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Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano: Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld

Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano: Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld

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by Howie Carr

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After graduating from high school, John Martorano turned down seven football scholarships and instead stayed in Boston.  Hanging out in the notorious Combat Zone, he fell under the guidance of Stephen Flemmi--high ranking Winter Hill mobster and close associate of James "Whitey" Bulger--and by the age of twenty-five, Martorano was a professional


After graduating from high school, John Martorano turned down seven football scholarships and instead stayed in Boston.  Hanging out in the notorious Combat Zone, he fell under the guidance of Stephen Flemmi--high ranking Winter Hill mobster and close associate of James "Whitey" Bulger--and by the age of twenty-five, Martorano was a professional killer.  He became one of the Winter Hill Gang's most prolific--and feared--enforcers.  This is the gripping true-life story of Martorano's years killing for the Winter Hill Gang, told in Carr's arresting inimitable style.

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The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano, Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld

By Howie Carr

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 Frandel LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9211-4


"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.

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 to the locker room, and he said to me, "You know, Johnny, you're white and I'm black, but one thing we got in common is the same teeth." See, he had a space between his two upper front middle teeth, just like me. We laughed, and that's when our friendship started to develop. I called him Big Ed — that's all I ever knew him as. When he came looking for me at the prison all those years later, at first I had no idea who "Ed Bradley" was. But I remembered Big Ed, just like he remembered "the Milkman."

I've run into a few guys from the old team since I got out. One guy, John McLaughlin, we called him "Clem," I saw him and he reminded me how there was another kid from Boston, a little guy named Johnny August. Johnny's dead now, but Clem told me how one time he was picking on Johnny August, and I grabbed Clem and told him to lay off Johnny August.

I'd forgotten all about it, but he was bullying the kid, and I had to stop it. That's just the way I am, always have been. That's what I was always taught. All my childhood, I was around people who instilled in me the same values. Be loyal to your family and your friends. My father wanted the best for me; he didn't care whether I became a doctor, a lawyer, or if I made a lot of money. He would say, "Always be a man." Take care of the people around you. There's an old Sicilian expression that Andy used — Sangu du mio sangu. It means "Blood of my blood."

And that's what I always tried to do — protect the "blood of my blood," not just my families and my brother, but also my friends. I always tried to make my father proud and live up to his expectations.

It's the same lesson I got from Father Riley, and later on from my coaches at Milton High. I learned from Big Ed, too. He taught me that blacks were no different than anybody else. If you're on my team, I'm with you all the way. Later on, that's how I felt about the gang. It was just another team, and we were all on the same team. Although of course I found out later that we weren't — on the same team, that is.

Another thing I always believed, even back then. If a friend asks you to do something, you try your best to do it for them, as long as it's the right thing to do and they deserve help. I always lived by that code. That's a lot of the explanation for what happened later. I was doing what people asked me to do, to help them out. You can say to me, you killed a lot of people, and you're right, I did. But I always had my reasons. I didn't kill for the hell of it, like the other guys. I was always helping somebody out, or I thought I was. When somebody gets hit, it always helps somebody else.

You know, I'm still on good terms with all the different people from the various periods of my life, even my kids' mothers. I don't have any enemies, never did. My problem was that I had a lot of friends who had enemies.

Johnny didn't last long at Mount St. Charles. One weekend he hitchhiked back to Milton, and called up one of the neighborhood girls. They arranged to meet at the old Strand Theater in Quincy. During the course of the date, it occurred to Johnny that Milton and Boston were a lot more fun than an all-male Catholic prep school in Rhode Island. He never went back. The next Monday, he joined his brother Jimmy at Cunningham Junior High School.

I always liked guns. My father had some around, because he carried a lot of cash, from the restaurant. I think the first one I shot was a .22, at an amusement park in Nantasket Beach in Hull.

When I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, somewhere in there, my brother and I would go to camp every summer in the Berkshires. I'm pretty sure that's when I bought my first gun, a .22 rifle, to take to camp.

He was still a wild and crazy kid. By the time he was fourteen, he was occasionally stealing his mother's car, a Ford, to go out joyriding. One afternoon Johnny made the mistake of taking off in the car before his father left for Luigi's. Andy saw him and jumped in his own Pontiac, a coupe, and began chasing Johnny through Milton, honking his horn. Johnny figured he could lose him down by the quarry. So he took a left, onto what he quickly realized was a dead-end street. It was a lesson for the future — always know your getaway route.

My father was closing in on me, so I slowed the car down to the point where I could jump out. The problem was, the Ford was still in gear, so it kept going, and slammed into a house. I took off running for the quarry, on some little path through the woods. I can hear Andy behind me, screaming, "I'm gonna kill you." He's running after me, and he's so mad he takes off his belt, and he's trying to wave it around. The only problem is, once the belt's off, there's nothing to keep his pants up, and they fall down, and then so does he. Boy, was he pissed at me that day.

In 1956, Johnny got his first driver's license, and he quickly decided that he wanted to check out the family's new summer "cottage" in Scituate. One winter day, Johnny had a date, and they decided to enjoy a little privacy down at the beach house. But when they got there, they quickly realized there was no heat. That wasn't a problem for Johnny. He found an ax, chopped up the living room furniture, threw it into the fireplace, and started a blaze.

Things didn't work out with that girl, at least not then, but more than a decade later, they would have a memorable date in Boston.

Soon Johnny started going out with a "nice" girl from North Quincy, Nancy O'Neill, whose uncle would someday become a Boston city councilor — the colorful Albert "Dapper" O'Neil. (Different branches of the family spelled their surnames differently.)

At Milton High, Johnny was a three-sport letterman — football, basketball, and baseball. But he struggled academically. The word was unknown at the time, but thirty years later, Johnny would discover his problem — he was dyslexic. Reading was more than a chore for him, it was torture. There was no "special education," and there was no tutoring for good athletes. Football coach Tom Brennan would simply go to Johnny's teachers and ask them to cut his star two-way player some slack. Andy couldn't understand what the problem was. Jimmy, eleven months younger, had no such academic problems, and was almost as good an athlete as Johnny. He was going to Boston College.

As for Johnny, he began going into Boston with his father. Andy got him a job as an usher at the Center Theater, across Washington Street from Luigi's. Then he arranged for Johnny to work as a shoeshine boy at the stand downtairs from Luigi's.

I started at the bottom, and was supposed to work my way up. That was the way my father wanted it. It was like the Greeks with their kids in the restaurants — you start out as a dishwasher, then a busboy, you learn every job going up the ladder, so later you can fill in anywhere you're needed.

But I didn't like working. I liked having fun. I'd rather hang out at the poolroom on Washington Street, just watch the people playing, taking action. I learned all the different games — eight ball, billiards, pocket pool. I bought a short-brimmed hat, I smoked cigars, and started hanging out with black guys. We'd go down into the subway at Essex Street and drink fortified wine — Silver Satin. No cork in Silver Satin, just a screw top.


Excerpted from Hitman by Howie Carr. Copyright © 2011 Frandel LLC. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

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.

Howie Carr is a columnist for the Boston Herald and author of the novel Hard Knocks, The Brothers Bulger, which spent eleven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and the New York Times bestseller Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano, Whitey Bulger's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld. Carr hosts a daily four hour radio talk show that is syndicated throughout New England. Carr has won a National Magazine Award, and in 2008 he was elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame. Carr lives in suburban Boston.

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Hitman 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this on my Nook over vacation. It's a great book, I couldn't put it down. All of the pictures are viewable on the Nook. Hitman is an amazing account of the true nature of the Boston Underworld and it's characters. As cold and calculating as Johnny could be, he lived by his own "code of honor", and didn't betray anyone who had not already betrayed him. You'll learn how Whitey and Stevie managed to commit crime after crime including multiple murders, and stay on the streets for so long. And how Johnny managed to "supervise" things in Boston while living in Florida. How the heartless and selfserving behavior of the people in the Boston FBI office is as criminal as that of underworld characters they were supposed to be managing. I highly recommend this book.
BestsellingCriminologist More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting read about an underworld hitman, his life and times, and associates on both sides of law. Recommended. -- from R. Barri Flowers, bestselling author of true crime book, THE SEX SLAVE MURDERS, and thriller novel, THE HITMAN'S WOMAN, under pen name, Devon Vaughn Archer
bear62 More than 1 year ago
When I was reading this book I could actually see the faces of some of the players. Living on WInter Hill I have expeianced some of the actions in this book the legal ones only. Great reading. Thanks Howie Carr
kenwinston More than 1 year ago
Hitman by Howie Carr is a well written, finely detailed treatise on the life and times of Johnny Martorano and his association with the thugs of the Winter Hill Gang. The gang, led by Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi, used murder, extortion and blackmail to gain traction and control crime in Boston in the late 1900's. As bad as they were (and they were plenty bad), of special note was their compromise of willing police and federal officials who aided and actively protected the gang in their every endeavor. FBI agents and police officers, whom we trust to protecting the public, became willing and even ambitious tools of the gang. Prompted by their unquenchable greed and total eagerness to be corrupted, they spared no effort to help, warn and protect Bulger and his cronies from every threat of public scrutiny, regardless of who led it, including agents of the so called free press. Working with their FBI helpers, Bulger et al murdered anyone who stood in their way and if they couldn't eliminate them with guns they framed them for jail including four petty crooks who served 30+ years of incarceration for a crime they didn't commit. During this time, Bulger and Flemmi protected themselves from federal authorities by becoming informants for the FBI, i.e. rats. Their reports helped the FBI eliminate the criminal competition and protect their own derrieres. While this was going on, there existed an environment of total corruption within government circles. "Jobs" were arranged via political influence and people were paid for not showing up for work. Being on the take and being crooked became a badge of honor. Corrupt police, federal and public officials retired from their jobs with pensions and were rewarded with well paying "security" positions with large public and private companies. For them, crime definitely paid. Howie Carr does an excellent job of describing the felony plagues world of Boston, often detailing events that help paint a vivid picture of this laughably sad and twisted situation. Hitman is an interesting read but leaves one disappointed and disillusioned with the depth of corruption in public life. It demonstrates depravity of these men, their many enablers and their acceptance by the body-politic. Hitman screams out the question: "if this happened 20-30 years ago, has the Boston situation changed? For that matter, is any city any different?" The assumed answer is no. One final word for the reader: Carr describes all the actors in this sordid tale...and there are a lot of them. Many have similar sounding names. The reader would do well to keep a written score card of who is who so as not to confuse the really bad guys from the abominable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was slow and reveals nothing new to the saga of the Boston Mob or police curruption
KristiK8507 More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My only qualms with Howie Carr's book is a tendency to want to make Johnny Martorano seem not so bad. As a family man, he was a great father and provider. But that doesn't discount he is also a killer -- and murdered a close friend of his, at that. The book is compelling, and doesn't gloss over the FBI corruption and its collateral damage in New England. It does get a little hard to follow because nobody can keep up with every single person mentioned, and I think in some places an overview is better. Less is more, you know? Otherwise, a very well written, riveting account from the perspective of The Hitman. I think it would be more honest to say the book is written from his perspective.
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AM_Donovan More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Johnny Martorano (Whitey Bulger’s hit man), his life story. But it is also the story of Jimmy “the Bear” the Bennett brothers, Stevie Flemmi, Nicky Femia, Barboza, Indian Al, and the entire history of the gang, mob, mafia wars of Boston from 1959 into the 90’s. This is a tale of bargains made with the other gangs, hits gone wrong (and right), informants, crooked cops, politicians and FBI agents. And it tells the story of how it all fell apart. As Johnny explains, it doesn’t count if you rat on a rat. And Whitey Bulger was a big rat. This doesn’t glamorize the Mafia, or the gangland battles, this book tells the truth frankly with no glossing over the details of the innocents accidently killed in botched (or successful) hits. Loyalty is a fleeting thing. In this world it can be a brief as the space between one sentence and the next. I received this book for review purposes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey Howie, you have to tell the full story. You left out the alleged son of Whitey Bulger in Woburn who was discarded by his prostitute mother ,written off to die with leukemia. Deal made with Feds, child lived but not never left alone. He suffers to this day being followed, phone tapped, strange calls, offers to fly him one way out of the United States, job opportunities thwarted, women sent to entice him to no good, video rental records seized and analyzed and physicians trying to commit him to a physicatrict hospital. This guy has a movie script that's gone to hollywood was under review, accepted by a major player, . then someone dropped a dime and it was all over.
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