Informant relives night of notorious gangland slaying

After decades on ice, the murder of Kevin Hanrahan may be closer to being solved

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A mob murder cold case that’s now more than a quarter-century old may be creeping closer to closure.

On Sept. 18, 1992, notorious gangster Kevin Hanrahan was shot three times in the head as he left what was then the Arch restaurant on Federal Hill. No one was charged in the brazen gangland slaying until 2016, when longtime mob capo regime Robert “Bobby” DeLuca pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy for his role in the killing.

But the actual triggerman has never been caught.

Target 12 has learned investigators are now looking at imprisoned mob captain Edward Lato as a suspect in the killing. The 70-year-old mob captain has been in a federal prison for a separate case from 2011, and is set to be released in next year.

Lato has not been charged in the Hanrahan slaying. Mark Smith, Lato’s most recent attorney, said he has not been contacted by the government in this case.

Several ice-cold mob cases started to heat up last year, when DeLuca was caught up in a federal case out of Boston and pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to the FBI.

Court documents show DeLuca is slated to be a key witness in the trial against former mob boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, who is accused of taking part in the murder of Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro.

DiSarro’s remains were exhumed from a Providence mill building in March, and DeLuca has told investigators he and his brother retrieved DiSarro’s body from Salemme and buried him behind the building, which was owned by DeLuca associate William Ricci.

Salemme has pleaded not guilty.

DeLuca pledged to cooperate with Rhode Island authorities in the Hanrahan murder as part of his plea deal with federal prosecutors in Boston. According to a plea agreement in the Hanrahan case, the attorney general’s office has recommended DeLuca’s 10-year sentence be suspended, meaning if he stays out of trouble, he won’t serve any prison time for his role in the murder.

Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, said the suspended sentence would run concurrent with any sentence DeLuca received in the Boston case. The agreement still has to be approved by a judge.

The Informant

The night of the Hanrahan murder, an informant – who spoke to Target 12 on the condition of anonymity – was already working with the government. But it was a stark moment for the man who had grown up identifying the cops as bad guys, and aspired to be a wiseguy himself.

His life could go two ways if he didn’t turn things around, he said: “The ending that Kevin Hanrahan met with, or prison.”

“I felt that once I started to see the treachery and disloyalty that existed in that life, it was important to me to get a different life,” he said.

The information is now living in another part of the country, with a new identity, after being placed into the federal witness protection program.

Earlier in the night, Hanrahan joined the informant and a group of others for dinner at the Arch restaurant. It wasn’t until the next morning that he heard Hanrahan had been gunned down.

“I was extremely, extremely shocked [and] definitely shook up by it,” he said. “It’s not every day that you have dinner with a guy who gets shot in the head 20 minutes after you leave.”

Several theories have emerged around a possible motivation for the gangster’s violent end, from Hanrahan encroaching on another’s territory by shaking down bookies for protection money, to retribution for the 1982 murder of Raymond “Slick” Vecchio. Hanrahan was a suspect in that case but was never charged.

It was a tough investigation for detectives because, at 39, Hanrahan had made a lot of enemies; the Irish strong-arm was often called on by members of La Cosa Nostra to violently settle disputes and collect debts.

Soon after the murder, the informant said the streets were buzzing about who had pulled off the brazen shooting. But he said he’s not surprised it has taken decades for there to be movement on the case.

“I don’t know there were witnesses to it, but if there were it’s very unusual for people to come forward in such a situation because of the fear of retribution,” he said. “I know law enforcement has been working on this case nonstop for a long time. … So hopefully with all this coming forward this case will be a closed case.”

The informant’s decision to work with police and prosecutors to feed information on high-level mobsters – sometimes wearing a wire – was a risk he was willing to take to get out of that life.

“It was very stressful, it was an everyday thought of the chances of getting discovered and getting killed,” he said. “My choice was to get a new life and make the most of that life, so the reward was worth it to me as far as taking the chance of doing that.”

As much as investigators took a chance on him, he also took a leap of faith in placing his fragile trust in them. Any leak about his work with police would have been a death sentence.

“They 100 percent in every way shape and form did what they said, said what they did,” he said. “They are absolutely instrumental in getting me to get and giving me the life I have now.”

After six years leading a double life, he was whisked away by the U.S. Marshals Service and planted in another part of the country, with a new identity. He recalls a federal agent asking him if he really thought he could leave behind the life of crime and start anew.

“It was asked to me in a way the person who was asking the question didn’t seem like they had a whole lot of confidence in the fact I was going to do so,” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I do.'”

While he hasn’t looked back, he still keeps in touch with investigators that he credits with turning his life around.

“As much as I didn’t want to let myself down, I didn’t want to let them down,” he said. “I didn’t want to be another statistic that went into the program and failed.”

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