North End Murders – ROMEO MARTIN

July 9, 1965 –

Romeo Martin was a good athlete. We know that about him. A good athlete does not necessarily mean he was a smart guy. Rather, his athletic skills must have interfered with his education. He seemed to lack much brain power. He, like most of the guys in this book, did not graduate from high school and instead spent those years confined to juvenile facilities.

Maybe Romeo was cursed from an early age. One of his parents must have been a Shakespeare fan and so named him after the male of that famous duet.  It had to be tough going around with that name sort of like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.” He is also known as Joseph Romeo Martin. He likely added the first name “Joseph” so that he could get a driver’s license after his original license was revoked.

I say he was not too bright because he decided to get involved in a murder with guys who like to murder people. Sure, he was a criminal. He had been convicted of attempted murder. But as best I can tell, he was not on the level with people like Joe Barboza and Jimmy Flemmi who had no problem murdering people. To use a sports expression, he was out of their league.

Yet, he put himself in the position of being a witness to their crimes. Earlier in the night Deegan was murdered, a group gathered in a room to plan the hit. Romeo was there. The guys who committed the murder of Teddy Deegan were big guys. He was a little fish. The big guys would eventually figure out that if Romeo got jammed in, he would offer them up. Having something on the big guys does not increase one’s life expectancy.

Romeo did one thing in his life that brought him lots of fame. While doing a twenty-year sentence in the Washington State Penitentiary, also known as Walla Walla, for attempted murder and rape, Romeo played for the prison’s baseball team. In July 1951, as it did on occasion, the team traveled beyond the prison walls for its games.

Four stories are told about the famous episode in Romeo’s life that made him a little larger than life.  Here are the four stories, pick your favorite.  At an away baseball game off the prison grounds, 1) Romeo hit a home run and when he reached second base he ran off into the woods; 2} Romeo hit a double and fled into the woods; 3) when Romeo was playing outfield, he chased a fly ball into the woods and never came back; or 4) in the seventh inning of the game, Romeo crushed the ball into the left center field woods. While all eyes were on the ball skyrocketing into the woods, Romeo ran down to first base and kept going down the right field line into the woods before the three guards noticed he was not rounding the bases on his home run trot.

Whichever version is true, Romeo gained great notoriety for the dramatic escape.  After escaping prison, he came back home to Boston where he was known as “Home Run Martin.” Even before becoming Home Run Martin, Romeo first came to public notice at age 18 on January 9, 1942. He confessed to scores of burglaries in Jamaica Plain, Brookline and the Back Bay. Romeo identified the other kids with him. He got rid of the loot at the local pawn shops. He told the arresting officers “[i]t doesn’t make any difference to me what you do with me. I hope you send me to Concord in a hurry. I want to get there in time to make the basketball team.”

His freedom after his escape while doing time on his rape conviction did not last long. On November 18, 1951, Romeo placed a ladder up to the second floor of a women’s college dormitory in Roxbury.  As he began his climb, he was spotted and arrested. The police found the stolen car he was driving with three stolen revolvers and a stolen camera inside. Romeo had a long scar on one side of his face. Women who had been victims of recent attack attempts in Boston had all described the culprit as a scar faced man.

Five girls from Simmons college identified Romeo as the man they saw around their college grounds. He was sent to Walpole Prison for five to seven years in December 1951 after pleading guilty to 15 indictments charging him with burglary, gun carrying, larceny and an assortment of other crimes.

After the Walpole sentence, he went back to Walla Walla but was not there too long.  In September 1958, a woman who lived at 899 Greendale Avenue in Needham (I would live at 859 a few years later) spotted suspicious activity at a neighbor’s house on Enslin Street. She heard glass breaking and called the police. After a chase, they arrested Romeo and Teddy Deegan. They found stolen jewelry in their car. Seven years later, Romeo would murder Deegan and be murdered himself.

Again, despite his long criminal history, Romeo was back on the street in December 1964. A woman in Newton returned home to find a man walking out of the back yard of her house. She asked him what he was doing. He said: “Just checking the landscape.” He fled, she saw her back window was broken, called the Newton police. They arrested Romeo on Hanover Street in Boston.

When the Needham break occurred, the police noted Romeo had been arrested 36 times, the first when he was 16 years old. He went to Lyman juvenile school for boys and, as we saw on to Concord. After being caught cold for the Newton break-in which he did in December 1964, Romeo still walked the street and willingly participated in the March 1965 murder of Teddy Deegan.  If that does not point to some failings in our criminal system, I do not know what could.

I started off saying Romeo had “no brains.” I suppose further proof of his lack of smarts is that he married a twenty-one-year-old woman who was a hairdresser in Lynn two days after murdering Teddy Deegan.  Not only did he just commit a murder, but he also was facing time in prison for his other crimes. On the night of his murder, Romeo’s wife last saw Romeo when he left their house a half hour after midnight. She said she did not know why he left or where he was going, but said his behavior was not unusual. Their marriage lasted less than four months.

About a quarter mile from his apartment and a little over two hours after leaving his wife, Romeo was found crumpled up in the front seat and floor of his red convertible.  The car had rolled down a hill and nestled itself into a line of hedges. It still had its motor running. Five bullet holes were in his chest surrounding his heart. No bullets were found in the car.  He was likely slain shortly after his meeting, put in the car, and the car rolled down the hill.

Police speculated Romeo was murdered for failing to pay a gambling debt. Without knowing about his involvement in Teddy Deegan’s murder, what else could the police think? Instead, Romeo was set up to be murdered just like he set up his friend Deegan.

The criminals did not murder Romeo in the interests of justice. Criminals only act in their own self-interest. He was murdered because he knew too much.

Inadvertently Romeo’s murderers did advance the cause of justice by doing what the courts seemed incapable of doing: they stopped Romeo Martin from breaking into homes and perhaps assaulting women. Romeo’s new bride and her mother were convinced Romeo had turned the page and was starting a new life. But then, again they did not know he killed his friend two days before his marriage to her.   

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