lights will ever go on again at King Arthur’s, but she is clear about the strip club’s epitaph.
When asked how she would remember King Arthur’s, she paused and said, “It has its own legacy, and that’s it.”