Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brother Of Alleged Bulger Victim Speaks Out

Debra Davis was strangled to death in 1981, allegedly by James "Whitey" Bulger. (Photo courtesey of the Davis family)

Debra Davis was strangled to death in 1981, allegedly by James “Whitey” Bulger. (Photo courtesey of the Davis family)

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case soon in the trial of reputed mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger. The defense could begin presenting its case next week.

Stephen Davis is pictured in the Here & Now studios on July 16, 2013. (Here & Now)

Stephen Davis is pictured in the Here & Now studios on July 16, 2013. (Here & Now)

Bulger, 83, is accused of playing a role in 19 murders, including the strangling  death of 26-year-old Debra Davis in 1981.

Davis had been dating Bulger’s right hand man, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Flemmi is now the prosecution’s star witness in Bulger’s trial.

Flemmi claims that Bulger killed Debra Davis because she knew about their FBI connections. Flemmi says he then pulled out all of her teeth before disposing of the body.

Debra’s brother, Steven Davis, has been in court every day of the trial, and also testified in the case.

He talked to Here & Now about his sister, the trial and whether justice will be served.

“It’s amusing for a lot of people,” Davis said, referring to the trial. “Three, four months down the road, people are going to say, ‘Whitey who?’ Where myself, the other families of the victims, we’re tattooed with this guy’s head — engraved in our head. What they did to our family members, it’s — we’ve been handed a life sentence.”


  • Steven Davis, brother of murder victim Debra Davis and witness in the Bulger trial.



The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case soon in the case of reputed mob boss James Whitey Bulger, an FBI informant accused of using corrupt agents to further his own goals. He's charged with murder and racketeering. Testifying against him, his former right-hand man, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, who's serving two life terms for 10 murders. Also on the stand, various hit men and drug dealers.

What's it like to watch this parade of characters saying now what they knew then, especially if they claim to know about the murder of your sister? We want to find out, and a warning: Some of the next conversation will be difficult. Debra Davis was mobster Stephen Flemmi's girlfriend. She was 26 when Flemmi says Whitey Bulger strangled her, then Flemmi pulled out all her teeth before disposing of the body, all because she knew about their FBI connections.

Steven Davis is Debbie's sister. He's been to court every day. He joins us in the studio. Welcome.

STEVEN DAVIS: Hi, how are you?

YOUNG: I'm good. This must be tough.

DAVIS: Yeah, it's been ongoing for quite a few years, and we're coming to the tail end of it, and just speaking with a friend of mine, I told him, I said I'd like to see a lot of these other guys get prosecuted. I'd like to see them pay for their crimes and what they had and their involvement in this instead of everybody pointing the finger at each other and taking each other down.

YOUNG: That's what it has been. But you say you have been to other trials. There are - so many have been on trial before, Stephen Flemmi testified in other trials, your sister's former boyfriend. Several books have gone into sordid detail about how he brought your sister to a house, and in that house he alleges he watched as Whitey Bulger strangled her.

It's never gone away for you, but it's being repeated over and over. I just did. What's that like for you to have to relive it?

DAVIS: It's tough, and that's why, you know, I'm getting coached by a lot of people as far as, you know, to keep my cool. I tend to speak out in the wrong manner, but it's coming from my heart. It's a tough thing. Sometimes I think people, it's amusing for a lot of people.

YOUNG: Yeah, like entertainment.

DAVIS: Yeah, and, you know, three, four months down the road, people are going to say Whitey who, where myself, the other families of the victims, we're tattooed with this guy's head engraved in our head, what they did to our family members, and it's - we've been handed a life sentence. You know, I think all these agents should be brought forward. I think Billy Bulger...

YOUNG: Billy Bulger, the brother of Whitey Bulger, who was a Senate president here, the head of a university, led this respectable life but pled the Fifth when asked about his brother's whereabouts.

DAVIS: I couldn't understand that whole thing, pleading the Fifth.

YOUNG: So you and other family members have a lot to be thinking about. So I - so Stephen Flemmi says Whitey Bulger killed your sister. Whitey Bulger says Stephen Flemmi did it, because, as we know, your sister was maybe trying to get out of that relationship. Who do you believe?

DAVIS: I - and I have to say that both of them are involved at 50-50 with it. Whichever way it happened, they were in on it together, they were there together. They even bragged about it, over the years, together. And I think now that they got caught up with it that they're worried about the whole thing because in prison or on the street, a man that kills a woman is less than.

YOUNG: Well, much has been made about how for Whitey Bulger in this trial, the most important thing for him is he make it clear that he did not kill a woman, and he did not rat out, he wasn't a snitch for the FBI. All the other he doesn't care about, some sort of street code of honor. Your thoughts about that?

DAVIS: I feel - you know, I mean, they know they're never going to see the street again, and those are the two main concerns you have when you go to jail: you kill a woman, you rape a woman, or you're a rat. And those three things, no one walks proudly in a prison like that.

And, you know, they're cowards. They're worried about their future now.

YOUNG: Well we've - some of us have become familiar with your sister's story, but for those who aren't - beautiful girl. She was sort of this Farah Fawcett lookalike with that feathered haircut. What would you want people to know about this 26-year old? Flemmi was, what, 27 years older than her?


YOUNG: Young - she met him when she was 17, got caught up. What would you want people to know?

DAVIS: Well, the people that knew her, I don't know anyone that could step in the room and say anything bad, because she was full of life. She was - my sister was all light, and everybody out there that knew her knows this, and she was - she'd give you the shirt off her back. She just was a giving - she was kind. Her life, they say they took her life because she knew too much.

She didn't care if she knew anything. He spoke too much. That's what these rats do, they talk a lot. They don't know how to shut up. And my sister, she was a beautiful girl. She was just Debbie.

YOUNG: And we know you and your sister were very close. You've told of how you had an abusive father. It's kind of ironic because your father, who maybe had not done right by you as a parent early on, was seeming to object to the relationship. He ended up dead.

DAVIS: He ended up floating in Marina Bay six months after he smashed a Jaguar that Steve bought my sister. And...

YOUNG: Well that's a coincidence.

DAVIS: Yeah, and when that happened, I think my grandmother pushed my mother aside in that situation, didn't order an autopsy on my father. It was - I think it was a murder.

YOUNG: What is it like to be in a family that finds itself ensnared by mobsters and suspicious, maybe, of who knows what, the police, the FBI. I mean, he's getting away with so much. What's it like to sort of be in the tendrils of this, and how do you get out? I mean, Stephen Flemmi, after your sister disappeared, kept going to tell your mom we don't know where she is, obviously lying to you now, we know.

Who do you go to? What do you do? You're sort of stuck in this embrace of the mob.

DAVIS: It is what it is. You're born into a family. You know, my father had ties, you know, 10 children, how many can you keep your eyes on once and tend to stray. You know, those were the ties we knew.

YOUNG: You can't untie them.

DAVIS: No, you can't - my upbringing, I was out on the street for a while. You know, like a kid getting brought up in the ghetto, you can't - you can try to guide their direction, but if you have no guidance, you get beatings all the time. that's all my sister and I and the family knew.

YOUNG: So when someone Stephen Flemmi and Whitey Bulger comes along, it seems like an escape, but it turns out it wasn't.

DAVIS: Yeah.

YOUNG: Steven Davis on what it's like to be a family relative of a murder victim as the Whitey Bulger trial unfolds. We're going to hear more.


And later today, Wal-Mart's big city problem. Whenever that retail giant tries for a foothold in an urban market, opponents come out of the woodwork to stop the move. That story and others coming up later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Stay with us, HERE AND NOW.


YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and if you're just joining us, we've been speaking with a family member of an alleged victim of reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, who is on trial for murder and racketeering. Many of his compatriots have already been tried and are now taking the stand against him. Former FBI agent John Morris fought tears as he apologized to one family for leaking information to Bulger that got their innocent loved one killed.

Hitman John Martorano calmly described 20 murders, implicating Whitey Bulger in six of them. Stephen Flemmi says he watched Whitey Bulger strangle his girlfriend, Debbie Davis, and then helped him dispose of the body.

Debbie's brother is our guest, Steven Davis. And Steven, I want to pick up with something you said earlier. You mentioned Billy Bulger, William Bulger, former Senate president, former president of the University of Massachusetts and Whitey's brother. Now it's known that William Bulger was a mentor to one of the FBI agents who became corrupted, John Connolly. Billy Bulger steered Connolly to the FBI when he was growing up.

It's also been reported that Billy Bulger once walked into a home and saw his brother Whitey having dinner with FBI agents. But no one has ever proven a direct connection. Now you find that hard to believe. What would you want to see or hear in this trial that would bring some closure?

DAVIS: You know, it's like cancer. This is like a group of cancer. Unless you get from where the source came from, where it all started, you're not going to get the cure for this. You're only taking away the certain cells of this whole organization. There's ties between the FBI and the mob. Cause gangsters and mobsters don't go out looking for an FBI agent friend to do business.

You know, like me growing up, you know, I was taught not to talk to the law, don't say anything. So I'm not going to make friends with any of them. Do I have a few associates or buddies that are police, cops, agents? Yes. But do I indulge, come forward and give them any information? No. I mean...

YOUNG: That's how you were brought up.

DAVIS: But what I'd like to see happen is the politics of this that put them together, and I (unintelligible), and I'm not one into politics, but this started, this gave birth when Billy Bulger introduced these guys.

YOUNG: Again Billy Bulger, the brother of Whitey Bulger.

DAVIS: And, you know, you just don't - you know, it's a code, the code of ratting, but it made it easy, just like these guys Johnny Martorano, when he talked, you know, after his first kill, it was, you know, like you know, you lose yourself. It becomes a normal. You know, it becomes a norm then, after the first one, and, you know, these guys rat, and it was comfortable for them.

YOUNG: Johnny Martorano, who again he was a hired - he was the hitman, and he said, you know, after the first - he testified in this very dry voice, well, you know, after the first one, it got easy. So you're saying that you feel like you have to get at the heart of this system that let this all happen, this hand-in-glove, FBI-mob relationship. Is there something you can hear in this trial that will make that happen?

DAVIS: Yes, when Billy Bulger, Whitey Bulger's brother, is up on the stand, and Morris and all the other FBI agents that are being prosecuted, I think somebody should pay for it. I mean, I'm getting so God damned tired of being the one, me, the Donahues, the Barretts...

YOUNG: These are other families who have victims.

DAVIS: All these families, you know, we were handed a life sentence for something we didn't do. We didn't do anything wrong. And, you know, here we are, have to deal with this our whole life. These guys lay down and go to sleep. They murder somebody, they go up, now they glamorize or put this guy on a - I don't where they put him, but Whitey, he kills somebody, he goes up and lays down on the couch.

You know, several times you hear that. Flemmi, all their testimonies were all the same. And I know they weren't talking to each other. So 99 percent of this has to be the truth. If you're hearing the same story from three or four different people, you know, with them saying are you sure he didn't, are you sure he did. He did it. If he didn't do it 100 percent, he had 50-percent partner.

YOUNG: And you want to see justice.

DAVIS: And I want to see 100 percent justice, and I'm going to fight for that. Whatever happens here in this court, I'm going to follow him to Oklahoma and Florida. I'm going to see this if it takes my last dime. I'm going to see this happen right to the end.

YOUNG: That's Steven Davis. His sister Debra Davis, one of the alleged victims of mobster Whitey Bulger, who's on trial of course in Boston. Her body was found in marshes near the Naponset River in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2000, 20 years after she was murdered.

DAVIS: You know, I was talking to my - Bob Halloran, he was writing my book, "Impact Statement," what happened to my family, got involved with these people. And we're driving to court, and just yesterday, I was talking, I'm driving, I'm talking to (unintelligible). I'm driving the expressway. And at one point you go right by Florine Hall(ph), where the bodies were buried.

YOUNG: The union building.

DAVIS: Yeah, a little quarter-mile strip from Florine Hall to there. You can see the Naponset Bridge where the other burial was. And then a quarter mile from that, you see Tinian Beach. It was a triangle of a burial ground for Whitey Bulger. And then he lived on Commander Shea Boulevard, in the Marina Bay area, overlooking - you could almost see all three areas.

I mean, this guy was a sick individual.

YOUNG: Well, you know, thank you for reminding of that, though, because I'll never drive that - past that area and look at it in the same way again.

DAVIS: You're - that's how I feel every morning. You know, if I go out with my wife, you go by these areas, you say oh, my sister's - oh, MacIntyre(ph) was buried - oh, Tommy King(ph) was - you see boy, why didn't he keep them in South Boston?

YOUNG: Steven Davis, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DAVIS: Thank you.

YOUNG: And by the way, Steven mentioned Oklahoma and Florida. There are other cases that might bring Whitey Bulger to those states, and as we just heard, if so he'll be trailed by victims' families.

A note on another trial, we're hearing from Juror B37, one of the jurors in the George Zimmerman murder trial who is remaining anonymous, told CNN last night, that none of her fellow jurors felt race was a factor in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

She said that initially two of the six jurors thought Zimmerman was guilty of manslaughter. One juror voted yes to second-degree murder. But all six women eventually decided to acquit George Zimmerman.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done. But I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong.

I think he's guilty of not using good judgment. When he was in the car, and he had called 911, he shouldn't have gotten out of that car.

YOUNG: The juror also said she initially planned to write a book about the trial. She's changed her mind.

HOBSON: And this note now about tomorrow's show. We're going to speak with a man who was with Nelson Mandela in prison and recently gave the Obamas a tour of Robin Island during their recent visit to South Africa. That is coming up tomorrow. Right now, the latest news is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson are hitting the road to cover the elections. Our Tumblr brings you behind the scenes.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

February 4 4 Comments

Susan Tedeschi And Derek Trucks Talk Music And Marriage

The duo talks about their new album, "Let Me Get By," and about making music together as Tedeschi Trucks Band.

February 4 Comment

Do Babies Understand FaceTime And Skype?

It's reassuring for parents and grandparents far away from their little loved ones, but what do babies get out of it?

February 3 16 Comments

Telling The Story Of ‘The Invisibles’: White House Slaves

Of the first 18 presidents of the United States, 12 were slave owners, even though some spoke out against slavery.

February 3 111 Comments

Why Bernie Sanders Resonates With Young People

At the Iowa Democratic caucuses, he won 84 percent of voters aged 17 to 29, compared to Clinton's 14 percent.