Bulger ruled with iron fist and plenty of tricks up his sleeve
Johnny Martorano once described Whitey Bulger’s specialty in the Winter Hill Gang as “intimidation,” but his rise to power had at least as much to do with another of his specialities — deviousness. And of course Bulger’s ties to the corrupt FBI office in Boston didn’t hurt his career prospects either.
When you are charged with 19 murders — and those are just the ones the feds feel confident they can prove — you are obviously a jack of all homicidal trades. But if Whitey had a choice between straightforward and sneaky, he’d take sneaky any day of the week.
Consider the murder of Paul McGonagle, one-time Whitey rival and former leader of the Mullen gang. Whitey is a prime suspect in the 1969 murder of McGonagle’s brother, Donald, who made the fatal mistake of driving his brother’s car when Whitey passed him in Southie.
After that, Whitey knew he’d eventually have to settle up with Paulie. But Bulger bided his time until 1974, when he came up with a scheme. He obtained a bunch of fresh new $20 bills from the bank. One day he showed them to Paulie and told him they were “queers,” counterfeits. McGonagle was amazed. They looked just like the real thing!
So Whitey offered to sell this rocket scientist a briefcase full of the queers. All Paulie had to do was meet him that night behind a gas station in the Lower End with the cash. That night he climbed into the back seat, and when Whitey handed him the briefcase, cops say he took out a gun and shot Paulie between the eyes.
By the way, Paulie’s other brother was Robert McGonagle, another Mullen who became a Boston firefighter. Bobby married one Catherine Greig, who a few years later didn’t seem to hold it against Whitey that he had allegedly whacked both of her brothers-in-law. She said she always liked “the bad boys.”
They reportedly buried Paulie on Tenean Beach and then dumped his effects off a Charlestown pier. That was another Whitey M.O. — the misdirection play. After the traditional anonymous tip, the cops would find McGonagle’s belongings in Ward 2 — and naturally assume Townie gangsters were behind the hit.
In the crosshairs
When Whitey was looking to kill Brian Halloran, he used the same ploy — before and after the alleged murders. He used his FBI amanuensis, John “Zip” Connolly, to plant the seeds of doubt — one day the mafia was reported to be hunting Halloran, the next day those pesky Townies again.
When it finally came time to clip Halloran, Whitey had another trick up his sleeve — an Afro wig. That made him look at least a little like Jimmy Flynn, a Winter Hill associate who had been feuding with Halloran. Whitey called out to Halloran on Northern Avenue then allegedly opened fire.
A few minutes later, as Halloran lay dying on the cobblestones, Whitey was long gone, and the cops were bent over the hapless hood, trying to get his “dying declaration” about who killed him.
“Jimmy Flynn,” Halloran croaked before expiring. Flynn was actually tried for the murder, after a year on the lam.
In the original Winter Hill Gang, Whitey was the crash-car driver. He wasn’t quite as good a wheelman as Jimmy Sims, so he was assigned to drive behind the hit car. If any cops or concerned citizens tried to close in on the real killers, Whitey would crash into them, thus the name.
Whitey knew he was a good driver, though. After he and Stevie Flemmi allegedly shot Eddie Connors to death in a Morrissey Boulevard phone booth in 1975, Johnny Martorano was driving the getaway car. At the first stoplight, Whitey ordered Martorano out of the driver’s seat and took over. Martorano wasn’t driving fast enough for Whitey’s liking.
John Callahan was a typical Whitey-plotted murder in 1982, the cops say. He was considered a weak link in the World Jai Alai murders, so Johnny Martorano was talked into eliminating his friend in Florida. Whitey told Martorano and Joe McDonald to make sure to leave some of Callahan’s personal papers in some Cuban bar in Little Havana.
Whitey, you see, had been feeding FBI agent John Connolly stories that Callahan had been scheming with “bad Cubans.” But the other part of Whitey’s plan went awry when Martorano dumped Callahan’s body at Miami International Airport instead of making it “do the Houdini,” as Whitey had wanted, using the phrase of his pals in the Hell’s Kitchen gang the Westies.
“There’s plenty of sand down there,” Whitey fumed. “He should have got off his fat ass and buried him!”
Whitey learned from his mistakes. When the gang shot Spike O’Toole on Savin Hill Ave. in 1973, Whitey was the alleged driver. At one point during the murder, he thought he might have some problems with passers-by, and he discovered he had neglected to arm himself. Joe McDonald had to jump out of the front seat to handle the coup de grace on their old nemesis. After they returned to the garage on Winter Hill, Whitey was storming around, cursing himself.
“No gun,” he reportedly kept saying. “I’ll never make that mistake again.”
Like the Boy Scouts, Whitey’s motto was, “Be prepared.” He had planned to strangle John McIntyre, but discovered his rope was so thick it was impossible to twist around his neck. This time he had a backup gat. According to testimony, he ordered Stevie Flemmi to hold up McIntyre’s head by the hair and then shot him repeatedly.
In his DEA-6 confession, Flemmi described the Hill as “hunters” who went out and tracked down their prey, as opposed to the Mafia, which would wait for years for someone to show up on Hanover Street.
Phone it in
The Hill was not above employing old-style mob methods, like the Prohibition-era phone booth technique. They’d arrange for some hood on the gang’s “Hit Parade” to get a call from one of the bosses at a “safe” (i.e., untapped) pay phone of the victim’s own choosing. Once they had the number, Johnny Martorano would call the phone company, pretending to be the father of a college student whose car had broken down. The kid ran out of quarters before he could tell me where he was, Martorano would amiably explain, and he just needed to know where to go to pick him up. You know these crazy college kids.
The phone company would obligingly provide the location of the pay phone, and a day or two later, Joe Notarangeli or Eddie Connors would be shot to death.
Martorano once described his first meeting with Whitey, saying he “dressed like a politician.” He could also lobby his partners for a hit, if necessary. Tommy King was another Mullen, a stand-up guy from Southie. Whitey didn’t like potential rivals from Southie, especially ones who were tougher than him.
Soon he was concocting stories about King. He had a problem with a little girl (untrue). He was doing a lot of drugs (true). The Somerville guys knew Whitey hated him and brushed everything off until Bulger finally found the right button to push.
It was the busing era, and Whitey claimed Tommy King was planning to kill a Boston police superintendent. It would have set the entire city on fire. The Somerville guys, whom King trusted, told Tommy they needed him for a hit, and they did — King’s own.
Whitey’s Southie crew buried King’s body under the Neponset River bridge, the allegation goes, then killed another local-yokel tailgater Whitey didn’t like and left his body in King’s car, making it look like King had committed the murder and then gone on the lam.