Former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, who was serving a life sentence for the murder of a South Boston club owner in 1993, died last week at the age of 89, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The circumstances of Salemme’s death were not immediately clear but a spokesperson for the bureau said he died last Tuesday at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisons in Springfield, Missouri.
“For safety, security, and privacy reasons, this office does not share specifics regarding the cause of death for any inmate,” said the spokesperson, Emery Nelson, via email. “The official cause of death is determined by the medical examiner and not the Bureau of Prisons.”
Salemme received a mandatory life sentence after he and Paul Weadick, a plumber from Burlington, were convicted in 2018 of killing 43-year-old Steven DiSarro, a father of five, in 1993. DiSarro, who owned the Channel nightclub, was killed because Salemme and his son Frank feared he would cooperate in a federal investigation into their activities, according to testimony at the trial.
Steven DiSarro’s son, Nick DiSarro, said the family was notified Sunday about Salemme’s death via an e-mail notification system that alerts victims’ families about developments related to their case.
“The world is a better place without him in it,” Nick DiSarro said on Sunday.
Salemme survived the gang wars of the 1960s, a decade during which he later admitted to killing eight people.
He spent 16 years in prison for maiming Everett lawyer John E. Fitzgerald Jr. when he blew up his car in 1968. Fitzgerald, who lost his leg in the attack, later moved to South Dakota and became a judge. He died after heart surgery in 2001 at the age of 69.
Mike DiSarro, another of Steven DiSarro’s sons, said Salemme’s death marks the “end of a long chapter.”
“It’s a good day for the families that he’s destroyed,” Mike DiSarro said in an interview Sunday.
After Salemme’s release, he became a “made man” in 1988. A year later, he survived a shooting by a renegade mob faction outside a Saugus pancake house. Salemme was struck in the chest and legs and carried the bullet fragments in his body.
Salemme, who was recuperating from his injuries, did not attend an infamous Mafia induction ceremony at a home in Medford in 1989 led by then-boss Raymond “Junior” Patriarca that was secretly recorded by the FBI and led to prison stints for most of the participants, clearing Salemme’s rise to power as head of the New England mob through the early 1990s.
In January 1995, Salemme fled the region after he was indicted as part of a sweeping federal racketeering case along with James “Whitey” Bulger, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and others. Bulger, who was tipped off by corrupt FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. that the indictments were coming, eluded capture for 16 years, while Salemme was on the run for about seven months before he was arrested in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Salemme began cooperating with the government in the late 1990s after learning that Bulger and Flemmi, his close allies, were longtime FBI informants. He testified against Connolly during the former FBI agent’s federal racketeering trial in exchange for a reduced sentence on the racketeering charges and he was admitted to the witness protection program in 2003.
However, Salemme refused to give up any information about his Mafia associates and claimed he didn’t know anything about the disappearance of DiSarro, who vanished in May 1993 and was presumed dead.
DiSarro was a businessman who bought the Channel nightclub with his stepbrother in the early 1990s. Salemme and his son had a hidden interest in the business.
It was Flemmi who first linked Salemme to DiSarro’s murder for investigators.
Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, testified that he stopped by Salemme’s home in Sharon on May 10, 1993, and saw Salemme’s son strangling DiSarro while Weadick held his legs and Salemme looked on.
Flemmi said Salemme told him that he knew DiSarro had been approached by federal agents and feared that he would cooperate in an investigation targeting Salemme and his son.
Prosecutors indicted Salemme in 2004 — his son died in 1995 — on charges that he misled authorities about DiSarro’s death, but there was no murder case since DiSarro’s body had not been found.
Salemme pleaded guilty to lying and obstruction of justice but insisted he had nothing to do with DiSarro’s death. He served five years in prison and was allowed back into the witness protection program in 2009.
Salemme was living under an alias in Atlanta — where he had joined a New England Patriots fan club — in 2016 when DiSarro’s body was found buried behind an old mill in Providence. Salemme fled Atlanta when he learned investigators were digging behind the property and was arrested days later in Connecticut.
His 2018 trial served as a flashback to a bygone era when the Irish and Italian mobs had a stranglehold on the region, and federal authorities viewed them as the most menacing criminals of their time.
The trial concluded in June of that year with a jury convicting both Salemme and Weadick for DiSarro’s murder.
Weadick, 67, is serving his life sentence at US Penitentiary Canaan in Waymart, Pa., according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
Salemme was imprisoned in Brooklyn but was moved to a federal medical lockup in Missouri in 2019. His lawyer, Steven C. Boozang, said at the time that he requested his client be transferred to a medical facility so his health could be monitored in his advanced age.
“I think Frank would want to be remembered as someone who certainly wasn’t a choir boy, but the cooperation he gave was simply for Bulger, Flemmi, and Connolly,” Boozang said in an interview Sunday. “He could have hurt a lot of people but chose not to.”
Boozang said Salemme was honorably discharged from the Army and was a licensed electrician.
“There are two sides to all human beings,” Boozang said. “There was certainly some good in him. He came from a good, hard-working family.”
Mike DiSarro said upon learning of Salemme’s death Sunday that his first thoughts were about the families of other victims who suffered at Salemme’s hand or by his orders.
“It just happens that our family is the reason he went to jail finally,” Mike DiSarro said. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of families that didn’t get justice.”
The place where Salemme died was added to this story from a Federal Bureau of Prisons statement sent Monday. Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.