By Seth Daniel
Louis Grieco didn’t do it.
Those are the words that the Revere resident, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Teddy Deegan in 1965 due to the testimony of a rogue FBI informant, longed to see in the Revere Journal one day.
However, after serving 29 years for a murder he didn’t commit, the former Derby Road resident and World War II hero died in prison before he could be exonerated – lying alone in a cold cell, sick and ignored by prison hospital staff.
He never got to see those words. Justice was never served to Grieco.
Now, a group of Revere residents who were his longtime friends are hoping to revive Grieco’s memory so that people will remember him for what he really was and not what he was wrongly accused of doing.
“From 1939 to the present, I can sit here and say there wasn’t a nicer guy around than Louis,” said Vincent Maria, longtime friend and Grieco’s power of attorney while Grieco was in jail. “I mean that. They weren’t altar boys; he wasn’t an altar boy. They did what gangsters do. But when it came to this city – Revere – he would do anything for people here. This was his turf. Nobody could come in here and hurt anyone from Revere. Louis made sure of that.
“Joseph Barboza tried to come in here and hurt some of us kids,” continued Maria. “Barboza was a cuckoo clock, really crazy. Louis told him to get out of here, and he scared him off. He wasn’t going to let Barboza come to Revere and hurt somebody.”
Said another longtime friend, Anthony Sena Sr., “He more or less lived on the corner of Broadway and Revere Street. That was his territory, and no one could move in, or else – one of those deals. That’s how he eventually ended up in jail for 30 years. Joseph Barboza came to that corner and tried to hurt some kids, and Louis gave him a slap in the face. As retaliation, Barboza fingered Louis in the Teddy Deegan murder, and the FBI let it happen.”
In 1965, Louis Grieco was the king of the corner of Revere Street and Broadway.
According to friends, he hung around some unsavory characters, but he also made an honest living repossessing automobiles for banks.
Grieco grew up in Revere, being born on Graves Road and coming of age at 21 Derby Road, the son of a carpenter.
He took to boxing when he was only 16, training at the former Santos’s Gym on Winthrop Avenue.
In fact, he was quite an amateur boxer, and after entering the U.S. Army in 1940, he strung up a series of at least 22 straight professional wins, beating enlisted men from all over the country.
“I think Louis would have been the champion of the world if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt in the war,” said Maria. “He got robbed of that. He trained hard.”
Grieco saw action in the Philippines during World War II, and according to his military record, he won the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He was shot in the leg during conflict, resulting in a permanent disability that would send him out of professional boxing forever.
When he came back to Revere from the war, he was in a full body cast, and guys like Maria and Sena were there to help him get around. Maria said he often drove Grieco around the city in his blue Ford.
However, in 1965, Grieco’s life would change when rogue FBI informant Joseph “The Animal” Barboza falsely implicated Grieco, Joe Salvati, Henry Tameleo and Peter Limone for the murder of Edward “Teddy” Deegan in Chelsea.
None of the them were present at the murder, and it was later discovered that Barboza had helped murder Deegan and the FBI had known full well that he had done so. They also had encouraged Barboza to lie in court, thus framing Grieco.
The FBI never set the record straight, and the men went to jail for decades. They were originally sentenced to death by electrocution, but were spared a death sentence when capital punishment was abolished in 1974. A few years ago, Limone and Salvati were freed and exonerated of the murder.
Their pictures were all over the papers and they were the subjects of several national articles on FBI corruption.
Grieco never got to enjoy any of that, because he had died 10 years earlier. Therefore, his name was never completely cleared in the public’s mind, Maria said.
Grieco had been in Florida at the time of the murder.
Maria and Sena were a few of the dedicated friends that visited Grieco in jail over the decades.
They said Grieco didn’t have many visitors.
His family slowly stopped coming for visits and his wife remarried at his request. He loved flowers and grew all the flowers at the various jails he was in.
“He would do flowers for all the prisoners’ wives, and all the inmates’ families loved Louis,” said Maria.
At those visits, though, one thing was routinely absent from the conversations. What was missing was talk of his unjust predicament.
“He wasn’t an angry person,” said Maria. “Louis didn’t get mad. As many times as I went to see him, it would come up and he’d say, ‘I didn’t do this. I didn’t commit this crime.’ That was it.”
Sena said Grieco would always want to know what was going on outside of prison, and not what was going on with his appeal or his situation.
“He wanted to know what was going on at Revere Street,” he said. “He wouldn’t talk about his situation or about hating certain people.”
Maria said he hopes people in Revere – at least – will know the good things that Grieco did, including protecting and helping Revere people.
“I was a building inspector in Boston for 30 years and I was straight as an arrow,” said Maria. “One time, some guys were going to hurt me, real bad guys, because I put a violation on their house and wouldn’t take it off. I was scared for the first time, and Louis was in the can. I went to see him and we talked about it and I told him who it was. It took an hour to get home from Walpole, and when I got back, I was told it was all taken care of.”
Sena said Grieco would have given the shirt off his back for anyone in Revere, yet never got what he wanted more than anything – his freedom.
“He wanted so much not to die in jail, and those sons-of-guns knew he was innocent and wouldn’t let him out,” said Sena. “He fought just as hard as those other guys to get out, but he never did get out. That destroyed us, and it destroyed him. He was so good to us. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
The family of Louis Grieco, his wife and one surviving son, are part of a $100 million wrongful conviction lawsuit against the federal government that is now on appeal in the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.