Metro

Four decades have passed since five men were found dead at the Blackfriars Pub in Boston

On June 28, 1978, five men were found shot to death in the basement of the Blackfriars Pub.
George Rizer/Globe Staff/File 1978
On June 28, 1978, five men were found shot to death in the basement of the Blackfriars Pub.

Four decades have passed since the Blackfriars massacre, in which five men were brutally murdered at a lounge on Summer Street in Boston.

Garrett H. Byrne, the Suffolk district attorney at the time, said he’d “never witnessed a more shocking crime,” and to this day, the case remains unsolved.

On the morning of June 28, 1978, a custodian was finishing up washing the floors at the Blackfriars Pub. Located at 105 Summer St., not far from South Station, the pub advertised itself as an “after work disco” and was a place frequented by businessmen who worked in the Leather District and downtown.

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The office downstairs was the last place the janitor was supposed to clean, and when he entered that room, he made a grim discovery. There, on the floor, were the bodies of five men.

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They were all in their 30s. They had each been shot to death. Blood was everywhere.

The custodian recognized the owner, Vincent Solmonte, 35, as one of the victims. The others were identified as Peter Meroth, 31, of Jamaica Plain; Freddy Delavega, 34, of Somerville; Charles Magarian, 37, of North Andover; and John “Jack” Kelly, 34, a journalist who was employed as the night manager of the pub. Kelly had previously worked as an investigative reporter for WBZ news radio and WNAC-TV (Channel 7).

The Globe had reported that Kelly took the gig at Blackfriars after Channel 7 let him go. Kelly had also lined up a job at WLVI-TV, and he was supposed to tape his first show July 14.

One of the five bodies was removed from the Blackfriars Pub on Summer Street on June 28, 1978.
George Rizer/Globe Staff/file 1978
One of the five bodies was removed from the Blackfriars Pub on Summer Street on June 28, 1978.

After the bodies were discovered, police descended upon the scene and crowds of curiosity-seekers gathered outside of Blackfriars.

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Inside the small office of Blackfriars, “there was blood all over the place,” one law enforcement official said. “All I could think of was the Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago.”

Kelly’s sister, Kathy, was on vacation with her husband in New Hampshire when she found out what happened. Her sister-in-law called her and broke the news: Her older brother Jack — her only sibling — was dead.

She rushed back to Massachusetts and went to her brother’s house in Framingham to be with his wife and their young children. “It was just horrible,” she recalled this week in a telephone interview.

She had never been to Blackfriars before. But after her brother’s murder, she was compelled to go there. She wanted to see what the pub looked like and be in the place where her brother worked and drew his last breath.

“I made them show me the room,” she said. She remembers Blackfriars as a dark and dreary place.

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On July 12, 1978, police arrested two suspects — William Ierardi and Robert Italiano — and charged them with the five murders.

Ierardi was 32 years old and living in Lynn, while Italiano was 36 and living in Revere when they were arrested, officials said.

The trial was held the following year. Prosecutors said the two defendants were among a group of men who went to Blackfriars that night with the intention of stealing cocaine and cash.

One witness at the trial testified that the plan was hatched after Myles Connor, a notorious art thief, tipped off Ierardi that a big cocaine deal was going to take place at Blackfriars on June 27. (Connor denied ever speaking to Ierardi, according to the Globe.)

Prosecutors said the robbery turned deadly when one of the victims apparently moved too quickly, and the thieves responded by firing their weapons.

Ierardi took the stand and testified in his own defense. He denied the allegations and said he attended a wake in East Boston and was with his girlfriend on the night of the murders.

“About the Blackfriars, I don’t know nothing,” Ierardi said. “I didn’t shoot anybody. I couldn’t.”

The Globe reported that on April 9, 1979, after hours of deliberation, the jury members were asked if they had reached a decision.

“We have,” the foreman said.

Kelly’s sister was in the courtroom when the not-guilty verdict was read. “The two guys looked at us in court and smiled,” she said.

All she could do is absorb the news. “What could I do?” she said through tears. “That was the end of that.”

She said she’s “always had hope” that authorities would crack the case and justice could be served for her brother, but at the same time, she felt like nothing was being done.

To this day, the case remains unsolved.

And the pain of losing her only sibling is still felt every day.

“It’s still hard to talk about,” she said. “It’s always hung over my head.”

Ierardi died in 2001 and Italiano in 2006.

Italiano’s defense lawyer, Albert L. Hutton Jr., spoke with the Globe on Wednesday but was reluctant to discuss details of what transpired during the trial. He said he’s currently working on a book about Blackfriars. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said the shooting at Blackfriars stands out from other crimes in the city.

“Large-scale multiple homicides like this one are fortunately rare in Boston,” Wark said in an e-mail. “And historically, they are almost always solved and the defendants almost always convicted. The Blackfriars case is an exception in that respect, but if someone out there has knowledge they haven’t yet shared, then we still urge them to come forward.”

Coverage of the Blackfriars massacre from the June 28, 1978, issue of The Boston Evening Globe.
Coverage of the Blackfriars massacre from the June 28, 1978, issue of The Boston Evening Globe.

Coverage of the Blackfriars massacre from the June 28, 1978, issue of The Boston Evening Globe.
Coverage of the Blackfriars massacre from the June 28, 1978, issue of The Boston Evening Globe.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.