In Revere, there are regular people you get to know – your friends and neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances – and then there are the characters in the city that no one really knows but everyone knows of.
One of those characters – Roger DiPesa, a long-time local homeless man who suffered from mental illness – passed away on Christmas Eve at a hospital in Salem after some possible mysterious circumstances took place in a Salem homeless shelter.
Some are saying he was assaulted and died as a result of that.
Others are saying he just died simply due to medical complications.
It is, however, more than ironic that for decades he survived outside in the harsh Revere winters, yet met his death when pushed into a warm, so-called safe haven for homeless people.
DiPesa, 54, was a hard-core survivor and Revere Police – as well as many other Revere people – had an affinity for the man, who suffered mightily from mental illness. One could often spot DiPesa hugging a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee as he trekked down Squire Road or American Legion Highway in the dog days of summer or the dead of winter.
He collected rocks.
He looked like Charles Manson, or modern likenesses of Jesus Christ.
He smoked inside restaurants where it wasn’t allowed.
Sometimes he attempted to sleep on the floor of Dunkin’ Donuts.
He carried on intelligent conversations from time to time.
He was very content to be living outside.
And he relied in great deal on the soft-heartedness of the Revere community, which did help him out time and time again.
One Revere Police Officer, Joe Rizzuti, has submitted a rare letter to the Journal in remembrance of DiPesa.
“Roger had his moments over the years,” read the letter. “Some of those moments made you smile and some made you scratch your head. However, you always knew Roger meant no harm. When I became a police officer I would often have to move Roger on from place to place. I always gave him a few bucks. He always thanked me and bought coffee or food with the money, never drugs or booze…”
Revere Police Capt. Michael Murphy said that the police have had 190 calls involving DiPesa since 1995 and a few arrests. None of those arrests were for anything serious in nature, he said.
“He is one of our characters in the city, no doubt,” said Murphy. “Roger DiPesa was the subject of 25 years worth of a multitude of police calls. Even though he had an alarming appearance to some or to strangers, our experience was he was a non-violent person. He had a Jesus Christ look to him. He was no doubt the victim of mental illness and was resistant to help from the system.”
Police Chief Terence Reardon also indicated that despite his weathered appearance, DiPesa was harmless and determined to live under the stars and not under a roof.
“Clearly he was mentally ill and he had his issues and could be cantankerous, but by and large he was harmless,” said the chief. “Because of his mental illness, he would have nothing to do with confinement of any kind. He wanted to live in the wild. When things did get too crazy weather-wise – when it was life threatening – we always tracked him down and brought him in. He didn’t usually come willingly though.”
It was a true mystery as to just how he found his way to surviving, and even the chief said DiPesa was a pretty tough individual and clearly very adaptable.
Those who have been in Revere know that DiPesa came from the Revere Street area and may still have family near St. Anthony’s.
However, just how he got to be the character known to many in Revere as “J.C.” or “Manson,” is yet another mystery about the man.
There were many stories as to how he got where he was – including some portraying him as a genius that had a mental break down.
Finding those answers or delving in to try and get them from him was a fruitless pursuit. There just weren’t answers he could provide, and if there were, maybe it was best not to know.
“I have a strong suspicion he was just a regular guy afflicted by mental illness,” said Capt. Murphy.
In the end, those who had interactions with DiPesa can look back and enjoy the irony and humor of some of his antics. Here was a man totally outside the system, living unbound by the anxieties and constraints that the rest of us pile up in a lifetime of responsibilities and orderliness.
I recall one time eating at the Wendy’s on Squire Road.
I sat in the front, and DiPesa came up and sat at the booth across the aisle from me.
We were the only ones in the restaurant at the time.
As I ate, he fidgeted, and looked at me from time to time.
Then, he cleared his throat and nodded to me.
I waited to see what would happen next.
He nodded and winked and then took out a pack of cigarettes. He took one out and lit it up, blowing the smoke high into the air with all his might. He looked at me and, again, nodded as if he and I were in on some sort of secret that was about to become public.
As the cigarette was about half burnt, the manager of the restaurant came over to us and told DiPesa that he couldn’t smoke and if he didn’t stop smoking, she would call the police.
DiPesa didn’t immediately react to the woman.
She stood waiting to see what he would do.
I sat across the aisle, also in anticipation.
He took what was left of the cigarette, contemplated, and then threw it in his mouth. A second or two passed and then he swallowed it.
The manager walked away shaking her head.
DiPesa nodded my way, got up from the table and left the restaurant.