I was walking into the federal courthouse Thursday morning when Steve Davis grabbed me by the arm.
“Did you hear about Stevie Rakes?” he asked.
No, what about him?
“He’s dead,” Steve Davis said.
I was stunned.
‘I can’t believe he’s dead. Steve was such a nice man. We all know each other. We all sit with each other. We all support each other. And now this.’
“That can’t be,” I said, “I just talked to him the other day.”
“Tell me about it,” Steve Davis said. “I was talking to him Tuesday. I called him yesterday, and when he didn’t call me back, I knew something was wrong. He always called me back.”
Steve Davis was so concerned that he hadn’t heard back from Rakes that he stopped by Rakes’s house in Quincy before he headed to the Southie waterfront for the trial. But Stippo, as Steve Rakes was known, was not there.
That’s because he was dead, found, maybe dumped, by the side of the road in Lincoln.
The news of Rakes’s death, the cause unknown, shook Whitey Bulger’s other alleged victims. They have become something of a family, joined by the fact that they have allegedly been victimized twice, by Whitey Bulger, and by the FBI that enabled him. Some of them, like the Donahues, were victimized three times, when the US Justice Department compounded the FBI’s corruption by refusing to settle with the victims, dragging them through the mud.
Pat Donahue, the matriarch of the Donahue clan, was shaking her head.
“I can’t believe he’s dead,” she said. “Steve was such a nice man. We all know each other. We all sit with each other. We all support each other. And now this.”
I spoke to Steve Rakes two days before he died. He told me he was looking forward to testifying, to telling the jury that 29 years ago Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi and Kevin Weeks stole his liquor store from him and his then-wife Julie at gunpoint. That they took out a gun at his house, when his kids were there.
“I can’t wait,” Steve Rakes told me.
He especially wanted to rebut the testimony of Weeks, one of the government’s star witnesses. Weeks has freely admitted to being Whitey’s protégé, his muscle, his pit bull, his gravedigger. But Weeks adamantly refuses to accept that the takeover of Steve and Julie Rakes’s liquor store at the Old Colony rotary went down the way the Rakes family and the government said it went down.
Weeks claims it was Mary O’Malley, Steve Rakes’s sister, who sold drugs for Whitey’s gang, who approached him and Whitey to say her brother was looking to sell his liquor store. Weeks said they jumped at the chance, because it gave them a way to wash their ill-gotten cash. But he says when they tried to consummate the deal, Steve Rakes hesitated, saying he had undervalued the store, that he hadn’t factored in all the stock, that he wanted more money.
“He was trying to shake us down,” Weeks told me and Shelley Murphy last year.
So the guns came out, and Stippo reluctantly did the deal. He then immediately flew to Florida. His disappearance fueled rumors Whitey had whacked him. So Whitey called him and demanded he fly home. Rakes did, and Whitey made a point of standing at busy intersections in Southie with Rakes and Weeks so everybody could see that he was not buried in one of Whitey’s shallow graves.
But Steve Rakes found out Tuesday that the government was not going to call him as a witness. It was most likely a cold-blooded assessment by the prosecutors that it was not in their interest to call a witness who would challenge the testimony of a star prosecution witness. But whatever the reason, they were denying Steve Rakes something he had looked forward to for almost 30 years.
“He was upset,” Steve Davis said. “He had been, like all of us, waiting for the day to point the finger at Whitey and tell the jury what Whitey had done to his family.”
The timing of Rakes’s death will fuel all sorts of conspiracy theories, but the truth is we don’t know a lot yet. The DA says there was no sign of obvious trauma, but cops say the death is suspicious, probably because they don’t believe the body ended up there by accident. They say the toxicology report will answer some questions.
Rakes was in great shape. He swam off Carson Beach in Southie all the time. His friends can’t believe this was a heart attack.
Hours after we learned that Stippo was dead, the much anticipated confrontation between Whitey and his old partner in crime, Steve Flemmi, took place.
That’s what we were all there for.
And so Stevie said Whitey was a rat, that Whitey did all the talking when the two informants, Whitey and Stevie, met with Whitey’s FBI handler, John Connolly.
The jury only got 10 minutes of Stevie before the judge called it a day. Friday should be fireworks.
As the jury filed out, Whitey and Stevie glared at each other. Stevie mouthed something unprintable. Whitey mouthed something back.
And as I sat there, watching this unedifying, moronic exchange between a pair of degenerates, it occurred to me that the death of one of their victims merited much more of our attention and concern than either of their pathetic existences.
The last question I asked Steve Rakes, the other day, was when he thought he’d be on the witness stand.
“End of this week,” Steve Rakes told me. “Maybe next.”
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.