(BOSTON) — James “Whitey” Bulger’s former pal told a federal court Friday that he brought his girlfriend to a house so Bulger could strangle her because she knew about corrupt FBI agents who were helping the alleged Boston mob boss.
“He really wanted to kill her,” Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi told the court.
“Did you agree with that?” asked federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak.
“Not at first,” Flemmi, 79, answered. “But then he gave me a litany of reasons.”
Those reasons, Flemmi told the court, centered on what Debbie Davis – a young, pretty blonde who he began dating when she was 17 – knew about the relationship he and Bulger had with rogue FBI agents.
“Were you in love with her?” Wyshak asked.
“I loved her, but I was not in love with her,” Flemmi answered. Besides, he added, Bulger, now 83, complained unrelentingly about the attention that Davis brought to them.
“He wasn’t too happy with my relationship with her. It affected our business,” Flemmi answered. “I bought her a Mercedes. I gave her a lot of money. She had a lot of jewelry. People start noticing that.”
The final straw for Bulger and FBI agent John Connolly was after Davis’ brother was murdered in prison. She wanted answers and asked Flemmi “to ask John Connolly.”
Connolly, who has since been convicted of corruption charges, told Bulger that Davis knew about the partnership her boyfriend and Bulger had forged with the FBI and did not react well, Flemmi testified.
“How did Mr. Connolly react?” Wyshak asked.
“He wasn’t too happy about it either,” Flemmi said.
Davis’ questions about her brother sealed her death and Bulger wanted him to murder her, Flemmi testified. “I couldn’t do it. He knew,” Flemmi said
So Bulger told Flemmi, “I’ll take care of it.”
“I bought a house in South Boston. He said to bring her there, which I did. I met her there at the house. We walked in… He grabbed her by the neck, Jim Bulger,” Flemmi said. “He grabbed her by the throat and strangled her.”
“What did you do?” Wyshak asked.
“Nothing,” Flemmi answered.
“Why?” Wyshak asked.
“That was the plan,” he said. “It affected me. It will affect me until the day I die.”
When she was dead, Flemmi took off her clothes and wrapped her up in a tarp as Bulger “laid down” upstairs. The body was put in a trunk and driven to Tenean Beach. Davis was 26 when she was murdered.
“I dug the hole,” Flemmi told the court.
“Is that typical of Mr. Bulger to kill somebody and make everyone else do the work?” Wyshak asked.
“He does that,” Flemmi answered.
That hole was not the only one Flemmi and other Winter Hill Gang mobsters dug at Tenean Beach, a scrubby stretch of sand underneath the Southeastern Expressway. There were others buried there. It was also a favored location for Flemmi and Bulger to meet their FBI handler.
“That’s where we had meetings,” Flemmi told the court.
Sometimes as they talked to the FBI agent, Bulger would make jokes about the murdered people buried under their feet, victims like Paul McGonagle, Flemmi told the court.
“How did you know Paul McGonagle was buried there?” asked federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak.
“He, Jim Bulger, told me that’s where he buried him,” Flemmi answered.
Bulger buried another body there, Flemmi said. Donald McGonagle’s remains were also recovered at the beach.
“Why did Mr. Bulger kill Donald McGonagle?” Wyshak asked.
“He thought it was Paul McGonagle,” Flemmi told the court.
Flemmi testified that his friendship with Bulger was born out of similarities in their personalities. Both men were healthy and didn’t drink or party.
“He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He worked out regularly. We both had that in common,” Flemmi told the court.
That friendship soured when Flemmi was arrested and indicted and began serving three life sentences for murders plus 30 years for gun charges. Meanwhile, Bulger became a fugitive living the life of a retiree near the beach in Santa Monica, Calif.
On Thursday, the two former Boston crime lords saw each other for the first time since 1994 and exchanged expletives. Flemmi snared “Motherf***er” to Bulger. The mob boss on trial responded in kind. “F*** you too.”
On Friday Flemmi’s testimony was more reserved and centered largely on another aspect of his life that he shared with Bulger. In 1974, both men became FBI informants.
Flemmi was the first to make a deal with the FBI. His handler was FBI agent Paul Rico. That deal paid off rather quickly when Rico, according to Flemmi, tipped him to an indictment that named him in the murder of William Bennett and the attempted bombing of a lawyer named John Fitzgerald.
It was 1969. Rico called him and said: “You and your friend should leave town,” Flemmi told the court. Flemmi did, moving to Montreal. His “friend” and codefendant Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme fled to New York, but was arrested by the FBI.
Salemme was sentenced to 15 years in the case while Flemmi remained a fugitive until 1974 when Rico called again.
“He said, ‘The coast is clear,'” Flemmi told the court.
The witness against him, Flemmi explained, had mysteriously gotten cold feet after a visit from hitman Johnny Martorano.
“What happened when you came back?” the prosecutor asked?
“The case was dismissed,” Flemmi answered. “The witness didn’t show up.”
Flemmi then told the court he became part of the Winter Hill Gang leadership during a time of mob wars that left Boston’s streets stained with blood. The gang’s leadership wanted total control over loan sharking, bookmaking and extortion, Flemmi told the court.
They even had a scheme to bribe jockeys to fix horse races at Suffolk Downs.
“Murders?” Wyshak asked.
“Definitely murders,” Flemmi answered.
Often the mobsters lined a room with plastic before killing someone. “We wanted to stop the blood from going all over the place because we had to clean it up,” he said.
By 1974 the men had something else in common. They both became FBI informants as a way to increase connections in law enforcement because it was “good for business.”
“It’s always good to have connections in law enforcement, law enforcement sources that know what’s going on in order to survive,” Flemmi told the court.
The Italian mob had local police sources. The Winter Hill Gang would have higher-placed sources.
“If they want to play checkers, we are going to play chess,” Flemmi remembered on the stand.
The Italians wanted Flemmi to become a made man.
“I declined,” Flemmi told the court.
But Cadillac Frank Salemme did not, Flemmi testified, saying: “Eventually he became the New England boss.”
With the help of the FBI the Winter Hill Gang became powerful. The FBI even had a meeting with the mobsters at the South Boston home of Bulger’s mother.
“You weren’t meeting him to talk about the Red Sox?” Wyshak asked.
“No,” Flemmi testified. “Criminal activity.”
Criminal activity was sanctioned, or at least overlooked, by the FBI, Flemmi told the court. One of those crimes was the murder of Eddie Connors, the owner of a bar Dorchester called Bulldog. Connors was lured to a phone booth to wait for a phone call from a Winter Hill Gang mobster.
“When he answered the phone we shot him,” Flemmi told the court, adding that he was armed with carbine pistol and Bulger carried a double barrel shotgun and a handgun. “He emptied both shotgun barrels at him and emptied his pistol.”
Flemmi is expected back on the stand Monday and the government is expected to wrap up its case next week, Wyshak told the court.
There was no mention Friday of Stephen “Stippo” Rakes, the South Boston man who was slated to take the stand against Bulger. Rakes was found dead Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Mass., by the side of the road. He had no keys, no wallet, and no phone or ID. He also had no car, perplexing investigators.
Rakes was last seen in court on Tuesday when he was told the government did not plan to use him as a witness in the case. His friend Tommy Donahue, another Bulger victim whose father was allegedly murdered by Bulger, said that Rakes was not suicidal.
“This is foul play,” Donahue told ABC News. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
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