The Martyrdom of John Connolly
At the time he was assigned the case, Durham, a slightly built career prosecutor, looked like the late comedian Wally Cox with a comb-over. At a press conference in October 2000, I asked Durham if he would pursue other compromised FBI agents. Durham said he would, but cautioned that the statute of limitations for some crimes might prevent him from bringing charges.
Whatever he found, though, he would account for in an official report. Another journalist asked when this report would be turned in. Durham said three to four months. In the spring of 2001, I asked Durham where the report was. He just smiled in response. In May 2002, after Connolly’s conviction, Durham held another press conference. "Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise," he said. I asked what happened to his report, his promised full accounting. No answer.
Eight years later, Durham has yet to make good on his vow. From 2000 onward I have tried to secure an answer from Durham by phone or letter. He has never responded. (And efforts to reach him for this piece were unsuccessful.)
Four state and local cops, and ex-agent Bob Fitzpatrick, have told me they were each interviewed by Durham’s team. Each laid out evidence of wrongdoing by FBI agents in the Boston office, along with names of those who could corroborate their statements. But in every case, the cops say, the account of the interview submitted to Durham’s office (which the cops got to see) routinely failed to note their most serious allegations.
After Connolly, Durham never prosecuted another FBI agent. The state police–DEA team had developed all but one of the major witnesses Durham used to convict Connolly; its members were convinced they had enough evidence to nail other wayward agents. They expected Durham to push forward. "Don’t tell me some other FBI supervisors couldn’t be held accountable," says retired state police Colonel Tom Foley, who led the team. "There were a number of areas where [Durham and his investigators] could have gone farther than they did." Foley’s team and the prosecutors they worked with say Durham is a company man who knew his assignment: Convict Connolly and contain the damage.
During Connolly’s 2002 trial, Durham relied heavily on a witness the state police and DEA had warned him against: Frank Salemme, the don of the New England Mafia. Durham had first turned to Salemme in late 1999, as the statute of limitations for Connolly’s alleged crimes was running out. Salemme, who’d been arrested in 1995 in the same racketeering case targeting Flemmi and Bulger, agreed to testify that Connolly tipped off the three of them about their impending indictments, so they could skip town.
But the state police–DEA team believed Salemme had lied about murders he’d committed, and therefore shouldn’t be trusted as any sort of witness. Tom Foley says he and federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak told Durham of Salemme’s falsehoods and strongly advised him against using Salemme at Connolly’s trial.
Durham went ahead anyway. During courtroom testimony, Salemme denied his role in several murders. After Connolly’s conviction, during Salemme’s request for an early prison release, Durham praised Salemme, saying he had been as good as his word. Just under two years later, with Wyshak serving as prosecutor, Salemme was indicted for perjury. He later pleaded guilty to making a false statement.
Durham’s career has only climbed since he secured Connolly’s conviction. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey tapped him to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes involving Al Qaeda suspects. Newspapers across the country cited Durham’s tenacious efforts in the Connolly case as proof of his moral compass.
To understand the current murder charge against Connolly, it’s best to reexamine the murders that preceded it, and the men who carried them out. John Martorano, a.k.a. "the Basin Street Butcher," killed 20 people in his career, the last few for Bulger and Flemmi. His 19th victim, an Oklahoma man named Roger Wheeler, was the legitimate owner of a pari-mutuel betting franchise in Miami called World Jai Alai that Martorano and the Bulger mob wanted to subvert. One afternoon in May 1981, Wheeler left his country club in Tulsa. Martorano followed him on foot. He wore a fake beard and held a paper bag and a white towel over a revolver. As Wheeler got in his car, Martorano shot him from 3 inches away.
If Martorano ever got queasy about killing someone, though, it was victim number 20. Number 20 was a good friend, John Callahan, a Boston accountant who lived a dichotomous life: working in the Financial District by day, hanging out with gangsters by night. Callahan was the one who had wanted Roger Wheeler out so he could run World Jai Alai himself. Callahan first tried to enlist his friend Brian Halloran, a Boston gangster, as the killer, but Halloran refused. So Callahan approached Martorano and offered him, Flemmi, and Bulger part of the business after he took over.
Some months after Wheeler’s murder, the gangster Halloran, trying to escape his own jam with the law in Boston, began dishing details of the World Jai Alai killing to the feds. FBI boss Bob Fitzpatrick wanted Halloran in the witness protection program. But John Connolly entered the picture, attacking Halloran’s credibility, saying Bulger and Flemmi called Halloran a drugged-out liar. The decision was left to Jeremiah O’Sullivan, the same federal prosecutor who, in 1978, protected Bulger and Flemmi from the race-fixing indictment. Halloran was dumped back onto the streets in May 1982. That same month Bulger and a second gunman ambushed him on Northern Avenue and killed him.
By July 1982, more than a year after Wheeler’s murder, and two months after Halloran’s, detectives from Florida and Oklahoma suspected Callahan was linked to both cases and raced to find him, fearing he could be the next victim. Back in Boston, Bob Fitzpatrick now thought he had a major leak within his FBI ranks and quickly set up an interview with Callahan for the first week of August. But Bulger, Flemmi, and Martorano got to him first.
Martorano says he received the order to kill Callahan because Connolly allegedly told Bulger, "We’re all going to jail for the rest of our lives if they catch up with Callahan [and he sings]." And so when Callahan flew down to the Fort Lauderdale Airport on July 30, Martorano was waiting for him curbside. Martorano got out of the van he was driving, greeted Callahan, and put his luggage in the back. As Callahan sat down in the passenger seat, Martorano reached around and shot him in the back of the head. He probably died before he noticed that the car floor was covered in plastic to catch the blood. Afterward, John Connolly filed a report attributing Callahan’s murder to Cuban or Libyan drug dealers.