Gods & Mobsters
Eight years ago, a former Whitey Bulger henchman joined a well-to-do Beacon Hill church, where he quickly ingratiated himself with a group of influential congregants. But as allegations about the ex-con piled up, some members began to wonder: Just how reformed was Eddie MacKenzie?
IN THE PROCESS OF JOINING the church, MacKenzie had filled out a standard application, in which he revealed that he had done some very bad things in his past. It didn’t take long before everyone knew exactly what those things were. In the spring of 2003 a small New Hampshire publisher, Steerforth Press, published MacKenzie’s autobiography: Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob. The book won a favorable review from the New York Times and became a local bestseller, but it also revealed MacKenzie to have been a man with an unspeakably awful history. “I was as vicious as they come, a monster,” he writes of his past. “Violence was my drug.”
The story MacKenzie tells in Street Soldier is a classic rise-from-the-gutter tale — absent the rise. Born in 1958 to a 21-year-old unwed mother and her 16-year-old boyfriend, MacKenzie was one of seven children. His parents abandoned their lot when MacKenzie was four, and he grew up in a series of Massachusetts foster homes. Some foster parents neglected him. Others beat him, once so bad that he suffered a broken arm. A tutor sexually molested him at age nine. At age 12, police caught him driving a car stolen by his 13-year-old brother, Ronald. A year later, he and Ronald were runaways, bedding down on the couches or floors of friends, or surreptitiously sleeping on the porches of neighborhood homes. The pair supported themselves by shoplifting, burglary, and selling their stolen merchandise. MacKenzie dropped out of Jamaica Plain High School in the 10th grade.
At 17, he torched a Cadillac that belonged to a dance club owner and served a stint in the Charles Street Jail. Three years later, in 1978, he faced more jail time for robbing and assaulting a pair of drug dealers with a 12-gauge shotgun. MacKenzie managed to avoid a prison sentence by enlisting in the Army Reserve. He made it through boot camp but was discharged soon afterward, he says for medical reasons. He then joined the Marines, but left a short time later.
What MacKenzie lacked in education he made up for in ambition. After his stint in the service, he moved to South Boston, launched a kickboxing career, and opened a martial arts gym. Still, MacKenzie had a hard time scraping by. Now married with an infant daughter — the first of six children he fathered with three different women — he got by on a string of odd jobs: construction worker, bar manager, bouncer. But they didn’t pay enough, so he supplemented his income with the occasional break-in.
Then one day in January 1980, MacKenzie received two visitors: Whitey Bulger and Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi. The notorious mobsters had tracked MacKenzie down after learning he’d stolen a batch of collectible Hummel figurines from another gangster’s home. The figurines were worth $10,000, and Whitey wanted them back. By the time he got to MacKenzie, however, the ceramics had already been sold. Bulger asked MacKenzie for the name of his accomplice. When MacKenzie refused to give up his pal, Bulger smiled, apparently pleased that the 22-year-old was no snitch. “Down the road, I may need a favor,” the mobster said, according to MacKenzie’s autobiography.