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‘Somebody can resolve this’: Detectives still searching for suspects in 1984 murder of Providence bar owner

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Nearly four decades ago, the owner of a popular Providence bar vanished without a trace.

John Gomes — known to his friends and patrons as “Tillie King” — was a fixture in the capital city, as was his bar bearing his nickname.

“He was an icon over there, and the bar was,” Providence Police Maj. David Lapatin said. “Everybody knew Tillie King’s.”

John’s daughter, Toni Lynn Bonadie, said the bar was the place to be on the weekends. “You wanted to be at Tillie King’s,” she said.

So when Gomes failed to show up at the bar before Thanksgiving 1984, his family reported him missing.

At the time, witnesses told investigators they had seen him get into a car with two men.

“We believe that Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when he went missing, it was due to some arrangement that he had with somebody within the mob, the local mob,” Lapatin said.

It wasn’t until his body was found five months later, more than 20 miles away off I-195 in Westport, that detectives realized Gomes had been murdered.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said Gomes’ body was spotted approximately 85 feet off the highway by an Acushnet man who was driving by. Gomes had been shot once in the back of the head.

Lapatin believes Gomes’ connection to organized crime is what led to his death.

“He got involved with the wrong people and that’s the outcome,” Lapatin added.

Quinn said investigators are still pursuing suspects in the case. They include the late Kevin Hanrahan, a notorious mob enforcer, career criminal and associate of the Patriarca crime family.

“But there was no corroborative evidence that would have led to charges [at the time],” Quinn said. “The conduct would not be inconsistent with what he’s done in the past, so we have information that he’s linked to it and we’re going to review the case.”

Bonadie was 24 years old at the time her father disappeared, and her half-sister, Katie Coughlin, was conceived just weeks before.

While Coughlin was adopted at birth, she finally learned of her biological father’s identity in 2016 due to DNA testing.

“It was shocking, and there was also a lot of sadness too that I never got the chance to meet him,” Coughlin said. “I always think that, had I been alive or had I known of them sooner in my life, I would have wanted to help them figure things out.”

Now, nearly 40 years later, Toni is continuing to fight for justice in her father’s memory.

“I think somebody should be held responsible, no matter what the circumstances were. No matter what he was involved with,” she said.

But until someone comes forward who knows what happened, Lapatin said police are at a standstill.

“Hopefully, someday, somebody can resolve this,” he said.

Anyone who has information about John Gomes’ murder is urged to contact the Providence Police Department at (401) 272-3121 or the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office at (508) 961-1918.

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