Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi testified Friday that he lured his young girlfriend to her death, but could not bring himself to kill her, so he watched as his partner, James “Whitey” Bulger, choked the life out of her.
“I couldn’t do it; he knew it,” said Flemmi, telling jurors that in September 1981 he brought Debra Davis, 26, to a vacant South Boston house he had bought for his parents, where Bulger was waiting. “He told me: ‘I’ll take care of it. I’ll do it.’ ’’
Bulger “grabbed her by the throat and strangled her,” said Flemmi. “He was holding her, strangling her all the way down to the basement.” Once she was dead, Flemmi said he took over, removing Davis’s clothes and wrapping her body in a plastic tarp, while Bulger “went upstairs and laid down,” taking a nap on the rug because there was no furniture in the house.
One juror had tears in her eyes as Flemmi described Davis’s death. It was the first time Flemmi expressed any regret, or even a hint of emotion, during his testimony at the federal racketeering trial of Bulger, 83, who is charged with participating in the murders of Davis and 18 other people in the 1970s and 1980s.
Bulger, who traded obscenities with Flemmi Thursday when they came face to face for the first time in 18 years, was stoic Friday, barely glancing at his one-time partner in crime.
Flemmi, 79, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders and says Bulger participated in all of them, has testified in prior civil and criminal trials about murder and the corrupt relationship he and Bulger shared with the FBI while working as informants, which included doling out payoffs to numerous agents.
But, on Friday, Flemmi testified for the first time that in the 1980s, FBI agent John Newton gave him and Bulger a case of C-4 explosives, some of which they sent to the outlawed Irish Republican Army. “It was a surprise when we got it,” said Flemmi, adding that some of the explosives went to criminal associates in Charlestown. He said he believed that Newton, a former Green Beret, got the plastic explosives while participating in training at Fort Devens.
The allegation, contained in an investigative report, was first reported in a book, “Whitey Bulger,” written by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy (one of the authors of this article) and published in February.
Newton, who is retired from the FBI, denied giving Bulger or Flemmi C-4 during an interview last year, calling the allegation bizarre and outrageous.
On the stand Friday, Flemmi said he had been an informant in the 1960s, then in late 1974 or early 1975 he rekindled his relationship with the FBI when Bulger, a fellow member of the Winter Hill Gang, asked him to meet agents John J. Connolly Jr. and Dennis Condon at a coffee shop in Newton.
“I was suspicious of it,” said Flemmi, adding that Bulger had already told the gang that Connolly was giving him information because they grew up together in South Boston and the agent was a friend of his politician brother, William Bulger.
Flemmi said he suspected Bulger was probably an informant when he asked him to meet Connolly, and soon the pair of them were working together as informants for the agent. The relationship paid off, Flemmi said, when Connolly and his supervisor, John Morris, persuaded a federal prosecutor to remove them from a race-fixing indictment in 1979 because they were informants against the Mafia. The indictment decimated the rest of the Winter Hill gang, sending most other members to prison or on the run.
Flemmi said he and Bulger paid more than $230,000 in payoffs to Connolly over a decade and once gave him $50,000 from their share of a drug shipment. He said the agent joked, “I’m now one of the gang.”
Flemmi also said they paid cash from an Ex-Fund, or expense fund, ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 to a handful of other agents, including Newton, who have all denied taking any money and have never been charged. The only agent who admitted taking money was John Morris, a supervisor who was granted immunity from prosecution.
Offering a tutorial on Boston’s underworld, Flemmi described Boston’s gang wars in the ’60s, identified charts showing wiseguys and drug dealers who made up Bulger’s and Flemmi’s gang over the decades, and described a litany of cold-blooded and violent murders as the daughters, sons, and widows of some of the victims listened from the packed spectator section.
Although Davis was trying to break up with Flemmi when she was slain, Flemmi told jurors Bulger insisted on killing her because Flemmi had told her about their relationship with Connolly and he feared she might tell someone.
“I loved her, but I was not in love with her,” said Flemmi, when pressed by Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak about his relationship with Davis. Still, he said, her slaying “affected me, and it’s going to affect me until the day I die.”
After they killed Davis, Flemmi said two South Boston associates, Patrick Nee and Jack Curran, helped move the body to the trunk of a car. When it got dark, Flemmi said Curran dropped him and Bulger off at the banks of the Neponset River in Quincy with the body and shovels. “He sat down on the bank and I dug the hole,” said Flemmi, referring to Bulger.
When Wyshak asked Flemmi why Bulger left him to do the work, Flemmi said, “That’s what he does.”
Davis’s brother, Steve, who looked visibly shaken as he listened to Flemmi’s chilling account of his sister’s murder, said afterward: “They lie. That’s all those guys ever did; every one of them were liars. They strong-armed people. They did whatever they had to do. But their whole life was lies.”Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.