James "Whitey" Bulger in 1985 strangled the stepdaughter of a top associate, a "fragile" woman who had begun throwing the gangsters' names around, according to testimony at the mobster's federal trial on Monday.
Bulger's longtime sidekick Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi told jurors his stepdaughter, Deborah Hussey, was killed by Bulger after she began using drugs and carelessly dropping their names in public. He said Bulger took a nap after killing Hussey, who was the second woman Flemmi said he watched Bulger strangle.
Flemmi said Bulger feared Hussey, who was using their names to extract money from low-level gang members, could draw unwanted attention to his Winter Hill gang.
Flemmi said he and Bulger tried to convince Hussey to leave town. When she refused, Bulger strangled her in a South Boston house, according the Flemmi, who was there.
"It didn't take long. She was a very fragile woman," said Flemmi, who is now 79.
Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders he has confessed to, is a key witness in the trial of Bulger on charges related to 19 murders the mob boss is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and '80s.
Last Friday, Flemmi testified that Bulger strangled another woman, Debra Davis, a girlfriend of Flemmi's who Bulger feared might talk to authorities.
Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges, although his attorney has admitted the 83-year-old defendant was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark, in other words an "organized criminal."
Flemmi, the only witness among Bulger's closest associates who is still imprisoned, acknowledged under cross-examination that he had had a sexual relationship with Hussey.
"This little girl who would call you 'Daddy' is the same girl you would start abusing sexually a decade later?" defense attorney Henry Brennan asked Flemmi.
Flemmi responded that his sexual relationship with Hussey was consensual.
He said that Bulger went upstairs to take a nap after strangling Hussey, and left Flemmi and another gang member to carry the body down to the house basement and dispose of it. Flemmi said Bulger often took naps after murdering people.
"Maybe he was physically exhausted from it, I don't know," Flemmi said. "Maybe he would get high on it."
Flemmi and the associate dug a hole in a section of the basement that had a dirt floor and buried Hussey's body there. Flemmi said he first removed the woman's clothes and some of her teeth, to make it harder to identify they body if it were found.
Hussey was not the first person the gang killed in the house and buried in its dirt basement floor, Flemmi recalled.
Two years before strangling Hussey, Bulger killed another gangster in the house, Flemmi said. He said Bulger shot Arthur "Bucky" Barrett in the head as he walked down the basement stairs with Bulger and Flemmi.
"I didn't know he was going to shoot him, because I was right in front of him, in the line of fire," Flemmi said. "The body hit me and we both fell down the stairs ... I was angry with him (Bulger), I said, 'You could have shot me.'"
Flemmi recalled pulling Barrett's teeth from his head with a pair of dental pliers.
"I only took a few out. I just couldn't do it fully," Flemmi said. He agreed with prosecutor Fred Wyshak that the extractions were a "gruesome task."
Prosecutors say Bulger gave a corrupt FBI agent from his old Irish-American neighborhood information about the Italian mafia, and that the agent in turn turned a blind eye to Bulger's own criminal activity. Bulger and his lawyers have vigorously denied the contention that he ever was an informant.
Witnesses at the trial have recalled an era when Bulger and his cronies routinely shook down bookies, drug dealers and business owners, threatening them with machine guns and burying victims in basements of houses and along the shore.
Bulger fled after a 1994 tip from a corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent. He was finally captured after 16 years on the run. His story inspired the 2006 film "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.
Flemmi recalled on Monday how he too had been tipped off but did not expect the FBI to move so quickly: "The day I was leaving was the day I got arrested."