Gangsta guilt trip
Even the loathsome Stephen Flemmi was loath to see a picture of the skull of Debbie Hussey.
“I don’t want to see that,” the man who murdered for a living said, turning his head away from the macabre remains of a beauty he raised from the time she was a toddler as his own daughter, then molested when she was a teenager, and then helped kill when she was 26.
Jurors stared at the skull of Debbie, who grew up calling Flemmi “Daddy.”
“Do you remember how many teeth you pulled out of your stepdaughter’s mouth?” Whitey Bulger’s tart defense lawyer, Hank Brennan, asked Flemmi, Whitey’s old partner in killing, ratting and womanizing who is now the star witness against Whitey.
The 79-year-old Flemmi replied that he had been “in a semi-traumatic state” and on a “guilt trip” during the murder. Whitey nicknamed Stevie “Dr. Mengele,” because extracting identifying teeth was his specialty.
The bodies have piled up in this trial, men, women and teenagers killed accidentally or vengefully in the ’70s and ’80s, often for the flimsiest of reasons. There is even a new body, a man who was at one point scheduled to testify against Whitey who died here last week under suspicious circumstances.
Yet, as Kevin Cullen, a Boston Globe columnist, told me, “Debbie Hussey might be the saddest case of all.” Cullen co-wrote the compelling chronicle of the Winter Hill gang, “Whitey Bulger.”
“I think the most interesting thing about Whitey and Stevie was their obsession with women,” Cullen said. “They could never have enough of them. They kept very tangled domestic situations, with common-law wives and girlfriends on the side. Their domestic lives were more complicated than their criminal lives.”
Indeed, the emotional core of this case concerns women. The federal government is wasting all this money proving what we already know, that Bulger, 83, is a misogynist and rat, because he is determined to beat back the contentions that he was an FBI informant and killed women — anathema to the Irish mobster code he supposedly lived by.
The first woman was Debbie Davis, a sexy blond girlfriend of Flemmi. Flemmi made the mistake of mentioning his FBI handler to her, but she had to pay for his slip.
The second was Debbie Hussey. At 25, Flemmi moved in with Debbie’s 19-year-old mother, Marion. They had three kids, and he raised Debbie as his own. When she was 12, she saved Flemmi’s 9-year-old son from a riptide in Montauk. Flemmi started molesting Debbie in “her early teens,” according to the authors of “Whitey Bulger,” and, after that, she fell into using drugs and working in the Combat Zone, a red-light district. Whitey, a violent opponent of Boston busing, and Stevie were furious that she had been bringing black men (described in court as “clients”) to the family home for sex, Whitey told their protégé, Kevin Weeks.
“Is it hard for you to accept the fact that you strangled somebody who sat on your knee as a little girl?” Brennan asked a fuming Flemmi.
You could see the thought bubble over Flemmi’s head: “Can I whack this guy now, Your Honor?”
Brennan asked Flemmi about the unholy relationship with his “daughter.”
“Stepdaughter,” Flemmi primly corrected. He asked Brennan why he couldn’t focus more on “the positive things,” like when he gave her money to go away.
Asked by Brennan if he understood that his incestuous relationship was wrong, Flemmi replied, “Probably. Not really. No. Because the fact of the matter was, she was a different person in my eyes” once she began her “different lifestyle.”
Flemmi contended there were only two instances of “consensual” oral sex once she turned 17 (“17 and a half, almost 18”) but conceded it was “an indiscretion.”
He and Whitey prided themselves on being a cut above other wiseguys because they did not succumb to weaknesses like overdrinking and overeating — they once looked disdainfully at an FBI agent who kept refilling his glass with red wine. But Flemmi admitted on the stand that he had shown “weakness” with Hussey. Then he tried to drag in Whitey, saying righteously: “He had a young girl, 16 years old, he took to Mexico. That’s a violation of the Mann Act.” (The Mann Act was the least of their problems.) Nodding toward Bulger later, he said, “You want to talk about pedophilia — right over there at that table.”
Like Debbie Davis, Debbie Hussey had to pay. Once more, Flemmi noted sullenly that Whitey had “coerced” him. Without irony, Flemmi declaimed, “There’s never any justification for murder,” adding that if Whitey had just said “four little letters p-a-s-s,” he would have been “so happy.”
Flemmi took Debbie Hussey out shopping at the mall and then lured her to her death in a house that Whitey dubbed “The Haunty,” because of the bodies they had buried in the basement. Flemmi said Whitey choked the young woman — it didn’t take long because she was “very fragile” — and dragged her down the stairs in 1985, just as he had with Debbie Davis in 1981.
“I’m not a doctor,” Flemmi said, “but she looked dead to me; she felt dead to me; she was dead.” He added, “Dead, period.”
Nonetheless, he told Whitey to “Let her pray.” She was, after all, his little girl.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.