Martin Scorsese's The Departed barely touched on his story. Now radio talk show sensation, crime reporter, and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr takes us into the heart of the life of gangster Johnny Martorano in Hitman.
For two decades Martorano struck fear into anyone even remotely connected to his world. His partnership with Whitey Bulger and the infamous Winter Hill Gang led to twenty mob murders―for which Johnny would serve twelve years in prison. Carr also looks at the politicians and FBI agents who aided Johnny and Whitey, and at the flamboyant city of Boston which Martorano so ruthlessly ruled.
A plethora of paradoxes, Johnny Martorano was Mr. Mom by day and man-about-town by night. Surrounded by fast-living politicians, sports celebrities, and show biz entertainers, Johnny was charismatically colorful―as charming as he was frightening. After all, he was, in the end...a hitman.
The paperback edition of Howie Carr's riveting true-crime story includes a new epilogue detailing Whitey Bulger's dramatic June 2011 capture..
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Howie Carr is a columnist for the Boston Herald and author of The Brothers Bulger, which spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano: Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld. He also hosts a daily four-hour radio talk show syndicated throughout New England. In 1985, Carr won a National Magazine Award, and in 2008 he was elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago. Carr lives in suburban Boston with his wife and their three daughters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“Always Be a Man”
FROM HIS BIRTH at Cambridge City Hospital on December 13, 1940, John Vincent Martorano was an unlikely gangster. He had only one sibling, and he grew up in a stable middle-class household with both parents present. After the age of eleven he lived in the suburbs.
His father owned a profitable business and no one in the family ever lacked for money. In the somnabulent 1950s, young Johnny Martorano served as an altar boy and later went to both parochial and prep schools where his friends included, among others, a future congressman and a future CBS news reporter. Summers he and his brother Jimmy went to camp in the Berkshires. His parents owned a second home on the South Shore. At age sixteen, as soon as he got his driver’s license, his father bought him a blue 1949 Plymouth sedan.
And yet somehow, Johnny Martorano was always fascinated by the city. He was always drawn back to the mean streets of Boston, where his father ran a restaurant and after-hours club in what would soon become known as the Combat Zone.
Both his parents came from large immigrant families. His maternal grandparents were Irish, had met in England, and later immigrated to the United States, where they raised eleven children in the Somerville-Medford area, just north of Boston. His mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Mary Hunt. Everyone called her Bess.
His father was born in Riesi, Sicily, the son of a cobbler, one of thirteen children, only five of whom survived beyond childhood. The Martoranos immigrated to the United States when Angelo Martorano was seven years old, around 1915. They lived in East Boston. His first name was soon Anglicized to “Andy,” and for the rest of his life he answered to either Angelo or Andy.
Johnny’s father was always a hard worker, and after graduating from high school, he became a cab driver. Soon he owned his own Boston medallion, then two. He supplemented his income by working as a small-time bookie, taking numbers and bets, mostly on horses. In 1939, he met his future wife, who was working for a dry cleaner in Somerville.
After their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Martorano moved to Bess’s hometown of Somerville. They lived on the first floor of a rented two-decker off Ball Square, at 96 Pritchard Avenue. Johnny’s cousins lived on the second floor. Eleven months after Johnny’s birth, his only sibling, Jimmy, was born. Some of Johnny’s earliest memories were of visiting his paternal grandparents, who lived on Neptune Road in East Boston.
In Somerville, just after the end of World War II, Johnny began school at St. Clement’s. He was young, five years old, when he started the first grade, and the nuns decided to hold him back. From then on, he and his brother Jimmy would go through school together in the same grade.
I was Sister Patricia’s pet—the teacher’s pet. I used to wait every morning to carry her bag from the rectory to the school. But I got into trouble, too. I remember one day, I must have been eight or nine. My father had a big black four-door Dodge outside the house; he always had a big bankroll. Anyway, he was sleeping one morning, and I went downstairs. I put on his hat and took one of his cigars. Then I grabbed his bankroll and I went out onto the street and started giving money away. I looked like one of the Little Rascals. Finally my mother got a telephone call from one of the neighbors and she ran out of the house chasing me, trying to get the money back.
Abie Sarkis, major Boston bookie and longtime business partner of Andy Martorano.
Andy Martorano was doing well in the postwar economy. He bought another medallion, and put his brothers, Danny and Louie, to work as drivers, until Louie got a job selling cars. By then, though, Andy had gone into the restaurant business, with Abie Sarkis, a big-time Boston bookmaker who became Andy’s lifelong friend. Their place was on the second floor above the Intermission Lounge at 699 Washington Street in the middle of what would someday be the Combat Zone, although in those days the city’s red-light district was still a few blocks north, on Tremont Street. It was known as Scollay Square.
Abie and Andy called their restaurant Luigi’s, and it did well from the start. But it did better when they opened up what they called the “backroom,” an after-hours club. They could charge more for a drink after last call, and they didn’t need to keep the kitchen open. The only overhead was the weekly payoff to the cops in District 4. But in the mid-1950s, Abie Sarkis had a bad run in the numbers. He was deeply in debt, and to raise money, he sold out his half of Luigi’s to Andy Martorano.
Now owning Luigi’s outright, Andy Martorano soon had even more disposable income. He had a friend in Revere, Joe DeAngelis, who was trying to set himself up as a shylock on Shirley Avenue. In those days no one but the wealthy had credit cards, and for the workingman the only line of credit came from the loan shark on the corner. By the 1960s, Joe Dee had $100,000 of Andy’s money out on the street, at a point or two (1 or 2 percent) a week. It was a good solid return on investment, and like municipal bonds, it was tax-free.
Soon, Andy and Bess Martorano decided that Milton, just south of the city, would be a better place to raise the boys than rough-and-tumble Somerville. Their first house was at 79 California Avenue. Later, Andy bought a vacant lot around the corner and built a new house, on 64 Lockland Street.
After he got married, my father quit as a bookie, but he still loved to gamble. And Andy liked baseball better than the track; in the summer he was always at the ballgames. This was back before the Braves moved to Milwaukee in ’53, so there was a game in Boston almost every day, either at Fenway or at Braves Field, which is now Nickerson Field at BU.
My father used to take me with him to a lot of the games. One time I remember Sam Jethroe, the first black player on the Braves, was playing center field, and he misjudged a fly ball and it hit him on the head.
We used to sit with this group of guys, usually way up in the right-field grandstand, or sometimes in the bleachers—always off by themselves. They knew all the ushers, so they got in for free. There was plenty of room, and plenty of empty seats. Back then, the Red Sox didn’t draw like they do now, and the Braves drew nobody. That’s why they finally had to move.
My father and his friends didn’t care if nobody was there. They were there to gamble. There were maybe fifty to a hundred of them, depending on the game, who the Sox or the Braves were playing. Mostly Italians in the group, but other people, too. The common denominator was betting. That’s what these guys did. Some of them had businesses, like my father. There was another guy who owned a baby carriage company. I guess there were some wiseguys there, too. They’d gamble on every pitch, was it going to be a ball, or a strike? They’d bet on whether the batter was going to get a hit, strike out, ground out, or fly out. Anything, just action. Ted Williams comes up, maybe the odds were 20-1 or 30-1 that he’d hit a home run, depending on how good the pitcher was. Longer odds if the batter wasn’t that good a hitter, or if the pitcher was better. Everybody kept a pad of paper and a pen on their laps so they could keep track of the bets, because they’d be making so many of them over the course of nine innings. At the end of the game, everybody would settle up.
That’s how I learned to gamble, from my father. He taught me how to gamble and how to drink.
Johnny and Jimmy were now enrolled in St. Agatha’s parochial school in Milton. They were in the same class as a young Quincy boy named Billy Delahunt, a lefty. Johnny was a good all-around athlete, but his best sport was football. One day on the playground he ran over Mother Superior, and she chased him down the street with her cane. Another time he kicked a football through a window in the school.
Johnny was a popular kid, a natural leader. Years later, Billy Delahunt, by then a congressman, was bragging at a party that he had never lost an election—as state rep, district attorney, or congressman. Someone else at the party, another St. Agatha’s alumnus, corrected Delahunt—he had lost at least one election, for the presidency of the seventh-grade class at St. Agatha’s. To Johnny Martorano.
There was a priest there, a young guy, Father Riley. A great athlete. He called me Rocky. One day I went to him, I was in the seventh or eighth grade, and I asked him, Father, can you teach me how to throw and kick a football like you do? And he said, I’ll make a deal with you, Rocky, if you become an altar boy, I’ll coach you. It was a deal. I think I served Mass maybe once—somewhere there’s a photo of me and Billy Delahunt, in our robes, and in the middle is Cardinal Cushing.
Johnny graduated from the eighth grade at St. Agatha’s, but he was becoming harder and harder for his parents to handle. Andy decided to ship him off to what was then an all-boys Catholic prep school in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Mount St. Charles Academy. Jimmy stayed behind in Milton and enrolled in the public junior high school.
As a freshman, Johnny became the starting fullback on the Mount St. Charles football team. His teammates called him “the Milkman.”
“That was because he always delivered,” his teammate Ed Bradley would explain a half century later.
It was funny how Ed Bradley and I became friends. He was black, I was white, he was on scholarship, I was from a middle-class family paying full tuition. I had a father, he didn’t. I know he thought about it a lot later, and so did I: How did he end up what he became, starting with nothing, while I became ... well, what I became.
He was a quiet guy, I was a quiet guy. One day after practice, we were walking back...
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