WESTWOOD — Pamela DiSarro had just returned from a funeral home, after picking the casket for her oldest son.
Steven A. DiSarro Jr. had died in a car crash at 33, ending a life burdened by the loss of his father, who disappeared when he was a boy.
When DiSarro got home, she was greeted by FBI agents who said human remains — possibly of her husband —
The timing was surreal, the swirl of emotions overwhelming.
“I couldn’t breathe,” DiSarro recalled in her first interview since her husband’s remains were found that day in March.
The agents told DiSarro’s children, gathered to mourn their brother, the FBI would need their DNA to make a positive identification of their father. Through his grief, DiSarro’s youngest child, Michael, 29, felt a weight lifted. Finally, he knew for sure.
“I’ve been waiting for you for 23 years,” he told the agents.
Now, the DiSarro family wants justice. In September, former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, who had been living in Atlanta under the witness protection program, was indicted in DiSarro’s slaying, along with an associate.
Authorities say Salemme, 83, and Paul Weadick, a 61-year-old plumber from Burlington, killed DiSarro to prevent him from cooperating with federal investigators who were targeting Salemme and his son, who has since died. DiSarro owned The Channel nightclub, now defunct, and prosecutors say the Salemmes shared a hidden interest in the business, located on Necco Street in South Boston.
The pair have been ordered held without bail until their federal trial, which has yet to be scheduled.
“I’m waiting for the bars to be closed behind them, for someone to be held accountable,” said Michael DiSarro. “Anyone that had a part in it, I want them to go away.”
In a series of recent interviews, Steven DiSarro’s wife, five children, and stepbrother spoke publicly for the first time about the man they loved, the circumstances of his disappearance, and its devastating toll.
“There were thousands of times I felt cheated, times my friends’ fathers took me to football games, helped me move into my first apartment . . . all the stuff you normally do with a dad,” said Nicholas DiSarro, 30, who was 7 when his father disappeared.
The discovery of DiSarro’s remains and the charges against his alleged killers have brought them a measure of solace. But they remain haunted by questions about whether the FBI jeopardized his life by pressuring him to cooperate and about how his alleged killers evaded justice for so long.
Their suspicions have been heightened by the legacy of FBI corruption that spanned decades. DiSarro’s murder came at a time when agents were allowing James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi to kill with impunity while leaking the names of those cooperating against them.
In 2003, Flemmi told investigators that he walked into the Sharon home of Salemme’s ex-wife on May 10, 1993, the day DiSarro disappeared, while Salemme’s son, Francis P. Salemme Jr. was strangling DiSarro as Weadick held his legs off the ground. He said the elder Salemme and his brother, Jackie, watched the killing and later enlisted Rhode Island mobster Robert DeLuca to help dispose of the body.
Flemmi gave his account when Salemme, who admitted participating in eight murders in the 1960s, was in the federal witness protection program after testifying against Bulger’s former FBI handler.
As a result, Salemme was convicted of lying about DiSarro’s murder, then allowed back into the protection program after serving five years in prison.
The discovery of DiSarro’s remains and the emergence of new witnesses, including DeLuca, led to the current murder charges.
Skeptical of cooperating mobsters, Pamela DiSarro is unsure what to believe.
“All I want is the truth, that’s all that matters,” said DiSarro, 64. “And none of us is going to get all the truth because he’s not here.”
* * *
Steven A. DiSarro Sr. grew up around mobsters in Providence; his uncle was a driver for New England Mafia don Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
He graduated from Boston University and Suffolk Law School but never took the bar exam after discovering he had a talent for real estate development. In the late 1970s, he became one of the first local developers to convert apartments to condominiums, making millions converting more than 500 units in Boston. In the 1980s, he got into the nightclub business.
“He had a brilliant business mind,” said Pamela DiSarro, who was a 26-year-old interior designer when she met DiSarro. She was a single mother of a toddler, and he had a young daughter, too. They married in 1981 and had three sons together.
They lived in a big house in Newton, with a pool in the backyard, and a second home in Florida. But when the real estate market began crashing in the late 1980s, they lost everything.
The relationship suffered under the strain, and her husband became distant and difficult to live with, Pamela DiSarro said. She left him in the early 1990s and moved with their children into her mother’s Westwood home.
But when Steven’s mother died in June 1992, they reconciled. At the funeral, Steven told her “I want my family back,” she recalled. The next year was the best of their marriage, even though money was tight.
“I remember a great man,” said Colby DiSarro, who was 3 when her mother married her stepfather. He always treated her like his other children and taught her to save her allowance by paying her $1 a day in interest, she said.
In the summer of 1992, DiSarro and his stepbrother, Roland Wheeler, bought The Channel, then Boston’s largest rock club, at a bankruptcy auction.
Wheeler declined to comment on the Salemmes’ interest in the club because of the upcoming trial. But he said DiSarro introduced the younger Salemme as a friend and said he hired him as an assistant manager.
“I think his mistake was taking for granted that these guys would automatically respect him,” Wheeler said.
Hiring the younger Salemme put the club’s ties to organized crime under scrutiny. And DiSarro was facing an investigation into whether he improperly obtained bank loans.
Pamela DiSarro said her husband told her at the time that the FBI had approached him at the club “and wanted him to start ratting, to be a federal witness.” He said he vehemently refused.
But by meeting with him in a public place, the agents may have put his life in danger, Pamela DiSarro believes.
“They did not protect me and my family,” she said. “They endangered my family by being so blatant with my husband.”
Wheeler said Steven DiSarro told him shortly before his disappearance that he was being followed by an FBI agent, who warned him that he was about to be indicted for bank fraud and urged him to cooperate against the mobsters. He said he refused.
The FBI declined to comment, citing the ongoing prosecution of DiSarro’s accused killers.
In 2003, Flemmi told investigators that Salemme Sr. said DiSarro had been seen with federal agents, and he considered him a liability. Salemme said they were planning “a ruse,” to make DiSarro think he “was going on the lam for awhile,” according to court records. That way, he would go with them willingly, Flemmi said.
Three days before he disappeared, Wheeler said, DiSarro was drinking heavily and in a rare show of emotion, gave him a hug and told him, “You are the best brother I could ever have in the world.”
It was Mother’s Day weekend, and DiSarro seemed anxious, Pamela recalled. He had previously encouraged her to take a planned business trip but suddenly became angry and urged her not to go.
Early Monday morning, she heard him leaving without saying good-bye and ran to the door to catch a glimpse of him climbing into a red Jeep.
When he didn’t come home, Pamela said she figured he was angry and had taken off for a few days, something he had done before. She called Wheeler, who told her not to worry.
After eight days, Pamela reported her husband missing.
* * *
DiSarro’s disappearance tore his family apart, and his oldest son took it the hardest. DiSarro left a note for the 10-year-old boy, a message he hid from his family for years.
“I just wanted you to know I love you very much,” DiSarro wrote. “It hurts not to be able to live with you right now. Soon things will be different.”
He urged him to stay tough and take care of his brothers, sisters, and especially his mother.
“Be strong for your family,” he wrote, “and always remember the family comes first.”
In many ways, DiSarro Jr. never fully recovered, his family said. He battled alcohol addiction for years, and when he drank he often cried over his father.
“By killing Steve Sr. they killed Steve Jr.,” Nicholas DiSarro said. “It ruined his life.”
The night after Easter, police knocked on Pamela DiSarro’s door and told her Steven had been in a car accident. The medical examiner later determined a fentanyl overdose had caused his heart to stop before the crash. He was on life support for two days, long enough for family members to arrive from out-of-state and say goodbye.
His father’s remains were buried next to his.
Nicholas DiSarro said he’s immensely grateful to the FBI agents and State Police who found his father’s remains and are “working on the answers we always wanted.”
Yet, he remains haunted by the image of his father being lured to his death and strangled by someone he thought was his friend.
“It bothers me that these guys have been walking the streets all this time,” he said. “They got to enjoy the prime of their lives and got to cut deals when they murdered people.”
Wheeler, who often dreamed that DiSarro came back alive, fought back tears as he described leaving bricks in the shape of a cross over the spot where his brother’s remains were found.
He said his brother was not a violent guy; he’d never even seen him throw a punch.
“What did he possibly do to deserve this?” Wheeler said.