In 1984 veteran newspaper reporter John Impemba was covering what was then the biggest story of his career, the so-called Big Dan’s barroom rape trial that focused on the alleged gang rape of a woman in New Bedford bar while patrons and the bartender reportedly stood by and watched. Always looking for the next angle on the sordid story, the enterprising Impemba gained the confidence of one of the defendants and interviewed him for three hours, his notes touching off a firestorm between the District Attorney and the publisher of the New Bedford Standard-Times.
Impemba, a Malden native who later transformed himself into a television reporter in three states, died unexpectedly in Georgia where he was most recently a local reporter for the NBC affiliate TV station in Augusta. He was 52.
A graduate of Malden Catholic High School in 1971, Impemba served as editor in chief of his high school newspaper and went on to graduate from Boston College. His long career in journalism began on the North Shore with the Essex County Newspaper group.
His reputation for hardnosed journalism was well established even before the notorious Big Dan’s trial. Learning that a local policeman was being disciplined behind closed doors by selectmen in a nearby New Bedford community, Impemba wrote an accounting of the secret meeting, only to be threatened with legal action by attorneys.
His jailhouse interview of a Big Dan’s defendant ignited a firestorm in New Bedford as the district attorney’s office threatened to subpoena his interview notes. When the publisher and editor of the Standard-Times backed down and agreed not to publish an account of the interview, Impemba quit the newspaper and went to work for The Boston Herald where his jailhouse interview was splashed across page one. A fuming New Bedford editor was widely quoted calling Impemba a “slithering salamander” for producing a story from his notes. The name stuck as his friends and colleagues chided him about the quote.
But the story was everything and Impemba vaulted any barrier that stood between him and his story.
His newspaper career ended at the Herald, but Impemba, under the tutelage of his friend Ron Golobin at Channel 5, transformed himself into a TV reporter, finding his first job in Maine before moving onto Florida and more recently Georgia where his nose for investigative news found new outlets.
Impemba, the only child of the late Martin and Zada Impemba, leaves behind his uncle Guido Impemba of Chelsea and his cousin Joseph Impemba of Burlington.
Funeral arrangements are through the Edward V. Sullivan Funeral Home in Burlington and are incomplete at this time.
Submitted by Ernest J. Corrigan