Punchy McLaughlin was murdered by Roxbury Gang members Steve Flemmi and Frank Salemme. The McLaughlins did not blame the Roxbury gang for killing Punchy. They pinned it squarely on the Somerville gang led by Buddy McLean. We know that because nine days after Punchy was gunned down, Buddy McLean was murdered by the McLaughlin associates, the Hughes brothers. They believed Buddy had broken the uneasy truce between the Somerville McCain and Charlestown McLaughlin gangs. The Hughes brothers had no idea the Roxbury Gang had jumped into the war against them.
Raymond DiStasio and John O’Neil were murdered by Jimmy Flemmi and Joe Barboza less than a month later. Punchy’s murder followed by the murders of DiStasio and O’Neill make it clear that the Roxbury Gang was going up against the McLaughlins.
Knowing the conflict, I wanted to try to ascertain what brought the Roxbury gang into the fight against the McLaughlins.
The first incident is obvious. It occurred in 1964. On September 3 of that year, Jimmy Flemmi was shot at six times on Bird Street, Dorchester, by men firing from a passing station wagon. He received a minor leg wound. Who was doing the shooting? It was, as Jimmy Flemmi knew, guys from the McLaughlin gang.
Why did Jimmy become their target? It had to be to avenge a murder. But which one?
Was it the murder of Francis Benjamin? Word on the street was that Jimmy Flemmi cut off Benjamin’s head? The decapitation happened four months earlier in May 1964. I ruled this out because I found no connection between the McLaughlins and Benjamin. Therefore, the McLaughlins would not have been bothered by his murder. Was there something closer in time?
What about the Ronald Dermody murder? That happened almost at the same time as the shooting of Jimmy Flemmi. Even had it been earlier, his murder would not have bothered anyone in the McLaughlin gang. Dermody was an ex-convict from Cambridge. His only connection would have been that he was dating the sister of Spike O’Toole’s girlfriend. No one in the McLaughlin group was going to shed a tear over his demise
What about the murder of Harold Hannon on August 21, 1964, twelve days earlier? That would seem to fit the Bird Street shooting. I’ve noted before that often the word on the street and the actual facts differ substantially. When Hannon’s body was pulled out of Boston Harbor, he was found beaten and garroted. The word was parts of his body were mutilated. The guy known for doing this type of meeting and mutilation was Jimmy Flemmi. Unlike the Italians who bide their time getting revenge, the Irish often respond quickly. Wrongly believing Jimmy Flemmi was involved in Hannon’s murder, Jimmy could have become their target.
John Martorano in his book relates a tale about a five-man hit squad from the Somerville gang breaking into Hannon’s apartment, kidnapping him and taking him and Wilfred Delaney back to Somerville where they were tortured, killed and thrown in the harbor. This is a most unlikely tale, made even more unlikely because of the uneasy peace ongoing between Somerville and the McLaughlins at the time. Martorano is passing on scuttlebutt. His story coincides with what Steve Flemmi said in his debriefing by the FBI. After their arrests in 1995, they spent almost every day together for three to four years in the Plymouth County jail getting their stories to coincide. Martorano has no firsthand information about this murder.
Francis X. “Gaga” Murray, who hung around with Spike O’Toole and was very close to the McLaughlins, tells a different story. Gaga stated that Hannon had robbed a bookie. Wimpy Bennett lured Hannon to an apartment in Roxbury to take the money from him. In Roxbury, Hannon was beaten and murdered. Jimmy Flemmi would have been a part of that. But Gaga, too, would not have any personal knowledge of this. He is also passing on rumors or gangster fables.
I eliminated Benjamin and Dermody being unable to closely tie them into the McLaughlins. It was otherwise with Hannon. He was known to be close to George McLaughlin. He had been McLaughlin’s chauffer for a while. When George murdered William Sheridan, he fled in Hannon’s car. If the word on the street was that Jimmy Flemmi had done in Hannon, as apparently it was if Murray is to be believed, the 1964 shooting at Flemmi by the McLaughlins makes sense. They were going after him because they believed he killed Harold Hannon with whom they had a long term association. I discuss the Harold Hannon murder later.
The shooting of Jimmy Flemmi had no connection with the feud between McLean’s Somerville gang and the McLaughlins. The combatants now were the Roxbury Gang and the McLaughlins Gang. The McLaughlins knowing Jimmy survived the shooting on September 3, attacked him again on May 3, 1965. Jimmy Flemmi was gunned down outside his apartment in Dorchester. He was shot seven times. He told the cops at the hospital that Punchy McLaughlin shot him. Salemme would later call him a police informant for doing that. On May 3, it was not only Punchy who shot at Jimmy. He was joined by James “Spike” O’Toole and Stevie Hughes
Jimmy stayed in the hospital for seven weeks until June 26, 1965. He was brought to court, arraigned, let out on bail, and then fled. He was arrested on November 22, 1965 at his hideout by State Police Detective Lieutenant John O’Donovan, mentioned previously, who charged into his apartment through the front door. The FBI assisted in the arrest.
Frank Salemme, in his deposition, talked about all these guys being in prison together. He said the May 3 shooting happened because Spike O’Toole and Jimmy Flemmi had an argument over the phone. He suggested the Roxbury gang went after the McLaughins because FBI Agent Paul Rico or his FBI partner Dennis Condon did not like the McLaughlins. By suggesting this motive, they do not account for the shooting of Jimmy which started the war. The gangs fought because Harold Hannon was killed.
Salemme, who became boss of the New England Mafia, had a goal to destroy Paul Rico. Rico was instrumental in having Patriarca and other leaders in the Mafia sent to prison. Salemme looked upon Patriarca as some type of deity. Salemme would tells fantastic lies about Agent Rico.
One lie told by Salemme is that Rico gave them the address of Punchy McLaughlin’s girlfriend so they could locate Punchy. However, before that incident, they had already followed and shot Punchy so they knew his location. Another is that Salemme obtained a throw-away gun for Rico, the type that cannot be traced, because Rico intended to murder George McLaughlin when he went to arrest him. Rico would say that George pointed the gun at him so he had to shoot him. Rico would then put the gun next to George’s body. Salemme said Rico wanted to kill George because he heard that George called J. Edger Hoover a homosexual. Salemme also said Rico told him he had lined up four other FBI agents to go along with the killing but the fifth objected so he could not do it.
That story is implausible. The warrant for George McLaughlin was out of Suffolk County so it would be executed by state and local police. The FBI might be there but it would be in a backup role. If Rico planned to murder George, he would also have had to include those other departments which was impossible. The raids on Jimmy Flemmi and George McLaughlin were carried out mainly by state and local police.
The problem with Salemme was that he contradicted himself throughout his deposition. Different questions sent him off in different and contrary directions. He went from saying Rico got them into the war to saying the attacks on Jimmy Flemmi caused the war.
Salemme was asked if Jimmy Flemmi was involved in the bombing of lawyer John Fitzgerald’s car. Salemme answered: “No. Jimmy Flemmi had very little do with us on a personal basis, except he was the instigator in us getting involved in the gang war. He was a loose cannon, Jimmy Flemmi, very similar to Joe Barboza, and I wouldn’t have him in my business. We went through that gang war without him knowing (indicating) about what was happening before or even what happened afterwards. As far as I was concerned, he never knew. I don’t know if his brother told him. But he never knew before the fact.”
Clearly this was no longer an Irish gang war. To avenge Jimmy Flemmi’s shooting the Roxbury gang went after Punchy McLaughlin. First on November 24, 1964, two months after the September attempt on Jimmy. On this day, it was reported that McLaughlin had driven from his home on Ashford Road in Canton to Regent Circle in Brookline, next door to the Hotel Beaconsfield. Apparently he was followed. As soon as he parked his car, a black Pontiac with Rhode Island plates pulled up aside him.
Two men got out. One went to the passenger side and the other to the driver’s side. The man on the driver’s side shot him in the face with a shotgun; the man on the passenger side shot him in the chest. McLaughlin climbed out of the car as the shooters fled. He stumbled into Hotel Beaconsfield yelling that he was shot. The Brookline police rushed him to the Beth Israel Hospital, a little more than two miles away.
The facts were quite clear as to what happened. But gangster fiction took over to tell a different story which again shows you cannot rely on anything gangsters say. Martorano tells us that Earl Smith, “an old time Roxbury hoodlum, arranged to meet Punchy in the Beth Israel parking lot.”
He creates a fictional past relationship between Punchy and Smith. He continues that Punchy was at the Beth Israel Hospital waiting for Smith “when suddenly he saw two men dressed as Hasidic rabbis walking toward him. It was Stevie Flemmi and Frank Salemme, one armed with a revolver and the other a shotgun. A blast from the shotgun shattered Punchy’s jaw.” Complete fiction. There were no gun totting rabbis and no Earl Smith. It happened without them and two miles from the Beth Israel. It is more of Martorano’s make believe.
Steve Flemmi said Punchy was shot the first time in November by Somerville guys Joe McDonald and Jimmy Sims as part of the McLaughlin feud with Somerville. He said he learned that from Buddy McLean who told him about it. His story too does not hold water because there was no feud going on at that time and the next two shootings of Punchy McLaughlin were carried out by Flemmi and Salemme. Why, if they were not involved in the first shooting, would they have been involved in the others. McLean’s gang was not involved in the war. It was between the Roxbury group.
Strangely Steve Flemmi does not mention the September 3, 1964, shooting of Jimmy. However, he does mention that Jimmy murdered Leo Lowry whose body was found on September 2 in Pembroke. Lowry’s murder is covered later since it was a murder that was a personal dispute with a person not in their gang and not related to the gang war.
Because of the November shooting, Punchy almost suffered the loss of his jaw. It was wired up until May. After being released from the hospital. a newspaper reported that he was “holed up in a secluded home in Stoughton. It is in a clearing surrounded by woods.” That would have been at the home of his girlfriend Helen K. Kono on Wellesley Road, about four and a half miles from his Ashdale Road home in Canton. If the newspapers knew where he was living, so too did the gangsters. They did not need FBI Agent Paul Rico to slip them a paper with her address on it.
Punchy was not going to let his shooting go unrevenged. That is what brings about the May 3, 1965, shooting of Jimmy Flemmi. One bad deed deserves another.
On August 16, as Punchy was driving along toward West Roxbury from his home, he was ambushed by Steve Flemmi, Frank Salemme and others when a car pulled up aside him and fired at least five shots at him. He lost his hand in that attack. On September 21, 1965, he was fitted with an artificial hand.
He did not even have use of the hand for a month when on October 20, 1965, he was driven to a bus stop at the Dedham/West Roxbury line by Helen Kono. He was heading into Boston to attend his brother George’s trial on the charge of murdering William Sheridan.
Punchy was carrying a .38 caliber in a brown paper bag. A couple of minutes before 8:00 a.m. the door to the bus opened, Punchy was about to step in when Steve Flemmi approached him wearing a suit and dark glasses. He fired two shots knocking him to the ground and then four more into him after he fell. He disappeared in the same direction from where he came. He got into a car being driven by Salemme. Punchy was pronounced dead a half hour later.
George remained on trial and was convicted of the murder. He was sent to prison for life. The last I heard of him was on August 18, 2018. He was in his 90s and still serving time. The situation seems a little ridiculous. George murdered one person in a drunken state at a party and 55 years later he is still in prison. Another guy that premeditatively murders well into the double figures does 12 years or less.
As for George, he was the last of the McLaughlins. Being incarcerated let him live out his life to a very old age. He lived a much longer life than all his gang members who stayed on the street. Had he stayed out, he would most likely have passed away by now. Is a long life incarcerated better than a short one free?