RI woman learns there’s more than meets the eye to a painting left behind by late mother

Street Stories

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Elaine Caldemone spent months trying to piece together the mystery behind a painting that once hung on the wall inside her late mother’s home.

The painting is of Caldemone’s mother, June Amadio, and her sister when they were children. It was painted by J.G. Miller in 1941.

“My mother had always said it was painted by somebody who robbed a bank, so I thought it was a starving artist who couldn’t make a living and went on to rob a bank,” Caldemone said.

But she later learned that wasn’t the case.

Caldemone said she didn’t learn Miller’s backstory until she found a series of photos and newspaper clippings inside of an envelope attached to the back of the painting.

“I read the whole story and tried to piece it together,” Caldemone recalled.

After two hung juries, John Gilbert “Whitey” Miller was convicted of robbing the Phenix Trust Company of $22,000 in 1926. At the time, it was considered the largest bank heist in Rhode Island history, according to one of the newspaper clippings. (Not to be confused with the Bonded Vault heist, which occurred in 1975.)

And that’s not all.

Two gunmen, according to one of the decades-old reports, attempted to break Miller out of Rhode Island State Prison by starting a riot.

The gunmen killed two people during their attempt. Before he was an infamous mob boss, Raymond Patriarca Sr. was indicted as an accessory to murder before the fact, however, that charge was later dismissed.

Following the failed prison break, Caldemone said she learned Miller became an unlikely artist.

“While he was there, the prison chaplain taught him to paint,” Caldemone said. “My grandfather was a CPA and he did taxes for someone at the prison. He must have seen his paintings and he brought in the black-and-white photo and had it painted of my mother and her sister.”

Miller died shortly thereafter, leaving behind a legacy of crime and artistry.

“He’s a bank bandit that robbed a bank and then became an artist in prison,” Caldemone added. “What else are you going to do in prison?”

Caldemone’s mother died back in February. Besides the mysterious painting, she said her mom also left behind many memories for her family.

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