Here’s how John Martorano tells the tale of these three murders of Herbert Smith, Elizabeth Dickson and Douglas Barrett. Martorano says he did not know Herbert Smith. He was told by Steve Flemmi in the early morning of January 5, 1968, that Herbert Smith had beat him up at Basin Street, the bar owned by Martorano’s father. Martorano went looking for Smith. Martorano saw Smith later that night at the joint. Martorano asked Smith what happened. Smith said “Stevie was way outta line.” John said he kept asking him questions. Smith answered them. John said he felt he was not getting the right respect, so he decided to murder him.
John arranged to meet Smith later that night to go to an after-hours card game with him. At the arranged spot, John saw Smith’s car and told Steve Brucias to drop him off. It was snowing hard. John said he saw three persons in the car as he approached.
He got into the back seat. He said he quickly shot the three people behind the ear. Smith was in the front driver’s seat and a young woman Elizabeth Dickson next to him. A 17-year-old Douglas Barrett was next to John in the back seat.
John had no problem murdering three people because he did not feel respected. He went into the automobile with that intention. Did he do it because they were black and their lives did not matter to him? Is that what “good men” do who do not receive what they conceive as the proper respect?
John said he reached over for the car keys, turned off the ignition, left on the lights, and started to walk down Normandy Street toward Blue Hill Avenue. It was 3:30 in the morning. He could not locate Brucias. John was covered with blood. He dumped the gun and car keys in some trash in the snow. He hailed a cab on Blue Hill Avenue. It stopped, he got in, then he had it stop at a pay phone, he called Steve Flemmi, he got directions to where Flemmi lived, the cab drove him there.
He went back looking for Brucias. Then he went home. He slept fitfully. When he woke up, Martorano went to have breakfast with Stevie Flemmi and Frank Salemme. He heard on the radio that he had killed a woman. Flemmi and Salemme asked him if they should kill Brucias. He said no, he has two kids.
You would think this would be easy to solve. A trail of blood. An inquiry to cab companies. A search of the neighborhood. An interview of witnesses at Basin Street. Or simply read the report filed by a vice squad detective who saw Smith between 1:15 and 1:30 a.m. at Basin Street and saw Martorano there at the same time. Or look at an FBI report on the beating of Flemmi by Smith. There were lots of leads but apparently none were followed up on.
Writing about the life of Rocco Balliro, author Daniel Zimmerman wrote this about the Boston Police Department in relation to the Boston Strangler who murdered women between 1962 and 1964: “The crimes were handled or rather mishandled, by one of the most inept police forces of the era. The Boston Police Department drew sharp criticism from across the nation for shoddy investigative work and chronic inability to apprehend a suspect . . .. “
I suppose the reason for failing to do much of an investigation on this case was that the victims were black. This was explained by a column written 31-years later by a Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker who complained about the deal that Martorano was offered by the federal prosecutor: “You can commit one of the worst massacres in this city’s bloody history and pay no price at all. The lives of Smith, Dickson, and Barrett meant virtually nothing.”
If you wanted to look for an example of black lives not mattering, the killing of these three African-Americans is a prime example. They have vanished without, as best one can tell, not even leaving behind even a photograph as best I can tell. These three victims’ murder could have been solved with a half-hearted investigation. Not only that, imagine how much coverage the murder of a white man, a white teenage girl, and white teenage boy at one time would receive in the media as compare to the almost total neglect of this killing of three African-Americans.
I suggest if you wonder why blacks feel their lives do not matter all you have to do is remember these murders. It was covered in the leading Boston newspaper in the evening edition on the day it happened on page one, the next day on page 17, and two days later for the last time on page 34. No public official said anything about it. The governor, the mayor, the local politicians, the police commissioner said nothing. It was passed off as unimportant, not only by the police who despite their statements conducted a totally inept investigation, but also by a media that expressed so little interest in it.
A triple murder eminently solvable but passed over is a sad commentary on our society. Worse still, John Martorano passes it off with a lie suggesting they were all seated in a heated car with hoods on so he did not know he was killing a couple of teenagers. He climbed in next to a 17-year-old Douglas Barrett who he could not possibly have shot behind the ear.