Comment: Rifleman shoots from hip with testimony on murders for Bulger
Whitey Bulger and his one-time gang partner faced each other across a Boston courtroom
An artist’s impression of Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi on the witness stand in James Whitey Bulger’s murder and racketeering trial. Image: Jane Collins/Reuters
It was a subtle distinction, for a psychopath. “I loved her,” Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi said of his onetime girlfriend, Debbie Davis, a sparkling blond Farrah Fawcett look-alike, “but I was not in love with her.” That’s fortunate, since it would have made it ever so much harder to plan the 26-year-old’s 1981 murder, look into her eyes as she was strangled in your parents’ house, strip off her clothes, yank out her teeth and then dig her grave in marshland by the Neponset River.
Deterring identification was his specialty. He was the one who pulled the teeth out of corpses. He was so meticulous at his job that his partner in the Winter Hill gang, Whitey Bulger, had his girlfriend, the dental hygienist, get Flemmi a proper set of extraction tools.
It’s hard to imagine now, seeing the two old wiseguys snarling expletives at each other in court – Dracula battling Frankenstein, as one Boston lawyer told the Associated Press. The 79-year-old Flemmi is hard of hearing and wears a cheesy windbreaker. But back in the day, Stevie and Whitey fancied themselves rat-a-tat-tat Romeos. Flemmi has said he was more adept with the ladies, but then, his taste ran to under-age girls.
The primary triangle in the Winter Hill gang involved Flemmi, Bulger and an FBI agent named John Connolly. Whitey and Stevie got close in 1974, drawn together, funnily enough, by their clean-living ways. “He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he worked out regularly,” said Flemmi, who described their relationship as “strictly criminal.” And, though Bulger risibly keeps denying it, he worked as a rat for Connolly, another Southie who had grown up in awe of Whitey and his political kingpin brother, Billy. Connolly and Bulger took walks on the beach, and Bulger gave the FBI agent a diamond ring for his girlfriend and envelopes full of cash for vacations and at Christmas.
In return for being that most loathed thing in Irish culture, an informant, and providing information about the Mafia, Bulger got protection and tips from Connolly. That allowed him to play Jimmy Cagney, dispatching underworld enemies. He also got the signal to go on the lam.
“It’s always good to have connections in law enforcement” to survive, Flemmi said, noting that they had about a half-dozen FBI agents on the payroll. “Zip” Connolly began swanning around spending his ill-gotten gains – $230,000 over the years – on flashy clothes and a boat. Whitey made the agent sell the boat, and he cut back on Zip’s cash payments. “If he needed it,” Flemmi said, “he was going to have to explain what he wanted to do with it.”