Key witness in Boston mobster trial mysteriously found dead on side of road

Ariel Cohen Contributor
Font Size:

Even while in the midst of a multi-week investigative trial, it seems Boston’s most notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger still can make things, and people, disappear.

The victim, 59-year-old Stephen Rakes, was on the government’s witness list to testify against Bulger in court when he was mysteriously found dead on Wednesday afternoon. His body was found on the side of a road in Lincoln, nearly 30 miles from his home.

Although the body showed no signs of trauma, state police are conducting an investigation and an autopsy.

Bulger, a gangster from South Boston, has been on trial for the past six week. Although he carried out most criminal activity in the 1970’s and 1980’s, he wasn’t arrested until 2011. By then, he was wanted for 19 counts of murder, extortion and loan sharking.

Rakes claimed that Bulger held him at gunpoint, threatening him and his young daughter to sell the store below value so he could turn it into a mob front.

Bulger “took everything” from Rakes that day, who later said, “The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better.”

Last week, another witness, former Bulger associate Kevin Weeks, testified that Rakes exaggerated his story. According to Weeks, Rakes had actually wanted to sell his shop and went on to extort Bulger for as much money as possible, thus causing the confrontation where the gun was pulled.

Rakes was reportedly upset earlier this week when the prosecution told him he would not be testifying in the case, taking away his chance to prove himself.

In a 1998 case regarding Bulger, Rakes was impugned and charged with lying to a grand jury. But, Rakes claimed that at the time he was too afraid for his life to tell the truth, so he was relieved of his sentence.

In the aftermath of Rakes’ mysterious death, the trial continued forward on Thursday in Boston federal court, with testimonies by Bulger’s top lieutenant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Flemmi reportedly mouthed an expletive at Bulger from the witness box. This was the first time the former co-conspirators had sen each other in nearly ten years. Flemmi is currently serving a life sentence, whereas Bulger has been on the lam.

Was Mr. Bulger an informant?” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak asked in court.

Flemmi replied that he was.

“What was the nature of your relationship?” Wyshak asked.

“Strictly criminal,” Flemmi said.

Flemmi detailed how he pleaded guilty to counts of money laundering, extortion, perjury and murder, as a part of a deal that would allow him to avoid the death penalty. When detailing a certain murder, Flemmi said, “I stepped off the side of a building and shot him. I shot him six times.”

When lawyers asked Flemmi to explain how he and Bulger gave information about the mafia and other criminal organizations to FBI agents, The “Rifleman” explained that he and Bulger were top-level government informants from 1975 to 1990.

According to a previous testimony, Bulger believed that being a “rat” was the worst thing anyone could do.

But during his Friday testimony, Flemmi continued to squeal on his once partner-in-crime. The “Rifleman” explained, in gruesome detail, how he and Bulger together carried out the murder of Flemmi’s then girlfriend, Debra Davis, in 1981.

Flemmi admitted that he didn’t want to kill his girlfriend, but Bulger thought she knew too much about their criminal activity.

“I’ll take care of it,” Bulger allegedly told Flemmi.

Bulger, who knew Flemmi didn’t have the heart to kill his girlfriend, lured Davis into an empty house in South Boston. Flemmi watched as Bulger strangled Davis and dragged her down a flight of stairs until she stopped breathing.

Flemmi then wrapped his dead girlfriend in a tarp and brought her corpse down to the Neponsit River at dark. He buried her body as Bulger sat and watched on.

Flemmi told the court that the incident “is going to affect me until the day I die.” One juror supposedly shed a tear.

“The Rifleman” will likely return to the witness stand on Monday to finish up his testimony.

This story has been updated. 

Follow Ariel on Twitter

Tags : boston
Ariel Cohen