The Murders to Protect Winter Hill- EDWARD CONNORS, 42

June 13, 1975-

Eddie Connors had two drinking spots on Savin Hill Avenue in the commercial block that bordered the Savin Hill MBTA station. One, Bulldogs, on the left side going toward the beach was a lounge. The entrance to it was into the bar side. A long bar ran from the front to the rear to the right; the room to the left was a seating area for diners. The other spot, Connor’s Tavern, was across the street at the corner of South Sydney Street. It was a typical bar consisting of one open room with the bar running the wall at the far side, tables and chairs opposite it.

I was in Bulldogs twice. One time when I went in to have an early dinner with a friend Timmy O’Leary and to meet a widow of a friend, Tord Svenson, and her two sons. Jimmy Cotter an old friend was sitting at the bar waiting to meet his brother. We spoke a bit. He was the only one from the old neighborhood I met there.

Another time I went in with two friends for a beer later at night. That time I saw Tom McNeeley near the far end of the bar. I was told he was a friend of Eddie Connors. Most of the crowd the night that were a seedier type. I had hoped I would run into someone I knew from the old days. It was not to be. My friends and I did not stay longer than one beer.

Tom McNeely

Tom McNeeley won his first 23 fights as a heavyweight going up against mostly stiffs in New England venues. He then fought for the heavyweight championship. He was sort of a celebrity in the neighborhood.

His son Peter McNeeley somewhat followed his father’s boxing career. He fought stiffs in the Boston/New England area and one fight in Sarasota, Florida, gaining a 24 – 0 record. He lost one, then went to 11 straight wins giving him a big money day with “Iron” Mike Tyson who was making his first fight after being released from prison.  It did not go well for Peter.

Sports writers considered the younger McNeeley a “tomato can” defined as: “a fighter with poor or diminished skills (at least when compared with the opponent they are placed against) who may be considered an easy opponent to defeat, or a “guaranteed win.” The expression supposedly come from the kids’ game kick the can. McNeeley would last one minute and 29 seconds into the first round with Tyson before his corner called it quits. After the fight he was a wealthier tomato can. He fought for another five years winning against tomato cans while losing when he became one.

In my days, two neighborhood bars sat on the opposite side of Savin Hill Avenue close by the location of the Bulldogs on the corner of Sydney and South Sydney Streets. One was called “Moakley’s” and the other “J & K’s.” They were both one big room affairs. On occasion I would have a “dimey” in one of them which was about an eight-ounce glass of beer for a dime.

Peter did not last long with Tyson

The people in there were mostly from the neighborhood. I knew most of them.  Each bar had its regulars. It seemed if you went to one you did not go to the other one across the street. Not being a habitué, I frequented both. Usually no one bothered anyone else from the neighborhood but sometimes strangers were not as welcome.

I do not remember knowing or laying my eyes on Eddie Connors. He was in the Marines and had served in the Korean War. He was the New England middleweight boxing champion which probably accounts for his friendship with Tom McNeeley. He had seven children – five sons and two daughters.

I do not understand given all this that he was also a gangster. Yet it seems a lot of the people written about here were boxers. On March 21, 1960, the headlines over a Boston Globe article read: “Boxer Connors Gets 5-7 Years in Bank Theft.” He was also arrested other times. In September 1959, he and others were planning to break into a bank. Their attempt was foiled when their lookout fell out of a tree and injured himself.

Eddie’s most recent involvement in crime prior to his death was his arrest and indictment with three other guys for an armored car holdup in Somerset, Massachusetts. He was awaiting trial for that at the time he was murdered. Of the four guys in the armored car robbery, three were identified by the guards because they came out of a van in the parking lot, one had a sawed-off shotgun, the other a sub-machine gun and the third a revolver. The three forced the guards into the armored truck. The fourth was in another car that would pick them up.

Conners Mug Shot

The following year after Connor’s death, one of the men indicted with him in the armored car robbery, Robert W. Adams, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The two others involve were William H. Kelley, mentioned before in connection with the Von Etten murder, and Edward Gabree. They do not seem to have ever been tried on the case.  It seems Kelley went on the lam; Gabree must have been the man who did not confront the guards so the case against him would be weak.

Gabree got arrested on February 4, 1982, for conspiring to distribute illegal drugs along with 41 other people. He was among 16 women and 12 men who were arraigned on February 5. I would suggest he was more of an addict at that time. He and the other addicts were thrown in to make the bust look bigger.  As he was out on the street six years after the armored car robbery that indicated he never went to trial or was tried and acquitted.  Billy Kelley was on the run in Florida when he got picked up by the FBI for the murder of Charles von Maxcy.

John Martorano writes that Eddie Connors was set up to be murdered by Winter Hill because Eddie had been bragging about how he set up Howie Winter’s hit on Spike O’Toole. Martorano is speaking of something he knows little about. Martorano said that Flemmi and Whitey were telling Howie this story and Howie became upset about Connors doing that.

Martorano wrote that Flemmi and Bulger were, “like Ike and Mike. And they told us, this time they wanted to be the shooters. They wanted to kill Connors together. Maybe it was going to be their bond, or maybe they wanted to have something on each other. I’m not sure. All I know is, it was a Southie thing.” The whole explanation is strange. Neither man had a grudge against Connors. Why are they so anxious to murder him?

Howie Winter called Eddie. Howie asked Eddie to go to a safe telephone so they could talk. Eddie picked out an outside pay telephone booth on Morrissey Boulevard near Freeport Street in Dorchester.  He gave Howie the number and the time he would be there. Howie figured out the location of the booth. The Winter Hill boys planned to be there when Eddie arrived.

Eddie pulled up in his 1974 Lincoln Continental around 9:00 p.m. He left his motor running and headed for the telephone booth. Two men, Steve Flemmi and James ‘Whitey’ Bulger lurked on a small incline in the dark. When Eddie climbed into the phone booth, they came down the hill each carrying a sawed-off shotgun. From six feet away, they blasted away at him ending his life. The phone booth was repaired and stood for many years. People from Savin Hill referred to it as “the Eddie Connors memorial telephone booth.”

This would be the first time it appears that we can say Whitey Bulger was engaged directly in murdering someone. The people he was with had murdered many. He must have felt the need to catch up. His new relationship with Flemmi must have given him the courage.

Whitey bragged about the Connors murder when he was in jail during his trial when speaking to a nephew or niece over a jail telephone. He knew his conversation was being recorded. He mentioned Eddie and made the rat-a-tat sound of a machine gun. The problem is Eddie was shot with shot guns that do not go “rat-a-tat.” Whitey always wanted to prove himself tough so he foolishly bragged while knowing he was being recorded.

Martorano’s story for the murder makes little sense. If he had anything to do with O’Keefe’s murder, he would not brag about being an accessory before the fact to it? People do not brag about being involved in murders. There is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder. Eddie’s murder happened in December 1973. It was now June 1975. No one was talking about Spike O’Keefe by that time. It was ancient history.

Even if Eddie was talking against his own self-interest and putting Howie Winter in jeopardy, Eddie was not present at the scene of the murder. Eddie had no evidence that could implicate anyone in it. As noted earlier, it is doubtful that Eddie was even involved in setting up Spike. Spike was not murdered after leaving Bulldogs where Eddie was located. He was murdered after leaving Galvin’s a little over a half of mile away.

Another story that I picked up from the street back around the time of Eddie’s murder seems a little more reliable. The armored car robbery happened on February 16, 1974. No arrests were made until May 16, 1974. Usually in armored car robbery cases, the robbers are grabbed at the scene or if they escape, one of the crew makes a deal for himself with the police when he lands in subsequent trouble. It was believed Eddie was cooperating with the State Police.

Within the State Police, Steve Flemmi had a friend, a trooper named Richard Schneiderhan.  Schneiderhan provided Flemmi with information in exchange for money. Schneiderhan at one point thought he was dying. He left instructions that Flemmi be seated in the first row at his funeral.

Flemmi returned from being on the run in May of 1974. It is more than likely he reestablished his relationship with Schneiderhan.  Schneiderhan was well situated so that he could have learned that Connors was the stool pigeon while he was assigned to the attorney general’s office.

When Flemmi decided to turn state’s evidence, he was debriefed by law enforcement agents concerning his life of crime. With respect to Eddie’s murder, Flemmi said his opinion was that the group worried that Connors might cooperate with law-enforcement against them after his recent arrest. This confirmed what was the street talk back at the time of his murder. I suppose if anyone knew why he was being murdered, it would be Flemmi.  He was one of the two who murdered him.

Strange enough, Billy Kelley who had been hiding out having been implicated in the armored car, surrendered to the State Police on June 19, 1975 – less than a week after Eddie’s death. Kelley may have figured that Connors’ murder would help his case. When Kelley found out about Adams’s conviction, he realized that Connors’ murder would not help him so Kelley fled again.

2 thoughts on “The Murders to Protect Winter Hill- EDWARD CONNORS, 42

  1. Connors was murdered for the same reason Halloran was. They both knew too much about the Gangsters crimes. They were both out on bail and likely to flip. Matt was right that Flemmi’s assessment was correct. According to people who were there Spike was at Bulldogs.. He left headed for Galvins when he was killed. Someone in Bulldogs tipped off the Killers that he was headed out. It is likely that Howie Winter who was friends with both ordered the hit.

  2. So pleased to be reading Matt again.
    He mentions Jim Cotter.
    My B C High teacher and the football coach there for decades, Jim Cotter, came from Savin Hill…he had a few great stories in his book about Eddie Connors..Cotter was offered a chance to get an equity interest in a bar going to be opened across the street from The Bulldogs where Cotter bartended for Connors and Cotter felt he owed him the courtesy to tell him of the offer….no money invested and equity interest..great deal BUT DON’T TAKE IT!!!!

    Cotter asked why and Connors told him if he left, all the young guys would go across the street with Cotter and Connors would be left with the old, broke alcoholics….so Connors would have to burn the new place down!

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