Boston Gang Wars- Murdered by McLaughlins- James “Buddy” McLean

Buddy McLean was the leader of a Somerville gang. Around a month before the Salisbury Beach incident on Labor Day in 1961, McLean was confronted by David Gearty, 35.

David Gearty

David Gearty was described as a dapper fellow and “not an easy man to forget. A broad-shouldered six-footer with a deep tan, he is often mistaken for movie actor Alan Ladd.” David and Helen had been married for 12 years. They had two children, age 8 and 12. They were known as a devoted couple. Things changed when Helen got involved with Buddy. She had been seeing him a few weeks.

David, a bartender, approached Buddy who he found sitting with his 32-year-old wife Helen at a café in Cambridge. David argued with Buddy, they stepped outside, and “Mclean gave Gearty a severe beating including a broken nose.” Buddy and Helen then took off together.

Three days later, on August 5, David decided to head to the West Coast. He drove a while but turned back after thinking of his kids. On the way back, he bought a shotgun. He waited for Helen at their home that Saturday night after she returned from another sojourn with Buddy. David and Helen argued.

She told him they were through. David Gearty shot her twice with a shotgun. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He alleged Helen came at him with a knife. He was sentenced to 12 – 15 years in State Prison.

Helen Gearty is also, in a sense, a murder victim of the gangland wars. She was murdered by her husband who was not a gangster. But, I don’t include her because the murder was not at the hand of a gangster.

A little less than a month after beating up David Gearty, Buddy McLean , along with Nicholson, beat up the 65-year-old guy in a diner on August 27, 1961. Next, we hear about Buddy in Salisbury Beach with a different woman than Helen when his fight with George McLaughlin took place. You would have to think the guy was a little bit out of control. A few weeks later his car was found to have dynamite in it.  Then, Buddy murdered Bernard McLaughlin.

All these events occurred in an eventful 1961 for Buddy McLean. Thereafter, he spent six months in jail and things seemed to quiet down for McLean. Two and a half years later, Nicholson was murdered.  McLaughlins waited a terribly long time to gain revenge for Bernie’s murder. The McLaughlins had the Irish propensity to never to forget a grudge but also seemed content to call a grudge square when both sides suffered. They lost Bernie; the McLeans lost Nicholson.

The McLaughlins must have been plenty of opportunities to hit McLean. I told about his meeting with Ballou in Charlestown. The McLaughlins knew where McLean lived. McLean had to be out and about.  He was not the type to go into hiding.  A serious plan to do him in could easily have been developed. If this was an Irish gang war it certainly was not a hot war.

We have no reason to believe the McLaughlins took any action against Buddy McLean himself. You may surmise they adopted the Sicilian idea that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” But that does not seem to be the case. I suggest perhaps an understanding was reached between the gangs and peace descended on the rivals. Perhaps the deal was that McLean had to sacrifice Nicholson to cement the deal.

The peaceful status, however, would change with the murder of Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin on October 20, 1965.  Ironically, McLean had nothing to do with that murder but how could anyone in the McLaughlins know it at the time.

The deal had been broken. The peace shattered.

Exactly four years less one day after Bernie’s murder, the McLaughlins acted. McLean was in the Winter Hill Lounge with Anthony D’Agostino, 37, from East Boston and Americo Sacramone, 27, of Everett.  Both D’Agostino and Sacramone were on parole. They were having some drinks with an unidentified woman. The three men had been spotted there. The Hughes brothers, the real enforcers for the McLaughlins, were waiting.

As Buddy and the others were leaving just after 1:00 a.m., Buddy walked up to the police officer on duty, shined his badge with his sleeve, and said “that’s for good luck.” Another police officer had just entered the lounge. The police officer was looking outside the window toward the lobby of a closed-down theatre across the street. His attention was drawn to a figure lurking in the shadows.

The four left the lounge. The woman stayed on the lounge side and began to walk away while Buddy and D’Agostino and Sacramone started to cross the street to where their cars were parked a few storefronts away. The person hiding in the shadow noticed by the police officer was Steve Hughes.  He had a 12-guage, pump, shot gun capable of firing six rounds.

The watching officer saw the man step out his hiding spot when the three men were about sixty feet away. Buddy never had a chance to pull out the .38 caliber he had in his belt. Steve Hughes fired five shots toward Buddy. All three men were wounded. Buddy took the bulk of the shrapnel. D’Agostino was badly hit in the left arm; Sacramone had a minor scalp wound.

The watching police officer rushed out with his gun drawn. Hughes bolted down an alley which was lighted by the headlights of a car at the end. He jumped into the car and escaped. At the time and for a while thereafter, the police had no idea who did the killing.

Buddy lingered at the Massachusetts General Hospital for 30 hours. He died four years to the day after he murdered Bernard McLaughlin. Neither friends nor relatives were at the hospital to see him off. The only people present were two Somerville detectives guarding the door.

Buddy McLean murder by the Hughes brothers on October 29, 1965 may be said to be the last murder in the gang war between the McLeans and the McLaughlins, the two Irish gangs in Boston at the time. There were three persons murdered from Labor Day, 1961, to October 31, 1965.  One by the McLeans: Bernard McLaughlin; two by the McLaughlins: Russell Nicholson and James “Buddy” McLean. Not much of a casualty list.

Members of the McLaughlin gang were murdered after Buddy was killed but these murders were not done by an Irish gang.   An Italian gang out of Roxbury consisting of the Martorano brothers, John and Jimmy; the Flemmi brothers, Steve and Vincent “Jimmy the Bear,” and Frank Salemme murdered the members of the McLaughlin gang. Despite the intrusion of the more murderous Italian Roxbury gang into the war, people continued to wrongly refer to it as an Irish gang war. I suppose that often happens. The 1918 pandemic is referred to as the Spanish Flu when it did not originate there but probably in the United States.

The Roxbury gang operated in part at the behest of the Mafia.  Jerry Angiulo, the Mafia underboss in Boston, was overheard by the FBI saying that he and his brothers “buried twenty [expletive] Irishmen to take over this [expletive] town.” His brother said to him, “you’re talking about Charlestown” to which Jerry responded, “shut up. Don’t say it out loud.”


  1. Another interesting story. keep the posts going.

    • I agree. I lived through this era and although young, I remember my uncles talking about this gang war many times. I remember them saying that as long as it was gangsters killing gangsters the cops would do nothing about it. Not true, of course, but the rumor was that dozens of people were being killed in this war. As we can see, not even close to true.

      Another thing to consider is that when someone has a reputation for dealing out such severe beatings time after time, there is often a lot of kicking to the face and ribs well after the beaten man is unconscious.