Whitey Bulger “America’s Most Wanted” and Me

David Boeri, former WCVB reporter,currently with WBUR Radio wearing his Whitey Tee shirt after he was captured. David is a great historian of Whitey and his exploits.

Whitey Bulger was captured and I got the call at 2: am to head into the City (Boston) for coverage of the big story. It brought back memories of a confrontation I had with Whitey almost 40 years ago, way before I knew who or what he was.

The Plaza at the Pemberton Square Court House on Beacon Hill was a gated area (still is, but now with a guard shack) and in order to park vehicles on the Plaza to cover a court issue you had to knock on the door leading to the bowels of the building and get whoever was on duty to unlock the gate. It was the same entrance where the prisoners coming for a court appearance were brought and then put in holding cells.

One day about 40 years ago I had to go in and out of the Plaza several times. Each time I knocked on the door looking for the “key person.” The man with the key got pissed off at me as he thought I was bothering him. I was young, strong (I thought), and if nothing else I could take anyone on verbally. We spared back and forth yelling and swearing at each other, he opened and closed the gate and I moved on.

Later that day I called District Attorney Newman Flanagan’s public relations director Dave Rodman. I told him the story and  he knew immediately who I was talking about and told me it was Senator William Bulger’s brother Whitey and to let it go.

I did not realize what danger I had been in till 20 years later when I started to know more about Whitey, read he had worked at the Court House and realized who I had had the confrontation with on that particular day. It was a scary thought after reading he had dispatched people for various reasons and I probably gave him good reason that day.

A couple of years ago I was at a book signing event for “The Soiling Of Old Glory” and Billy Bulger was the moderator as we talked about forced busing in Boston in the 70s. I told him about the incident. We both laughed as he said “I guess you are lucky to be alive!”

Through the years Whitey’s reputation as the “Savior of South Boston” certainly diminished and fear set in. There used to be newspaper articles saying Whitey played it safe against the bad elements of South Boston; only running some gambling operations and keeping drugs out of the area. Works out he was the drug runner and involved in pretty much everything illegal in the area, plus murdering people at will. He has been charged with 19 known murders and believed to be involved with many more.

Paul Corsetti, a former reporter I worked with, also had an incident with Whitey. Paul was chasing a story on a South Boston bookie and not thinking much about it when he got a call at the office. It said it was Whitey himself telling Paul “I know where you’re family lives and the school bus your daughter gets on every day.”  Paul told Whitey it was not him he was looking into and gave him the bookie’s name he was watching.  Whitey lightened up and gave Paul all the information he needed to do the story and the two moved on.

Another time in South Boston at Preble Circle there was a call for a shooting. I raced there and the area was hectic with EMTs working a victim and cops running around looking for suspects. Dick Fallon, another news photographer, kept telling me they were looking for Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who it turns out, was Whitey Bulger’s partner both being FBI informants. Steve’s brother Michael was a Boston Cop who later got himself in trouble and ended up in jail like his brother.

In the late 1967 I was cruising with Record American photographer Gene Dixon my colleague for 16 plus years when he heard the call for a person in the snow. It was on Harvard Street in Dorchester and when we got there William Bennett one of three brothers was curled up, bloody snow around him as he had been assassinated.  The other two brothers Walter and Edward also died that year and the only body that was found at that time was William’s. As I read up on the history of Whitey it seems his murder was all part of the gang wars of those past days.

I grew up in Revere, Massachusetts where it was said there was a bookie or gangster on every corner. Not true- just on a lot of corners but not all of them. My first “Mafia” hit took place during a gang war between local gangs. There was an informant by the name of Joseph Baron Barboza.

Barboza used to hang around a club at the old Pleasanton Hotel on Revere Beach (three alarm fire destroyed it, yes I was there). One of the entertainers at the club was Myles Connor, infamous for shooting former Major Jack O’Donovan of MSP in 1966, (when he was a lieutenant detective) in a shootout in Boston’s Back Bay. Connor who used to jump out of a casket in his act went on to prison after the shooting and is somehow connected to the Isabella Stewart Museum Robbery of 1990. There is also a story that Whitey Bulger and an associate might also be somehow involved with the Museum Heist.

One night at the Pleasanton a guest got assaulted by Barboza. Rather than testify against him he did a year in jail for contempt of court. Scary people there and a mile further down the boulevard was the Ebb Tide a club where the Patriarca associates hung out. They were not there to listen to entertainer Tommy Hunt sing I’m sure but I was a few times, listening to the music and looking to see what wise guys came into view. It is like a tread mill with all of the same people on it and continuing to keep the platform going.

Joe was somehow involved in helping the police get to rival gang members who may or may not have been the people who frequented the Ebb Tide. As a result he and his friends were on a hit list. On a weekday night 35 plus years ago I covered the murder of Dominic D’Amico, and East Boston man. He was an associate of Barboza’s and had gone into a Boston club in what was then called the Combat Zone on lower Washington Street and straighten things out. He had police protection and ditch them thinking he could make things right.

He was told to go to Revere and meet someone near the Squire Club on Squire Road in North Revere. He did meet someone or should we say someone met him. When I got there he had been blown apart and was sitting slouched against the steering wheel of his car about 100 yards from the club. I went to the scene from my home and met the overnight photographers who were working.  Revere Police Officer Mickey Cassoli was in charge and teased me about allowing me to photograph the scene. Mickey was one of the great cops I got to work with over the years.

Another one of the group was Patsy Fabiano. Patsy was in hiding and at one point was put in the Charles Street Jail for protection. Kevin Cole, my colleague at the paper, got his picture as he walked in the front door. Patsy was later killed gangland style in the Boston area. I actually knew Patsy; he hung out in Revere and went to Revere High.

During this gang war time our great writer Harold Banks did a book on Barboza and word was out there was a “hit” on him.  Harold was the City Editor on Saturdays at the paper and his Assistant City Editor was Tom Sullivan. Harold was nervous about what might happen and had police protection, One Saturday, Tom Sullivan put up a big sign on the back of his chair which read “I am not Harold Banks” with an arrow on the sign pointing to the Harold. It brought on a lot of laughs.

We were tight with the District Attorney back then and we were set up to photograph Barboza as he was being escorted from one court room to another at the Pemberton Square Court House. A very nervous Dick Thomson a colleague was sent on a Saturday morning and the suspect was led across the corridor well protected by police. Our Sunday edition was the only paper that captured the image. The end finally caught up with Barboza on the streets of San Francisco reportedly by a Boston area hit man!

I was on Prince Street in Boston’s North End when they raided the offices of Gennaro Angiulo the local crime boss. The office had been bugged and after culling the information that was needed they pulled out all of the files, safes and whatever else was movable. Of course the late and great Globe reporter Dick Connolly was there, notebook in hand and watching the scene. Dick was so good at what he did I would be surprised if he did not get to listen to the tapes that were recorded.

I had a friend who was told after officials listened to those recordings he was on a hit list. My friend had pissed some Mafia people and it was time to even the score. The “law” wanted him to help them but instead he fled the Country for several years till things cooled down.

The Angiulo office was less than a mile from the Manchester Street garage Whitey used to hang out with along with his partner Steve Flemmi. Most of the photos we see of Whitey and Steve were taken in the area of that garage. Mass State Police had set up surveillance in a building across from the site. All of a sudden the pair stopped going to the garage and the rife between the FBI became more pronounced as they thought there was a leak coming from that office. Works out they were correct and his name was John “Zipper” Connolly.

Reporter Pam Cross and I were in a district court following Frank “Cadillac” Salemne, a Mafia boss and hit man. He survived an attempt on his life during a daytime try on Route One in Saugus, MA, when several shots were fired at him and although he was hit he survived.  Salemne at one time had fled Massachusetts and was living in New York. FBI Agent John Connolly happened to see him amongst 8 million people on a downtown Manhattan Street and made the arrest. It was always felt he was one of the people Bulger and Flemmi dimed out and let Connolly know where he was. Salemne was supposed to be a friend of the pair.

Raymond Patriarca with his attorney Joseph Balliro leaving a Boston court around 1967. Over Patriarca's right shoulder is Record American Reporter Tom Berube.

The big boss of the Mafia in New England was Raymond Patriaca, the Mafia Don from Rhode Island. Getting a photo of him was a big deal as he put the fear of God in everyone and he always had his tiparillo cigar in his mouth and did not say pleasant things to the media.

The first time I saw him was at Federal Court in Boston. We were all waiting for his appearance, everyone was talking, and I was the only one that spotted him when he walked by us. I raced in behind him as he got in the elevator and got the only photo as the elevator door closed. About an hour later he came out the same door and walked right through the crowd, everyone was alert this time. Both the AP and UPI photographers got better images than I did and the Editor of the paper hung them up in the photo department to make sure we all knew we got beat.

The last time I saw Raymond was at a New Bedford Court when they brought him in by ambulance and stretchered him into his hearing. I got a great photo of him laid out. When he died we all went down to Rhode Island to the funeral home and covered people going in and out of  the wake.

When I first began at the newspaper, bookie raids were big and we had sources to tell us when, where and everything we needed to know to be there when it happened.  I was dispatched to the 411 Club on Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End. The suspects were being carted out and from there I followed the group to the Federal Court House in Post Office Square. There were not any metal detectors in those days so keeping up with the group was no problem.

I got into an elevator but little did I know I got on with some of the suspects. One of them being a major player in the racketeering group, Dr. Harry “Doc” Sagansky, a Brookline dentist and big time bookie.  He was smoking a cigar and he turned to me flicking his ashes and said “If you take my picture I will burn your eyes out.” I still have my eyes so you know what I did not do that day.

Another time the FBI was picking up Mafia suspects along with Boston Police and they paraded the group across the street to the JFK building from the District One Police Station on New Sudbury Street. It was a very organized show and tell by the cops and at one point Vinnie “The Animal” Ferrara, one of the key figures, looks at me and says “get that light out of my eyes,” I said “yes sir” and moved onto someone else.

I knew some of the victims of Mafia hits. The beautiful wife of gangster Richie Castucci, Sandra, used to shop at Arthur’s Creamery where I had my high school delivery job. I loved going to his Revere Beach Boulevard home as the tip was big and she was good to look at.

He reportedly felt obligated to the FBI after they provided some information to him so he became a confidant. They found him wrapped up dead in the trunk of his car less than a mile from where Damico was murdered on Lantern Road in Revere.   This was supposedly part of the Whitey Bulger’s group of killings. Another murder tied to FBI Agent, John “Zipper” Connolly, who is serving what should end up being life sentence in a Florida Jail.

When these gang wars first began my colleague Gene Dixon took a great photo of one of the victims near the back of the old Boston Garden. Gene had gone up on the expressway and even told Globe photographer Ollie Noonan, Jr. where there was a good view. The photos the two of them made with the lighting, girders and highway made it look like the scene from a movie.

The Record American did not use the photo as they thought it was too gruesome and Gene walked around for weeks showing and talking about all the suggestive pictures on the movie pages of the paper where everyone appeared to being having sex (not the words he used). What really got him pissed was seeing Ollie’s photo in a double page spread in Life Magazine doing a story on underworld murders and this was a good example.

Today, while chasing the story surrounding Whitey’s capture I was first sent to his brother’s Billy house then to his brother Jack’s house, both in South Boston. I was sitting there looking around working to stay awake and as I looked up at two men talking I realized one of them looked like Jackie. I picked up my video camera and zoomed in, it was him.

I started taping the scene, jumped out of the car as he began walking towards me. He had this big umbrella in his hand and all I could think of was I escaped the wrath of his brother and now he would do me in. Not to be, I said “Hello, would you like to talk to me?” he very angrily said “I am not talking” and he walked back to his apartment.

The Rest of The Story:

My friend and colleague Mike Andersen updates me with his Patriaca story. 

I could identify with you photographing mobsters.  Right after I started at the Record I was assigned to get a picture of Raymond Patriarca being arraigned in Federal Court.  I didn’t even know how to get from Winthrop Square to the courthouse.  They told me to go to the pressroom on the 14th floor and the reporter would help me.  I didn’t know cameras not only were not allowed in the courtroom but weren’t allowed on the same floor.  So I was wandering around the 14th floor, looking for the pressroom, and I was passing the elevators when the elevator door opened and four men in suits got off, surrounding this tough-looking, wiry little man.  “No pictures,” one of the suits said, and naturally I complied.  I didn’t even know it was Patriarca but sensed it was.  Later I got a picture of him in the back seat of the Marshalls’ car coming up out of the courthouse parking garage.  I told the picture editor not to put my credit line on the picture; I didn’t want Patriarca to know who took it.

See link to Margery Egan Story on Bennett Brothers:


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