The Boston Job

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In the summer of 1962 robbers posing as police barricaded an armored truck near Boston, Massachusetts and boosted millions in cash. Three suspects were caught but two of them never went to prison and the third vanished before testifying. To this day, the cash they stole has never been recovered.

Episode Transcript

Take a second and think about every bill of cash that you’ve ever held. That first dollar bill you got under your pillow when your front tooth fell out, the five or ten bucks your grandma sent you in the mail on your tenth birthday, the first crisp 20 you withdrew from an ATM linked to your own personal savings account. NOT your parents’.

Now imagine where those dollars came from…originally. The faces and places they saw before they made it to you.

Ever wonder where those crinkly green bills’ journeys took them after leaving the mint?

The possibilities are simply unknowable. Millions of dollars in cash currency circulate every day across the globe.

According to US, back in 1913, the passing of the Federal Reserve Act established a national banking system and ensured that America would have one central bank. Not long after that, banknotes and paper currency started flowing through people’s hands in the United States.

At one point, there were even individual bills printed in sums of $1,000 and $500.

Can you imagine that? Carrying around a $1,000 bill.

Odds are that the cash tucked into your pocket or wallet right now was printed during the last few decades. At any point in its lifetime, it could have been somewhere that you’ll never get the chance to see.

It might even be linked to events you’d rather not be associated with…Events like a high-stakes armored truck robbery from the mid-1960’s.

A time when being a flower child, a war hater or a wanted fugitive made you headline news across the country.

In today’s episode, we’re rewinding the clock a few generations to look at one of the largest gang-style robberies in American history.

This is Armored… the untold stories of murder, mayhem, and million-dollar heists.

On the night of Tuesday, August 14th, 1962, a pair of U.S. Postal Service armored truck guards named Patrick Schena and William Barrett breathlessly barged into a police station in Randolph, Massachusetts.

36-year-old Patrick told officers that he and his coworker 51-year-old William had been robbed and kidnapped by a gang of thieves earlier that night.

The news shook officers in the sleepy town and right away they called The FBI and the US Postal Service. Agents from Boston jumped in their cars and made the quick half-hour drive to get the men’s statements and start an investigation into what happened.

When agents arrived and sat down with Patrick and William they heard a harrowing story.

According to reporting by the Boston Globe, Patrick told investigators that between 8:00 and 8:30 pm he’d been driving a postal service armored truck north along Route 3 with William riding in the passenger seat next to him.

The two were en route from Cape Cod to deposit more than $1 million at a Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. The money had come from stores and businesses in the Plymouth, Massachusetts area that had deposited a lot of cash after a successful summer weekend.

He said as they were driving, a vehicle suddenly came out of nowhere and zoomed up right next to the side of the armored truck, then sped past them. According to the Cape Cod Times, Patrick and William were driving 45 miles-per-hour and the car that blew past was going well over 80 miles-per-hour.

A few minutes later Patrick and William saw the strange car again about five miles up ahead of them on the shoulder of the roadway. He said when they spotted it that second time, it was parked next to another vehicle.

Patrick said the sight had him and William so curious that as they drove the armored truck closer, he started to brake. At that very moment, a man wearing a police officer’s uniform stepped out of one of the parked vehicles and started waving his arms over his head, which William and Patrick said they believed was a signal for them to pull over.

When that happened, Patrick said he actually came to a complete stop, but he and William were wary and decided to stay inside the truck. Instead of getting out, they just idled in the roadway.

Patrick told the FBI that when he rolled the armored truck to a stop, the two vehicles parked on the shoulder of the road lurched forward and drivers behind their steering wheels blocked in the front postal truck. At the same time, several cars lined up behind them.

Realizing they were being ambushed, Patrick and William said they started to reach for their .38-caliber service revolvers but were beat to the draw. Before they got the chance to unholster their guns, a handful of robbers armed with rifles and shotguns sprung out the cars surrounding them and swarmed the truck.

The attackers demanded Patrick and William lay down their guns and get out slowly. Next, Patrick said the robbers directed him and William to open the cage in the back and get inside.

Fearing for their lives, Patrick and William said they did exactly as they were told and let three of the robbers- including the one wearing a police officer’s uniform – blindfold, gag, and bind their hands and feet with 2 inch-wide adhesive tape and thick rope.

While forcing them to lie down in the back, the robbers threw several canvas bags containing cash out of the back of the postal truck towards a car behind them.

After tossing the bags, one suspect climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. With Patrick and William still bound in the back with two of the robbers, the driver started driving away.

Patrick told investigators that they rode around in the truck with their kidnappers for about 90 minutes and during that time he believed the thieves made at least two stops. Each time they parked he heard the men unload bags of cash.

Eventually, he said the kidnappers parked the truck for good and got out. Before taking off the robbers told the guards quote— “to not see anything—end quote.

Patrick and William said they’d waited for a few minutes for the coast to be clear, then quickly worked their way out of their bindings and blindfolds. Not long after jumping out of the back of their truck, they said they were able to flag down a good Samaritan driver who’d taken them to the police station in Randolph to report the robbery.

When FBI agents backtracked Patrick and William’s steps they found the stolen mail truck abandoned near the town of Randolph, just off of Route 128. That location was about 25 miles north of the initial crime scene on Route 3.

In total, 16 sealed pouches containing almost $1.6 million dollars from banks in Cape Cod were missing.

According to the Cape Cod Times, the exact figure was $1,551,277, which equates to roughly $13 million dollars in today’s currency.

A theft of that much money from a federally armored truck got national attention pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, because the stops the thieves had made were so sporadic and the driver operating the truck drove an unfamiliar route, Patrick and William were unable to identify where in the area the vehicle had gone to while they were in the back.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, right after learning the details of what happened, the FBI directed the Massachusetts state police to setup a series of roadblocks in the surrounding area. The hope was that whoever was involved in the robbery would still be on the roads somewhere with the stolen money.

Those hopes were dashed though when none of the more than a dozen roadblocks found a trace of the suspected robbery crew.

The August 14th robbery quickly became known as “The Great Plymouth Mail Truck Robbery” and was regaled as the largest cash heist in American history up until that point.

The story attracted a lot of attention throughout the country and added to a heightened sense of public fascination with over-the-top crimes. Two months earlier, media outlets were sent into a tailspin when three inmates escaped Alcatraz Island prison in San Francisco. That infamous escape still remains unsolved today. So, the timing of the mail truck robbery only fueled public interest in daring crimes happening in the summer of 1962.

Hoping to take advantage of all the national publicity was Postmaster General J. Edward Day. Day offered up a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identity of the truck robbery culprits and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston tacked on an additional $150,000.

When you do the math, the reward amount of $200,000 was more than 10% of the amount of money that had been stolen.

The Postal Service announced in a press release that any suspects who were killed during their apprehension would be considered guilty. Which, when you think about it, kind of throws that whole American constitutional right of “innocent until proven guilty” out the window but the 60’s were a different and complicated time. Who knows what they were thinking. I guess the Postal Service was completely fine operating with a “Wanted Dead or Alive” mentality.

The best starting point FBI investigators had was the eyewitness accounts from Patrick and William. Other than being kidnapped and roughed up, they were pretty much unharmed and had seen and heard a lot of helpful things.

For example, both guards said that while the robbers were riding with them in the truck the thieves mentioned to one another that they were heading to Providence after the crime. Authorities assumed the crew likely meant Providence, Rhode Island, a town about an hour south of Boston.

The guards also told the FBI that one of the robbers had answered to the name “Buster.”

While reconstructing the crime scene, agents felt pretty confident that there had been at least three if not close to five or six conspirators who had planned the robbery well ahead of time. Not only had one of them forced the mail truck to the side of the road by dressing as a fake cop, but all of the robbers made sure to drive enough cars to setup roadblocks in front of and behind the postal truck.

The Boston Globe reported that in the first few days of the investigation, authorities also learned that the robbers had set up an additional roadblock on Route 3, about four miles down from the actual crime scene, where men dressed in police and Massachusetts Public Works uniforms were telling drivers to turn around. That move, authorities believed, was a direct attempt to deter witnesses from seeing the robbery go down and it had worked.

No witnesses had come forward, except Patrick and William, to report the robbery. The only thing drivers on Route 3 came forward with to report was the fact that they’d been turned around by men dressed as police on the same night as the robbery.

 A 30-year-old woman told reporters with the Globe that she thought that one of the men who stopped her on the roadway who was dressed in a police officer’s uniform looked quote—“too well for an officer”—end quote. She said she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but just something about him struck her as being rather odd for the time and place. Now, I don’t know if this woman was just used to seeing unattractive police officers or what, but for whatever reason she seemed to indicate that the guy just didn’t fit what she was used to seeing in local law enforcement.

Another pair of witnesses – a couple who had been detoured onto a side road – told the newspaper that they saw what they believed to be a reddish-gray Chevy sedan parked near where the man dressed as a police officer’s vehicle was.  The Boston Globe reported that these witnesses also claimed to have seen a man and woman inside that car and that the woman had quote—“a pimply-faced and short hair”–end quote.

When police physically examined the crime scene and stolen truck they couldn’t find any physical evidence that had been left behind. Not a hair…not a piece of clothing…fingerprints…NOTHING.

Which kind of made sense because several eyewitnesses, including Patrick and William, had told investigators that they remembered the offenders wearing white gloves during the robbery. It was reported that the suspects did not fire any of their weapons, so the FBI couldn’t do ballistics tests because there were no spent shell casings lying around the crime scene.

When FBI agents compiled all of the information and reports, they realized they were dealing with a knowledgeable robbery crew who had spent weeks, possibly even months plotting the crime.

Based on witness reports, police publicly announced that they believed there were at least six culprits acting in tandem. However, The Boston Globe reported immediately after the crime that authorities noted that as many as nine men and one woman were involved. Investigators felt certain the gang had used at least four cars to carry out the crime, two of which news reports say were later found abandoned near the town of Plymouth, along Route 3.

Both cars ended up having stolen license plates that didn’t match up with their registration. Authorities dusted each car for fingerprints but little to no evidence was recovered.

The robbers had taken the time to steal or get access to at least two police officer uniforms and they also had obtained several high-powered weapons. Most interesting of all, the authorities believed those sporadic stops Patrick and William said the robbers had made while they were kidnapped had most likely been attempts to drop off portions of the money bags at various locations, instead of having it all in one place.

It was the FBI’s firm belief that the robbers had split up the cash into at least three chunks so that in the event any of the suspects were caught, the majority of the take wouldn’t be netted in one swoop.

The location of the initial crime scene also indicated to investigators that the robbery crew had a detailed knowledge of the Boston area.

FBI profilers determined that the bandits had known Route 3 was extremely isolated between Randolph and Boston. It was the perfect place to strike without being detected.

The crew had been tactful enough not to hit the armored truck after it got to Boston or while it was still in Cape Cod. If the robbery had taken place in either of those locations the police would have had an advantage and been able to seal off the bridges in those areas and trapped the suspects.

According to multiple news reports, investigators took a step back after a few weeks of looking at the case.

And when they regrouped they pointed the finger away from a group of nameless, faceless robbers and much closer to home.

By the end of August 1962, the FBI had spent a few weeks investigating what happened during the Great Plymouth Mail Truck robbery and their first official theory was one we’ve heard before in this series.

An inside job.

The feds believed that a group of people who were either insiders in the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston or the U.S. Postal Service had conspired to pull off the heist.

The Boston Globe reported that just three weeks before the robbery, United States Postal trucks had become the new standard method for transferring money securely from banks in Cape Cod to the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.

Prior to July of 1962, private armored vehicles had been responsible for transporting cash from these banks to the Federal Reserve Bank. Usually, during those transports the armored trucks were also accompanied by a state police escort. However, by August of 1962, state police resources had been reallocated and the U.S. Postal Service had been chosen to escort large sums of money from Cape Cod instead of private armored vehicle companies.

While investigators strongly believed there was some kind of inside connection involving staff at the bank or the mail service, they were never able to find a connection to any specific person within the bank or the postal service.

As you can imagine, because of the lack of evidence in the case, investigators had an embarrassingly hard time trying to track down the culprits.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The nagging lack of resolution forced the authorities to try out some pretty heavy-handed tactics in order to make progress.

The Berkshire Eagle reported that by 1963 the federal authorities and postal service investigators were relentlessly harassing, assaulting and entering homes of people they believed were suspects in the robbery. These officials reportedly did NOT have warrants or subpoenas while conducting these raids and were accused by the public of violating people’s civil rights and liberties during their investigations…which many people considered witch hunts.

In the postal service’s defense the chief inspector, a man named Henry Montague, referred to this case as quote— “the most intensive investigation in the history of the postal inspection service.”–end quote.

Henry denied that he and other federal officials were infringing on people’s constitutional and civil rights.

In January of 1963 the government’s approach became so invasive and aggressive towards a man named George Agistotelis that he spoke out publicly to the Boston Globe about the undue harassment he was experiencing.

George was a man that the FBI and the postal service had allegedly linked to the robbery scheme somehow but investigators provided no evidence to support how they arrived at George as a conspirator. All they had according to newspapers at the time was the fact that George had previously been convicted of bank robbery but he’d served his time and was living in the Boston area at the time of the heist.

George told newspapers that the postal service had harassed him for weeks and compared their tactics to the Gestapo. He told The Globe that federal officials had been leaning on him to falsify evidence and flat out lie in order to build a case against other people agents suspected were involved the crime. George said he’d refused on multiple occasions to do that.

Despite pressing people like George hard for months, years eventually passed and FBI investigators were unable to identify any of the individuals behind the robbery.

The federal statute of limitations to be able to prosecute someone for armed robbery was five years, and after several years of compiling information in this case, investigators found themselves running against the clock.

Other charges like kidnapping and lesser counts of interfering with interstate commerce would not have the statute of limitations run up on investigators but those crimes were not nearly as severe as the robbery charge. The FBI had until August of 1967 to arrest and charge the perpetrators for robbery and attempt to recover any of the stolen money.

The government was definitely concerned about letting the statute of limitations lapse. It would be a costly embarrassment to their reputations and at the same time send a message to other would-be thieves that they wouldn’t get caught if they committed similar crimes.

So, as the fifth anniversary of the case approached, officials with the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Service began to ratchet up their surveillance of known robbers, criminals, and mobsters throughout the Boston region.

In the summer of 1967, just a few months before the statute of limitations for robbery ran up, a grand jury was empaneled in Boston and heard evidence related to the case and the FBI’s lengthy investigation.

Jurors returned a bill of indictment for three individuals; two men and a woman. The feds had reportedly presented enough evidence to convince the jury the trio was involved somehow.

In August of 1967, almost five years to the day that the Great Plymouth Mail Truck Robbery went down, the FBI announced the arrests of 51-year-old John Kelley, 42-year-old Thomas Richards and 32-year-old Patricia Diaferio.

According to reporting by The Boston Globe, John was a known mobster from Watertown who had direct connections to the Patriarca crime family. He went by the nickname “Irish Red Kelley” and had a reputation for planning out and executing robberies for the Boston Mafia.

Thomas was an electrician from Weymouth who authorities claimed they’d linked to the case since its inception.

Patricia was a married mother of four from Boston, who bore a striking resemblance to a blonde woman witnesses said they saw on an overpass of Route 3 the night of the mail truck heist.

The government argued that all three suspects were connected to George Agistotelis another man named Joseph Tripoli. The group was suspected of working for the Boston Mafia, but reports state that George and Joseph were not indicted because the feds had been unable to provide enough credible evidence they were involved in the mail truck robbery.

The way authorities got to John, Thomas and Patricia was sort of roundabout and honestly kind of questionable.

John and Thomas’s lawyer, a man named F. Lee Bailey, told The Globe that his clients denied the charges and claimed police mistreated them for years during the FBI’s investigation.

John claimed in a series of letters to reporters that postal inspectors who’d investigated the crime had quote—harassed my wife and frightened my Siamese cats.” –end quote.

On various occasions in 1962 and 1963, Thomas claimed that postal service investigators and U.S Marshals had raided his house near Route 3. Thomas claimed the group did not have warrants and had come through like a wrecking crew and ransacked his belongings. It was documented that the authorities even destroyed a concrete patio and dug up his yard. On one of those visits, authorities found $350 in cash stashed away.

According to the Berkshire Eagle and Boston Globe, Thomas claimed he’d earned the $350 from gambling and winning big during a game of craps.

In addition to the cash in his house, authorities also found a pair of bullet-proof vests, a shotgun, and a .45-caliber handgun. The source material we found doesn’t say what exactly Thomas’s answer was as to why he had those items.

The Cape Cod Times reported that at some point after his arrest but before trial, Thomas decided to make a deal with prosecutors. He agreed to turn state’s evidence and testify for the prosecution.

This would prove to be critical because the FBI had not definitively linked Patricia Diaferio to the robbery until July of 1967, just days before she was charged with involvement.

According to the Boston Globe, she’d first come on investigators’ radar when she and her husband were charged in early 1967 with interfering with a customs officer.

During that incident, the couple had been traveling back into the U.S. from Canada. Her prior arrest along with the fact that she resembled a woman described by witnesses during the mail truck heist, were the government’s only reasons for arresting her in relation to the 1962 robbery.

With Thomas’s testimony against John and Patricia, the government felt confident they’d get convictions.

The trio’s trial was set for November of 1967 but as everyone was gearing up for the high-profile proceedings disaster struck.

Thomas Richards became a missing person.

In November 1967, Thomas Richards, the star witness for the government’s case did not show up for court.

Thomas was gone.

The FBI designated him a missing person and issued a warrant for his arrest. For weeks they attempted to track down the 42-year-old but agents were unsuccessful.

Thomas was set to testify against John Kelley and Patricia Diaferio and his damning testimony was expected to result in a slam dunk for the prosecution.

Reporting in the Cape Cod Times states that the last time Thomas was seen was just a few days before he was scheduled to testify. He and John had been out on $25,000 bail and he was working as an electrician in the town of North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

After he vanished, he and John’s defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, told the press that Thomas had been threatened by several people while awaiting trial. Bailey said those individuals believed Thomas had the missing money. He said that a lot of those people expressed that they wanted a piece of the money for themselves.

Since November 1967, Thomas has never been seen again.

He was 42 in 1967, which would mean he’d be 96 today if he’s still alive.

It’s reasonable to assume that Thomas is probably deceased now, but who knows, maybe he’s out there somewhere or maybe he didn’t live past November 1967.

Some investigators told journalists later that they suspected people involved in the robbery might have kidnapped and murdered Thomas, to prevent him from testifying and leading police to the stolen money.

Others theorized that the Boston Mafia learned that he was going to testify in court, so they made him “disappear.”

It’s even possible that Thomas if he had been involved in the robbery, used the large amount of cash in his cut to willingly disappear and start a new life with a new identity.

News reports state that he was a pretty average-looking guy so he would have been able to easily blend in almost anywhere in the United States.

Back in 1967 when Thomas was unable to testify against Patricia and John, the government’s case against the remaining defendants fell apart.

The prosecution put more than a dozen witnesses on the stand but none of them were as compelling as Thomas would have been. Even the judge seemed to express concern that the witnesses’ testimonies were not credible. He told jurors before deliberations to basically be wary of the witnesses’ words because all of them had incentive to provide incriminating information against the defendants in exchange for a piece of the $200,000 reward money.

According to the North Adams Transcript, the jury deliberated the case for less than an hour and came back and acquitted both John and Patricia. They were free to go and could never be tried for the crime again.

After the trial, the judge was so unhappy with the people the prosecution had put on the stand that he ordered a grand jury to investigate possible perjury charges for every witness that had taken the stand. Based on our research it’s hard to really know though because all of the public reporting about this part of the story cuts off just after the resolution of the armed robbery trial.

After the government’s failed attempt to convict John and Patricia for the robbery, the federal statute of limitations ran up and by 1972 the Massachusetts statute of limitations had also lapsed. At the time, The Boston Globe reported that state law allowed state prosecutors ten years to pursue charges for robbery. But like I said, that statute of limitations ran out too. So, ten years after the robbery, both Massachusetts and the U-S Department of Justice were legally blocked from pursuing charges against anyone for the crime.

In the end, it all came down to Thomas’s disappearance marking the unofficial end to the case.

To this day, no one has been found responsible for the mail truck robbery. At least, not formally.

Author Gail Begley wrote in her book, “Beyond Plymouth Rock: America’s Hometown in the 20th Century” that many people who could have had knowledge of the crime, like Thomas did, have never been questioned by authorities. That’s because she says her research uncovered they were all killed prior to 1967.

She wrote quote—“At least 15 other suspects or informants on the case were murdered or disappeared.”–-end quote.

To me, this indicates that Thomas’s disappearance was likely mob-related, and he along with other witnesses who knew what he knew were silenced to cover up the robbers’ tracks.

John Kelley, the alleged mastermind of the robbery scheme, was later connected to and charged with planning a Brinks armored car heist in December 1968. One year after his acquittal for the Boston job.

In that case, he wasn’t accused of physically participating in the crime but was said to be the head schemer.

Something else interesting about that incident was that a man named Santo Diaferio was also charged. You guessed it, Santo is the husband of Patricia Diaferio, the same woman acquitted for the Boston job alongside John Kelley.

When John went to trial for the Brinks robbery he used the same attorney who’d defended him for the mail truck robbery charges.

News publications reported that there was overwhelming evidence against John in the Brinks case, so he decided to take a deal and become an informant for the federal government. He ended up testifying against Raymond Patriarca, the head of the Patriarca crime family in Boston.

That move, turning against the Boston Mafia, was pretty much a death sentence. So, after testifying the FBI put John into witness protection.

It was reported that he died in February 2000 of natural causes.

According to the Courier Journal, family members linked to the Boston Mafia eventually published books that claimed John singlehandedly planned the 1962 mail truck robbery.

The books explain that John hand-picked a group of trusted accomplices and planned the heist for several months.

They wrote that afterwards, he and his conspirators laundered the money through businesses and gambling rackets and made off with close to $1.2 million.

According to the FBI, not a dime of that money was ever recovered.

How the thieves spent it and where it finally ended up from 1962 until now, remains a mystery.

Who knows…maybe some of those dollars are sitting in your wallet.

Maybe they’re floating around in offering plates at church…or tucked into birthday cards.

Unlikely….but not impossible.

Armored is an audiochuck original.

Hosted by Jake Brennan.

Research and writing by Micheal Whelan with writing assistance from executive producer Delia D’Ambra.

Editing by Eric Aaron.

So what do you think Chuck, do you approve? *howl*