Howard Louis "Howie" Carr, Jr. is an American journalist, author, and conservative radio talk-show host based in Boston with a listening audience rooted in New England.
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I am the New York Times best-selling author of The Brothers Bulger and Hitman, which chronicle Boston mobsters, dirty lawmen and corrupt politicians. I am a columnist for the Boston Herald and I host a radio show that is broadcast on more than 25 stations throughout New England.
My latest book, Killers, is a novel that explores the post-Whitey Boston underworld. It's a page-turner for people who like crime thrillers. The anti- hero Bench McCarthy is a stone cold killer.
Wow, front page, thanks everyone!
Still waiting for Bernie Sanders, the God Father of Reddit, to have the courage to come on my show. I will post audio if/when Bernie has the courage talk with me.
Is it true the movie downplayed his rage and propensity for violence?
No spoilers please. Going to see the movie today.
No, he's portrayed as the violent thug that he was. "Mostly intimidation," that was his job, according to Johnny Martorano. But everything was compressed. He killed a lot more people than he did in the movie. A lot more. Real quote from corrupt FBI agent John Morris: "You have no idea how dangerous he is."
Are you concerned at all that the film release will encourage retaliation against you?
No. The gang is defunct. Most of the remaining gang members have more to fear from ho-hos and twinkies than from gangland gats.
Do you think Johnny Depp portrayed him in an accurate way? Not necessarily the accuracy of the film itself, but the way he played the character
Yeah, absolutely. Richie Castucci, an FBI informant shortly before he was murdered by FBI informants Whitey and Flemmi, said in an FBI report that Whitey was an "animal" and that he had taken over collections from Howie Winter because Howie was always giving people a pass on debts. Once in Dedham, MA, in a crowded bar, Whitey threatened to chop off a guys penis and stuff it in his mouth. Dick O'Brien, a bookie who just died, used to bring his wayward bookies to Whitey's garage in the west end. When they would leave after Whitey lectured them, Dick would ask them where they wanted to be dropped off. They invariably replied, "The nearest barroom." Depp captured this murderous insanity in several scenes.
What inspired you to expose James "Whitey" Bulger?
I saw the power that his brother, Billy Bulger, had at the State House as Senate President. And I began to do a little research. I quoted the mayor of Boston as saying, "If my brother threatened to kill you, you'd be nothing but nice to me." After that, I started getting death threats from Whitey. When somebody threatens to kill you, it concentrates the mind wonderfully, as Dr. Johnson might say.
What was it like writing Hitman, considering your co-author was admitted serial killer Johnny Martorano?
Johnny is a very genial companion. I did a lot of the interviewing in the Boston Herald newsroom on Sunday mornings and as one of my co-workers, Laurel Sweet, said, "If only he wasn't so likable."
When you say killed there are you referring to him doing the killing himself, or are you adding to it the people he ordered killed (or even those killed by members of his organization whether he explicitly ordered it or not?)
I would say, all of the above. When the Winter Hill gang was hunting down Indian Joe's crew in the early 70's, when they were working as hitmen for the Mafia, Whitey was the driver of the "crash car." He followed behind the main hit car. If a cop car began pursuing the hit car, his job was to crash into the cop car and disable it. That makes him just as guilty of murder.
On Atlantic Ave, by the way, Martorano, et al, were shooting at the front window of the victim's car. Whitey was directly behind and was almost struck by the hail of machine gun bullets. Again, too bad they missed.
How tied was Billy to Whitey, in terms of illegal activities or knowing what Whitey was doing and not contacting the police, etc?
Well, he took the phone call from Whitey after he (Whitey) went on the lam in 1995. (Eddie Phillips, the Senate door-opener who owned the house where the call came in, just died at age 72. The joke was, Billy liked Eddie because he was one of the very few guys at the State House who was shorter than the 65" tall Corrupt Midget, Billy Bulger.) State Trooper at Logan Airport who stopped Whitey from taking 50gs in cash out of the country was booted out of his plum assignment after he refused to turn over a report to a Dukakis aide. St Police Lt. Col. who put a bug in Whitey's garage would have been force to retire via outside section inserted anonymously into state budget (Gov. King vetoed the rider). Billy asked new mayor Ray Flynn to make gangster FBI agent Zip Connolly Boston Police commissioner. (A shocked Flynn turned him down.) Before Congress, Billy said he sometimes stopped Whitey on his "madcap adventures", like planning to kill a guy who was planning to run against Billy. I could go on...
What is your view on the current state of organized crime in Boston?
Have you been reading about the Teamster indictments? Check out my column about that here. The president of Local 25 is a thug. And the FBI once grabbed 50 grand out of his father's house. One of the indicted Teamster thugs is named Fidler, a coke dealer and armored car-robbing gang associate. His father or grandfather was Suitcase Fidler, mentioned in passing in Black Mass, and discussed in somewhat greater length in the congressional report on FBI corruption in Boston. If you want to Google it, "Everything Secret Degenerates". Check Feb 13, 1970: Suitcase and another Winter Hill hitman are sent to California by the mafia to kill mob rat Joe Barbosa. So the tradition continues to this day in less organized fashion.
How has covering the story changed your career? Would you consider that the most dangerous story you've covered.
Absolutely. I've been audited repeatedly by the state and by the feds. Democrats and Republicans. You don't get death threats when you cover the Fake Indian, Elizabeth Warren, or Ted Kennedy running his yacht aground on Cape Cod.
Hi Howie. It is well known within my family that my biological grandfather was a Boston police officer who worked secretly for Whitey Bulger for a long time. He died long before I was born and I don't know much about him other than that his last name is Maffie. I'd have to do some digging to find out his exact precinct or rank. One tidbit about this that I managed to get from my grandmother was that every christmas my grandfather would take my Mom and her brothers to a giant warehouse filled with toys and expensive items and they were allowed to pick out whatever they wanted for Christmas. Does this sound plausible to you? It is a well known fact in my family but I always question whether it was legit or not. I know for sure that he was a Boston cop though.
As Whitey used to say, Christmas is for cops and kids. Sounds plausible. Are you related to the mastermind of the brinks robbery, Jazz Maffie?
Kevin weeks did an interview recently where he said that Johnny Depp's portrayal was all wrong and that Whitey never spoke that way to his colleagues or associates(?). Is that not true? The way you explain it makes it sound like he was portrayed correctly and was actually that volatile
I responded to Kevin Two Weeks in my own Daily Beast column here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/23/whitey-bulger-wanted-me-dead.html
As I also mentioned, Two Weeks is not the only derogatory nickname he has. He's also known as Kevin Squeaks. When Whitey screwed, he tried to keep the rackets going. He went over to Somerville, hometown of the hitman in Killers, and the coke dealers beat the shit of him, gave a beer 'n' a beatin' as Billy Bulger used to say on St. Patrick's Day.
That aside, Squeaks is absolutely correct. Whitey would have never talked like that to Martorano. I said that in my column days before Two Weeks did. The first time Whitey ever met Johnny, he went to his bar on Columbus Ave. in the South End in 1972 and asked Johnny to get Howie Winter to intervene to save his life. The young, more numerous Mullens gang was looking to kill him, as they'd already killed Billy O'Sullivan. I go into all of this in my book, Hitman, but O'Sullivan had just opened an after hours joint in Uphams Corner and on opening night Johnny shot a guy in the head. O'Sullivan had to shut the place down. Therefore, Johnny owed O'Sullivan big time for wrecking his place. Billy O, as he was known, told Whitey, "If anything happens to me, you can call in the chit with Johnny," which Whitey did. Johnny was not his underling. He was the senior partner in the gang, along with Howie Winter. Getting back to Black Mass, the whole scene about the peanuts is actually based on a guy named Nick Femia, a former Joe Barbosa associate who became a drug addict and went to work for Whitey.
To digress yet again, he was a major suspect in the Blackfriars Massacre on Summer St. in 1978 -- five people, including a Channel 7 reporter not named Howie Carr, murdered in a cash-and-cocaine ripoff. When Femia went to work for Whitey, Whitey had Zip Connolly, the FBI agent, write a 209 (an FBI report) saying Femia really didn't kill all those people at Blackfriars. Femia used to walk down to the McDonald's on Causeway St. across from the Garden and buy fries, which Whitey hated. One time, he actually grabbed the fries out of Femia's hands and began throwing them at the fat thug. A few weeks later he "fired" Femia from the gang, and dictated a new report to Zip: Femia was involved in the Blackfriars Massacre after all.
Martorano has been telling people, it's too bad Nicky didn't pull out a gun when Whitey grabbed his fries and shoot him, it would have saved us all a lot of trouble.
How was Whitey Bulger able to maintain his relationship with the FBI for so long with no one taking him down? The movie portrays it as all Connolly's doing, was that really the case?
He had six of the agents in the Boston office on his personal payroll. Through the state budget, Billy had major clout with private sector employers, including utilities. Remember, FBI mandatory retirement age was 50 then. They needed jobs. When Zip Connolly retired and became security chief for then-Boston Edison, he succeeded an ex-FBI agent and was in turn himself succeeded by another ex-Boston FBI agent. That's why Zip always took the new SAC's to Billy's St. Patrick Day breakfast -- to show how much clout the Bulgers had.
Did you ever meet or see Whitey in person?
I saw him almost everyday in mid to late 1980s because I had to drive by the liquor store on my way between jobs. I never went in the liquor store for obvious reasons. But Stevie Flemmi, Whitey's partner and fellow FBI informant, told me later that, "Whitey was always talking about you." My editor in New York just told me that Johnny Martorano told him my life really was in danger back then. I did speak to Billy though.
Which is worse, being targeted by the powers that be or being targeted by the mob?
Tough question to answer... Both are bad but in different ways. The mob is a blue collar problem. The government is white collar. I have learned to try to live by the motto of Johnny Torrio, Al Capone's mentor in the Chicago outfit: "We don't want any trouble." I gave that motto to my hitman in Killers, Bench McCarthy.
Haha .. actually yes oddly enough. I don't know the exact relation but he's supposedly ~~my grandfathers uncle~~ (Edit: this turned out to not be true. I did some digging and found out that my grandfather definitely knew him personally, and told my uncle that he was a third cousin, not sure if this is true or just something he said to my uncle. More research is required). The only thing I know about him was that he was played by an actor in a movie where he said "Jazz Maffies not for sale!" Or something like that. Sorry it took me so long to respond!
Edit: in an even more peculiar coincidence, my last name is also Carr.
Edit: I have more information on my grandfather. His full name was Ed Maffie. He died of cancer, and when he was sick he was a trainer at the boston police academy.
Edit3: whats wild is that this isn't even the only crazy crime story from that part of my family. My step Grandpa, the one who I grew up with, was a low level bookie for Rhode Island mobsters. He married my gma after my biological Grandpa died. He used to tell me stories about how they had paper that disolved immediately in water, and when the police raided them a metal brace would come down and secure the door so they could destroy the books before the cops broke in. He ended up fleeing to Texas(which is where my mom met my dad.. soo thanks Mafia!)after his step son was killed by the mafia for stealing money from them. They left the money with the body to show it was about principles. I found all this out after watching an ~~episode of unsolved mysteries~~ (Edit: this is also incorrect. It was a local news broadcast in Cape Cod where I saw it. I could have sworn it was unsolved mysteries but my dad tells me I'm misremembering)... until that moment I had been kept in the dark about this part of my families history. This is when I first learned of my Grandfather, and Jazz Maffie as well.
I'll look him up at the Herald archive on Sunday. Shoot an email to my producer (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll get to the bottom of this, Mr. Carr, if possible. I believe Peter Falk played the role in the movie.
Was Ray Liotta too busy for Whiteys role? Seems like they put a ton of make up on Johnny just to make him look like Ray Liotta with blue eyes.
Listen, he's dead ringer. I used to see Whitey every day outside that liquor store staring at me. Depp got it, just from studying those state police surveillance videos outside the Lancaster Street garage.
Well in fairness you have the current Secretary of State John Kerry who sat in at plenty of Billy's breakfasts. You had GhwB getting Billy to back him after the breakfast Dukakis didnt show to and then GhwB trouncing Dukakis. This is why the Bush administration blocked the investigation of Bulger until threatened with contempt.
There are some extremely powerful politicians who owe a lot to Billy Bulger and just want this story to go away.
All true. I have a picture in Brothers Bulger of Kerry at the last St. Patrick's Day breakfast. He's wearing a campaign button for Billy Jr., who was trying to win his father's seat. He was crushed by now-Congressman Steve Lynch. Ted Kennedy went to the breakfasts too, as did Bill Weld, the governor who was elected in 1990, basically running against the Bulgers. The GOP was in this up to their eye-balls, too. How do you think Billy got the first presidential debate in 2000 for UMass Boston when he was president of the college. Of course, a little of the luster was taken off the rose by the fact that if you looked out the window where the debate was held, you could see the cops digging up the bodies of Whitey's victims buried under the Neponset Bridge. (They pulled the curtains.)
How did Whitey Bulger try to murder you and how has that impacted your life since?
Kevin Weeks, Whitey's 300-lb Fredo, has expanded the story more than he's expanded his waistline over the last fifteen years. First they just knew where I lived, then they were going to put a little C4 in a basketball and blow me up, then they were going to shoot me from a graveyard across the street from my house. Lately, Weeks has been saying they were going to use 40 lbs of C4 that they got from a crooked FBI agent to kill me. That FBI agent is still alive, by the way, and he's even fatter than Kevin Weeks.
There seems to be somewhat of a discrepancy as to whether or not Whitey actually was an informant, the film appeared to downplay that, save one scene, do you believe Whitey was cooperating or was the cooperation a plant by the FBI in order to break up the gang?
He was a RAT! From 1960 on, he ratted out the members of his own bank-robbing gang. His protector in prison was House Speaker John McCormack of Southie. Billy was with the McCormacks in politics. McCormack got Zip Connolly on the FBI by writing a letter to his pal, J. Edgar Hoover in 1968. Two years later, in 1970, McCormack was retiring and, in what appears to be one of J. Edgar's final favors to Mr. Speaker, he instructed the Boston office to recruit Whitey as an informant, even though he was a small timer handling afternoon dog bets at wonderland. This revisionist history about him not being an informant is utter BS. The feds introduced 900 plus pages of his rat work at trial.
When is a movie about you coming out and who would play you? I'd rather hear your story than that of a child raping mass murderer.
Thanks... A few years ago a guy in Hollywood bought the option to Brothers Bulger. He wanted to make it a long form cable TV drama, like Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire. They want a 3-year "story arc" and it was easy to put together from true incidence in Brothers Bulger and some of my other books. But he never could sell it. I hope Netflix is paying attention... I still have his number.
How do you think he was able to stay hidden for so long? I can't even hide from my ex girlfriend
Good question. I think the lesson here is, if you spend thirty years establishing false identities and putting several million dollars cash in safety deposit boxes around the world, and then the FBI gives you an 18-month head start, during which time they don't even ask the woman you've been traveling with what your aliases are, chances are the trail is going to go a little cold. I'm not suggesting this, but Whitey did have a way of dealing with, if not his own ex-girl friends, Stevie's...
hey invariably replied, "The nearest barroom." Depp captured this murderous insanity in several scenes.
Can someone explain this?
Whitey scared them so badly they needed a drink. Another story from the garage: One of O'Brien's bookies wanted to quit the rackets. O'Brien brought him in for a chat with Whitey. The guy told Bulger, I want to get a second job. Whitey said, Really? You know I have a second job, too. What's that, asked the bookie. "I kill people," he said.
Have you noticed any changes in radio or dealing with publishers nowadays?
Neither publishing nor radio are what they used to be. Nor, for that matter, are newspapers or TV. Everybody is basically a freelancer now. I'd rather publish my own books, because I have platform to sell them on with my radio show. And, by the way, I own my radio show now. There aren't anymore safety nets.
When you say "tried", do you mean threatened or did you actually have to fight for your life in a confrontation?
I saw the movie, I'm surprised there wasn't more on how you helped expose him.
The movie was only 2 hours long. Bulger's reign of terror spanned 40 years. There weren't all that many fist fights. They carried guns. For more on the plot against me, check out the 60-minutes interview Kevin Weeks, Whitey's grave-digger, did.
As a Dedhamite, I have always wondered about this scene in the Departed:
"You take off at the Dedham mall with an armored truck..."
Do you know if this is loosely based on anything that happened at the Dedham Mall that involved Boston organized crime?
Can you think of any other stories that involve Dedham and Boston organized crime?
Thanks for doing the AMA. I read RATMAN this summer on the beach next to my uncle who went to Catholic Memorial when he was a kid. It was fun name dropping some of the people mentioned in the book and seeing if my uncle knew of them.
I think Martorano dumped Tony Veranis' body in Dedham after shooting him in the head. The thug he was with dropped his wallet next to the body. They had to drive back and pick it up. (The wallet, not the body.) Talk about risky...
Is there anything not in the movie or well known about the whole thing that you would like to say?
I understand the limitations of a Hollywood film, but it would have been nice to see a little bit more about Billy Bulger and what happened to the people, not just cops, who crossed Whitey Bulger. For instance, one guy, John E. Powers, the first Democrat State Senate President since the Civil War, also from South Boston, later got a court house job and was Whitey's boss when he had a no-show job at the court house in Pemberton Square. Powers fired Whitey, saying a gangster shouldn't have the keys to the DAs office. When Billy became Senate President, Powers and his top assistants had their pay frozen in the state budget for at least 5 years. This is what Judge Daher meant when he told a reporter how balless Mike Dukakis was when he was running for president in 1988: "How can he stand up to the Russians when he can't stand up to a corrupt midget?" I'd like to have seen more of that in the movie. But again, that's why a long form dramatic TV series would have been a more appropriate vehicle. (Are you listening, Netflix?)
Is Bulger still involved with organized crime? Does he have any pull from prison?
No, but I think he's probably a big man on campus at his current lock-up in Sumterville, Florida. That's the worst thing about this movie, that it no doubt increases Whitey's stature in the can. Note, however, that his galpal Catherine Greig was just indicted again for refusing to tell what she knows about where he stashed his money. He must still have millions out there. They found safe deposit boxes in Montreal, London, Dublin and Clearwater, Fla. Think how many more there must be.
Sorry for my ignorance here, but what triggered the audits ? Are you saying the mafia have connections at that level of government where they can "reach in" and have you investigated as a form of harassment ? Or is it more that because you're "associating" with these criminals they are auditing you to see if you are a criminal as well ?
The first audit was done by the feds when Reagan was president, after I printed some grand jury testimony that tended to exculpate my state representative from Winter Hill, who was charged with attempted extortion. Later Mike Dukakis threw a state audit at me. Since then I've been audited repeatedly by the feds. Might have something to do with my, er, political views...
If you were ever to meet Whitey in person what would you say to him?
I say, "Whitey, I'm a free man and you're gonna die in prison. You thought you were so smart, but all the people you tried to screw, not just me, but everybody else, the Martoranos, Pat Nee, Howie Winter, we're all walking around, and you're not."
Just how involved/active are you in Boston-based mob social circles? I used to read your articles when I worked at the Herald and it always came across as humble bragging or like you were playing up minor interactions to be more than they were. Were you in fact doing that for the sake of the articles or were you downplaying the reality to protect your sources?
I was just trying to write a good column. Sometimes I did like to play with their heads, like when Zip Connolly was outed for giving his first ex-wife a diamond ring that the Winter Hill gang gave him. I rode down in the elevator with him and asked him, "What's your favorite Gary Lewis and the Playboys song, Zip?"
Everybody Loves a Clown, She's Just My Style, Save Your Heart For Me? The elevator doors open... And I say to him, "Or is it, This Diamond Ring!" He ran out to the microphones and starting screaming, literally, that he was innocent. That was the lede to my column the next day, The Elevator Story. And as my witnesses I had two other reporters on the elevator, one of whom was Dick Lehr, author of Black Mass.
Which chowder do you think is the best: New England, Manhattan or Rhode Island?
When is the last time you went to the Big E?
I was at the Big E last week. Had a blast. As always.
New England, obviously, although I insist that no flour be added. If a spoon can stand up in the chowder, it has been adulterated. Rhode Island chowder is not bad, but I was weaned on the Maine variety. Manhattan chowder -- an abomination!