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The Friends of Tony Veranis
If edgy and nourish crime is your thing, then the short and violent lives of Boston boxer Anthony “Tony” Veranis and his friends just might fill the bill. Veranis was a tough Dorchester, Massachusetts kid who was born in 1938 to first generation Italian immigrants from Sardinia. Tony was in and out of trouble for most of his short life, as he alternated between professional boxing and low-level crime. He had “Tony” tattooed on the fingers of one hand and “Luck” tattooed on the other, but he didn’t have much of the latter.
Labeled a “persistent delinquent,” Tony was incarcerated in 1950 at Lyman Correctional School for Boys in Westborough, 30 miles west of Boston. It was the first reform school in the United States and it was where he was anonymously involved in the Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency (UJD) study conducted by Harvard University professors in an effort to discover the causes of juvenile delinquency and assess the overall effectiveness of correctional treatment in controlling criminal careers. If the study led to any positive results, Tony clearly was not included in the academic largess.
While at Lyman, Tony joined the school’s boxing team, and after being spotted by the savvy and acclaimed Boston fight trainer Clem Crowley, he began fighting as an amateur. Tony’s amateur career culminated when he won the Massachusetts State Amateur Welterweight Title in 1956. That same year, at age 18, Veranis turned professional in Portland, Maine under the alias “Mickey White” and won his first pro bout with a fifth round TKO over one Al Pepin. Tony then launched an astounding run of victories, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tony often sparred with Joe “The Baron” Barboza, Eddie “Bulldog” Connors, Jimmy Connors (Eddie’s brother), Rocco “Rocky” DiSiglio, George Holden, and Americo “Rico” Sacramone. Southie’s Tommy Sullivan also found his way into this mix. The thing about these guys was that in addition to being well known Boston area boxers, each was brutally murdered between 1966 and 1976.
Joe Barboza (1932-1976)
“The Baron” was his boxing moniker and he ran up a modest record of 8-5 before taking on a far more lucrative and violent line of work. It was once rumored that a sparring mate had done a number on Joe, and The Baron responded by grabbing a gun out of his locker and chasing the pug out of the gym and down the street.
Joe would later assume other nicknames like “The Animal” and “The Wild Thing,” as he became one of the most feared and vicious hit men of his era. He dreamed of becoming the first Portuguese-American inducted into La Cosa Nostra, but never was because he was not of Italian extraction. Fact is, LCR members called him derogatory names-but always, of course, behind his back.
Employed by the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, Barboza, while operating out of East Boston, allegedly murdered between seven and 26 victims, depending on different sources, but given his methodologies and the amount of fear he generated it’s safe to err on the higher side.
Eventually, Barboza flipped and would become the “Joe Valachi” (aka snitch) of the New England Mafia. The circumstances leading up to that eventuality are grist for a lengthy and intriguing tale featuring, among other sordid elements, corruption, deception, triple-crosses, murder, false imprisonment, and the worse scandal in FBI history. Suffice it to say that his testimony helped change the criminal landscape in Boston. For his reward, there was nothing a grateful FBI would not do, so Joe became the first man in the Witness Protection Program and was sent to Santa Rosa, California, but he soon reverted to form and killed one Clay Wilson for which he served only five years. Upon his release and using the name Joe Donali, he was resettled to San Francisco, but the LCN rarely forgets or gives up, and Joe was soon murdered by four shotgun blasts in 1976. The hit was reputedly carried out by the bespectacled Mafia captain, Joseph “J.R.” Russo.
Joe Barboza was a complex individual whose violent life story begged for a book to be written-and it was by crime author Hank Messick. Titled Barboza, it is difficult, if not impossible to find, but is as compelling a true crime story as you could imagine-and if you are a boxing fan, all the better.
Tommy Sullivan (1922-1957)
Irish Tommy, as he was known in South Boston, may have been the best boxer of the bunch as he finished with a 21-2-0-1 mark. Tommy went undefeated in his first 17 pro outings until he lost to Al Priest (25-1) in 1946 and then again in 1947 when Priest was 33-2. Among Sullivan’s victims were Eddie Boden (18-0-1), Coley Welch (90-16-5) and “Mad Anthony” Jones (41-13-4) who Tommy stopped twice. Fighting before monster crowds of up to 13,000 customers, Sullivan engaged in a number of “”savage brawls” that are still talked about by Boston area aficionados. They include his brutal beatings of John Henry Eskew and George Kochan. Tommy had a knack of coming back after he had been dropped and snatching victory from apparent defeat with a “hurricane attack” in the style of later warriors Danny “Little Red” Lopez and Arturo Gatti. Boston fans loved him for the excitement he brought to the ring.
In January 1949, his relatively brief professional boxing career inexplicitly ended and he began working as a longshoreman at Boston Harbor. While at the docks, he struck up friendly relationships with fellow-longshoremen Thomas J. Ballou Jr. (barroom brawler extraordinaire) and the more infamous Barboza. According to author Howie Carr, Ballou had an unusual style of fighting. It seems he always carried a grappling hook and a $100 bill. If Ballou wanted to attack someone, he’d throw the $100 dollar bill on the ground. The unsuspecting and greedy adversary would bend over to grab it, and then Tommy would plunge the grappling hook into the guy’s back.
Tommy resented gang leader George McLaughlin of Charlestown who had attempted to extort money from one of Tommy’s close friends. For the record, the famous Boston Irish Gang War started in 1961 and lasted until 1967. It was fought between the McLaughlin Gang of Charlestown and the Winter Hill Gang of Somerville led by James “Buddy” McLean, but that’s another long and violent story for another day.
Sullivan made the strategic error of getting into a vicious barroom brawl with Edward “Punchy” McLaughlin and proceeded to give McLaughlin, also an ex-boxer, a vicious beating that could not possibly have been duplicated in Hollywood. Beginning in a bar and then moving outside into the street, the two went at each other on reasonably even terms until McLaughlin finally could take no more punishment and rolled under a parked car to escape. But Sullivan, the enraged Southie native, wanted more and he lifted up one end of the car and propped one of the wheels up on the curb allowing him to get at McLaughlin so that he could continue the beatdown. The throng of onlookers, including Barboza, was amazed at this feat of adrenalized strength that would have made a Hollywood stuntman blink.
Deadly payback was swift in coming. Two weeks later, Tommy was called to the side of a car that was idling in the street near his East Fifth Street home and he was promptly shot five times. Seven years later in1965, Sullivan’s brawling foe, McLaughlin, was shot nine times at a West Roxbury bus stop. Some suspected Barboza as the triggerman for this execution.
Although he was never put under serious scrutiny for criminal activity, many viewed Tommy within the context of where there is smoke, there likely must be fire
Rocco DiSiglio (1939-1966)
This former Newton welterweight with a modest record was found shot to death in 1966. Before he turned professional, he trained and/or spared with Veranis, Barboza, Eddie Connors, Sacramone, George Holden, Tom Sullivan, and the legendary Joe DeNucci. He was also a criminal associate of Barboza and Joe would later lead police to the site of Rocky’s corpse in Danvers. It was believed that Rocky was murdered by the mob for sticking up their dice and card games, most of which were overseen by Gennaro Angiulo, the feared gambling czar for the Patriarca crime family.
In retaliation for his brazen, maverick, and foolhardy action, DiSiglio was set up in a Machiavellian-like scheme and eventually shot to death in the driver’s seat of his Thunderbird by the same men with whom he had robbed the card games. He was hit three times at close range with one bullet reportedly tearing off part of his face and another going through his head and out an eye socket. His two killers were later murdered at different times as more loose ends were tied. The entire affair had about it the foul stench of the North End’s Angiulo, and further enraged Rocky’s friend, Joe Barboza, who soon would turn stool pigeon against the LCR.
Meanwhile, still another of Tony Veranis’s friends had died a violent death at a young age.
George Holden (1948-1973)
George, known as “Medford Irisher,” fought mostly out of Portland, Maine as a heavyweight and chalked up a less-than-glorious record of 14-26-3. He went 9-3-3 in his first 15, but then the losses came in bunches and he would lose nine of his last 10. In his last bout against Jimmy McDermott (51-15-3), Holden disgraced himself by showing up drunk for which he was indefinitely suspended. He never fought again.
Like DiSiglio, little is known about Holden’s personal life except that he was a low level operative in organized crime. Holden trained with the usual suspects and met a similar fate. On August 23, 1973, his body was found washed up along the mucky shoreline of the Mystic River in Charlestown, Mass. He had been executed gangland style with a gunshot to the head. George was 25 years old. His killers were never found. Holden’s murder was the 82nd homicide in the city of Boston in 1973.
Eddie Connors (1933-1975)
As a youth, Connors was a regular at the L Street Curley Gym and Bathhouse located in South Boston (i.e. Southie) where future gang leaders Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Frank “Cadillac Frank” Salemme hung out.
Eddie, nicknamed “Bulldog,” was a respected heavy-handed middleweight who fought like a bulldog during the ’50s and ran up a slate of 22-7-1 with 18 KOs against tough opposition. His last three fights-all losses by decision-were against Willie Green (27-4), Joe DeNucci (20-2 coming in), and former world champion Tony DeMarco (55-11-1). He also held the very capable George Monroe (39-13-3) to a draw. His brother James Connors (not to be confused with Jimmy Connors who fought out of New Bedford from 1957 to 1963 and who was trained by Clem Crowley) fought between 1959 and 1961 and retired with a 13-0-1 record.
Eddie would later use his boxing experience to handle drunk and disorderly customers in his notorious Bulldog Tavern in the edgy Savin Hill area of Dorchester where he acted as both bartender and fearsome bouncer, and which he also used as his criminal headquarters for illegal gambling, drug dealing, loan sharking, and planned armed robberies with his associates.
Later, because Connors was bragging too much about a murder he had helped orchestrate (of one James “Spike” O’Toole), the Bulldog had become a dangerous loose end. As such, he was set up for an ambush in Dorchester. When Eddie arrived at a service station on Morrissey Blvd. on June 12, 1975, to make a pre-arranged phone call, a young Whitey Bulger, John “The Basin Street Butcher” Martorano, and Stephen Flemmi were waiting armed to the teeth. Connors was nearly cut in half in the phone booth by the hail of heavy artillery and the loose end was tied. Curiously, the deadly Martorano was the one who had machine gunned O’Toole in 1973.
Americo Sacramone (1937-1976)
When he finished his brief boxing career with a 5-1 record, Rico, from Everett, entered the rackets as member of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. After being wounded in the hit on Buddy McLean in 1965, Rico went back to prison on a parole violation. In 1976, he was gunned down-this time for good by parties unknown.
During his boxing days, Sacramone would often spar with the great Joe DeNucci (54-15-4), who later became the longstanding State Auditor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Tommy Tibbs (1934-1975)
While probably not a friend of Tony Veranis, Tommy (60-74-4) did fight George Monroe three times in 1953-and just about everyone else including Willie Pep whom he beat in 1958-and since Monroe fought to a draw against Eddie Connors in 1955, at least the possibility of a dotted line connection exists. Monroe was from Worcester and Tibbs made his residence in Boston. However, where Tommy warrants an honorable mention is the fact that he was shot and killed in a dispute in a Roxbury bar in 1975-one of the seminal years of living dangerously in Boston.
Back to Tony (1938-1966)
Meanwhile, after beating Al Pepin in his pro debut, Veranis continued his attention-grabbing run as a professional. He was described as “one tough SOB; a Wildman who was courageous in the ring.” Other said he was well-trained and “a great prospect and that his boxing style was one of a slugger.”
In 1957, Tony fought an astonishing 26 times (the majority at the Rollway Arena in Revere). Tony’s best win may have been on December 3, 1957, when he stopped-and retired-the talented Bobby Murphy (19-3-1). Bobby, a former USA New England welterweight titleholder, had impressive wins over Vic Cardell (65-25-7), Fitzie Pruden (50-21), Rocky Sullivan (66-43-12) and Jackie O’Brien (65-17-9), as well as a draw with top contender Chico Vejar (63-5-1). A win over Murphy meant something.
Tony’s last fight in 1957 was against rugged Barry Allison on December 17 against whom he fought to an admirable draw. Allison (40-19-2) was at the center of New England boxing during the 1950s but was never able to reach world championship level though many think he should have gotten the nod against Johnny Saxon in 1958. As for Tony, he slaughtered Silby Ford in a bloody encounter in February 1958, one that had blood-splattered ringsiders aghast as Silby’s teeth and mouthpiece were knocked out. This moved Tony’s record to 25-0-2 before dropping back-to-back fights to Allison in a rematch for Allison’s USA New England middleweight title and to undefeated Joe Devlin at the Boston Garden.
Tony’s loss to Allison was one in which he took a terrible beating and one that undoubtedly rendered him damaged goods going into the Devlin bout-not taking anything away from the Crafty Joe who himself retired undefeated. These two fights occurred within a 16-day span in March 1958. After his brutal knockout defeat to Devlin in which he was decked in every round, he was taken to Boston City Hospital in bad shape and remained in a coma before recovering some three month later. But his boxing days were over.
After boxing, Tony reportedly suffered from severe migraine headaches, nausea, temporary mood swings, and blackouts-maladies that apparently were not treated and pointed to brain damage. When combined with heavy drinking and depression, this lethal mix could only spell major trouble for an ex-boxer. Tony was arrested for an unidentified crime on December 23, 1963, and sent to prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts.
While incarcerated he supposedly became an altar boy to serve at prison mass, prompting the prison chaplain Father John Fitzgerald to say, “He wanted to get straightened out, and I think he did. He was a wonderful boy who’d run with a bad crowd. He frequently stopped in to see me… after he got out, and everything seemed to be all right. He took me to the fights, and he was with respectable fellows.” Some portrayed him as a friendly and quiet guy who was the victim of circumstances beyond his control, but other saw him as a small-time hoodlum and mean drinker with a bad personality change who was more brawn than brain. Street lore and my own in-depth research clearly support the later depiction.
Tony soon found himself in debt to South Boston loan sharks and being overdue to such types was hardly conducive to one’s well being since examples had to be made. Tommy DePrisco, a Barboza associate, attempted to collect from Tony in a South Boston bar but was embarrassed, maybe even punched, and forced to leave as this was Tony’s hangout. The following night, John “The Basin Street Butcher” Martorano was at Billy O’s tavern in Dorchester when Veranis braced him and reportedly slurred, “I’m Tony Veranis, you know who I am. I just had a beef with your friend [DePrisco]. I kicked him outta Southie with his tail between his legs, fuck him and fuck you, too.”
As Tony allegedly reached for his gun, the taller Butcher beat him to the punch and fired down into Tony’s skull twice-blowing what was left of his already damaged brains all over the place. His body was dumped in the Blue Hills wooded area off Route 28 near where Milton and Dedham meet. He had $2.83 in his pocket. This was the end result when two former altar boys met up at the wrong time in the wrong place. One was 27, the other 26. Tony may have been tougher with his fists, but the Butcher was faster with his gun.
John Martorano: Last Man Standing
Many claimed credit for the hit on Tony Veranis and a few even suggested that Barboza was involved, but the most reliable accounting is that Martorano (also known as “The Executioner” among other aliases) was responsible. Early on, Martorano, who also was an altar boy, a good athlete, and well-educated in private schools, showed a marked proclivity for conflict resolution. He eventually became the chief enforcer for the Whitey Bulger gang running up an astounding tally of 20 confirmed hits (all carried out in a cold, detached, so-called “professional” manner).
One of John’s familial Old World core values was that of loyalty, and when he later learned that Bulger and Flemmi were FBI informants who leaked useful information, some of it even accusatory against John, he became enraged. The fact is, he flipped out and then proceeded to flip on the flippers, becoming a key government witness and in the process exposing the links between the Bulger gang and the FBI’s Boston office. In return for his “cooperation” and confession to 20 murders, he served only 12 years and received $20,000 gate money upon his release. Said U.S. Attorney Donald Stern, “The only thing worse than this deal was not doing this deal.”
Of the murders, Martorano incredibly and calmly stated, “I always felt like I was doing the right thing. Even if it was wrong, I always tried to do the right thing.”
Today, while the mother of all rats, Whitey Bulger, spends the rest of his life in prison, John Martorano and Kevin Weeks (another deadly Bulger enforcer and righteous snitch who wrote the compelling “Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob,” are free to walk the streets of Quincy, Dorchester, and South Boston having done their time and having made their deals. Unlike Joe Barboza, they don’t need any witness protection because there is no one left from whom to be protected.
There was another ex-boxer, but he chose another, more difficult path. His name was John “Red” Shea and he traded an exceptionally promising boxing career for a more lucrative life as an important operative and enforcer for the Bulger gang. But the thing about Red was that when he was finally caught, he didn’t flip, but held fast to the Irish code of silence. The 47-year-old Red served out his 12 years in prison without ratting out and is now considered a rare man of honor in the Boston area. He went on to write the hot selling Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston’s Most Honorable Irish Mobster. Red is now enjoying his freedom and the secrets of his life of crime most likely will be taken to the grave with him. His second book, A Kid from Southie has now been published amid solid reviews.
Joe DeNucci and Clem Crowley went on to live extremely honorable and even celebrated lives, as did Joe Devlin, New Bedford’s Jimmy Connors, and Barry Allison. However, Eddie Connors, Rocky DiSiglio, Rico Sacramone, Joe Barboza, George Holden, and Tommy Sullivan-all fighters in the Boston area who were connected to one another in one way or another-were each murdered at a young age.
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