Bella English

For victim’s brother, film shows the real Bulger

Steve Davis on the set of the documentary.
Steve Davis on the set of the documentary.Bob Richman

Steve Davis had never been to Park City, Utah, before, and he had to stop every so often to catch his breath in the thin air up there. A bad car crash in 2006 had left him with damaged lungs and other disabilities. “And my ears are popping out here,” he said last week.

But for Davis, the air was not the only thing that seemed rarefied at the Sundance Film Festival. There was the free food and liquor, free transportation and digs, and the premiere parties. “A special chef came in to cook,” he said. “We had the best lamb, so much lobster, and the biggest dessert display you’ve ever seen.”


People would stop Davis on Main Street and take his picture. “I had pictures taken with Wayne Newton and Katie Couric. And then you go out to dinner, and you’re eating and drinking with them.”

Steve Davis is not an actor or director. He grew up in Southie and lives in Milton, and he was at Sundance as the guest of documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger for the premiere of “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger.” Davis appears in it as a family member of one of Whitey’s alleged victims.

“The film is so hot out here, it sold out, and it sold out in Boston in three hours,” Davis said. The Boston-area premiere is Thursday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. The film is co-produced by CNN, which will air it on an unspecified date.

In 1981, Davis’s sister Debra was murdered at age 26, allegedly at the hands of Whitey and his partner in crime, Steve Flemmi. Last year, Bulger was convicted on 31 counts, including 11 murders, but the jury issued “no finding” in Debra Davis’s strangulation since it was only the slimeball Flemmi’s word against the slimeball Bulger’s.


Steve Davis, who attended the trial daily, believes the film conveys the real Whitey Bulger: “I’d like people to look at all the pain and suffering the families went through over the years, what he put South Boston through, what this one creep did.”

For Davis’s family, there was no justice. “I don’t have a conviction,” he said. “I don’t know who killed my sister.” Debra was older by 15 months, and the two were close, he said. He and his wife, MaryAnn, named their daughter after her; the younger Debra, 20, was killed in a drunken-driving crash after a 2008 concert at Gillette Stadium.

In November, the couple settled a wrongful death suit against the Kraft Group, which owns Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots. They had sought $2.5 million, arguing that the Kraft Group was liable for the single-car crash that killed Debra because it didn’t do enough to stop underage tailgating in the lot outside a country music festival.

Davis was a passenger in a car driven by a 19-year-old woman who also died. The driver had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit when she veered off Route 1 about a mile from the stadium, police said.

As for his sister, Steve Davis said he has an upcoming appointment with Suffolk County prosecutors to talk about bringing a state murder charge in her death.

At the federal trial, though attorneys Jay Carney and Hank Brennan offered a spirited defense of Bulger, Davis said he respects them. “I love Hank Brennan,” he said. “At trial, in the end, it’s not us fighting. It’s the justice system and the person on trial.”


The film includes footage of Stephen Rakes, who was hoping to testify at the trial over what he said was Bulger’s extortion of his South Boston liquor store at gunpoint in front of Rakes’s two young daughters. But in a shocking and unrelated incident, Rakes was murdered during the trial by a man heavily in debt to him.

Steve Davis and Stephen Rakes had gotten to be good friends during the trial, and the documentary shows the two men talking. “It’s kind of eerie to hear yourself talking to someone who’s no longer around,” Davis said.

Another voice heard on the film irritated Davis: Whitey Bulger’s. Though he refused to testify at trial, Bulger is heard throughout the film on speakerphone from jail talking to Carney. In the conversation, Bulger strongly denies he was ever an FBI informant.

“To me, that was rehearsed,” said Davis. “He said, ‘I was buying information [from the FBI]; I wasn’t selling information.’ He made it out to be that Flemmi was the only rat informant out there, but we know different.”

There’s no doubt in Davis’s mind that Bulger was an informant. There was one light moment during the film, he said, when he was asked about confidential informants. “I said something like Boston was infested with rats, and even the courthouse looks like a mouse hole, and the whole audience couldn’t stop laughing. I guess it was funny.”


But at the end of the film, there’s a sobering and sweet dedication in memory of Bulger’s many victims.

Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.