Boston Gang Wars- Murdered by the McLaughlins: Russell Nicholson

In early November 1961, Russell Nicholson, a Metropolitan District Commission police officer, was suspended and later dismissed from that police force for “being in the company of persons of ill repute, with whom he admitted having been friendly.” The persons of ill repute were Buddy McLean and Alexander Petricone. Rumor had it that he drove the getaway car in connection with Bernard McLaughlin’s murder.

But, it doesn’t appear that the reason was so much that he was hanging around with Buddy Mclean and company but more to the fact that he was actively participating with them. On August 27, 1961, Nicholson and Buddy partook in an early morning brawl at a diner on Mystic Avenue in Somerville. Nicholson and McLean, both age 31, were charged with assaulting the sixty-five-year-old owner of the diner named John Porter. This fight destroyed $300 worth of dishes and equipment. Two other hoodlums who were with them, Alexander Petricone, 25, and Gabriel Grande, 55, were charged with malicious damage to property of the diner.

On October 31, Nicholson was observed being with Petricone again.

“Neighbors told police Nicholson lived in abject fear of [George] McLaughin because [George] thought [Nicholson] figured in the shooting death of his brother, Bernard, in City Square, Charlestown, in 1961.” On May 12, 1964, according to Nicholson’s wife Phyllis, 29, Nicholson left his house at 9:00 a.m. in the company of another man, Harry Johnson. He did not say where he was going. He was seen at 10:00 a.m. in Ball Square, Somerville. Later, his body was found in a wooded gully near the Wilmington-Woburn line. Police figured he had been murdered elsewhere and his body dumped there. Two bullets had been fired into his left temple.

But who was Harry Johnson? He was the last man seen with Nicholson and probably is the key to Nicholson’s murder.  Harry Johnson was a 45-year-old hoodlum who was tracked down in Winthrop the day after Nicholson’s murder by the State Police. He was interrogated for four hours and then released.  Harry Johnson was indicted less than a month after Nicholson’s murder on June 4, 1964 for attempted extortion and other offenses, including impersonating a police officer.

According to Francis X. Murray whose nickname was “Gaga” and whose information was incorporated in a book by that name, Harry Johnson murdered Nicholson. Murray offers a vague answer as to why he did it – suggesting it involved betting on the horses and a dispute over money. Murray does note that Johnson and Bernie McLaughlin were friends. Murray said Harry fled to California after the murder where he stayed until Buddy McLean was murdered indicating he returned to the area. I found no trace of Harry Johnson after he was released on the attempted extortion.

Nicholson’s murder was a McLaughlin pay back for Bernie’s murder. An educated guess would suggest that Harry Johnson lured Nicholson into a trap set up by the McLaughlins. George or Punchy, together or just one of them, sought the pleasure of murdering him. After Harry underwent the third degree by the State Police, the McLaughlins probably murdered Harry also.  Incidentally, George McLaughlin had made the FBI’s List of the 10 Most Wanted at this time.  The “honor” was the result of the murder of William Sheridan, a month previous to Nicholson’s murder.  I cover Sheridan’s murder when I discuss murders of men who were not gangsters themselves.