Stephen Rakes, a Boston man with a long-standing grudge against Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, was found dead yesterday, just one day after being told he wouldn't get his chance to testify against his nemesis in court. The body was found on Wednesday, near a walking path in the town of Lincoln, Massachusetts, with "no obvious signs" of foul play, though the cause of death has not been officially determined.
According to ABC News, police told the Rakes family that the death appears to be a suicide, a theory that was initially disputed by friends and family who said he was eager to testify against Bulger in court. However, The Boston Globe reported that on Tuesday of this week, prosecutors told Rakes he would not be testifying, robbing him of the chance to take his revenge on the man who he says ruined his life. Rakes had reportedly been a constant presence in the courtroom since the trial began on June 12.
Rakes has claimed for several years that Bulger and two of his associates stole his successful liquor store away from him nearly 30 years ago, by forcing Rakes to sell it to them at gunpoint, in front of his infant daughter. Here's how he described the incident to The Boston Globe in 2001.
Bulger and his accomplices came to the Rakes home one night and told Rakes that rival liquor store owners and hired the gunmen to kill him. They offered to spare Rakes' life and buy his store away from him instead:
Bulger was furious when Rakes said it wasn’t for sale. “He was shooting me with his eyes, bullet-piercing eyes. He scared the hell out of me and everything was a threat: I’ll [expletive] kill you. You don’t know how lucky you are.”
The conversation moved to the kitchen, where [Stephen] Flemmi pulled 1-year-old Meredith Rakes onto his lap. Rakes, crying at the memory, recalled the helplessness and horror he felt.
“He puts a gun on the table and looks at me, like, `What are you going to do?’ “ said Rakes. His daughter, meanwhile, dressed in pink and yellow pajamas, was innocently “spinning the gun around, like it was a toy.”
Flemmi ruffled the child’s blond hair, Rakes recalled, and smirked, “Would you like to have your daughter grow up without a father?”
Bulger sat on a chair next to Rakes, clicking a switchblade....
Rakes says the men gave him $67,000 for the whole business, but continued to threaten him with death if he ever reported it to the police. Rakes twice testified in court that he sold the store to Bulger voluntarily and said that even after Bulger went on the lam in 1995, the gangster came back to Boston to scare him again. Rakes once even ran down a subway tunnel (and was nearly electrocuted to death) because he thought one of Bulger's accomplices had come to kill him.
During this current trial, one of the men involved in the extortion incident testified that Rakes was the one who tried to shake them down, agreeing to sell them the store, but then trying to extract more money from them at the last minute. According to a friend, the chance to refute that testimony was another reason Rakes was so eager to appear in court.
Rakes eventually turned on Bulger and began cooperating with the FBI, who he later sued, claiming they worked to protect Bulger (as one of their informants) and not him. One of the other men involved in the extortion incident, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, is scheduled to testify against Bulger today.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.