This article originally appeared in the July 4, 1978 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
“I suppose my role with those people (organized-crime figures) is a dual role in a sense. I went into the relationship looking for stories. If you want a story on a gangster, go to a cop. If you want a story on a cop, go to a gangster. I went into that situation for that reason, and I suppose I came away with more.” — Jack Kelly, then a Channel 7 investigative reporter, in a Phoenix interview in November, 1976
At eight o’clock last Wednesday morning, the Boston police radio band began to crackle. In the sub-basement of Blackfriars, a bar and discotheque on Summer Street near South Station, a janitor had made a grisly discovery.
“How many you got there?” asked the police dispatcher.
“Five,” came the response.
“How many ambulances will you need?”
“Never mind the ambulances; they’re all gone.”
Within minutes, Police Commissioner Joseph Jordan and a veritable army of his underlings — more cops than a veteran newsman at the scene could recall ever seeing in one spot — had converged in front of the bar. At the Blue Cross-Blue Shield office tower across the street, arriving workers filled the windows; in the street below, a sizable crowd began to gather.
In his Boston apartment, WBZ-TV reporter Maurice Lewis heard the early reports of what would come to be known as the Summer Street Massacre. Lewis took a special interest: an old chum from his ‘BZ radio days, he knew, was currently working as night manager at the bar. Hoping to learn more about the shooting, he put in a call to Jack Kelly at his Framingham home. Kelly wasn’t there. His wife, Michelle, who had heard the same sketchy reports of the shooting on her car radio, was worried. Jack hadn’t come home the night before, she told Lewis, and she feared the worst. Lewis said he’d find out what he could and began phoning police sources. Getting no immediate results, he drove to the Channel 4 studios, on Soldier’s Field Road. There, finally, he confirmed what he and Michelle had all but concluded earlier.
At 34, Jack Kelly, who as recently as two years ago was a celebrated Boston television journalist (a star, really, and he acted the part), was dead. He was found lying face down, two gunshot wounds in the head, in the cramped, blood-spattered basement of Blackfriars, along with the bodies of Charles Magarian, Peter Meroth, Freddie Delavega, and Vincent Solmonte, the club’s owner. During the course of the night (probably around 2 a.m.), the five had apparently been surprised by one or more intruders wielding at least one shotgun and a .25-caliber automatic. Firearms and small quantities of cocaine and marijuana as well as more then $15,000 in an open safe were found. A backgammon game had been in progress. The prevailing police opinion was that it looked to be a classic gangland-style slaying.
As shocking and gruesome as was the crime — the motive for which is still a mystery — Jack Kelly’s fate was one that many of his journalistic colleagues had half-expected. Some, in fact, had warned him about the multiple dangers inherent in keeping such low-life company, but Kelly always laughed off the advice. “Jack always did have a hotshot approach,” said Maurice Lewis, one of the few local journalists interviewed last week by the Phoenix who forthrightly described himself as a long-time close friend of Kelly. “I always thought of him as suitable for the cast of The Wild Bunch — a movie about 20th-century adventures trying to relive the days of the Wild West. He was born a little too late for the adventure he craved.
“He was attracted to mobsters like a moth to a candle. Early on, he found a beat that would set him apart from the rest. He started to cultivate mob contacts as a way of getting into investigative reporting back before it became fashionable. And he loved that movie image. I don’t think he ever thought of it as anything other than a movie. But it was very real, and he just kept getting in deeper and deeper.”
At the peak of his career, the tall, bearded, tousled and bespectacled John A. (Jack) Kelly was as recognizable a figure as all but the superstar anchors on the local TV news scene. His deep, no-nonsense voice, his breathless Walter Winchell-like delivery, and his penchant for sensationalized, hard hitting exposes became his on-camera trademarks. A recurring misconception about the off-camera Kelly, though, was the belief that he was, by birth and upbringing, a Boston Irishman.