Mike Barnicle

Introducing John Martorano

By Mike Barnicle
Globe Columnist / August 4, 1998
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His name is John Martorano, and while he may have murdered more people over the course of his career as a huge gangster than get killed in the first 27 minutes of ``Saving Private Ryan,'' he is regarded today as a trophy by the FBI as well as the US attorney's office in Boston simply because he can't stop talking. It seems the Justice Department is on the verge of forgiving the man for multiple homicides he is believed to have committed over three decades due to the dream that Martorano might help them find Jimmy Bulger, who sure did embarrass and use federal law-enforcement agents.

``OK, let's see,'' Eddie Walsh recalled yesterday. ``There was the girl in the rug at Luigi's. That was a place upstairs from the Intermission Lounge, an after-hours joint. He killed this girl and wrapped her body up in a rug. I know he did that one. Long time ago, too.

``Then there were the three black girls at Basin Street South; that was down past Northampton Street on the left, right near where the South End and Roxbury come together. He was going to kill one girl, but she had two friends with her, so he killed all three.

``Boy, oh, boy, he has killed a lot of people,'' Walsh pointed out. ``You've got to remember there were 65 gangland murders in two years back in the mid-1960s and John did an awful lot of them, too. We knew he did them -- like with the girls -- but we could just never get anybody to come to court and testify because everybody knew he'd kill them. John was basically a serial killer.''

Eddie Walsh, 76 now and retired, was an honorable cop. And John Martorano was a one-man crime wave until he became a fugitive in 1978 and fled to Florida. After a bookie here gave him up, he got lugged back this year to become part of a ludicrous hearing in federal court being held to decide whether a handful of gangsters ought to be granted freedom because of FBI duplicity and incompetence.

The hearing has been in front of Judge Mark Wolf. Every day for months, Martorano sat with a scowl alongside fellow defendants Frank Salemme and Stevie Flemmi until suddenly three weeks ago he disappeared, having decided it was better to cut a ``Lewinsky'' -- obtain immunity from the government and rat out everyone -- rather than wait for a judge to send him back to prison to die.

``John will say anything to get out,'' Eddie Walsh declared, ``but you have to ask yourself, `Who's worse here? John, or the people who want to give him immunity for all those murders because they think he can help them get Whitey Bulger?' Do they believe the lives of 50 or 60 victims are worth catching this one guy?''

Martorano is allegedly claiming that Bulger and Flemmi provided him with the weapons he used a decade ago to kill a businessman in Oklahoma and another in Florida who worked for World Jai Alai; which is like saying Mark McGwire shows up at the ballpark every day unable to locate a bat. Martorano is also thought to be implicating a former top FBI official, Paul Rico, for helping to orchestrate the murders.

Jimmy Bulger, currently quite a successful fugitive himself, was dangerous because he could think. Martorano, however, was dangerous because he didn't. He and his late partner, Joe McDonald from Somerville -- dead, incredibly due to natural causes -- led typically boring gangster lives: Get up. Have coffee. Drive to a corner. Talk about Cadillacs or young girls. Collect money. Drive to meat market for prosciutto. Kill someone. Have more coffee.

To give an idea of their mind-set, when McDonald was dying in a hospice, law-enforcement authorities went seeking his assistance in solving a murder. McDonald motioned a cop closer to his bedside where he whispered: ``Nothing personal, but I wouldn't cross the street to piss in your ear if your brains were on fire.''

Now his old partner comes up a complete motor-mouth.

``Know what ought to bother them?'' Eddie Walsh asked. ``John Martorano killed an awful lot of black people. He practically used black people for target practice in Roxbury. You think they'd be offering him a deal if his victims were a bunch of bankers or big business guys? I guess they figure John's victims don't count, that he didn't kill anybody important enough to remember. If he gets immunity, they ought to put the judge in jail.''

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