Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anthony "The Moron" Mirabella & Friends

The picture to the left is a group shot of American Mafiosi, maybe after some kind of collective Cosa Nostra induction ceremony. Sort of a graduation picture then, I guess. They’re a pretty generic bunch, if you ask me. It's hard to find pictures of Anthony The Moron on the Internet, so these guys will have to do. Pick one, any one of them, and that’s probably what The Moron looked like in his prime. Anthony Mirabella was a grade A Mafia cretin. They discovered his decomposed body in the marshes of Warwick, Rhode Island during my youthful sojourn in Providence. The media clued us all in to, first of all, his splendid nickname, and to the fact that he himself had served time for a double murder back in the seventies. They even showed video footage of The Moron getting arrested, obscenely waggling his tongue at the camera. His nickname was well-earned.

After his release from prison in 1980, Mirabella knew he was a marked man. According to his wife, he was a full-blown paranoid who stocked the house with guns, always afraid that his former cronies would come gunning for him. And they did. He was too much of a wild card to be trusted. Allegedly, the fat man in the photo below - whose name is Frank "Bobo" Marrapese - and several other Providence Mafiosi cornered Mirabella in Fida's Restaurant in the Olneyville section of town in 1982, and shot him dead. They took him in the back, stabbed him repeatedly - to make him rot quicker, according to witnesses - then put his corpse (or corpse pieces) into a garbage bag (or bags) and deposited the remains in the wetlands of southern Rhode Island. I remember him primarily because of - one - the irresistible nickname - and also, two - Geoffrey Wolff, author of the memoir, The Duke Of Deception, about his con-man dad, and brother of the more famous Tobias Wolff, wrote a novel based on the case called Providence. Read it sometime. It’s a one-off kind of crime novel as I don’t believe Wolff ever ventured down those mean streets again, but it’s fun.

Amazingly enough, I don’t rightly know if anybody ever served time for Mirabella’s execution.

Frank "Bobo” Marrapese, whose day job was apparently as a cook (which is where, I suppose, he got his knowledge on how to make dead meat rot quicker), did end up serving time for another murder altogether. In 1975, he killed mobster Richard Callei, whose “bullet-ridden” corpse he left on a golf course in Rehoboth, Mass. He was tried for that one in 1987 and got 20 years. Although he was also charged with killing Mirabella, he was somehow found not guilty on that one (mob jury tampering?). He was also found not guilty of another 80’s murder charge, an infinitely more heinous one, that of killing a young guy named Ronald McElroy, who made the mistake of cutting off Marrapese in traffic, whereupon “Bobo” forced him off the road and beat him to a pulp with a baseball bat. Yeah, he was found not guilty of that one, too (more mob jury tampering?). It’s one thing when these guys kill their own, but when they whack civilians...

Poetic justice sometimes gets ya, when no other kind can. Released from prison in 2008, Marrapese was sent back to jail in 2010 for parole violations and, so far as I know, remains there. Other suspects in Mirabella’s demise include Vito DeLuca, Thomas Pisaniello and Nicholas Bianco. DeLuca was eventually deported to Italy. Nicholas Bianco was convicted of racketeering charges in 1991, and died in prison of Lou Gehrig’s disease. To my knowledge, he was never convicted of Mirabella’s murder. I don’t know what happened to Pisaniello.

I have one question though. Seeing as how the murder took place in an Italian restaurant, how would Gordon Ramsay have behaved had he been there to reform the place? Would he swapped swear words with the cook-slash-killers? And, if so, who would have sworn better? Would he have been appalled by the goings on? And, if so, would he have been appalled at the murder itself or merely at the sloppy preparation of the corpse? Or would he have joined in? Ramsay himself likes to dress up in tight black muscle outfits, just like the guys in the picture, so maybe he might have.

Today in History: Seeking justice for 'The Moron' (Providence Journal)
Mobster Set For Release (Providence/New Bedford Local News)
Mobster Marrapese takes first steps out of ACI (Providence Journal)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Genteel New England Mystery Writer William G. Tapply

And now for something completely different. Something halfway pleasant, for once. I turn your attention to William G. Tapply, an esteemed New England mystery writer who passed away two years ago from leukemia. I've never read any of his books, but I should try at least one of them. They seem like the kind of mysteries my own Ma used to take home from the library in their cellophane covers, back in the day. Although Mr. Tapply got a relatively late start as a writer - publishing his first mystery in his forties - he seems to have lived the kind of life that most of us just dream about. The chance to do what you love for a living, and yet not get so successful at it that your life becomes a bloated caricature of its former self and you want to suck the lead out of the barrel of a shotgun (Ernest Hemingway, I'm not necessarily thinking of you...)

Tapply seems to have led a charmed life in many respects. His bio reads like the bio of a person who lives in one of those enchanted cabins painted by Thomas Kinkade, or like that of a character in some touchy-feely upper middle class drama on the Hallmark Channel. I mean truly - not to dis the guy, I'm sure he was talented, but still... His father wrote for Field & Stream, and he grew up in Lexington, Mass. in the forties and fifties - a perfect time for a suburban boyhood. He was "a fabulous athlete", according to his wife, excelling at baseball and basketball. He was also no slouch academically, having attended what is probably the classiest liberal arts college for smart WASP's - Amherst - and then later Harvard, to pick up a master's in education. He taught English and worked as an administrator at Lexington High School for 25 years, thus garnishing his resume with the noblest of professions - teaching - before moving to New Hampshire and writing full-time. He also found time to become an expert fly-fisherman and to travel extensively. His wife found him "infinitely interesting".

To me, he sounds insufferably perfect.

I mean - my attitude here is not snark, not really, it is just old-fashioned envy and admiration, intermixed. The guy sounds like a modest and tasteful version of that rakish old bearded guy in the Dos Equis commercials. His modesty was reflected in his writing as well, which he preferred to be "invisible", stylistically. “If someone tells you, ‘Wow, that’s great writing,’ you know you’ve failed,’’ he wrote. His best known creation was Brady Coyne, “a Spenser-like character, but more polished. He was a lawyer with Brahmin clients who always wanted to keep the police out of it." The Scarlet Pimpernel of Middlesex County, to wit - “a skillful blend of amateur versus professional, serious versus frivolous, and intellectual versus physical.” These are the sorts of books you can snuggle up with when you can see the maple leaves turning orange outside the window of your study, or when the snow is falling (but not too heavily), or - if it's summer - when you can hear the piquant eruption of a lawn mower half a block away.

There's a paradox afoot in the idea of crime novels the mere reading of which evokes a serene and soothing world. But we all like to feel comfortable now and then, even while reading one's favorite literary genre. Let us hope that at least Tapply's villains were more tormented than he seemed to be.

William Tapply, 69, prolific writer of mysteries, nonfiction (Boston Globe)
Author Website
William G. Tapply - Short Bio

Homicidal Harry Potter Fan & MA Native "Mucko" McDermott

Michael (AKA "Mucko") McDermott is one of our most notorious local murderers. In December 2000, he went on a rampage at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield, Mass., killing seven co-workers, four of them women, and including one guy who lived less than ten blocks from me. Once apprehended, McDermott claimed that he believed he was killing "Nazis" - the German-speaking, WWII kind, not metaphorical or figurative Nazis. He brought this claim to court in a farcical attempt to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. It did not work. His actual motives were more mundane. He was angry at the human resources and accounting departments for garnishing his wages, and clearly just lost it. Six-foot-two, weighing something like 300 pounds, not to mention bearded and wild-haired, the 42-year old software tester paced methodically down the halls of his workplace with an AK-47, targeting specific individuals. Yet another variation on the familiar theme of "going postal".

McDermott was an odd duck. To say the least. Born Michael McDermod Martinez, he was reputedly accepted by MIT during his senior year of high school, but declined to attend. He believed that he had been accepted only because of his Hispanic surname, and subsequently changed his surname to the Irish white-boy "McDermott". Then he joined the Navy and became a submariner. The sailors and the officers liked him all right, although some recalled that he tended to overreact to slights - often violently (also characteristics of McDonald's spree killer James Huberty and Luby's Cafeteria killer George Hennard). He didn't rack up a sterling record as a shipboard techie, but then he probably didn't want to. McDermott clearly belonged to the subspecies Homo sapiens nerdicus. Beyond that MIT acceptance (and his infantile repudiation of it), he is said to have scored 165 on at least some IQ test (most likely the Internet variety), and loved The X Files, Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons and the rest of that huge, weird subculture related to science fiction and fantasy. And he remained interested in the most child-oriented aspects of this subculture well into middle age. He was the veteran of a divorce and a suicide attempt and took anti-depressive medication. At one point, he actually even lived in a renovated grammar school, which graphically suggests a real need to regress back into childhood to escape his problems.

He regularly expounded his views on Internet bulletin boards (shades of other recent rage killers, like George Sodini and Anders Behring Breivik), and liked to fool around with chemicals that exploded when mixed together (shades of Ted Kaczynski and even of the murderous Atlanta day trader, Mark O. Barton, who was a chemist in a former life). As a matter of fact, he had helped design Duracell batteries for a living before his employers relocated from Massachusetts, after which he segued into a new career in IT. Like Hitler, he had a quirky compassionate streak, exhibiting a fondness for children and giving blood on a regular basis. And, like the suspected Zodiac Killer, Arthur Leigh Allen, he was an overweight, underachieving recluse with a high IQ. The guy was totally a textbook case, the quintessential profiler's composite.

The press at the time unfairly smeared middle-aged IT professionals everywhere by painting McDermott as merely another hapless, overage computer guy who, at the age of 42, took orders from people who were often (or at least occasionally) "a whole generation younger". All you need to do is take a good look at the guy to know that he was something else entirely - an intellectually talented man-child who never grew up and was torn apart by the distance between his inner self and the demands of maturity. Like the so-called "criminal genius", George Nassar, McDermott was a maladroit smart guy whose enraged social frustration left him no option but to communicate with a gun. The Boston area, whose many colleges and universities are a magnet to intellectually yearning folks worldwide, must surely host more than its share of dudes like this. Criminologists, take note.

Wakefield Massacre (Wikipedia)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hoboken And The Presiding Spirits Of Sinatra And The Mob

Outside of Providence, the one town I lived in that had an intimate connection with the Cosa Nostra was Hoboken, New Jersey. The home also, coincidentally enough, of Frank Sinatra. As a matter of fact, I lived in a ground floor apartment in a brownstone that the Sinatra family used to own. I was comin' out of my hole one day, and some middle-aged guy from the hood told me as much. He was standing on the stoop of the next building over, and he caught my eye and said, "The Sinatras used to live where you're living now. Didja know that?" No, I did not, I thought, and ever after that day I'd sit in my living room, look up at the ceiling, and wonder if there were Sinatra ghosts jitterbugging around me. I also remember sitting in a bar down across from the PATH station, and there was this burly old Italian-American ex-jock type sittin' there telling the guy next to him, "I used to know Frank Sinatra. I went to school with Frank Sinatra. And, let me tell you, he was nothin'. Nothin'! He couldn't play ball, he didn't get good grades. He couldn't do shit." Then he reared back in his seat and laid out his kill-shot, "All he could do was sing!" Ta-dum...

Anyway, I could get loud myself in those bars, when I was in my cups. One night at another watering hole, there was this other Italian guy sitting a few barstools down. He sort of looked like Jerry Orbach from Law and Order, except that he was dressed in an outfit the same powder blue color that prom night tuxedos often tend to be, but he was an adult and this was his actual suit. He seemed kind of down in the dumps. "No offense, but you're with the mob, aren't ya?" I asked, trying to be friendly. In a voluble, asshole kind of way. "Ahhh..." he growled, clutching his drink. "Come on now, man. Aren't you with the Mafia?" I persisted. "I ain't no mobster!" he cried. "Fuck you!" Then he got up and left, staggering up the stairs out of our subterranean little boite. "I was only kidding," I confessed, lamely, to those barflies who remained. The bartender explained, "Joey owns a restaurant. The Mafia have been on his ass for years about paying protection. And the last thing he wants to talk about is the mob, even as a goof." I stood corrected. I had taunted not The Beast itself, but one of its victims.

I was maybe not in the right bar. Hoboken, at least twenty years ago, had 50,000 souls packed into a space of just 1.2 square miles. And not all of that area was residential. You had the Stevens Tech campus on one side, near the Hudson, the Maxwell House plant to the northeast, and an enormous automobile demolition yard to the far west of town, just beneath the Jersey City cliffs, which were pretty much the southern tail end of The Palisades. Sometimes I'd walk towards the demolition yard and see a bar, or social club or whatnot, stuck in the middle of a scuzzy-looking quasi-industrial nowhere. Inside I could see guys with slicked down noggins and fancy sports jackets, women crowned like 18th century queens with "big hair". Everybody inside looked Italian, and was dressed to the nines. I never even attempted to step inside. I was afraid to. It's still my own little mental dictionary illustration of the phrase "Mafia private club". A mysterious place off by itself, packed with a lethal, explosive elegance that was utterly closed to the rest of us.

Sometimes you live in a town where the criminal elite is notorious, but you never meet them or even see them. They remain rumors of themselves, their existence not yet proven. Like Bigfoot, but with nicer clothes. Maybe I was lucky that they eluded me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heroin In The Suburbs

Full disclosure - I live in the suburbs, not in Boston itself. Mea culpa, mea culpa. But not in a faraway suburb. No exurbia for me, my friend. I like sidewalks too much. Speaking of which, in the last couple of years, two dudes died of heroin overdoses on streets just a short walk up from where I live. Heroin still lives, despite whatever other drugs they have these days. I smoked opium once in college, in the apartment of a classmate who was a premed. (This guy eventually became an anesthesiologist, so I guess he gives people drugs all the time now, as his job.) Anyway, I liked the opium. Totally relaxed me. Erased my worries and all that. Also, I distinctly remember rousing myself from my friend's sofa and trying to walk around. I felt like I was wearing socks two inches thick. The whole world seemed so splendidly padded. I can see why people take heroin. Serious opiates cradle you in a cushy freedom from caring about anything, and who wouldn't want that nowadays - with our freakin' economy, our dumb-ass wars in the Middle East, and the general sense of America going to hell in a hand-basket?

When I was seventeen and, like many another seventeen year old, completely fucked up, a high school acquaintance hooked me up with an, ahem, "encounter group" at the local Youth Services Center. This dude, incidentally, eventually became a prominent Professor of Business who espoused some insane concept called "Hypercompetition", in which everyone everywhere must run around like a chicken with his head cut off to avoid going bankrupt or getting downsized. A friend, shall we say, of the banker-loving Right. But, back then, he was a long-haired and somewhat pompous young liberal whose SAT scores were significantly lower than mine (despite his pomposity) and whose favorite poet was Kahlil Gibran. Anyway, I joined the group - and virtually everyone in it, all kids in the 18 to 21 range, was a recovering heroin addict. There were two guys, very different. One was the Irish hockey player type whose hobby was getting into fights at Bruins games (in the stands, not the rink - he didn't play hockey with them), and who was annoyingly good-looking, sort of like a Viking with a Boston accent. The other guy was this narrow-shouldered, quasi-hunchbacked gimp who needed a cane to get around, but had liquid brown eyes and was reputedly loved by all the (loose) girls for the amplitude of his nether regions. And there were three girls. Two of them quite plump and frighteningly horny, and another one, the soulful daughter of an aerospace engineer from California who had the face of a thirty-five year old (she was only seventeen, too) and who liked to write poetry. Of course, I fell for her instead of the sluts. Idealistic fool that I was. But then, she was the only one who had never shot up. Eventually, she made up for that by getting arrested after her freshman year in college, when she and her buddies picked up an Arab hitchhiker in Casablanca who happened to have hashish on him, and the whole bunch of them ended up spending a month in an Algerian jail. Until their parents paid their ransom. (The hitchhiker had surely been a plant.)

The group was mediated by a perpetually tanned psychiatrist from Brookline with a Harvard education who claimed to still be a virgin at the age of thirty-one. Hmmm... Anyway, the Irish Viking hockey thug boasted about his conquests (in bed as well as in battle), the Gimp lamented his crippled state (but also boasted about his conquests in bed), and the plump girls - who had apparently slept with both the Viking and the Gimp - chortled merrily and boasted about how their guidance counselors thought they should have been getting all A's with their IQ's when, in fact, they were almost flunking out. We were later joined by another guy, also an ex-addict, very blond and prone to wearing hippy-dippy polka dot shirts, who resembled nothing so much as a miniature Don Stroud - or a straight Lance Loud. He was the miracle baby of parents who had finally conceived in their forties after decades of trying, and he had an adopted older brother. He told me I reminded him of his rather brainy older brother, which seemed flattering at the time. As it happened, just a few years later, this same brother shot a friend to death to prevent him from revealing that he (the brother) had cheated on his National Merit Scholarship exam to get into Stanford, and that his entire subsequent career as a San Francisco stock broker was a fraud. After the murder, the brother went on the lam for decades before he was finally apprehended.

Quite a crew, these folks. Outside of heroin and lively personalities, I cannot discern in retrospect what they had in common. At one point, I self-righteously told my mother that these Horrible Heroin Addicts seemed like "weak" people, that they did what they did because they were "weak", but I've had plenty of "weak" moments myself in the decades since, so that judgment seems totally bogus now. Everyone's "weak", I think. Heroin thrives, when it thrives, on two factors - its own availability, and how shitty and insecure your current life (and, by extension, everybody else's current life) seems in comparison to the nirvana of narcotics. Nothing makes bad habits like bad times.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Tale Of Two Sociopaths

Here is a Boston crime story that everyone knows about. An evil conman with the ridiculous pseudonym of Clark Rockefeller steals his six year old daughter away from her beautiful, brilliant and super-achieving mother, thus leading the police on a merry chase across the Northeast. Now, some years after the kidnapping conviction of the evil conman, it seems that he has been outed as a murderer as well, having done away with a man named Jonathan Sohus in California during his previous false life as some British dude with the equally ridiculous pseudonym of Christopher Chichester. Now here, one might say, is a true sociopath.

Of course, we're talking about German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter who, like any guy with a name like that, sensibly changed it when he arrived in the states. Numerous times, in fact. From Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island, he adapted a notorious parody of a rich person's accent as his own mode of speech and somehow was able to use it to hoodwink his way into elite society. Perhaps if all those snooty meritocratic social climbers had ever deigned to watch a TV sitcom now and then, they wouldn't have been taken in by Gerhartsreiter's charade, but they were. As they also were by that magical surname - "Rockefeller". Enough to make Harvard Business School grads of either gender swoon - or salivate like Pavlov's dogs. In addition to the ludicrous accent and the iconic surname, Gerhartsreiter embroidered his identity with eccentricities like disdaining socks and eating only white food, and with tales of his entering Yale at fourteen, his parents' tragic death in a car accident, and other more trivial moments of the "Pookie and Skip on the Vineyard" variety. That he chose such an over-the-top and cartoonish disguise in his masquerade as a rich man was not only a stroke of genius - how could such an extreme persona not be real, his victims must have reasoned - but also a hint of the contempt he must have felt for those he duped.

When he was caught, the press made much of his humble origins in Bavaria, his working class parents and his mediocre academic record - as though he were merely "ordinary", not like the Ivy League princess he could twist around his little finger. The truth is, I think, that Gerhartsreiter was at least as "brilliant" as Sandra Boss, and that his dementedly nuanced deception was at least as clever as - and surely more creative than - anything she had ever done. In that sense, they were intellectual peers. To convince smart people that you are as smart as or smarter than themselves, you have to be smart, too - even if whatever evidence you provide of your smartness is a pack of lies. Certainly, Sandra Boss thought he was a brain. Then again she also found him attractive.

Even if we allow that Gerhartsreiter and Sandra Boss had intellect in common - she playing the goody-goody "Achiever" to his cunning bad-boy manipulator - they had something else in common as well. They were both sociopaths. Oh, come now, you might say. Sandra Boss (how aptly named!) was a high-flyer, a super-competent consultant for the exalted McKinsey company, one who had advised boardrooms on corporate strategy to the tune of two million dollars a year. A pillar of society and a sterling exemplar of lifelong classroom obedience. What everyone would be, if they were smart enough - and she was! While he was a mere criminal...

But what do corporate consultants actually do? They show CEO's how to streamline their operations, how to arrange mergers with other companies, so that they can cut costs, lay off workers, and underpay and overwork their remaining workers with impunity - all to enrich themselves and their already obscenely wealthy shareholders. I mean, do corporate consultants really do anything else? Do they invent new technology or cure cancer? Do they - I'm almost choking at the absurdity of the thought - do they console the dying and feed the poor? No - as we have seen in America in the last few years, corporate consultants destroy lives, not mend them. While Gerhartsreiter may have killed one (at most two) people, and fooled (and amused) many others - how many lives has Sandra Boss destroyed? How many strokes, heart attacks, divorces, suicides and descents into alcoholism did this "brilliant and beautiful" woman enable from her immaculately appointed offices in London, Boston and New York? Even if you can't agree that she is a sociopath herself - after all, she's not the one actually sending out those pink slips - isn't she at least part of a sociopathic system? And, as such, a sociopath by association?

No wonder she and Gerhartsreiter got along so famously. Even couldn't bring together a better matched pair than the, uh, Rockefellers.

'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit,' by Mark Seal (San Francisco Chronicle)
Christian Gerhartsreiter (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Biblical Figure: Whitey Bulger In The Gospels Of Saint David

Whitey Bulger may have inspired the author of one of our greatest Bibles of postmodernism. The latest saint of American literature, David Foster Wallace, known to his acolytes Yahweh-ishly by the acronym "DFW", spent time in the Boston demimonde in the late eighties, where he first encountered the legend of Whitey Bulger. When he began his immortal opus, Infinite Jest, he could not resist including Whitey, however transmogrified, as the bookie, Whitey Sorkin. To quote his own words, "I don't think Whitey Sorkin's supposed to be an isomorphically unique mapping of Whitey Bulger, but when I was in Boston, there were rumors that Whitey had it fixed so that his people won the lottery. I mean, at least in the parts of Boston in which I was moving, Whitey was a creature of myth." It is curious that he chose to give his Whitey the surname "Sorkin". Had he met the playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin during the New York lit-party days of his early career - and, perhaps, not liked him? It wounds some of us here in the shamrockier precincts of Greater Boston that DFW had not chosen to retain the Irish flavor of the original, but a great artist does what a great artist wants. At least he kept the "Whitey", although he seemed reluctant to explain satisfactorily why his "Whitey" should have that name. In fact, in the novel itself, the only attempt to explain (or, indeed, anti-explain) the moniker that DFW offers is the following: "It was never clear to Gately why Whitey Sorkin was called Whitey, because he spent a huge amount of time under ultraviolet lamps as part of an esoteric cluster-headache-treatment regimen and so was the constant shiny color of a sort of like dark soap, with almost the same color and coin-of-the-realm classic profile as the cheery young Pakistani M.D. who'd told Gately at Our Lady of Solace Hospital in Beverly how Teddibly Soddy he was that Mrs. G.'s cirrhosis and cirrhotic stroke had left her roughly at the neurologic level of a Brussels sprout and then given him public-transportation directions to the L.T.I..."

In real life, as we all know, Whitey was called that because of his light blond hair (although he could really be called that now, based on the color of what hair he has left). Nobody ever called him that to his face though. He apparently preferred "Jimmy". Very prosaic, I know, but great gangsters can prefer what they want. We know Whitey likes to read, and will probably even have the time now to read Infinite Jest in its entirety - but how he's likely to respond to even a non-"isomorphically unique mapping" of himself is anyone's guess. The best thing that we can say about Whitey's appearance in The Gospels of Saint David is that it has given him immortality among the Highbrows.

Approaching infinity (Boston Globe Interview with DFW)
"Whitey Sorkin" Search Results in Infinite Jest (Google Books)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vigilante Justice, Mob Style

Pictured are Anthony Clemente and his son Damian at their arraignment in December 1995, just a few weeks after they allegedly murdered four local mobsters at the 99 Restaurant in Charlestown. They did the hit at lunchtime, inside a popular eatery full of potential witnesses - including two off-duty Boston cops, who arrested the pair as soon as they left the restaurant, with the help of two other cops who were "on foot patrol at the Bunker Hill Mall". Clever lads, those Clemente fellas. The police commissioner at the time dismissed the notion that the shooting had anything to do with organized crime, saying, "If it was a hit, it was a very sloppy hit in broad daylight in a very crowded restaurant." Sources reported later on that the victims - members of the Luisi and Sarro families - were figures with a local reputation for extreme violence who had threatened and even shared blows with the younger Clemente. When Damian encountered the victims at the restaurant, he called up his father and asked him to come over with the words, "They're here, all of them." When the elder Clemente arrived at the restaurant and confronted the victims in their booth, one of them apparently reached for a weapon in his "fanny pack" (a most unmanly place to be packin' a rod, if you ask me), and Clemente had no choice but to open fire. Or so he claimed, during an abortive 2008 appeal of the Clemente murder convictions.

I don't know. The whole thing smells "Mob" to me.

The Luisi family was unquestionably connected to the Boston Mafia. According to one article, one victim, Bobby Luisi "had been implicated in the recent beating of a reputed Mafia associate, Joseph (Joe Black) Lamattina" and that "law enforcement sources described Bobby Luisi as a former associate of the Angiulo brothers, who ran the local Mafia until their arrests in 1983." He also had dealings with the Salemme family, a local offshoot of the Patriarca mob in Providence. His son, Roman, with whom Damian Clemente had tussled, was no angel either, having been "acquitted of murder in the shooting deaths of two men in a nightclub in Los Angeles, where he worked as a bouncer." Mmmm... As for the hapless Damian Clemente, he "was described by sources as 'a wannabe wiseguy,' a chubby young man with an earring and an attitude."

I guess, for some with mob pretensions, revenge is not always "a dish best served cold."

Father and son who killed four in 1995 Charlestown massacre to remain behind bars, court says (Boston Globe)
Gunmen Kill Four in Front of Stunned Customers at a Boston Restaurant (New York Times)
2 convicted in '95 Charlestown killings ask SJC for new trial (Boston Globe)
Mobster confesses to murder, sings to feds on Philly Mafia. (Boston Herald)
Greatest hits: The 99 Restaurant & Pub Massacre (Boston Globe)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Boston Mob Tours

True crime is big business in the Bay State. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Boston TV & Movie Sites Bus Tour is raking in the bucks taking tourists from the heartland into the dark heart of the Boston underworld. The tours swing by sites featured in The Departed, The Town, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. The cost appears to be about $40 per adult and the tours start at 11:00 AM on Saturdays from September through May, and on Sundays from April through August. During the summer, the tours only run on Sundays, which seems odd to me - considering summer's the peak tourist season hereabouts - but what the freak do I know? The bus tours run about three hours, including a stop for drinks at the Southie tavern where Will Hunting lubricated his gray matter. There are also walking tours that cost around 20 bucks. These start at 2:30 PM, last an hour and a half, and are available on Saturdays and Sundays in April and May, on Fridays through Sundays in June through August, and on Saturdays only in September and October. Sounds pretty cool. I'm including a link that will net you $4 discounts if you sign up online.

If you want to put together your own tour buffet-style, the Boston Globe has helpfully provided a slideshow of prime crime sites, including Whitey Bulger's South Boston Liquor Mart, the site of the Brink's Job, and the 99 restaurant in Charlestown, which inadvertently hosted its own little rub-out festival back in 1995.

Boston Mob Tours Reel In Tourists (Wall Street Journal)
Boston Movie Tours
Boston TV & Movie Sites Tour - Destination Coupons
Boston Mob - The Tour (Boston Globe)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Elegy For The Bad Girl In The Family

One of my cousins, whom I shall call “Xenia” (the warrior princess), is the black sheep in her family, just as I am the black sheep in mine. As I confessed several months ago on this blog, I spent a night in jail and a day in court as a youngster, but Xenia has done better (or worse) than that. Much worse, in fact.

Xenia’s life has been a tragedy. She was the youngest child of older parents and probably never got the love or attention she needed. By the time she was twelve, she was getting drunk with her friends. By the time she was in her twenties, she was a party girl and an alcoholic.

(I even met her in a bar during my pub-crawling days – and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t know who she was at first, and tried to pick her up before I recognized her as kin and recoiled from my mistake. Yes. An embarrassment not nearly on the level of Ryan O’Neal cluelessly attempting to “game” his own daughter, Tatum, at Farrah Fawcett’s funeral – but bad enough.)

By the time Xenia was in her thirties, she’d had a child out of wedlock. A few years later, she lost her driver’s license after a series of DUI arrests. Not to be deterred by the state of Massachusetts, she continued to drive – only to be arrested on a DUI without a license and sentenced to six months in prison. I don’t know if she served the whole term, but after she got out she was arrested again for beating up her social worker – a male social worker with whom she was having an affair – and sentenced to a month in the county jail. Years later, she is – miraculously – still alive. She may or may not be clean and sober, but she still breathes.

I was never ashamed of her exploits or embarrassed by her awkwardness at family gatherings. I never shunned her or condemned her. The worse thing I did, contrary rascal that I am, was to take perverse pride in her bad girl status. That may have been worse than condemning her, but – hell – her rebellious ways made her damned interesting in the context of my family’s stifling lace-curtain snootiness. But the fact remains that her mother is now dead, she has no husband, her only child has not grown up with her, and now she is alone. Sin and bad luck are different things, and there are scoundrels that prosper while good people fail, but sinners who are not lucky should not be considered the worse because of it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Safe In My Basement

Thirteen years ago, when my gun moll and I found our safe-house in a Boston suburb where, coincidentally, Whitey Bulger committed one of his first bank robberies, we discovered an actual safe in the basement. The real estate agent pointed it out right after I attempted a bad joke about converting the coal-bin into a mother-in-law apartment. The safe was just lying there on the concrete floor, arranged at an angle like some polyhedron playing hookey from a geometry book. There was part of a shelf or metal wall still attached to it, as if it had been torn off something - and there were burn marks near the door hinges, as if somebody had tried to blast them off, but hadn't used near enough nitro. All three of us stood there laughing, joking that whoever had lived in this house years ago might have been thieves or some such thing. "Thieves like us," I thought to myself. When we finally bought the joint, and I stopped by the empty house to paint the candy-colored decor off the guest room walls, I had the sense of a presence. Like a ghost, I guess. If it was a ghost, it had decent literary taste, because I lost a paperback copy of Moby Dick during those spooked-out painting sessions and never found it again. The day we moved in for real, my gun moll left me alone in the joint while she went to the gun-moll accessories shop to get her mink stole retrimmed, and I was majorly creeped out. Something compelled me to climb the stairs, wide-eyed like some freakin' governess in a gothic novel, all the way up to the third floor, where the crawl-space was, and where curtains still fluttered in a Victorian bay window out of which I could see this old dead tree. I sensed that "presence" once more at this time, but after that never again. Whatever ghosts inhabited the joint, they eventually decided we were okay and left us alone. Maybe they were simpatico with my latently sociopathic soul. The safe is still there, too, tucked away in a corner of the basement. My gun moll and I occasionally shoot the breeze about calling in a locksmith (or a safe-cracker) to open the damn thing and offering the dude half of what we find inside. Visions of 1950's greenbacks sometimes dance in my head. But thirteen years have passed, and we have not yet acted on this pipe dream. I like to think we hold some crook's stash permanently in abeyance, on the cusp between being just a curiosity we can play innocent about - and a Pandora's box type deal that would make us accomplices to a crime decades after the fact, if a little richer.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Whitey Bulger School Of Creative Writing

(Whitey Dressed In White, Like Tom Wolfe)

Whitey Bulger may be a full-blown psychopath, but you can't call him stupid. Why, many consider him a kind of criminal genius. I recall an episode from that ridiculous new crime show, Rizzoli & Isles, in which the long lost father of the genius IQ medical examiner, Dr. Isles, turns out to be none other than Boston's top Irish mobster - obviously a Whitey stand-in. Whitey Bulger was definitely a reader. His little brother Billy was never without a book as a boy, and Whitey enjoyed books himself, favoring history, military studies and true crime. One of his lieutenants, Red Shea, has reported that Whitey urged him to read books - that books would teach him new things and open up worlds to him. Whitey was a talented story teller as well. When he was first out of prison in the middle 1960's, he worked as a janitor in a courthouse. According to his lunchmates from those days, he could tell a tale like nobody's business. And when he wrote, as he did in his letters to Billy while he was in jail, he used an "elegant script" and his prose beamed with brotherly love and encouragement. The man was born for the pen. Too bad he picked up the ice-pick instead. But, like many a thwarted artist, he succeeded as a teacher as he never did as a writer (except, of course, as the "auteur" of his own legend).

Consider the litterateurs under his tutelage:

Eddie "Mac" Mackenzie - A sexually frenzied ruffian during his criminal days, he served as one of Whitey's choicest enforcers, later penning the "raw and compelling" Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob.

Kevin Weeks - Whitey's most trusted lieutenant and, like his master, the son of a crippled parent who established himself in Southie the only way he could - through his fighting skills. A man with a reputed IQ of 145 (administered at a Boy's Club, of all places), not to mention two brothers who went to Harvard, Mr. Weeks had brains to burn, finally publishing his own memoir, Brutal: My Life in Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob. Condemned as self-serving and egocentric by some (although why expect anything else from a sociopath?), the book still sold well.

John "Red" Shea - Another claimant to the title of Whitey Bulger lieutenant, Mr. Shea is the author of Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster. This is perhaps the weakest of the books by Whitey's proteges, reproached by the critics as dull, ungrammatical and (again) self-serving. Nevertheless, publication is scarcely failure! Rat Bastards is even being made into a movie. In an interview conducted by the MBTA's commuter paper, Metro, Shea admitted to having visited Venice Beach without even knowing that Whitey was in hiding just blocks away - and to being "freaked out" about it after Whitey's capture.

Bobby Martini - More the son of a Whitey Bulger associate, Howie Winter, than a bonafide gang member, Mr. Martini may only have audited Whitey's tutorials. But he, too, has succeeded in publishing Citizen Somerville: Growing up with the Winter Hill Gang.

When you consider the exposes written by Bulger's nemesis, Howie Carr, and the memoirs of South Boston residents who simply grew up under Whitey's reign, you can only conclude that Whitey's mere presence forged a whole new sub-genre of literature. Frank Conroy, eat your heart out.

Whitey Bulger memoirs (
I-Team: Letters Written By ‘Loving’ Whitey Show Bond Between Bulger Brothers (CBS Boston)

Charlestown Was The Armored Car Robbery Capital Of The Nation - Once...

My paternal grandfather died in Charlestown. With his boots on, so to speak. He was a nightwatchman for the Hood's Milk Company, whose old brick smokestack I can still see out the window of my subway car every time I ride the Orange Line home from my hitman gigs in Boston. His employers found him dead one morning. They told his family he'd died of a heart attack, but for all I know he might have discovered B-and-E guys in the building and died from the shock of it. God knows, there's always been enough crime in Charlestown. When Ben Affleck's movie, The Town, came out last year, a lot of critics knee- capped it for what they considered its portrayal of that tired anachronism, the Boston Irish criminal with the noble soul. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Charlestown residents balked at the idea that their town - or, indeed, Boston as a whole - is a hotbed of violent crime. The Monitor cited statistics to bolster that claim. The FBI reports that Massachusetts accounts for less than 3 percent of bank robberies nationwide, and the Boston police assert that only 2 percent of all Boston robberies take place in Charlestown. After all, the place has gotten a touch gentrified. I've walked through the burg myself on my way home lots of times, and I sure as hell never felt afraid.

The MIT newspaper, The Tech, reported that between 200 to 300 bank crimes - mostly robberies - had taken place in Massachusetts in the seven years prior to 2010. Massachusetts accounted for roughly three quarters of bank crimes in New England, but "larger states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida, and California far outweigh the Bay State in terms of bank robberies." Moreover, fully one third of U.S. bank robberies in, say, 2009 took place in the South, and only a fifth occurred in the Northeast as a whole. As for the assumption that bank robberies are invariably occasions for mayhem, "the FBI reports that only 4 percent of bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies in the US include acts of violence; hostages were taken in only 47 of the approximately 6,000 cases in 2009. Thieves accessed bank vaults in only 29 incidents whereas explosives were used in only 193 cases in 2009. All of the 21 deaths linked to bank crime in 2009 were those of the perpetrators themselves."

I think I have an intuitive sense of the fundamental wussiness of most bank robbers, too, which is why I generally feel safe in banks. But I do get a glance every now and then if I walk into a bank, Whitey-Bulger-style, wearing a ball cap and sunglasses.

Armored cars though, they do make me nervous. Whenever one of those big clunky things is idling at a traffic light and I'm, like, on foot (still wearing the ball cap and the sunglasses), I feel compelled to avert my gaze from the guys inside, lest they think I'm checking it out. I definitely get a certain vibe from those guys that make me do that, and maybe that vibe is an intangible vestige of a period in Boston history when the town really did lead the nation in a particular type of crime. Between 1990 and 1996, "the Boston area averaged 16 armored car robberies a year, three times more than statewide averages across the country. One in five armored car heists in this country happened here. States such as California, New York and Florida experienced just half the heists of Boston." And the guys behind those robberies came from Charlestown. In fact, according to ASIS Magazine, Charlestown guys were even behind some of those armored car robberies in California, New York and Florida. From the seventies through the nineties, Charlestown actually was a kind of training ground for armored car robbers, who developed their criminal specialty almost like a respectable trade, passing skills down from one generation to the next. Some veterans of this period have suggested that the "forced busing" crisis of mid-1970's Boston interrupted the schooling of Charlestown teenagers, causing many of them to fall into crime by default. In any event, this career choice seemed secure enough, as the close-knit Charlestown community helped keep the identities of the robbers secret. "Between 1975 and 1992, 33 of Charlestown’s 49 murders were unsolved, a no-arrest rate double other Boston neighborhoods. The phenomenon became known as The Code of Silence and federal authorities took note." When they did get caught however, the Charlestown guys discovered that their notoriety had preceded them. One ex-con said that once you ended up in federal prison, and your fellow inmates would "hear you’re from Boston, [they'd] say ‘hey you must be in here for armored truck or bank robbery.’ "

The armored car robberies came to an end when The Code of Silence began to crumble. "Beginning in 1991, the DEA targeted the community and spent at least $2 million in just one case to provide thieves and drug dealers immunity from prosecution and new identities with the witness protection program." As a result, by 1997, the number of armored car robberies had dwindled to two.

Nonetheless, not so long ago, Boston did lead the nation in at least one kind of major crime. Reputations are always built around the core of something actual, even if things change over time.

'The Town': Is Charlestown really America's 'bank robbery capital'? (Christian Science Monitor)
Is Boston a hotspot for bank theft? (The Tech)
Boston: Armored Car Robbery Capital (ASIS Magazine)