A harsh critic of James "Whitey" Bulger, who had once been expected to testify against the gangster at his trial, was found dead in his home Wednesday, with no obvious signs of trauma on his body. There will be an autopsy on to determine the cause of death of Stephen Rakes, who was 59.
It's the latest strange twist in a decades-long story full of death, double-crossing, and mystery. In 1938, 8-year old Whitey Bulger moved into public housing in South Boston, known as Southie. He worked his way up in the local crime syndicate while his brother became a state senator and later president of the University of Massachusetts. Bulger, who may have committed as many as 40 murders, ran Southie for more than 25 years, then became a double-crossing FBI informant. Then he disappeared -- and lived undiscovered for 15 years in a Santa Monica apartment with his girlfriend. He was discovered in 2011, at age 82; now he's being tried in Boston for his alleged crimes.
One of the people who attended that trial regularly was Stephen "Stippo" Rakes. Rakes' liquor store was taken from him by Bulger and two of his associates, Steve Flemmi and Kevin Weeks. Rakes said the men had threatened to kill him.
“I’m pretty angry still about what happened close to 30 years ago, and I want to make sure Bulger gets justice," Rakes said in April 2012. "I’ll be satisfied when he’s in jail and never coming out.”
During the trial, Weeks took the stand and contradicted Rakes' account. “We didn’t go to him to buy the store, he came to us. So, it wasn’t like regular extortion.”
While the jury won't hear the whole story, people who read the book "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice" will. The book was written by award-winning Boston Globe reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, who had been covering Bulger for 30 years. "It's a terrific book," wrote David L. Ulin in our review.
Cullen and Murphy relate Rakes' story about how he lost his liquor store two-thirds of the way through the book:
"Whitey and Flemmi showed up at his house one night with Weeks, an old friend of the family. 'You've got a problem,' Whitey announced as soon as they sat down at the kitchen table. 'We were hired to kill you.' As if to underscore the point, Flemmi pulled a .38 from his coat and slapped it down on the table. Whitey said that there were people who didn't like Rakes undercutting their prices.
"'I've got a better deal,' Whitey told him. 'We're going to buy the store.'
"'It's not for sale,' Rakes replied.
"Whitey realized that Rakes hadn't heard what he was really saying. 'I'll [expletive] kill you,' Whitey explained. 'You don't know how lucky you are.'"
It didn't end there. Cullen and Murphy's book continues, "At that point, Rakes' one-year-old daughter, Meredith, wandered into the kitchen. Flemmi reached down and picked her up and put her on his lap. The little girl reached for the gun and spun it around, like a toy. Flemmi touseled her hair and smirked at Rakes, who sat mortified. 'You wouldn't want your daughter to grow up without a father, would you?' Flemmi asked. Whitey was smirking too. He clicked his switchblade, letting the blade flash open and then recoil. He did it over and over, letting Rakes think it over. 'Here,' Whitey said, tossing a brown paper bag stuffed with sixty-seven thousand dollars. 'Now we own the liquor store.' He had soon renamed it the South Boston Liquor Mart."
Rakes' wife appealed to a family member in the Police Department, who contacted John Connolly at the FBI -- who, unfortunately for the Rakeses, was complicit with Bulger, using him as a witness while accepting gifts and bribes from him.
Rakes had hoped to recount all of this to the jury. "He said he wanted to get up there and tell his side of the story," Tommy Donahue, son of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue, told the Associated Press. Instead, the book "Whitey Bulger" is where the story was fully told.