, Salem, MA

September 12, 2013

Peabody man, 51, held in assault on elderly neighbor


---- — PEABODY — An elderly Peabody man, disabled by diabetes and asthma, was attacked in his own bed by the jealous new husband of his former wife early Sunday, police said.

Now the suspect in the attack, John Donatelli, 51, of 12 Crowninshield St., Apt. 522, Peabody, is being held without bail pending a hearing next week on whether his release poses a danger while he awaits trial on charges that include assault and battery on a disabled, elderly person causing injury, breaking and entering, threats and larceny.

The victim in the case, a 72-year-old amputee who lives in the same apartment complex, told police he awoke around 1:30 a.m. to find Donatelli sitting next to his bed in his wheelchair, eating chips, according to a police report by Patrolman Richard Cameron.

The man said he leaves his door unlocked in case of a medical emergency, and usually feels safe because the residents look out for one another.

But on this night, there was no one there to help him when Donatelli showed up, drunk, according to police.

Donatelli told the older man he was there to kill him, because he was “sick of” hearing his wife saying “love you” to the victim at the end of their phone conversations, words she wouldn’t say to him, her husband.

The alleged victim had been briefly married to Donatelli’s wife about 30 years ago and the two remained friendly, he explained.

Donatelli allegedly reached for the man’s throat. When the older man put his arms up in defense, Donatelli punched him 12 to 24 times, police said.

He then tried to smother the man with a pillow, police said.

That triggered an asthma attack. Donatelli sat back down in the wheelchair and refused to help the man get his asthma inhaler, the alleged victim told police.

As the man struggled for breath, Donatelli allegedly told him, “I don’t have to kill you, I can just sit and watch you die.”

Donatelli then began eating chips again. But eventually, he got up and walked out. The older man managed to get into his wheelchair and get his inhaler.

Then Donatelli asked the man if he could sleep on the couch, saying that his wife had left him locked out when she was taken to the hospital a day earlier.

The man refused, and Donatelli left, taking $200 off a kitchen table as he walked out, police said.

A police officer called to the apartment that night took a report, but did not arrest Donatelli, leaving it up to the elderly man to go to court if he wanted to press charges.

But later Sunday, while working a detail at the city’s International Festival, Peabody police Capt. Dennis Bonauito was approached by another resident of the Tannery complex, who told him about the incident. He immediately arranged for another officer, Cameron, to investigate.

Police also notified North Shore Elder Services with concerns not only for the alleged victim’s well-being but that of his former wife, who is 71, and who, they learned, may have been assaulted by Donatelli back in July.

Donatelli, who has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him, is currently being held at Middleton Jail pending the hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.