From gangsters to God

On September 30, 2008, in Uncategorized, by The News Staff

Pentecostal Church will replace notorious gang’s headquarters

By George P. HassettMarshall_3_4

It was once the home of a brutal band of gangsters and thugs. But within months, if one preacher has his way, the building on Marshall Street will be filled with believers praising God.

The building at 12-14 Marshall Street, a landmark in the history of 20th Century organized crime as the headquarters for the Winter Hill Gang, will be reborn in January as a Pentecostal Church devoted to “uplifting and winning the lost at any cost,” said new owner Collin Greene.

Former Winter Hill Gang leader Howard T. Winter sold the building to Greene in January for $330,000, according to city records. The sale, and the building’s shift from an auto body shop that specialized in gangsterism to a place of worship, is just one more sign that the days of organized Irish and Italian gangsters on the streets of Winter Hill are long gone.

With 12-14 Marshal St. as its headquarters, Winter and James “Whitey” Bulger directed a criminal organization that fixed horse races along the east coast, corrupted the Boston office of the FBI and provided the basis for an academy-award winning film (“The Departed” was loosely based on Bulger’s role as an FBI informant). From the 1970s until 1994 when Bulger fled Boston to avoid law enforcement, the gang rivaled the local Mafia in brutality and profits. And until 1980, when Winter went to jail and the gang moved to Boston, Marshall Street was the crew’s command center.

Taking their place now is Green – a well-dressed 51-year-old Jamaican man with a wide, gold-toothed smile who said he “wants to uplift the depressed and sad people in the world” when he preaches. His church is the Somerville Church of God and its 50-person congregation is ready to grow with a new location, he said.

The property’s dark past, even the infamous trapdoor that leads to the tiny basement where the gang disposed of rivals, can’t scare Green away. “I don’t believe any place is cursed,” he said during a tour of the building this week. “I don’t believe human spirits linger in buildings. I believe they go to God or the Devil.”

Marshall_5_4(As for the trap door and the basement it leads to, Green said with a laugh, “I have already rebuked anything in there in the name of Jesus.” The church probably won’t have a use for it though, he said. It will be “dead space.”)

Before they bought the Marshall Street property, Green said his congregation had searched for a permanent home for 15 years. They first started meeting at a home on Trull Street and wanted to remain in Somerville. An opportunity to buy a Davis Square building was lost when it was converted to condos.

After he bought 12-14 Marshall St., Green said his son did some quick research on the Internet and they began to learn why neighbors of the property told them they might find dead bodies when digging up the floor.

They watched the interview “60 Minutes” did with the gang’s hit man, John Martorano, who admits to killing 20 people to further the gang’s business. And still, Green thought the location was perfect for a church. And if the old tenants want to stop by, that’s fine too.

“I think it would be great for any of them to show up,” he said enthusiastically. “They could tell us about their experiences and their regrets. I believe any sin can be forgiven and anyone can be saved. Watching this guy [Martorano] on TV, I thought to myself that he was sorry for the things he had done. I don’t know if he has repented, but I believe he is sorry.”

At a community meeting on Monday, Green met with neighbors who shared concerns about the traffic congestion and noise a church may bring. At one point, Donald Norton, who lives near the property, told Green he could remember the building in its earlier incarnation.

“And what do you think of it now becoming a church?” Green asked.

“I think it’s poetic justice,” Norton said.

[Full disclosure: Donald Norton is the publisher of this newspaper.]


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