North End Murders- Thomas De Prisco and Arthur “Tash” Bratsos

I often think had these gangsters spent more time listening to nursey rhymes as kids rather than playing with guns they might have been a lot better off. When I think of how Tommy DePrisco and Tash Bratsos died, I immediately recall a nursery rhyme I heard as a kid:

Three little mice sat down to spin
Pussy came by and she peeped in
What are you doing my little friends?
We’re making coats for gentlemen
May I come in and bite off your threads?
Oh no gentle pussy, you’d bite off our heads.

Bratsos was a friend of Joe “the Animal” Barboza.  Barboza, a native of New Bedford, had set up shop in East Boston at a local bar called Chambi’s at 132 Bennington Street. Barboza had his own little crew of hoodlums who hung around with him including Bratsos, DePrisco, Joseph “Chico” Amico, Patsy Fabiano, Jimmy Kearns (mentioned in connection with the murder of Kathryn Murphy), and Nicky Femia.

James Bratsos

DePrisco was eight years younger than Bratsos. I did not find much of a record or relationship with Barboza. I did see that when he was 20-years-old he was arrested in Leominster along with another con man his age. They were pulling the old trick of buying an inexpensive item, handing a $10.00 bill to a cashier while at the same time distracting the person and then claiming it was a $20.00 bill. They succeeded in hoodwinking three stores in downtown Leominster and were thirty dollars to the good when they were arrested. They were also wanted for having pulled the same stunt in Worcester.

I did not find much of a criminal record relative to DePrisco other than the above and an arrest for possessing a firearm. One newspaper article said of him that he is well known to the police and involved in underworld gambling and loan shark operations. Whatever his background, it can be said he was not wise in his associations.

James Bratsos Arrest for Grocery Store Robbery

Although Tash Bratsos did not have much of a criminal background, he did have some good creds in gangsterville. Tash’s brother, James, was a different story. James Bratos was a much discussed criminal. One of the early newspaper articles about James Bratsos was published in June 1949. It told how he picked the lock of his cell at police headquarters in Quincy, went through a door and down the back stairs to freedom. He was being held for a break in a café where he stole a TV and a thousand dollars.

In 1951, James Bratsos was arrested on January 18 after burglarizing the home of Max Kramer in Newton. He was quickly captured as he fled leaving his footprints in the snow. On March 6, he was involved in a gun fight at his home. After arraignment, the judge let him out without having to post bail.  On April 26, he was spotted inside the Laconia Grocery store building breaking into a safe. Police arrested him as he left the premises with money from the safe. When he was brought to court charged with the Laconia break-in, the judge that had let him out a week or so earlier without bail, told Bratsos that Bratsos double-crossed him.

He went to trial on the charges stemming from the Laconia Grocery break. The jury returned a verdict on May 24, 1951, of not guilty. The judge commented “In my 14 years on the bench I have never seen a more positive case for conviction” He told James Bratsos he was lucky and that the jury had handed Bratsos a license which the judge said he hoped it was not a license to steal.

That, though, was not the highlight of the newspaper coverage of James Bratsos. On March 5, 1951 it was reported that he got into a scuffle with Larry Baione, 30, the Mafia lieutenant tough guy, at some tavern in Boston. Apparently Baione got the worst of it. That same night around 1:00 a.m. Baione went to visit James Bratsos at his house at 18 Davis Street in the South End with two other guys, Michael Accomando, 32, and Richard “Red” Assad, 29. Assad was a real tough guy involved with the Mafia in many incidents.

James Bratsos heard his name called from outside his apartment. He  went out to see who called him.  Two bullets were fired at him. Both shots missed. He ran back into his apartment and got his .22 rifle. He fired shots back as the men fled in their car. Baione was shot in the left leg and ended up in the hospital; Assad was also shot in the leg.

On June 22, James Bratsos pleaded guilty to the Kramer housebreak. He was sentence to 2 ½ to 3 at Walpole State Prison. He was released from prison on February 20, 1954. A month after being released, on March 21, he left his apartment to keep an appointment with a man who offered him a job. He was never seen again. Nine months after he disappeared, the Boston police received a tip that he was at the bottom of the Glen Echo Lake in Stoughton.

Tash Bratsos was around age 20 when his brother James disappeared. Rumors were that he was interested in going after Baione who he inferred, probably correctly, murdered his brother James.  James’s body was never found.

The only indication that Bratsos and DePrisco were involved in any criminal activity other than what I mentioned comes from a book by John Martorano.  Martorano writes that he was hanging around with them and “with his East Boston roots he fit in well with the Barboza gang.” He never lived there but visited his father’s parents who did.

Martorano placed DePrisco as being with him when he murdered Tony Veranis. Martorano said he had been invited by Billy O’Sullivan to his opening of an after-hours club in April 1966 across the street from Walter’s Lounge. That supposed invitation in itself is peculiar because Walter Bennet, who owned Walter’s Lounge, also owned the building across the street in which he ran an after-hours joint there. It is highly doubtful Walter would set up a competing joint in the building he owned.

Martorano wrote that the night before the Veranis’ murder, Tommy DePrisco was looking to collect a loansharking debt from Tony Veranis. DePrisco went to a bar in Southie to do so. When he went into it he got pushed around by some of the bar’s habitues. He got embarrassed and left.

The story is suspect right off. East Boston (Eastie) and Southie were not on the best of terms as anyone who had attended a Southie/Eastie football game on Thanksgiving could attest. It is highly unlikely an Eastie guy would go into a Southie bar looking to collect a debt from a guy hanging in there or a Southie guy go into an Eastie bar looking to do the same thing.

Martorano tied the DePrisco barroom incident to his murder of Veranis. But, as noted, the talk was that what set John Martorano off was that Tony Veranis had beat up his brother Jimmy Martorano. Anyway, Martorano’s story is that DePrisco shot Veranis in O’Sullivan’s after hour joint. When he did the people in the place cleared out of the club. Only Tash Bratsos, their dates and John Martorano remained. Martorano gives some money to their dates, tells them to grab a cab home, and to keep their mouths shut. Tash then helps John dispose of the body by dragging it down the stairs of the club, putting it in the trunk of his vehicle, and driving it to the Blue Hills in Milton where they left it in a sitting up position. It’s all another Martorano lie and cover-up especially that it does not account for Veranis being pistol whipped before being murdered.

Martorano claims O’Sullivan cleaned up the place. He then shut it down. Although as best I can tell, it never shut down. It never opened. It was another Martorano invention.

Obviously, you cannot murder someone in a crowded room and not have the word all over the street in minutes. Nor did O’Sullivan own the club. Nor would DePrisco go into a Southie bar looking to confront the skilled profession fighter Tony Veranis. Most plausible is that when Veranis left Walter’s Lounge the night of his murder, John Martorano, Jimmy Martorano and others jumped him, pistol whipped him, and murdered him. Whether DePrisco was involved is anyone’s guess. Remember, hoodlums like John Martorano always put dead people into situations knowing they cannot be contradicted by the person.

Martorano puts Tash Bratsos at the murder of John Jackson. Tash and Jimmy Kearns were to stay in the Tash’s car while John Martorano and Tommy DePrisco would ambush Jackson. Martorano had a shotgun and fired at Jackson as soon as he got out of the car. DePrisco then climbed on a barrel to scale a fence after Jackson but the barrel broke and DePrisco fell into its “fetid water.” John Martorano said he screamed loudly so that what the witnesses to the murder heard was his cursing rather than Johnson’s cries.

We are supposed to believe someone in the middle of murdering a person would start screaming to wake up the neighborhood.  It makes no sense. Nor would such a scream cover up the victim’s cries after a shotgun blast.

How much veracity you want to give to John Martorano is up to you. I give him very little. I mention him just to fill out the picture of Tash and DePrisco. All we know for certain from Martorano’s story is he murdered Veranis and Jackson.

The next time we hear about Tash, his vehicle was pulled over on October 5, 1966, by the Boston police. Barboza, Nick Femia, Patsy Fabiano and Tash were in the car. None of them were worried until Tash remembered that Tommy DePrisco had left a .45 in the glove compartment. The police seized a “loaded .45 caliber Army automatic, a quantity of .30 caliber carbine armor piercing ammunition and six clips of M1 rifle ammo.” The police then charged the group for having these weapons under their control in the vehicle.

District Attorney Garrett Byrne argued to the judge that Barboza be held without bail. Instead, Barboza was held on $100,000 bail. Nick Femia on $50,000 while the others on $1,000 each. The bail amounts indicated Tash Bratsos did not have much of a criminal record.

Barboza knew he was in danger of getting his parole revoked and sent back to Walpole State Prison. He wanted to get out on bail before that happened. Tash was not too happy that he was responsible for Barboza being in jail because he forgot to take the weapons out of his car. Tash felt pressure to do something about it.

Joseph Barboza

Tash recruited Tommy DePrisco and Chico Amico to raise the money for Barboza’s bail. The police indicated they raised the money by going around to certain nightspots, lining people against the walls, relieving them of their money and beating up those who refused. They also muscled into other people’s territory demanding a piece of the action. Slowly they accumulated a fairly large sum. Barboza said when Bratsos visited him in jail they had raised a little over $70,000. Bratsos told him, “the Office has promised to supply the difference” and that Barboza would be out in a couple of days.

It is difficult to know how much money Bratsos and his fellow collected. It had to be well over $50,000 given their idea that the Mafia was going to make up the rest. An assistant district attorney said Bratsos had $59,000 on him on November 15, the night of his death. I have no idea how he would know. Barboza said Bratsos had $82,000. All we know for sure is that whatever they had ended up in the pockets of their killers.

Earlier in the evening of November 15, Bratsos and DePrisco visited one of their associates at a Boston hospital, probably Joseph Lanzi. They dropped off a woman at 10:45 p.m. who also had been visiting Lanzi. Bratsos and DePrisco said they were going to get Chinese food, They headed for the Nite Lite Lounge on Commercial Street in the North End. At the Nite Lite Lounge, Bratsos made two telephone calls: one to his wife and the other to Chico Amico who was in the neighborhood.

Had these hoodlums heard the nursery rhyme above they should have put it into the context of their situation:

Two little hoodlums with cash for bail
Almost enough to free their friend from jail
The Mafia said we will give you some aid
We want to see how much you have raised
Come to Boston and show us the bread
Oh no gentle Mafia, you’d shoot off our heads

Unfortunately, they did not think like that. I do not understand how these two guys could walk into a Mafia owned club late at night with up to 80,000 dollars and think they would walk out with more, especially because it served no interest of the Boston Mafia to have Barboza on the street.

As they were to find out and as the nursey rhyme said, they shot off their heads. The meeting at the Nite Lite, owned by a Mafia guy named Ralph (Ralphie Chong) LaMattina, should have given them some pause. Bratsos and DePrisco were executed there. Trying to determine the number of people involved in it is pure guess work. Some suggest Larry Baione was among them. They were carried out, thrown into Bratsos’s Cadillac headfirst one on top of the other, driven to South Boston, and found the next morning in the car.

The Boston police moved quickly. No doubt Chico Amico was very cooperative. The police had warrants for the Nite Lite. At the Nite Lite, they found LaMattina redecorating his club with a new rug. Lifting the rug, the police found blood stains on the floor. They found similar stains on the freshly washed sidewalk outside and on the remnants of the old rug left in the basement. Forensic evidence of a copper bullet casing, fibers of the old rug found on the victim, and the blood made it clear they could prove the murders took place there. The police could not discover who did the shooting but could prosecute LaMattina as an accessory after the fact. The Mafia wanted this to go away quickly. The Mafia promised LaMattina it would do its best to get him out as early as possible.

James Morelli

LaMattina would plead guilty to the charges. The district attorney’s office asked that he be sentenced to a long term. His lawyer was Jimmy Morelli, a character from the old school, who was a little below average height and a little above average weight. He was known as “the Little Flower.” It was always fun watching him in the courtroom because he used humor to get his client’s some really good deals. His favorite expression when a witness did not understand his question was, “what’s wrong with you? Did you just fall off the turnip truck?” He could get away with things us ordinary lawyers would not dare to do.

His pitch for giving LaMattina a light sentence was to say he was a frightened employee of the Nite Lite. He did what any employee would do having had the violence thrust upon him. “He tried to cover up and repair the damage.’

The judge did not buy it. LaMattina was sentenced to 10 – 14 years. He would get out after four. Like in most cases, no one was charged with the murders.

Meanwhile Joe Barboza sat in jail stewing. His chance for bail was gone. Two of the guys in his gang dead. Barboza held onto the slimmest of slim hopes that Joseph ‘Chico’ Amico could do something.

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