CHELSEA — “We are the police and we’re going to kill you.”
The voice came from the other side of the door to Room 209. Around 4:30 on a brisk summer morning in July 1982 inside a tiny motel room above a strip joint in Chelsea, 12 people prepared to die.
The men and women barricaded the door with a couch and waited. A group of Everett and Chelsea police officers banged on the door. Then they drilled a hole and injected mace. An Everett cop fired two shots into the door. Finally, one of the cops grabbed an ax and chopped through the door. Soon, an Everett man, Vincent Bordonaro, would be fatally injured, and dozens of other lives changed forever.
Long before Whitey Bulger’s celebrated trial, Greater Boston was focused on the courtroom drama that grew out of that night at King Arthur’s Motel. While Bulger is being charged with 19 gang-related murders, King Arthur’s was about police brutality and cops being accused of murdering a sleeping man.
“It was police brutality. There’s no question about it,” said Robert A. Barton, the since-retired Superior Court judge who presided over the King Arthur’s trials.
During the trials, held in April, May, and June of 1983, people questioned just what happened at the drab, concrete strip club and motel tucked just over the Everett border in Chelsea. At the end of the first trial, Everett police officers John McLeod and Richard Aiello were found guilty of second-degree murder.
It marked the first time in state history that an on-duty cop — Aiello — had been found guilty of murder.
Another Everett cop, John Macauda, was found guilty of manslaughter. Everett police officer William McClusky was found not guilty of second-degree murder, and Michael Nadworny of the Chelsea police force was found not guilty of assault and battery.
In the second trial, which ended on June 20, four civilians who had been accused of assaulting McLeod were acquitted.
Finally, in February 1984, six Chelsea cops admitted they filed false police reports about the incident, and entered into a plea agreement for which they received discipline within the Police Department.
While Everett and Chelsea chiefs now point to that night as the beginning of reform in their departments, it took almost another decade before either department overhauled its policies and regulations, and added comprehensive training, along with additional layers of supervision, to prevent an event like King Arthur’s from happening again.
In July 1982, Everett police had little or no training, and were operating under policies that had last been updated in 1951. In Chelsea, the department was in disarray: Its vice squad did not work weekends, and bars like King Arthur’s regularly stayed open after hours, said Chelsea Patrolman John Gravallese, one of the officers who admitted to falsifying a police report about the incident.
“A lot changed after King Arthur’s,” said Gravallese, 63, who received a 22-month suspension without pay, and blames the dissolution of his marriage on that night. “It changed everybody’s lives, the victims and the police.”
Josh Resnek, a former editor of the Chelsea Record, described the King Arthur’s incident as a metaphor for the way the city was run. By the time the state took control of Chelsea after it went bankrupt in 1991, four former mayors had been sent to jail or were under house arrest, and a Chelsea police captain also had been jailed.
“Police were called [to King Arthur’s] repeatedly for beatings, stabbings, shootings over the years. The city condoned it; the police overlooked it,” said Resnek.
On a curved strip where the rutted streets are filled with potholes capable of swallowing up tires, King Arthur’s still sits. In the shadow of Everett’s LNG tanks, and hard by the New England Produce Center, tractor-trailer drivers have long sought refuge in its windowless bar, seeking strong drink, a seat with a view of a naked dancer, and a room for the night.
The night that changed both cities started out like any other, said Beverly Farrairo Guttadauro, who later married Arthur Guttadauro, the late owner of King Arthur’s. She headed over to the Village Pub, a bar that was owned by Bordonaro. There, she met several others who later found themselves in Room 209. One was McLeod, who was off duty and consumed four drinks at the pub, according to court records.
“That place was closing down, and I said ‘I’m going over to my boyfriend’s bar,’ and I said, ‘Anyone who wants to come is welcome,’ ” she said in a recent interview.
The group arrived at King Arthur’s and met Bordonaro, who bought a couple of rounds before excusing himself and heading up to sleep in Room 209. McLeod also bought a round.
Nicholas Medugno, who is now 80, was sitting at the bar around 3:30 that morning. “There were just people drinking and a little argument broke out,” said Medugno, who owned a pizza shop in downtown Everett and recalled frequenting King Arthur’s.
Alfred “Da” Mattuchio, an Everett bar owner who died in 2003, had testified that McLeod confronted him and threw a punch.
The two had history: Years earlier, Mattuchio’s son had been shot by Charles Carter, an Everett auxiliary police officer who had been McLeod’s partner on the force. After the incident, Carter was shot and killed in Medford.
According to Mattuchio’s testimony, McLeod was subdued by Charles Dimino, the son of Anthony Dimino, the bar manager. Mattuchio and others would testify that some punches were thrown, and a bruised and bloodied McLeod was told to leave the bar. McLeod would tell the juries that he had been beaten with a bat by Mattuchio, Charles Cella, and the Diminos.
Sometime after 4 a.m., McLeod stumbled to a nearby guard shack and told a security officer to call the Everett police to report that a cop had been attacked. The department’s entire night watch of five officers sped across the city line into Chelsea and arrived at King Arthur’s. McLeod greeted the police, and first reached for an officer’s rifle in a cruiser before settling on a set of nunchaku, two hardwood sticks joined by a short length of chain.
Other officers would fortify themselves with nightsticks, clubs, bats, and tire irons in addition to their guns. They moved toward the bar, found it locked, shattered a window, and got in. Around 4:30, Chelsea police arrived and were told that an Everett officer had been beaten by a crowd with bats.
“That’s when we went into Room 209,” said Medugno. “And when we went into that room, they started breaking down the door. We said ‘Call the police,’ and they said, ‘We are the police.’ ”
Over the next several minutes, two sets of beatings occurred. According to testimony, Aiello and Macauda made the first entry, and struck several people with blunt instruments. Helen Bozzi, who was also in the room, testified she saw Macauda hit Bordonaro — who was sleeping on a bed — with a tire iron.
“It was just a nightmare, a slaughter,” said Medugno, who was hit over the head and later hospitalized. He said he thinks about the attack often, and 30 years later still suffers from dizziness from the beatings. In court, he testified: “It was like a stick hitting meat.”
Back in the hallway, the policemen regrouped. An ambulance arrived to treat McLeod, who waved the paramedic away. After a brief respite, Aiello walked McLeod back into the room with a baseball bat. There, several of the people were already bloodied and unconscious. Inside the room, witnesses testified that the second set of beatings began when McLeod used the bat on Bordonaro and Mattuchio.
After every swing, witnesses reported him saying, “My name is John McLeod, and don’t you forget it.”
Bordonaro, 54, slipped into a coma and died seven days after the attack. McLeod and the other Everett officers continued to work until a month later, when they were formally charged with murder.
McLeod was released in 2000 after serving 17 years, and Aiello was set free in 1998 after 15 years in prison. Both still live in the area; Aiello declined to comment for this article, and McLeod did not respond to interview requests.
Macauda served six years for manslaughter; he could not be reached for comment.
After the beatings and the trials, the victims sued the cities of Chelsea and Everett and received millions of dollars in damages. Residents picketed outside the Everett police station, and sometimes heckled officers in public.
Meanwhile, both departments carried on for years with few changes. “Nothing happened. That was the big criticism that little had been done,” said John McCarthy, who took over as Everett’s mayor in 1986 and subsequently appointed a new police chief who instilled mandatory training and a formal chain of command. In Chelsea, the police began to implement new training and policies after the city entered into receivership in 1991.
“It became known pretty much as a watershed moment in what was deemed police misconduct,” said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes. He said his officers now write event narratives while compiling criminal reports, and those documents are reviewed by a supervisor and a crime reporting and analysis unit to make sure they are accurate.
Everett Police Chief Steven Mazzie believes the incident ultimately changed his department for the better. These days, no one likens Everett’s law enforcement to the Wild West.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from King Arthur’s,” said Mazzie. “We’ve become a more professional agency. We’ve instituted rules and regulations, policies and procedures; values that reflect who we are now and how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves in the community.”
May 12, 1983 | Officers convicted
Three Everett police officers were found guilty.
John W. McLeod, 38: second-degree murder, two counts of assault and battery
Sentenced to life imprisonment with parole possible after 15 years; served 17 years
Richard P. Aiello, 30: second-degree murder
Sentenced to life imprisonment with parole possible after 15 years; served 15 years
John T. Macauda, 30: manslaughter
Sentenced to 6-10 years; served 6 years
May 12, 1983 | Officers acquitted
Everett police officer William McClusky, 39, was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
Chelsea police officer Michael Nadworny, 35, was found not guilty of assault and battery.
June 20, 1983 | Civilians acquitted
Four civilians, Alfred Mattuchio, Charles Cella, Anthony Dimino, and Charles Dimino, were found not guilty of assault and battery.
Feb. 7, 1984 | Plea deals
Six Chelsea police officers entered a plea bargain agreement for filing false reports in connection with the case. Michael Nadworny pleaded guilty and was not rehired by the Chelsea force; John Gravallese, Richard Voto, John Quinn, Robert Lewin, and Anthony Iantosca received suspensions within the department.
SOURCES: Mass. Executive Office of Public Safety and Security; Mass. Department of Correction; Globe archivesReach Steven A. Rosenberg at email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.