John Martorano showed no emotion Monday as he casually described shooting and stabbing people, sometimes the wrong ones, including a couple of teenagers huddled in a car during a blizzard, then cleaning up the blood and dumping bodies in the trunks of abandoned cars.
“I went in and shot him . . . in the heart,” said Martorano, recounting how he donned a white meat cutter’s coat, yellow construction hat, and fake beard to ambush one victim in a crowded Medford coffee shop in 1973.
It is the third time that Martorano, 72, has testified for the government in a criminal case, but it was the first time he took the stand against his friend-turned-foe, James “Whitey” Bulger, 83, who sat just a few feet away in US District Court in Boston. During two hours on the stand, Martorano implicated Bulger in six slayings in the 1970s, saying Bulger was either a driver, bystander, or part of the cleanup crew. Martorano is expected to implicate Bulger in many more slayings when he resumes testifying Tuesday.
Bulger, who is charged in a sweeping racketeering case with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, including 11 with Martorano, stole a sideways glance at the burly former hitman as he stepped into the witness box. But the two men, who have not seen each other in several decades, appeared to avoid eye contact, even when Martorano was asked to identify Bulger and nodded, “Right there.”
“Were you a hitman?” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak asked Martorano, who served only 12 years for killing 20 people, as part of a plea bargain with the government. “No,” said Martorano, drawing a distinction from those who get paid to kill. Martorano portrayed himself as someone who never got paid and only killed for friends, or family, or when crossed.
He described Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi as partners in crime, his best friends, and godfathers to his children, telling jurors he had named his youngest son, James Stephen, after the pair.
“After I heard that they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,” said Martorano, who testified that he was shocked in 1997 when a federal judge forced the FBI to reveal that Flemmi and Bulger were longtime informants. “They broke all trust that we had, all loyalties, and I was just beside myself with it.”
Martorano, who was arrested in Florida in 1995 after being a fugitive for 16 years on federal race-fixing charges, said the betrayal prompted him to cut a deal with the government in 1999. He confessed to murders and agreed to cooperate against Bulger, Flemmi, and their former handler, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly.
Martorano ticked off a dizzying number of slayings he was involved in, beginning in the 1960s. He said he fatally shot two men to prevent them from testifying against his brother, who was charged with being an accessory after the slaying of a waitress.
In 1968, after learning that Flemmi had been beaten at the Basin Street, a club in Boston’s South End, Martorano said, he arranged a meeting with the manager, Herbert Smith.
Walking through a blizzard, Martorano said, he came upon Smith’s car in Roxbury, saw “three silhouettes” in the car, and opened fire, killing the occupants: Smith; 19-year-old Elizabeth Dickson; and 17-year-old Douglas Barrett.
Martorano told jurors that he did not learn until later that he had killed the teenagers. “I felt terrible,” Martorano said. “I wanted to shoot myself, but can’t change it.”
Martorano, a member of the Somerville-based Winter Hill Gang, said he had killed eight people — including a man he stabbed to death for bothering him while he was on a date — by the time Bulger joined the gang in the early 1970s.
In 1973, Mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo enlisted the Winter Hill Gang to kill Al Notorangeli, the leader of a rival gang who was suspected of killing one of Angiulo’s bookmakers, Martorano said.
A young bartender, Michael Milano, who drove a brown Mercedes, was mistaken for Notorangeli as he left a cafe near Boston’s North Station, said Martorano, testifying that he and Winter Hill gang leader Howie Winter sprayed the car with machine gun fire, as Bulger and others drove in a backup car. Milano was killed, one passenger was paralyzed, and another also wounded.
“It was the wrong guy,” Martorano said.
After more of Notorangeli’s crew were killed in the ongoing war, he petitioned for peace and was assured by Angiulo that all would be forgiven in exchange for $50,000, Martorano said. But after Notorangeli paid, Martorano testified he shot him with Bulger present.
Another victim, James “Spike” O’Toole was targeted because he had shot Flemmi’s brother, Jimmy, 11 times. Jimmy Flemmi survived the attack; O’Toole did not. In 1973, O’Toole crouched behind a mailbox on Dorchester Avenue when Martorano said he shot through the mailbox. Martorano said Bulger was in another car and later complained, “I’m never going to be in a car without a gun again.”
Martorano’s testimony echoed much of what he said when testifying at former FBI agent Connolly’s 2002 racketeering trial in Boston and his 2008 murder trial in Miami.
The admitted killer said Bulger told him that Connolly, an FBI agent who grew up in South Boston with the Bulgers, offered to leak him information as a favor to Bulger’s younger brother William, former president of the Massachusetts Senate and of the University of Massachusetts.
Martorano said Bulger told the gang that Connolly credited William Bulger with keeping him out of trouble and encouraging him to join the FBI. Bulger told the gang Connolly said he asked William Bulger what he could do to repay the favor and he said, “If you could keep my brother out of trouble, that would be helpful to him,” Martorano testified.
William Bulger, who has not attended his brother’s trial, testified before a congressional committee in 2003 that he did not ask Connolly to keep his brother out of trouble and was unaware Connolly had recruited him as an informant until it was reported years later. James Bulger has denied being an FBI informant.
Martorano told jurors he is currently unemployed, but sold the rights to his life story to a film company for $250,000 and split a $110,000 advance with Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, who wrote, “Hitman,” about Martorano’s life, and also collected another $20,000 in royalties. Martorano was also paid $20,000 by the Drug Enforcement Administration after he was released from prison.
After Monday’s testimony, Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982, said he was amazed that Martorano kept saying, “I shot him” as he described his trail of victims, then denied being a hitman.
“How about mass murderer?” Donahue said.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Milton J. Valencia at email@example.com.