On May 16th, 1991, Ed Morlock Sr., a native of Massachusetts mill towns, pulled an armored car in front of Shaw’s Grocery Store in Worcester. Morlock was covering a friend’s shift; the job was easy, a routine pickup and delivery. He’d been a guard and driver with Mass Transport Inc. for four years. The hulk of a man carried a .357 under his bulletproof vest; by his son’s accounts, he was a crack shot, and no stranger to dangerous work.
Morlock entered the grocery store. Bag and receipts in hand, he turned to find himself facing a pair of stocking-clad gunmen. A disgruntled bagger turned the corner just in time to watch the men pepper Morlock with bullets before sprinting into a white Cadillac that sat idling in the parking lot.
Morlock had been shot five times. He died with his hand resting on the grip of his pistol.
Police found the Cadillac only a few minutes away, abandoned in favor of a second getaway car. The robbers had escaped down a dirt backroad, having removed the chain blocking it days prior. The job had been planned meticulously, reeking of the 1950 Brink Heist’s professional experience. The heyday of Boston armored truck robbery had long passed. The list of men with these skills was small, and Ralph DeMasi topped it.
“Kiss my ass!”
Ralph DeMasi hollered those words at a federal judge only three months after the job that left Ed Morlock Sr. dead in a grocery store. He hadn’t gone down for it; while Worcester police had identified DeMasi as a suspect in the murder, there was little evidence with which to proceed. DeMasi’s subsequent imprisonment on robbery charges put a temporary moratorium on further investigation.
A former Rhode Island detective described him as one of the one of the most dangerous criminals in New England; a “bad bastard.”
Born in a home for unwed mothers in 1936, DeMasi’s youth was spent largely between foster families and reformatory schools. His wife described him as “gentle and kind,” a strange contradiction to a man who, at only eleven years old, was storied to have held up a card game in Bridgeport, forcing the attendees to strip naked before dashing away with a burlap sack of cash. Adding to this list of contradictions was his mode of acquiring the gun - he’d stolen it as a means of protecting his adopted mother from her abusive husband.
It’s hard to pinpoint when he first got involved with Raymond Patriarca; while they became close during DeMasi’s 1968 prison stint, the men had assuredly been aware of each other since long before.
The first half of DeMasi’s life is stored in police reports across New England. He’d been involved in a number of hustles, including extortion and auto theft. In 1968, a handwritten note to his wife implicated DeMasi in a heist of mink coats worth $80,000. Police subsequently tracked down the coats; DeMasi was already well known to them, and he was quickly sent to prison. It was there that he and Patriarca first became close; Patriarca admired his unquitting toughness and terse refusal to talk to the cops. When later imprisoned in 1991, he spent large quantities of his time in solitary confinement due to a staunch distaste for following orders given by the guards.
DeMasi, upon release in 1970, became a trusted Patriarca associate, working in extortion and auto theft for Gerard Ouimette. It was under Ouimette that he assembled crews to hit armored cars; a number of transcripts recorded by federal agents outline a man fiercely proud of the efficiency and dedication his crews put into their jobs. DeMasi approached armored trucks with extreme caution, canvassing locations for months preceding the incident and often working late into the night to prepare for a heist. Rhode Island State Police detectives described him as a man that worked his hustles like a nine-to-five.
DeMasi and his associates canvassing a local scene, 1991.
Former associate Tony Fiore recounts DeMasi as a wild partier, capable of blowing an entire score’s take in just a matter of weeks, while still practicing old-school mob leadership, taking care of imprisoned men’s families and making sure his crews never went without. DeMasi and Fiore were two of the most successful of their time - Fiore went away only a few months before DeMasi did.
In 1973, DeMasi and associate Billy O’Brien sat down for a meeting with Whitey Bulger and Tommy King, at the time Kileen Gang highups. Compelled to testify against Bulger in 2013, DeMasi recounted having a premonition as they left the meeting. “Drive fast,” he told O’Brien. “If a car comes up fast, hit the gas.” O’Brien laughed - and within moments, Bulger and King came flying up a sidestreet in Roxbury, opening fire on DeMasi’s car. O’Brien veered off the road, crashing the car into a fence. Bulger and King emerged, guns drawn, and riddled the car with more than one hundred bullets.
O’Brien was shot seventeen times; they left his face peeling down the headrest of the car. DeMasi, having been shot eight times, drew a stiletto and charged the gunmen. At the sight of DeMasi, both men knew they’d made a mistake - according to DeMasi, they hadn’t thought he was in the car, and they knew he was protected by Patriarca. They quickly ran, and DeMasi was well on his way limping to the hospital when he was picked up by Boston policemen. He refused to give any names, concealing the identities of O’Brien’s killers until federal courts compelled his testimony during Bulger’s 17-count murder trial in 2013.
In 1984, DeMasi was charged with having hired two men to bomb a federal judge’s house. The judge had been pursuing cases against a number of Patriarca associates at the time; DeMasi, backed against a wall by federal prosecutors, stood as his own attorney. DeMasi had not attended a formal high school of any kind. His salvation was a novel purchased at the five-and-dime that detailed how to get off a criminal case.
DeMasi was promptly acquitted. He spoke briefly to reporters afterwards, gesticulating wildly as he reported the judge to have been ‘exceptionally fair.’
In the next five years, DeMasi made a powerful name for himself in the criminal underworld. Teaming up with men of Fiore’s caliber, he pulled off a number of heists, raking in scores that totalled to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a couple of years, estranged from his wife and family, DeMasi and his associate Ronald Martel relocated to a summer camping site in Salisbury, electing to plan his jobs from under a tarp in the woods. It was under this same tarp he’d plan the Newburyport job that landed him twenty years in a federal prison.
In late July of 1991, federal agents pinpointed DeMasi’s campsite, establishing regular surveillance on he and Martel. For the next month, FBI agents documented DeMasi and his crews’ regular comings and goings, observing the frequency with which the men visited Newburyport’s Port Plaza Shopping Center. The objective of these visitations were unclear; DeMasi would arrive accompanied by various Patriarca hang-arounds, driving vehicles registered to the mens’ wives and families.
In late August, DeMasi arrived late at night at the Plaza, driving a vehicle registered to known Patriarca associate Francis Bonasia’s wife. According to authorities, DeMasi exited the vehicle, peered into the windows of Shawmut Bank, and drove quickly away. The car was observed by surveilling agents that night at the campground; Bonasia’s own gray Buick was also observed coming and going several times a week.
At around eight in the morning, on September 10th, federal agents watched Martel drive DeMasi away from the campground. Further surveillance photographs show Bonasia meeting the two men at a nearby grocery store; joined by two other associates, the men congregated inside a green van. Federal agents quickly identified the vehicle as stolen.
Bonasia proceeded in his Buick; the other four tailed him, entering the Port Plaza parking lot minutes before an armored truck was to arrive. The van pulled up next to Bonasia’s car; federal agents watched Bonasia give a ‘thumbs up’ to the driver, and the green van pulled out of the parking lot, idling directly in front of Shawmut Bank.
Federal agents moved quickly. Cars pulled in from all directions; a number of men, clad in kevlar and armed to the teeth, converged on the van. They broke the van’s doors open to find DeMasi and his associates pulling nylon stockings over their foreheads. They’d already donned bulletproof vests; police found three pistols and a submachine gun as well as a portable radio scanner.
Rhode Island State Troopers moved on Bonasia, capturing him eight feet from his Buick. They recovered a pair of binoculars; the stage had been clearly set. All five defendants were arrested, and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit bank robbery. Detectives described DeMasi as ‘cold,’ showing no emotion or remorse as they pulled him from the van.
DeMasi was fifty five years old. His conviction landed him a sentence of twenty one years in a federal prison. There was to be no possibility of parole. DeMasi was one of the last professional armored truck robbers of the century; he’d lost his freedom while he was living under a tarp. His last action in court was to threaten Bonasia’s lawyer before ordering a judge to kiss his ass.
Worcester Police Chief Steven Sargent never let Morlock’s death go.
One of the first officers on the scene, he’d held Morlock’s hand as the man died, putting pressure on the numerous wounds as he begged Morlock for so much as a single word that could help them find the men responsible. He watched Morlock die. He’d later call the case “personal” for him.
As hard as they’d tried, neither Worcester police nor federal agents could link the Morlock slaying to DeMasi. The little evidence they’d been able to gather was fickle; the lack of evidence notwithstanding, many considered the case ‘closed’ after DeMasi's unrelated arrest three months later. A number of men believed to have been accessory to the slaying died well before DeMasi’s date of release. Rumors swirled - Morlock’s family believed it to be DeMasi; he’d reportedly bragged to an undercover DEA agent about a job in Worcester in 1991, and underworld whisperings described DeMasi as a feared and ruthless killer. From Boston to Providence, DeMasi was storied to have killed a security guard during a botched job.
Former Worcester restauranteur Richard Stavros alleged that DeMasi associate Ronald Martel drunkenly confessed to being accessory to Morlock’s murder in May of 1991; he’d come to ask for money, stating that he’d been the getaway driver. He needed that money to ‘get out of town.’ When asked who’d pulled the trigger, Martel uttered a stoic ‘Ralph.’
Released from federal custody in 2013, DeMasi found himself struggling greatly with memory loss. A quiet, polite old man, his neighbors reported being ‘shocked’ when new evidence came to light in the Worcester case that mandated DeMasi’s 2016 arrest.
Ronald Martel, under a federal immunity agreement, declared to have perjured himself during his testimony in 1992. The other men allegedly involved in the 1992 slaying have been dead for years; Martel, and DeMasi, were at the time believed by federal authorities to be the only remaining participants.
After two years of argument, DeMasi would be acquitted. He returned to his modest Salisbury home, pinning up posters of famous mobsters on the walls. He stated to a reporter that he would rob another armored truck before he died; currently 84 years old, the man’s odds don’t look fantastic.