The Murder of Amon Jamiel (Rhode Island)

In March of 1978, the small town of Warren, Rhode Island was sent into a tailspin after a well-known member of their community was shot to death just days after his business burned to the ground. Who would have it out for a man so beloved? The deeper you dig into this unsolved case, the murkier it gets.

If you have any information about the unsolved homicide of Amon Jamiel, please contact the Cold Case Rhode Island tip line at 1-877-RI-SOLVE.

About Amon Jamiel

The Jamiel family owned Warren, Rhode Island – figuratively speaking, but perhaps literally, too. Many of the thirteen children of Albert and Mary Jamiel were business owners in the small town. Morphis Jamiel was a lawyer there for decades, Hirum founded the Jamiel Insurance Agency, and Bo cleaned rugs and offered tax services, all from the same shop. There was the Jamiel-run children’s clothing store, a Jamiel shoe store, heck, the Jamiel’s even have a park named after them in Warren.

The oldest Jamiel child, and arguably the most locally famous of them all, is without a doubt Amon Jamiel. He was considered the unofficial mayor of the town, but his actual occupation was the proud owner and operator of General Supply Company, though everyone knew the store as The House of a Million Items.

The three story building at 429 Main Street in Warren was bursting at the seams with absolutely everything. The diversity of the inventory was impressive – you could buy eggs and hammer, a boat anchor and a lobster pot, seed for your garden and specialty bread for your supper, even reproduction harpoons and handguns, all within the four walls of the same cluttered shop.

And the proprietor was perhaps as eclectic and impressive as the wares he stocked. Amon Jamiel, like his siblings, was the son of Lebanese immigrants. He served with the Coast Guard in World War II as a “supply shop scrounger” before opening the House of a Million items when he was 28-years old and kept it running for over 30 years.

Perhaps part of his entrepreneurial success was his social nature. The guy could spark a conversation with just about anyone – not even language was a barrier; Amon was nearly fluent in German, French, Polish, and Portuguese. And he seemed to be a people pleaser, too. If he didn’t have what you were looking for, he’d get it, fast, and he wasn’t opposed to bargaining. On nice days he’d set up on the sidewalk and do some good old fashion New England dickering.

Outside of the store, Amon was a husband and father. He and his wife Marcelle had four children, all boys. Sadly, one son, Amon Jr. passed away from leukemia in 1963 at 14 years old. There was James, who was stationed with the Navy in South Carolina, while the other two, Jonathan and Mark, often worked at the store with Amon. Both Jonathan and Mark primarily lived at home with Amon and Marcelle in their massive historic Colonial house two blocks away from the store, right in the heart of Warren.

The house was another symbol of the family’s status in town… But it would soon become a reminder of a bizarre series of events that ended in Warren’s unofficial mayor dead and a decades-old mystery that still lingers in town today.

The Threat

It all began on May 3, 1977 when the phone rang at the Warren Police Department with a call for Chief James McSoley. According to reporting by Bruce DeSilva for the Hartford Courant, the man on the line introduced himself as Charles Richards from New York.

Charles told the Chief that he’d been walking down Main Street in Warren and passed in front the House of a Million Items when he tripped and fell over some of the stuff displayed out front and chipped his tooth. Charles said he went to complain to Amon but instead of an apology, he says he was rudely told to watch where he was going.

The chief was recording the call as Charles continued on to say that he’d send the chief $100 bucks to prosecute Amon for violating a town ordinance that forbade merchants from putting inventory on the sidewalk. Charles then threatened Chief McSoley, saying he had friends in the mob and said there’d be consequences, possibly physical harm, and he’d expose the corruption within the Warren Police department if he didn’t comply.

Hanging up the phone, McSoley decided to pop over to Amon’s shop to ask him about this guy Charles Richards, but Amon said he had no knowledge of the incident. The complaint was documented and that was that. However, Bruce DeSilva writes that Chief McSoley received a $100 bill in the mail the next day. Still, it appears the incident wasn’t investigated any further. It was just an odd blip on the radar that didn’t hold much significance until almost a year later.

The Fire

Around 8 p.m. on the night of March 13, 1978, more than 100 firefighters were battling a fierce blaze spreading rapidly through the entire building at 428 Main Street. The House of a Million items was burning.

Dave McCarthy writes for the Providence Journal that after three and a half hours, firefighters thought they had it all under control until the roof burst open with flames, threatening the other businesses on the block. It was burning so hot that they could hear cans of paint and oil exploding inside. It wasn’t safe to enter, so instead firefighters cut holes on the exterior and sent their hoses in to flood the basement where it appeared the blaze originated, hoping to drown out the leaping flames. Warren residents stood in awe of the scene from across the street. When the fire was finally extinguished, smoldering ash and piles of soot covered inventory was all that was left.

Amon had spent a full day at the store working with his sons, Jonathan and Mark. He told the Providence Journal nothing was out of place or suspicious when he locked up the store around 6 p.m. Somehow, not two hours later the structure was fully engulfed. Fire officials surveyed the remnants in search of the cause, but this was a hardware store. It was filled with flammable materials that burned hot and fast.

Amon considered what to do next with the store that was both a local landmark and his livelihood. The building was insured but the policy wouldn’t cover anywhere near the value of what was lost. He solemnly stated that he wasn’t sure he would rebuild.

But in the following days, Amon’s entrepreneurial spirit emerged like a phoenix from the charred rubble and soon, he was back (in a modified form) of business. It turned out that some of his stock was actually salvageable, as long as you didn’t mind the distinctive aroma of smoke. He pulled what he could out to the sidewalk and invited customers down to a literal fire sale. Days later, he started making plans to reopen in a building across the street.

The Murder

The fire was still under investigation six days later on Sunday, March 19, 1978, when Amon and a few hired helpers lugged boxes of stuff from the old location to the new one. Bruce DeSilva writes for the Hartford Courant that around 1:30 that afternoon, Amon took a break from the heavy lifting and went to grab a couple bowls of chowder at the annual clam boil down the street. He socialized a bit after his meal before heading back to the new store to wrap up for the day.

Amon was home by 4:30 that afternoon, in time to get ready for the evening festivities. It was his wife Marcelle’s 58th birthday. Their son Mark was with friends in Connecticut for the weekend, but Amon and Jonathan would be taking Marcelle out to dinner in Providence for the occasion. They made a reservation at Sheraton Islander’s Neptune Restaurant for 7 p.m. It was just over a 20 minute drive from Warren without traffic, but they planned to leave on the earlier side around 6 o’clock.

Jonathan Jamiel would later say that sometime in the hour and a half before they were supposed to leave for Providence, his father got a phone call. He wasn’t sure who exactly was on the other end of the line, but Jonathan said it was a man. After a roughly 5 minute conversation, Amon hung up and told his wife and son that he couldn’t go to dinner with them anymore. He handed them $20 bucks and said to go without him. He’d try to meet up with them later on.

As reported by the Providence Journal, Jonathan said Marcelle walked out the front door of the house around 5:30 p.m. to go for a brief walk around the neighborhood as she was known to do, just to get a little fresh air before dinner. And then shortly before 6 p.m. Jonathan left the house through the back door and met his mother out front with the car.

When they arrived at the restaurant, Marcelle and Jonathan changed their reservation from three people to two, ordered a seafood dinner, and headed home sometime between 8 and 8:20 p.m. Amon never did end up joining them.

According to Jonathan, the house was dark when they got home. By about 9 o’clock he and his mother flicked on the television in the living room, not paying any mind to the fact that Amon didn’t seem to be there. It was a big house – over 5000 square feet according to today’s real estate records – maybe he was in the other wing or perhaps he wasn’t even home. He was known to visit his mother on Sundays.

After 10 minutes or so, Marcelle made her way upstairs to the bedroom to get changed. That’s when she noticed that the second floor bathroom light was on and the shower was running. I don’t know what made Marcelle open the bathroom door that night, or if she tried calling out for Amon first and got no response, but when she did, the sight before her brought screams that could be heard across the house. She yelled for Jonathan to call the police.

Jonathan did not go upstairs to see the cause of his mother’s screams. Instead, he picked up the phone as she asked him to do and placed the 9-1-1 call at 9:11 p.m. I’ve tried to obtain a full transcript for the call, or better yet, the audio itself because I know it exists (I’ve actually heard a clip of it in a news report by WPRI) but Warren PD said it doesn’t appear to be in their case file anymore. But I was able to piece together from that news report and a number of other newspaper articles that Jonathan asked for police to “kindly” send a patrol car to 33 Miller Street, but he doesn’t say why. When police arrive, they find Amon slumped over inside the tub. The shower door was partially open, but it was pierced with at least one small bullet hole. Amon had been shot multiple times.

The atmosphere on Miller Street that night was chaotic. Amon’s son Mark arrived back from Connecticut a little before midnight – he left as soon as he got the call from his brother and mother, and while police were processing the bathroom upstairs, the house was filling up with more Jamiel family members downstairs. Interviews began right there on the scene.

Marcelle and Jonathan gave brief statements about the events of their evening – the plans for Marcelle’s birthday, the phone call that caused Amon to stay home, dinner in Providence, coming home to a dark and quiet house, and then the discovery in the upstairs shower. Jonathan said they left by 6 and were home around 9, so investigators earmarked that as the killer’s window of opportunity.

And what Marcelle told police initially narrowed the window down further. She said that she turned off the water before police got there, but it was still running steaming hot when she found Amon. The water tank at the house could only run hot for about 45 minutes…So if his time of death was between 6 and 9 when Marcelle and Jonathan were gone, police thought Amon was likely shot closer to 9 o’clock, before the hot water ran out.

Marcelle added that she noticed the back door in the kitchen was slightly ajar when they got home, but there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle anywhere in the house. Police believed Amon was ambushed as he stood vulnerable under the running water.

I didn’t take long for news of the murder to reach across town. For the second time in a week, Amon was at the center of an unexplainable tragedy in Warren. First, the fire, and now, this. Police were considering the possibility that the fire and murder were connected, but they couldn’t have anticipated the can of worms they were about to open as they started digging deeper into the life of Amon Jamiel.

Amon Jamiel’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play wherever you get your podcasts to hear the full story.

Episode Source Material

  • Murder probe reopened in R.I. Boston Globe, 19 Feb 1985
  • My favorite New England murder by Bruce DeSilva, Hartford Courant, 09 Nov 1986
  • Who shot Amon Jamiel? by Jessica Ullian, Providence Journal, 04 Apr 2003
  • Jamiel brother scrutinizes 1978 murder, WPRI Fox Providence, 13 Feb 2013
  • Jamiel murder house sells by Ted Hayes, East Bay RI, 06 Jan 2014
  • After 41 years, new leads needed in ‘cruel’ and ‘cold’ murder of Amon Jamiel, WPRI, 22 Nov 2019
  • Life doled out by tacks, wisecracks by Wayne Worcester, Providence Journal, 15 Jan 1978
  • Block in Warren threatened by fire in Jamiel’s store by Dave McCarthy, Providence Journal, 14 Mar 1978
  • Store ashes sifted for cause of blaze by Dave McCarthy, Providence Journal, 15 Mar 1978
  • Jamiel slaying puzzles police; ‘had no enemies’ by Berkley Hudson and Jeanne Edwards, Providence Journal, 21 Mar 1978
  • Town is shocked, saddened by slaying of a ‘sparkplug’ by Jeanne Edwards and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 21 Mar 1978
  • Amon J. Jamiel is found slain at home Sunday, Providence Journal, 21 Mar 1978
  • Jamiel family gives police more details by Jeanne Edwards and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 22 Mar 1978
  • Jamiel rites held; probe continuing by Jeanne Edwards and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 23 Mar 1978
  • Jamiel will filed; wife, sons get estate by Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 24 Mar 1978
  • Police drag river for pistol used in Jamiel slaying by by Jeanne Edwards and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 29 Mar 1978
  • Police say Jamiel store missing .32-caliber gun, Providence Journal, 31 Mar 1978
  • Jamiel killer reloaded gun, investigators theorize by Dave McCarthy and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 01 Apr 1978
  • Jamiel was tight, small-town merchant and money may have cost him his life by Bruce DeSilva, Jeanne Edwards, Berkeley Hudson, Randall Richard and Wayne Worcester, Providence Journal, 02 Apr 1978
  • Police sue two sons of Jamiel by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 07 Apr 1978
  • Jamiel suit continued by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 13 Apr 1978
  • In Warren, Jamiel slaying still shrouded in mystery by Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 16 Apr 1978
  • Jonathan Jamiel sues chief, sergeant who questioned him about slaying by Dave McCarthy, 02 May 1978
  • Jamiel’s personal estate is valued at $120,647 by Dave McCarthy, Providence Journal, 04 May 1978
  • Lawsuits against town are up dramatically; 12 filed this year by Jeanne Edwards, 10 May 1978
  • Jamiel’s hardware for sale, Providence Journal, 27 Aug 1978
  • Jamiel case goes before grand jury this month, Providence Journal, 03 Sep 1978
  • Jamiel case goes before grand jury this month (page 2), Providence Journal, 03 Sep 1978
  • Insurance firms file suit in Jamiel store burning by Karen Ellsworth, Providence Journal, 27 Feb 1979
  • Jamiel drops his suit against town police by Dave McCarthy and Berkley Hudson, Providence Journal, 28 Feb 1978
  • Amon Jamiel slain a year ago; case still is ‘very much open’ by Peter M. Warren and Bob Mello
  • Jamiel son clashes with uncles in a war of words in Warren by Dave McCarthy and Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 29 Mar 1978
  • Amon Jamiel’s son challenges his uncle to debate murder case by Dave McCarthy and Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 01 Apr 1979
  • Jamiel son sent to IMH after complain charge, Providence Journal, 30 Jun 1979
  • Jamiel released, held competent for trial by Dave McCarthy, Providence Journal, 06 Jul 1979
  • Gun found in river wasn’t used in Jamiel slaying, Providence Journal, 15 Aug 1979
  • Grand jury finds little evidence for Jamiel case action by Tracy Breton, Providence Journal, 27 Oct 1979
  • Slain Jamiel’s estate probated, divided among widow, sons, Providence Journal, 10 Jun 1983
  • Jamiel slaying probed anew by Scott McKay and Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 18 Feb 1985
  • Jamiel named a suspect in his father’s fatal shooting by Wayne Worcester, Providence Journal, 30 Sep 1986
  • Breach-of-secrecy charge clouds Jamiel murder probe by Wayne Worcester, Providence Journal, 30 Sep 1986
  • Jamiel’s lawyer seeks investigation into leak by Katherine Gregg, Providence Journal, 08 Oct 1986
  • Grand jury murder probe ‘leak’ in Providence called a mistake by Katherine Gregg
  • Grand jury: Error, not leak, caused Jamiel murder probe data release by Doane Hulick, 30 Oct 1986
  • Police break up Jamiel brothers’ disturbance by Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 19 Mar 1991
  • Man found innocent in assault by Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 22 Apr 1991
  • Murder still haunts Jamiel brothers by Celeste Katz, Providence Journal, 30 Oct 1986
  • Gun found in Warren River not linked to Jamiel killing by Bob Mello, Providence Journal, 19 Mar 1998
  • Son of slain businessman charged in false police report by Louisa Handle, 01 Apr 2003
  • Warren man violated court order by contacting mother, police say by Michael P. McKinney, Providence Journal, 10 Sep 1998
  • Jonathan Jamiel pleads no contest to simple assault against mother by Michael P. McKinney, Providence Journal, 14 Apr 2003
  • Marcelle Jamiel, widow in a 1978 unsolved killing in Warren, dies by Alex Kuffner, Providence Journal, 12 Jun 2008