Comrades' betrayal turned Mob enforcer
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/13/1999
Loyalty meant everything to Johnny Martorano. He would do anything for his
friends in Somerville's Winter Hill Gang -- even kill, which by his own
admission he did many times.
The confessed hit man now says he murdered 20 people between 1965 and 1982,
three of them, he says, with the help of fugitive South Boston crime boss
James J. ``Whitey'' Bulger, another half-dozen with the help of Bulger's
sidekick, Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi.
But that loyalty was strained and eventually shattered last year when he
learned his onetime partners in crime were longtime FBI informants who fed
agents information on foes as well as friends -- including him.
It was that bold affront to Martorano's underworld sense of justice, that
turned him from ruthless street soldier to government witness, those close to
``It's certainly not an attempt on John's part to cleanse his soul. He's
not saying he's sorry,'' said a longtime Martorano associate, who asked that
his name not be used. ``I think the motivation is an eye for an eye, a tooth
for a tooth.''
Martorano's friends say he was irate when he learned that federal
prosecutors purposely exempted Bulger and Flemmi from a 1979 indictment
charging him and 20 others with fixing horse races -- a charge that sent
Martorano on the run for 16 years.
He also learned that, while he was hiding out in Florida, Flemmi told the
FBI he was in the Miami area.
While the magnitude of Martorano's brutality has stunned the public -- his
victims include a prominent businessman and two Roxbury teenagers shot for
being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- his friends are not so shocked,
recalling his coming of age in the shoot-em-up world of 1960s gang wars, in
which more than 50 people died.
Born Dec. 13, 1940, John Vincent Martorano was the first child of a father
who immigrated from Sicily and a mother of Irish and English descent who grew
up in Cambridge.
Angelo and Elizabeth Martorano raised John and his younger brother, James,
in Milton, where both boys excelled in school and in sports.
A classmate who attended St. Agatha's grammar school with John Martorano
said he was extremely bright, with a world of potential.
``When you sat next to him in school and the nun handed him a test with 10
or 20 problems, if it was a 45-minute test he'd have it done in 10 minutes,''
said a former classmate.
Although Martorano was as tough as he was smart, friends say he was never a
``Stevie [Flemmi] would be hitting the desk with a hatchet to make you
faint. . . . But that wasn't John's style,'' said one associate.
Martorano graduated from Milton High in 1959, co-captaining the football
team with his brother.
Boston later proved to be a major lure for Martorano. He spent a lot of
time at Luigi's, a restaurant his parents owned on the edge of the Combat
Zone. It was there and at another family establishment in the South End,
friends say, that he was introduced to some of the gangsters who became his
``You go into a bar and there's a guy with a roll of C-notes [$100 bills],
you follow the money,'' said a longtime Martorano friend. ``When you're a kid
you see the guys who are making money: the bookmakers and the lenders.''
As Martorano was drawn to the flashy guys in the bar, women were drawn to
``I always knew him as a fun-loving, really good guy,'' said the wife of an
associate. ``He was like a Barry White. He was always surrounded by women. I
never saw the bad side of him.''
The Martorano brothers met Flemmi in the early 1960s at the nightclub owned
by their father. They met Bulger around 1971.
Martorano has admitted that he killed for the first time on Nov. 15, 1965,
when he was 24. The victim, Robert Palladino, 32, of Winchester, had testified
before a Suffolk grand jury that indicted Martorano's brother, Jimmy, for
being an accessory after a young waitress was murdered and her body stashed in
the loft of a restaurant owned by the Martorano family.
The following year, Martorano admits, he killed another man expected to be
a witness in the same case, John Jackson of the Back Bay. Federal documents
unsealed this week reveal that Martorano has admitted killing six other people
in the 1960s, including the two Roxbury teenagers.
Throughout the 1970s, the Martorano brothers, Bulger, and Flemmi were part
of the Winter Hill Gang, led by Howie Winter. In that decade, Martorano says,
he killed 10 people on behalf of the gang.
When the 1979 race-fixing indictment was returned, Martorano fled. He
remained a fugitive until January 1995, when he was arrested in Boca Raton,
Fla., where he was living with a common-law wife and their 8-year-old son. He
has four other children by three other women, including an ex-wife.
After his capture, he faced new charges of money laundering and extortion.
But until this week he was never charged with murder.
If a judge approves the deal, Martorano will be sentenced to 12 1/2 to 15
years on federal racketeering and murder charges, in exchange for providing
evidence against Bulger, Flemmi, and others. Since he has already been in
prison for more than four years awaiting trial in another case, he could be
free in eight years.
Still, Martorano's friends insist that the man who killed 20 people will
pose no danger to society when he is released.
``I don't consider John an evil person,'' said an associate, noting that
most of his victims ran in the same circles as Martorano or crossed people who
``It was just his lifestyle,'' the associate said. ``It's their own little
society. They break the rules and they know when they break the rules what is
going to happen.''
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 09/13/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.