How ‘Cadillac Frank’ Salemme got his mob nickname

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It’s one of those things I was pretty sure I knew.

When you cover something for a long time as a reporter, there can be a lot of information that just sort of bounces around the brain, but you can’t remember how it got there in the first place.

My memory of why former New England mob boss Francis Salemme – who was in court on murder charges Wednesday – had received the nickname “Cadillac Frank” was because at one time, he worked on Cadillac cars at a garage in Boston.

But, as any good journalism professor will tell you, it’s best to check things out.

So I went to WBUR radio senior reporter David Boeri in Boston.

Boeri’s resume is impressive, and his reporting on organized crime is legendary. He famously surprised Salemme in a sidewalk interview in 2004 when he was a TV reporter for WCVB.

Boeri told me that, for the most part, I had the background on his nickname right: Salemme worked at a Boston auto body shop – where he hung out with notorious hit man Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi – and specialized in fixing up Cadillacs.

“He never liked Cadillacs, actually,” Boeri said. “He drove BMWs.” (In fact, Salemme was driving a BMW on the day in 1989 when he famously survived an assassination attempt outside a pancake house.)

But Boeri had another angle I didn’t know, and it starts with “He knew a guy.”

Salemme, Boeri said, knew a guy that worked at a Cadillac dealership in the area, and when new cars were coming in, that person would take every “30th or 40th new car coming off the truck” and key it, scraping it along one side of the car.

“That would mean the car could no longer be sold new,” Boeri said. “Salemme would get a good deal on the used Cadillacs.”

Salemme would then buff out the damage, turn around and sell the shiny Cadillacs at a better price.

Salemme’s court appearance Wednesday came after he was arrested for his involvement in a 1993 gangland slaying; the body was discovered earlier this year buried in Providence. Court records showed Salemme had been living in Atlanta, Georgia, under the name “Richard Parker.”

But “Cadillac Rich” Parker just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

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