Copyright 2001 LARZ F. NEILSON
TEWKSBURY - The gang had just pulled off one of the largest bank heists in history. If asked where they were going next, the answer would not have been Disney World. It was Tewksbury.
The 1980 robbery of the Depositors’ Trust Co. in Medford had an estimated yield of $25 million, with at least $1.5 million cash. The gang that pulled the robbery included three police officers, one of whom lived in Tewksbury. And it was at the home of Sgt. Joseph Bangs on Oxford Road that the gang split up the loot.
They nearly got away with the heist, too. But then things got crazy; very crazy. The story goes into police corruption, murder, attempted murder, drug dealing, and the theft and altering of Civil Service exams. The scandal eventually resulted in the breakup of the Metropolitan (MDC) Police, who patrolled certain parkways, parks and MDC facilities in suburban Boston.
Bangs was a former contractor from Cambridge who landed an appointment to the Capitol Police in the 1970s. He then transferred to the Metropolitan Police, where he became a sergeant.
Gerald Clemente became a Medford police officer in the early 1960s and quickly learned that corruption was almost a requirement if he were to have credibility among his fellow officers. He later transferred to the Metropolitan Police. By 1980, he had been promoted to captain. By that time, he was heavily involved in the theft and sale of exams to police.
The third officer involved in the robbery was Lt. Thomas Doherty of the Medford Police. The gang also included Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, a convicted robber, safecracker and alarm expert; Kenny “Charlie” Holmes, and Francis “Brother” O’Leary, a friend of Bangs.
Clemente’s version of the robbery is told in the book The Cops are Robbers. It was written by Kevin Stevens and Clemente, and was later made into a movie, Good Cops, Bad Cops.
According to the book, as soon as Bangs became a Capitol police officer, he began robbing state offices, taking office supplies, typewriters, chairs — anything he could get his hands on that he could sell on the outside. Bangs also rented an apartment where he ran card games for his police friends, skimming every pot. There were wild sessions with drugs and prostitution.
The 1980 bank robbery began with Bangs and O’Leary approaching Clemente, wanting an alarm expert, so they could rob a TV store in Medford. Clemente thought a TV store was hardly worth the effort. He told Bangs he should contact Lt. Doherty of the Medford PD, and he set up a meeting. Doherty suggested hitting the Depositors’ Trust vault.
They brought in “Bucky” Barrett, a convicted robber who had spent his youth at the Middlesex Training School in Tewksbury, a reform school for habitual truants. Barrett brought in a vault and safe specialist, who they knew only as Charlie. It was said that Charlie had never worked a legitimate day in his life. He had nothing in his own name. His brother handled all his finances.
A month before the robbery, Barrett went to the bank and experimented with the wiring for the alarm system. Then, on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, the gang went to work. They broke into a watch repair shop next to the bank, cut through a wall and came in over the vault. They then cut and blasted their way into the vault. Lt. Doherty kept a watch outside in his cruiser, monitoring police radio frequencies.
At first, they were disappointed. There was only $60,000 in the safes inside the vault. Then they turned to the safe deposit boxes. Some sources say that some of the boxes belonged to “the mob.” Anyway, the boxes were loaded with valuables.
The gang worked all weekend. They returned to the bank twice, on Sunday and Monday nights. Each morning, they would go to Bangs’ house in Tewksbury. The pearls, diamonds and gold coins glittered like stars on the basement floor, plus huge piles of cash, Clemente wrote. He arrived home with over $100,000 in his pockets.
Even as they were splitting up the take, Clemente wrote, Bangs and O’Leary were tossing aside some of the money into a corner and stashing it in secret pockets. Because the loot had come from safe deposit boxes, there was no accounting of the total and no way for any of the robbers to know if he was being cheated.
As for the gold and jewelry, Barrett took custody of it, to hold for safekeeping. Clemente wrote that he never received any of it. “Charlie” asked if he could have a particular watch, and it was given to him. That watch later became a key piece of evidence.
After the robbery, there was considerable heat for the gang. Clemente, Bangs and Doherty were under suspicion. Clemente was trying to lay low, hoping to beat the statute of limitations, and he almost made it.
O’Leary bought a home on Beech Street in Tewksbury, near Bangs. He put the house in his wife’s name.
Bangs and Doherty, meanwhile, were going nuts. Bangs moved out of Tewksbury and took up with a new girlfriend. He had always been a high roller, into flashy clothes, nice cars and a high life style.
Clemente wrote that Bangs became one of the biggest drug dealers in New England, selling about $15,000 a week in cocaine and other drugs. He and Doherty were also using a large amount of cocaine. They made regular trips to Las Vegas, in an attempt to legitimize the cash they were accumulating.
“By the time I learned that Joe would turn on his closest friend, the damage had been done,” Clemente wrote. “Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was greed, but he went off the deep end after the heist. When he talked about killing a relative or associate, you could tell he wasn’t kidding.”
Barrett disappeared in 1983, along with much of the loot. It later came out that mobsters Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi had demanded that he turn over money from the robbery. It was reported that he gave them $300,000. Then Bulger allegedly killed him. Barrett’s body was found in 2000, buried beside the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester. Whitey Bulger, who hasn’t been seen since 1994, was one of the best-known crime figures in Boston.
Things began to close in on the gang in 1984. Bangs went to Doherty’s garage in Medford with a shotgun. Doherty disarmed Bangs of the shotgun. But when Bangs went for a pistol behind his back, Doherty shot him at close range with the shotgun. Doctors said the only thing that saved Bangs was that he had so much cocaine in his system that his blood flow was impaired.
At the time of the shooting, Bangs had $10,000 cash in the trunk of his car plus a large quantity of drugs and firearms. While the police were swarming around Doherty’s garage, Bangs’ girlfriend managed to transfer the items to another car.
In searching the scene of the shooting, police found a copy of the April 1984 Civil Service exam, stolen from the state personnel office.
Bangs turned state’s evidence and testified against his former associates. Clemente was convicted and was given an immediate 30-40 year sentence. He later received an additional 15 year sentence for stealing and selling Civil Service exams. The late Sgt. David McCue of Wilmington testified for the prosecution in that trial. McCue had first blown the whistle on the “exam scam” in 1978.
Doherty was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder and sentenced to 18-20 years in prison. He later was convicted on one count of conspiracy and 11 counts of RICO, participating in organized crime.
Bangs was granted immunity, not only for the robbery, but for all other possible charges. He reportedly went into the Witness Protection Program.