Boston Gang Wars- Waterfront Murders – Thomas Sullivan

THOMAS SULLIVAN, 39                                                    December 22, 1957   

Tommy Sullivan was from South Boston. He lived with his 82-year-old mother on the first floor of a duplex at 660 East Fifth Street. He had been an amateur fighter with a winning record in his 20 fights prior to going into the Navy during WWII. He was discharged in 1945. He became a professional boxer in the light heavy weight division. He had a large following from South Boston being known for his brawling style and verbosity in the ring. His two ten round fights with Al “Red” Priest from Cambridge which he lost by a split decision were considered the most sensational fights in the Boston area at the time. His first fight with Red set a Boston Garden box office record of $59,000.  The second fight brought a record purse and nearly sold-out Boston Garden’s capacity of 13,909 when over 13,000 raucous fans showed up.

Sullivan posed for a group of kids just before one of his fights with Red Priest. In one photograph taken by Paul Maguire of the Boston Globe on December 15, 1946, Sullivan was shown with six kids from South Boston at the South Boston Boys Club. I was one of them. I am the kid with the glasses. Along with me were my two cousins Jimmy, to my left, and Roger Concannon, in front of Jimmy with the gloves.

Sullivan gave up fighting in 1949 after a win. He said he did not want to get hurt doing it. He figured he had made decent money. He was known as a good kid and a churchgoer. Like a lot of guys with little education, he went to work as a longshoreman at the Boston docks.

On December 22, 1957, Sullivan, after working a day shift, went home to eat.  At 6:30 p.m.,   he left his house. He walked out his front door and then turned right down the street. He was returning to his job having been called to do a second shift at the Army base. As he passed the front of Hawes Cemetery less than a hundred yards from his house, a black sedan with four men approached and stopped aside him. Sullivan paused. Sullivan may even have stepped off the curb and taken a step or two toward the car. As he did a volley of bullets came from the car. Three shots hit him in the head and two in the shoulders. He collapsed and fell. He was found lying dead in the gutter.

The initial theory the police worked on was that he was killed for speaking out against the leaders of the New York International Longshoreman’s Union. That very well could have been influenced by the 1954 movie On the Waterfront where Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) was a boxer who worked on the docks.  Brando had one of the most iconic movie quotes during that performance when he responded to the union boss told him to throw a fight: “You don’t understand! I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

The problem with the initial police theory resides in the fact that no evidence was ever produced to show he was clashing with the union leaders. The union leaders weer deep with mafia connection and in New York.  It is hard to contemplate how a guy in Boston could make trouble for the Mafia controlled union guys in New York City. There were disputes on the Boston waterfront over who would run the show in Boston but those disputes did not seem to relate to New York.

The best evidence the police had was that the men waiting in a car outside his house knew what he was doing that day. They knew he had completed his day shift, that he had gone home to eat, where he lived, and when he would be returning for the evening shift. The police did not have much to go on.

Later, some would come up with the theory that was echoed by most of the authors who wrote about his murder.  They claimed that he had a fight with Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin, another ex-professional boxer in early December 1956. It was said that Sullivan was bothered by the McLaughlin gang extorting one of his friends.  Sullivan ran into Punchy in a barroom, complained to Punchy, and a brawl ensued. Punchy came out on the short end of the fight and allegedly crawled under a car to stop Sullivan from continuing the thrashing.

I suppose that would give Punchy a good reason for shooting Sullivan. It did not take much to aggravate the McLaughlins. But what most militates against the McLaughlins being involved in Sullivan’s murder is that the barroom fight happened a year earlier and not the month in which Sullivan was murdered as some maintain. Irish hoodlums do not wait a year to revenge a beating, especially the McLaughlins. When George McLaughlin was badly beaten up by Buddy McLean, the McLaughlins were attempting to put dynamite in McLean’ car the next month.

Another theory was that Sullivan’s murder had a connection with the war between the McLaughlin Gang and the powerful Patriarca crime family. That theory does not hold water at all. The wars involving the McLaughlins and other Boston gangs did not happen until 1961. Moreover, Sullivan from Southie and would have had nothing to do with the McLaughlins gang from Charlestown.

Another theory is that Sullivan’s killer was Harold Hannon. Hannon was later murdered in the ensuing Irish Mob wars. It is true that Hannon was friendly with the McLaughlins and at one time chauffeured them around. The initial problem is Hannon was not known as one of their hit men. A bigger problem is that Hannon was in State Prison doing a 9 to 15-year sentence for armed robbery at the time.

According to one newspaper report, Sullivan was killed because he and William Cameron were associates on the waterfront. It presumed that because Sullivan had been seen with Cameron who was “a narcotics suspect in 1951” in a past arrest in Charlestown.  However, Sullivan and Cameron being seen together by itself would not be indicative of much since both worked as longshoremen. Plus, Cameron had been murdered a year-and-a-half earlier making any connection between the two rather attenuated.

Sullivan’s murder remains unsolved. One could suggest that his murderers were out of New York City and involved in the illegal narcotics business. Did Sullivan discover the NYC mafia’s illegal narcotics operation and told those involved to shut it down? Isthe Boston Police suggestion that it had something to do with New York City gangsters correct? Sullivan was not a gangster but he may have been bothering some gangsters. Perhaps somehow John “Fats” Buccelli fits into all of this? Perhaps Sullivan stumbled into a position where he knew too much about the narcotics and had to be silenced.

Perhaps, but there is another theory that is much simpler and closer to home. On July 17, 1959, a little more than 18 months after Sullivan’s murder, Francis X. Ahearn, mentioned again later, was shot twice in the head on Columbus Avenue in Boston. He lived. He identified his shooter as Stephen Hughes, also mentioned later, a stone-cold killer and longshoreman. It was said Ahearn’s shooting had some connection to Sullivan’s murder.

Ahearn, in December 1965. made a statement in court that Ahearn was pressured to sign a paper that would have put the ex-convicts in control of the docks. He opposed signing. Sullivan also would have likely opposed having the gangsters take over, too. Sullivan was not a guy to tangle with and was probably a leader in his opposition.  Shooting him would have been one of the only ways to get him out of the way.

Trying to pin the murder on the McLaughlins is lazy and easy. But like a broken clock, maybe the McLaughlin theorists are right but for the wrong reasons. The murder had nothing to do with Sullivan beating up Punchy or Harold Hannon. It did have everything to do with the McLaughlin Gang of which Stephen Hughes was a member, all of them gangsters, and their attempt to take over the waterfront. Most likely it was Hughes and his brother who murdered Sullivan because he was the leader of the opposition to them.

Boston Gang Wars- Waterfront Murders II

Happy New Year!


William Cameron, 49, a long-time criminal with a record going back to when he was fifteen years old secured the hideout for two of the alleged Brinks robbers, Richardson and Faherty. Cameron’s record included about 25 arrests and some time in prison. Described as a “strapping six-footer,” he worked as a longshoreman. Earlier in the day that Faherty and Richardson were arrested, Cameron got into a brawl with a waterfront longshoreman. The longshoreman had accused Cameron of talking to FBI agents.

A month and three days later on June 19, 1956, at 1:40 a.m. Boston police received a call telling them there was a guy bleeding in a car behind the Fargo Building in South Boston. Arriving there they found Cameron “slumped on the floor, his head and shoulders resting on the right front seat and against the front door of his 1964 Cadillac sedan.” They believed he was slain while in the driver’s seat. He had two bullets in his head from a .38 caliber.  The bullets were fired at close range. Cameron’s car was registered to Frank J. Sciarappa. Later, when interviewed by police, Sciarappa said he did Cameron a favor by registering the car in his own name because of Cameron’s criminal record. Sciarappa was a roommate of Leo Lowry who was found murdered on September 1964 but otherwise was not involved.

Cameron’s wife said the Cemeron received a call about midnight. Cameron then told her he was going to the Fargo Building to give a guy whose car was stuck there a push. The Fargo building was a little over four miles or around ten minutes from where they lived on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester. A few minutes later his wife said a stranger arrived at the door. Her husband left with him.  That would be the last time she saw her husband alive.

Cameron got into his own car and drove off. His car was seen arriving at the Fargo Building. He was not driving it. Somewhere between getting into his car outside his house and the Fargo Building he was shot in the head. The Boston police immediately were convinced he was shot somewhere else. They assumed he was killed elsewhere because two Navy security guards were on duty 100 feet from where the car was found. The Navy guards said they heard no shots. A silencer also would have prevented them from hearing. Fortunately, better evidence helps put together the crime.

Fargo building

Boston police found two witnesses who saw Cameron’s car being driven to the spot where the police discovered it. When it arrived, the car did not have its headlights on. They said the car was driven by a man who got out as soon as it stopped and ran from it. A moment later, a two-toned car came onto the scene. A man got out of the car. He walked over to Cameron’s car, peered in, and returned to his car. He then jumped back into his car and drove off in the direction that the first driver had fled.

This matter presented a real mystery. Why did his car end up at the Fargo Building? He said he was going there to give a person a push. Before he got there, he was murdered. Why then, was his car then driven on to the Fargo Building rather than parking the car some other place?

Here’s what I suggest happened. The plan was for Cameron to be ambushed at the Fargo by the guys in the two-toned car. On the way to the Fargo building, Camerson learned or said something that made the other pause.  Best guess. The call Cameron received had nothing to do with giving a guy a push. He was asked to come along to assist in some criminal plan. Cameron got into the driver’s seat of his car, the stranger in the passenger seat. We will see later that Fats Buccelli died pretty much the same way.

Whoever called him and came to his house under these circumstances had to be a guy Cameron trusted. Was it his good friend Johnny Earle? Johnny Earle was the narcotics runner between the New York City waterfront gangsters and Boston. He was believed to be the narcotics pick up man. He and Cameron were considered “great friends.”

Cameron knew he had been accused of being an FBI informant and some people were unhappy with him. He would not have left with a someone he did not know well. His murder was never solved. It would be natural to assume it had something to do with the arrest of Richardson and Faherty and the belief that he gave up their location. Whatever it was, Cameron should have known his days were numbered having been fingered as an FBI informant.

In June 1958, two years after Cameron’s death it was disclosed that a 20-million dollar narcotics ring operating out of New York City was using the coal wharf in Boston to drop off their narcotics. If true, Cameron would have known Earle’s business. How likely is it that the New York City gangsters running this operation would let a guy live who knew about it and had been identified as an FBI informant? Not very.

Boston Gang Wars- Waterfront Murders I

WILLIAM CAMERON,  49                                                   June 10, 1956

On June 10, 1956, after receiving a phone call, the Boston Police found William Cameron murdered.  I decided to start with William Cameron because his murder both links to the Boston gang past and looks forward.   Four murders in the next two years appear to be connected to William Cameron’s murder. William Cameron’s murder also looks back to January 17, 1950, the date of one of the most notorious crimes in Boston, the Brink’s Robbery in Boston’s North End.

Captain Marvel Mask

The Brink’s Robbery was the greatest heist in the country up to that time.  A group of eight men in Captain Marvel masks and peacoats stole about $1.3 million in cash and $1.5 million in checks, money orders and other securities from the supposedly impenetrable Brink’s building.  The Brinks robbery headlined the nation’s news for weeks even before the Brink’s company offered an amazing $100,000 reward.

This heist went unsolved for years. Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe one of the robbers, left town immediately after the robbery, leaving behind his cut of the money stolen. He got jammed up in Pennsylvania for a different robbery and did some time there. When he came back to Boston, Specs wanted his share of the haul. He became a pest and bothered the others for his cut. None of his former pals wanted to deal with him so they decided to hire a hit man to murder him. They reached out to Elmer “Trigger” Burke, a hit man from Hell’s Kitchen, New York who took the job.  According to police, Burke drove up to Boston and opened fire on O’Keefe with a machine gun from a moving car.  Burke only managed to wound O’Keefe.

Police Outside the Brink’s Vault

The FBI made several visits with Joseph “Specs” O’Keefe while he was recovering from gunshot wounds in the hospital. The constant pressure broke O’Keefe. On January 6, 1956, O’Keefe admitted his role in the robbery and implicated eight other men. Six of them were captured on that same day. Two remained at large.

A little over four months later, on May 16, 1956, the FBI raided the hideout of the last two accomplices who Specs had fingered, Thomas F. “Sandy” Richardson and James J. Faherty. Richardson and Faherty were able to stay well hidden because Thomas Ballou helped them out by securing food and other items.  We will learn more about Thomas Ballou later.

Elmer “Trigger” Burke

Richardson and Faherty were arrested. They would be brought to trial in the fall of that year, convicted, and sentenced to prison for life. Back in those days, the courts moved cases through the process expeditiously and did not look kindly on big time burglars. Richardson and Faherty would be paroled after serving fifteen years in 1971.  Ballou was indicted for “harboring, concealing and maintaining and assisting” them while they were hiding out. He was never brought to trial on those charges.

After Richardson and Faherty arrests, the first thought of the criminals in Boston was who tipped off the FBI about their hideout. Who would have known they were hiding out in that location? The person who secured the apartment for them where they were holed up obviously knew.

Boston Gang Wars – The Gangs

A necessary step to piece together the murders in the Boston Gang Wars is to identify the gangs and the gang members. You cannot depend upon what the federal prosecutors present. They throw in anyone who has even marginal contact with the gang so as to awe the jury.

The prosecutors showed an exhibit of the Winter Hill gang as it supposedly existed around 1975.  The configuration included 32 people – many who really were not part of the gang such as bookies, runners or hang around guys from other sections of the city who did their own things. Some had no contact with some of the others or even knew they existed. These gangs were not like the Mafia where if you join you go through a ceremony involving a blood oath, a burning of a saint’s picture and sworn eternal allegiance. Even for the Mafia, though, the eternal allegiance sometimes only lasted until they got jammed up on a serious rap.

Winter Hill gang consisted of friends who came and went at different times over the gang’s existence. Most were not violent gang type. They were involved with nonviolent crimes such as tailgating, dealing in hot goods, larcenies, or bookmaking. Others who hung around with them were not involved in any criminal activity.

An example of a friend would be my cousin Roger Concannon who hung around with the South Boston Mullen gang. He knew all of them; he was a bartender at their club; he was as tough as any of them; but did not get involved in their criminal activities. There is a story, most likely apocryphal, that tells of Roger was standing outside a barroom with Tommy King who Whitey Bulger was trying to kill. Whitey approached in a car with his automatic weapon ready to hit King but when Whitey saw Roger standing with Tommy, Whitey held off firing.

Triple O’s

Roger was told a couple of times that Whitey wanted to see him. Knowing Whitey and Whitey’s reputation, Roger remained wary. He would let his brother Jimmy know of Whitey’s request of a meeting and then would be certain to tell Whitey that he had told Jimmy he was on his way to see him. Jimmy was not as ostentatious as Roger but, like Roger, was not someone you wanted to cross. In his quiet way, Jimmy was Roger’s insurance but neither was a gangster.

Some in the Winter Hill gang were independent guys like bookmakers and drug dealers who, in order to run their own businesses unmolested, had to pay tribute to the core leaders in the gang. One bookmaker, Jimmy Katz, who would testify against Whitey and whom I indicted for bookmaking twice after doing wiretaps, was nothing more than a sports bookie. Katz, when asked his occupation in federal court, simply said bookmaker.  Asked if he had an avocation, he said “he did, it was betting on games.”

It would be easy to suggest he was also a member of a gang and insert his name onto a flow chart if the intent was to make the gang look as big as possible.  But, that approach is rather deceptive. Rather than including guys like Katz who were forced to pay tribute to Whitey and Stevie but had no gangster-like connection, I limit the membership in Winter Hill gang to those in in inner circle.

Federal Prosecutors Chart of Winter Hill Gang

The core members of the gangs that existed and evolved during this time are:

The Bennetts:  Edward “Wimpy: Bennett, Walter Bennett, and William Bennett, plus Steve Flemmi, Vincent “Jimmy the Bear” Flemmi, and Frank Salemme. The latter three eliminated the Bennetts. They later became part of the Roxbury gang.

The Roxbury Gang: – Frank Salemme, Vincent “Jimmy the Bear” Flemmi, Steve Flemmi along with John Martorano, James Martorano. John Martorano was a loose associate being also involved with Joe Barbosa’s East Boston gang. All of them being Italian were friendly with the Mafia guys. James Martorano would leave the Roxbury Gang for the Mafia. This gang dissolved when Frank Salemme and Steve Flemmi were indicted and fled. Jimmy would later overdose in prison.

The Killeens:  Donald Killeen, Kenny Killeen, James “Whitey” Bulger, William “Billy” O’Sullivan. The Mullens eliminated this gang. Then Whitey moved on to Winter Hill.

The Mullens:  Pat Nee, Paul McGonagle, Tommy King, Francis “Buddy” Leonard, Mickey Dwyer. This gang was eliminated by desertions and murders by Winter Hill.

The New England Family: A Mafia family under the control of Raymond L.S. Patriarca who was assisted by Henry Tameleo who controlled the Boston Mafia.

The Boston Mafia:  Gerald “Jerry” Angiulo, Nicola “Nick” Angiulo, Francesco “Frankie” Angiulo, Larry Baione, Joseph Russo, Peter Limone. This gang was eliminated by the FBI. It has become a shadow of itself if it still exists.

The Somerville Gang: James “Buddy” McLean, Sal Sperlinga, Howie Winter, Alexander Petricone (Alex Roccco). This gang dissolved with the murder of Buddy McLean and when Petricone left to California. Winter then started his own gang.

The Winter Gang: Howie Winter, Joe McDonald, Jimmy Sims and Sal Sperlinga. This became the Winter Hill Gang when John Martorano and Whitey Bulger joined it.

The Winter Hill Gang:  Howie Winter, Joe McDonald, Jimmy Sims, Sal Sperlinga, John Martorano, James “Whitey” Bulger, Steven Flemmi. When Howie Winter went to prison, McDonald and Martorano took off on the lam, Sims disappeared in 1978, and Sal Sperlinga was murdered, the gang was then run by Bulger and Flemmi. This gang would continue into the 1990s.

The McLaughlin Gang:  Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin, Georgie McLaughlin, Bernie McLaughlin, Stevie Hughes, Connie Hughes, James “Spike” O’Toole. This gang would be eliminated by fighting with the Winter Hill Gang backed up by the Mafia and Roxbury gang.

The East Boston Gang: “Joseph “Joe the Animal” Barbosa aka Joe Baron, Joseph Amico, Arthur G. Tash Bratsos, Thomas DePrisco, Nick Femia, Jimmy Kearns. Most of this gang would be eliminated by the Mafia

The Notorangelli Gang:  Al “Indian Al” Notorangelli, Joe “Indian Joe” Angelli, Ralph DiMasi.   This gang would be eliminated by Winter Hill on contract from the Mafia.

I will divide the murders into those which occurred before Labor Day 1961; thereafter by murders the evidence suggests were committed by each criminal gang; other murders difficult to link with one gang of another; and murders not likely gang connected.

Boston Gang Wars- Read the Clues to the Murders

Clues hide in the murders.  I suggest the clues are significant in ascertaining the party that committed the murder. The McLeans were not in the murdering business in their early years. Later, when the McLean gang became the Winter Hill gang and murderers joined, the gang started murdering by shooting. But the Winter Hill other clues beyond a straightforward shooting often belie Winter Hill or the McLeans’ involvement in a murder.

When Harold Hannon”s dead body was pulled out of the water, he had been garroted in what is sometimes referred to as a Chinese strangle knot or Chinese torture knot. One end of a rope was tied around his neck; the other was tied around his feet which had been bent from the knees and brought up behind his backside close to his neck. It was a particularly horrible way to die. The victim could keep himself alive by holding his feet up behind him. As time passed his strength would fail, his knees would send forth excruciating pains demanding to be loosed from their strictures, he would struggle against the pain but eventually would lose the battle and choke himself to death.

There were different forms of garroting.  One form was called “the Italian rope trick.” Even though Irish gangsters in America used this method for many years prior to the arrival of the Mafiosi.  the Mafia adopted it and found it very useful. The Italian rope trick was executed by one person holding a victim while another person wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck.  One executioner held one end of the rope while another executioner held the other end.  Each executioner slowly pulled the rope tightening the rope around the neck and soon strangling the victim.  California gangster Frank Borgia was a victim of the Italian rope trick.  One writer noted, “Like all the other victims of the Italian rope trick, Frank Borgia dies with a surprised expression on his face.” The feet to neck type murder is just an extension of the Italian rope trick but a little more cruel because a person becomes the immediate cause of one’s own death.

A variation of both rope murders was the execution of Puggy Feinstein on September 5, 1939, in Brooklyn. His head was pushed forward into and his knees drawn up to his chest and a rope put around his neck and connected to his feet. When he moved, the rope slowly tightened. This murder was carried out at the direction of Albert Anastasia.

Like Harold Hannon, another victim during the Boston Gang War, Philip “Goldie” Goldstein, was found in the trunk of a car similarly bound. He was one of the biggest bookies in Boston. Also garroted was Vincent “Bittie” Vazza, a former boxer who was known as a high-pressure loan shark. The question in Boston would be who used that type of knot to murder people.

This cruel type of murder points the finger away from the McLean gangs.  As you will see in various murders attributed to the Irish gangs, many victims had no connection to the Irish groups but they had ties to the North End.  We will also look at other clues that can be picked up by the statements or testimony by others involved in these murders to find culprits.  The more clues we can stack, the more certain we can become about the perpetrator or perpetrating group.

It is important to know who oversaw certain areas of Boston during these times. During much of these two decades, Wimpy Bennett controlled Roxbury and the South End.  To avoid confusion, know that the South End is a distinct section of Boston from South Boston. The South End was highly mixed ethnically and somewhat racially during these days. South Boston was almost all white and mostly Irish Catholic or other Catholic ethnic groups.

Wimpy Bennet seems to have some type of hand in the first few gangland killings which convinced me to start in 1956. I could have started this book in 1953 with the murder of Morris “Whitey” Hurwitz and some others or continued it beyond 1976 with the Winter Hill murders. Rather, I decided to concentrate on a 21-year-period during what is now labeled the Irish Gang War.  The idea of labelling this period the Irish Gang Wars was done for the sole purpose of manufacturing James “Whitey” Bulger into the top criminal in the Boston area.

There were over 100 people murdered during the Boston criminal gang wars between June 1956 and December 1976. I’ve not included some murders in the count but discuss them at the end including those of Tommy Sperrazza and Toby and Mark Wagner  Nor have I included in the list the people who were murdered by either James “Whitey” Bulger, John Martorano, Steve Flemmi or anyone after 1976 through the 1980s.

My motivation to write this book was to form a proper background for my forthcoming book, Why Whitey, a book examining the myth of James “Whitey” Bulger. The massive exaggeration of Whitey took such hold that we became number 2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, only behind Osama Bin Laden.. To rebut this characterization, I believed it necessary to show the murders in the Boston area by gangsters leading up to the time of Whitey. Only with this view are we able to understand what a small role Whitey actually played on the Boston criminal scene.

In the 1960s alone there were 58 gangster related murders. The first murder of a Mclaughlin gang member was on October 31, 1961. The last member of the McLaughlin gang was over twelve years after that on December 1, 1973. Between those murders there were 64 other murders. Less than five can be linked to any Irish gang war.

There are other lists that set out the identities of those murdered during this time. A list published in the Boston Globe in March 1963 noted that there were 12 gangland style killings in four years (1958 to 1962) with ten of them being connected to loan sharks. The Massachusetts State Police had a list of 35 unsolved gangland slayings from 1956 up through January 25, 1965. Life Magazine had a list with photographs of forty individuals it alleged were murdered in the Boston gang war between 1962 and 1967.  Another Boston Globe’ list runs from May 4, 1964 up until February 2, 1967, with 39 individuals. The persons murdered on those lists along with others have been included on my list.

What happened during this period is there were murders committed by rival gangs on the others, murders within gangs, murders of those who may threaten gangs, and murders for personal reasons, such as eliminating witnesses. Almost all the people murdered were involved in criminal activities although there were always some unlucky people in the wrong place at the wrong time, who got murdered along with the target, through mistaken identity, or seen as easy victims to prey upon.


Boston Gang Wars- Dearth of Information

We all have ideas about criminal activities in the decades of the fifties, sixties and seventies.  We have read news stories, books, and seen great movies depicting the times and activities.   I believed in the reports and books that I read until I began to dig deeper.  As I dug, I discovered huge falsehoods.  I realized that a fundamental problem about what we learn and read regarding crime in those decades are reconstituted gangster stories.  Reporters, authors, and screenwriters faithfully put the gangsters’ lies down on the page as fact.

Here is an example of one falsehood that persists to this day.

Most of us have heard the story about how the “Irish gang wars” started.

George McLaughlin was beaten up badly by another guy at Salisbury Beach.

Many authors who recite this tale suggest that George did not know who beat him up. George McLaughlin was a well known gang leader at this time.   The authors suggest that George’s brothers did not know who George the vicious beating.  So, in an attempt to discover who gave the thrashing, George’s brothers visited James Buddy McLean, the leader of a rival gang.  The story continues that when McLean refused to say who was responsible, the McLaughlin brothers decided they needed to go after McLean for refusing to tell.

This commonly recited version of events makes little sense. All the guys in the two gangs involved in the fight knew each other. George wasn’t dead.  Certainly, George would have known who he fought.  If for some reason he didn’t know, wouldn’t George’s friends who were with him have known? Couldn’t they easily find out?  Wouldn’t half of Salisbury Beach have known? It wasn’t a random bar fight.  News among gangs spreads as quickly as news of a fight on a playground.  Frank Salemme noted that the guys in prison often knew things sooner than the guys on the outside. Sadly, once one writer relates the nonsensical story told him, other writers blindly follow along.

The writers and reporters not only follow along blindly, but many also build their own stories and make up their own theories to support the preexisting conclusions. For instance, a tough boxer from South Boston named Tommy Sullivan, was gunned down on December 22, 1957, on East Fifth Street a few steps from his home. The theories behind his death are set forth in Wikipedia under an article on Edward McLaughlin.

These theories include: (1) he had a fight with Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin and beat him badly two weeks earlier so that Harold Hannon murdered him. (2) he was a casualty of the Irish mob wars between the McLaughlins and Patriarca crime family; (3) Whitey Bulger book writer Howie Carr claimed Harold Hannon murdered him; (4) Different Whitey book writers, Cullen and Murphy. claim Stephen Flemmi murdered him; and (5) The Boston police theory was his murder was a “hit” because he was speaking out against the union activities of the New York leaders of the International Longshoremen’s Union.

The facts support none of these theories. (1) This theory may come from a story told by Joe “The Animal” Barbosa in his book. He called Sullivan “Rocky.” Barbosa wrote that he had a fight with Punchy, and Harold Hannon murdered him. The problem with this theory is that Hannon was in state prison at the time of the murder. (2) This theory is impossible because the Irish mob war started in 1961, four years after Sullivan’s murder. Further, Sullivan had nothing to do with either the McLaughlins or Patriarca. (3) Howie Carr also fails to realize that Hannon is in prison. (4) Flemmi was 23 years old at the time with no connection to the waterfront or Sullivan; (5) There is no possibility that the New York unions would be affected by anything Sullivan could say or do in Boston.

His murder, as you will learn later in the book, probably resulted from some illegal dealings. Hoodlums out of New York may have been involved in the murder but not because of Sullivan’s relationship or actions with New York.  His murder was never solved.

So as not to get swept up in myths, I avoid guessing and do not accept uncorroborated gangster stories.  I support all my conclusions with facts from independent sources relayed contemporaneously with the events.  Where I cannot find supportive facts, I do not reach a definitive conclusion.  No one should.  I want you as a reader to reach the same objective conclusions.  Often we can connect the dots as to which group committed the murder by examining how it was done, determining a person’s associates, looking at his neighborhood. or the motive a person may have to commit the murder. One murderer, who as best I can tell was never caught, had as a trademark killing method -firing five or six shots into a victim’s head in such a proximity that all the bullet holes could all be covered with a silver dollar.  This trademark killing is a hugely difficult task that could not be performed by many.

Some of the murders are easy to attribute to a certain dispute or to a certain group.  The evidence in these murders of the victim’s associates suggest the reason for his murder; or, in other cases, someone has taken responsibility for it.  Others murders are difficult to attribute definitively to a specific group or dispute.

For instance, Harold Hannon and Wilfred Delaney, two men who met in prison and were partners, were found murdered on August 21, 1964, after being dumped into Boston Harbor on the same day. One tale is that they were members of the McLaughlin gang.  Hoodlums from the rival McLean’s gang hid in their Dorchester apartment, captured them when they came home, took them to Somerville, beat them, tortured them and dumped them into Boston Harbor. No reason is given for McLean gang torturing and murdering them except that Hannon and Delaney were allegedly with the McLaughlins. No similar type of murder was ever done by the McLeans. Nor was it clear that Hannon and Delaney were with any gang at the time. The two men appeared to be doing their own thing apart from the any gang.

A second version of events relates that the gang of Wimpy Bennett out of Roxbury wanted to extort money from them. The Bennett gang took them to an apartment where they beat them trying to find out where they had stashed money that the Bennett gang believed they had.

A third version comes from what the media reported. The police said the car that Hannon and Delaney were driving was forced off the road in Franklin Park.  Hannon and Delaney were then driven to a Mattapan apartment, only Hannon was beaten, and both men were dumped into the harbor. The motive for this was that they were holding up Mafia protected people and gambling games. In the first instance, the murders of that Hannon and Delaney are attributed to the Irish feud; in the second, to a gang from Roxbury, and, in the last, to the Boston Mafia.