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.]


4 Responses to “From gangsters to God”

  1. Been there, lived it, but not involved. says:

    Hey George, Buddy Mclean is rolling over in his grave; you neglected to mmention he started the Winter Hill gang in the 1950’s and was the leader until killed in 1966…via the 1961-1966 gang war with Charlestown’s Irish Mafia, headed up by the McLaughlin brothers.
    Whitey Bulger was not involved with the WH gang at the time Buddy was alive.
    Howie Winter didn’t take over until after Buddy was killed.
    Whitey Bulger then became involved with the WH gang after Winter took over.
    I lost a SHS friend who graduated with me in 1949, in that gang war.
    He opted to join up with Buddy and the rest is history. He was found dead behind the old First National Store at Wellington Circle, where the new high rise buildings and retail stores now stand.
    Last time I saw Bobby was at the Club where he bought a round for me and my friends.
    BTW—I doubt very much if there were any bodies buried in the cellar of 12-14 Marshall Street.
    Those guys wanted those bodies found as a message to the other gang.
    They may have used the cellar for killing or questioning “unfriendlys” or “rats”….but, never for burying corpses.
    Myself and my friends were often at the 318 Lounge, A/K/A—(Later) Pal Joey’s, Crusher Casey’s, etc.,—now the Winter Hill Bakery; when Buddy and friends (bodyguards) were enjoying the live band and dancing.
    The ladies loved him, a good-looking Dude; and always a gentleman in public.
    He always wore a cardigan sweater over a white long sleeve shirt, no neck-tie, open collar.
    Always sat at a table against the wall, in the far back of the crowd, in a chair always facing the front door.
    At that time you could exit the place directly on to Marshall Street, directly opposite the 12-14 “garage.”
    The Club was L-shaped; Broadway to Marshall Street. Since cut up to accommodate the bakery and a private club facing Marshall Street.
    The night he was killed, the gang war ended with over 60+ body counts.
    Tell you one thing, when Buddy and his people were around, nobody but nobody…punks or otherwise, caused problems on Winter Hill all the way down to Sullivan Square.
    Ladies, families, and Seniors could walk the streets safely at any hour of the night.
    The crap that is going on now with ethnic gangs would never have got off the ground; and the police would be looking the other way while the WH gang would be “taking care” of the punks.

  2. Larry Leavitt says:

    I was informed the foundation of the Winter Hill Gang was assembled on the admiration of Buddy McLean’s ability to fight. Famously acknowledged the “The Toughest Man” from the Boston area, Buddy was also well liked, respected, and even idolized by those who knew him. He was protective of his family, friends and his reputation. He was fair and capable of settling disputes but definitely the one man you did not bother.
    I met Buddy in September of 1965. I was playing football with my brothers and some Somerville kids on Sydney Street. One of Buddy’s sons joined the game while Buddy and a few other men watched from the sidewalk. During one play, I got injured. Buddy came over, gave me a compliment, made a little joke and encouraged me to get back out there. Before he left, Buddy mentioned that I could get stronger if I did pushups and pull-ups. I was only seven at the time, but I will never forget the solid built Irishman with the sharp blue eyes.
    Editor’s Note (JN): The (new) Somerville News website is up – you can comment on stories over there.

  3. cosmo says:

    WOW I guess history erases all the “bad” memories and these dead wiseguys are now heroes?

  4. Larry says:

    Cosmo, you seem to have a problem with Buddy Mclean’s legend as the most revered gang boss in history. Care to elaborate?

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