On Tuesday, October 31, 1961, shortly after noon and thirty-six hours after Buddy McLean fired shots near his car at night, Bernie McLaughlin walked down Chelsea Street, in City Square Charlestown. He walked past Lynda Lee. She said she knew him. He said to her, “hello beautiful.”
Moments later, a “man about 6 feet tall, with brown hair, in a trench coat and brown suit” gunned him down with four or five bullets to the head and neck. Witnesses said the man in the trench coat was seen running towards Mystic Bridge after the shooting. Witnesses claimed three men were involved: 1) the shooter, 2) a man who the shooter gave the gun to after putting five slugs into McLaughlin, 3) the driver of the escape car. Witnesses said the escape car fled the shooting with its trunk up so no one could see its license plate. By the next day police arrested Buddy McLean and Alexander S. Petricone and charged them with the murder of Bernie McLaughlin.
All the prosecutors needed for a successful prosecution was for one of the many witnesses to the murder to identify the assailants. After all, the murder was committed in broad daylight on a city street. The police said that the above mentioned Lynda Lee, a 39-year-old Somerville entertainer known as ‘the second Sophie Tucker’ fingered McLean and Petricone.
Apparently, however, Lynda Lee’s finger was a little shaky. A grand jury, after hearing from 18 witnesses, including Lynda Lee, returned a “no bill” which meant it did not hear enough evidence to indict either man. Did Lynda Lee change her mind? Why wasn’t further investigation done? Why wasn’t an investigative grand jury used? It is almost like no one wanted to pry too much into the murder.
During this time, the battle between McLean’s Somerville group and the McLaughlin Charlestown group flared up for a little bit. On November 17, 1961, George McLaughlin was seriously injured a little before 2:00 a.m. when his car overturned on Cambridge Street in Brighton. Police believed it skidded on the wet pavement. Do cars usually end up upside down because it rains? Maybe if they are being chased.
In September 1962, Grace Gaffney Petricone, 26, the woman who Howie Winter said George insulted at Salisbury beach and the wife of Alexander Petricone, needed a car to go shopping. Her husband was serving time in the Billerica House of Corrections along with Buddy McLean for beating up a sixty-five-year-old man at a diner. She went to Howie Winter, one of Buddy McLean’s top men, and he let her borrow his car. Winter would have been high up on the list of targets for the McLaughlins.
Grace had been driving Howie’s car for about four miles when she arrived at her location. As she parked, the car’s horn beeped. A bomb, apparently connected to the horn, exploded. The blast threw the hood over fifty feet into the air, over a fence, and it landed in a vacant lot. Grace was reported as saying: “I was stunned. I didn’t know what happened. The door blew open and I stumbled out.”
It was an attempt to murder Howie. Howie said it changed his life: “I knew that if I set up any pattern from that day on, I was going to die, you know? As a matter of fact, from then on, I lived my life as if I was going to die.”
Grace and Alexander Petricone had one young daughter. The shock of that experience also caused Grace to change her life. She called it quits with Alexander. They divorced shortly after the bomb. By the time of the divorce, Alexander had likewise changed his life and moved to the West Coast.
After doing a bit in the house of corrections for Bernie McLaughlin’s murder, Petricone would wisely flee the Boston area for Hollywood when he was released. Petricone would find success in Hollywood. He played Moe Greene in the Godfather movie under the name Alex Rocco and continued to have numerous roles in Hollywood including in That Thing You Do with Tom Hanks. As a voice actor on the Simpsons, he won an Emmy.
Somerville Police Chief Thomas O’Brien was asked about it after Grace’s near-death incident. He said he believed the problems that caused it began at Salisbury Beach. He said that since the Salisbury incident, two Somerville men and one Charlestown man have disappeared.
The Grace Petricone’s car bombing and bomb outside Buddy’s house made the gangsters very aware their cars could be their enemies. Years later, I heard a story from my cousin Roger Concannon who lived across the street from Theresa Stanley, a girlfriend of gangster Whitey Bulger. Whitey often stayed at her house overnight. Roger said that one of Theresa’s son told him Whitey was very generous to him. The son said: “he gives me five bucks to start up his car every morning.”
The beating of George, the murder of Bernie, the chase causing George to flip his car, and the attempted bombings of Buddy McLean and Howie Winter are good bases for claiming that an Irish gang war that started on Labor Day, 1961. Yet very few people were involved. And, then, all was quiet on the Somerville/Charlestown line. There was no known violence after the blowing up of Grace Petricone’s car in September 1962 until May 1964.