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Would-be witness in Bulger mob trial found dead in woods

Chicago Tribune

July 18. 2013 8:53PM

Stephen Rakes arrives for the first day of the trial of accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts in this file photo taken June 12. Rakes was found dead on Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Mass. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files)

A man who at one time was expected to testify against reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger — and who was one of Bulger's more vocal critics — was found dead outside Boston, officials said Thursday.

The body of Stephen "Stippo" Rakes, 59, of Quincy, Mass., had no obvious signs of trauma, according to the Middlesex district attorney's office, and his death is under investigation. The body was discovered Wednesday afternoon.

Rakes was a vocal critic of Bulger leading up to the trial, so much so that he said when he saw Bulger appear in court in April, he began hyperventilating. Rakes also said Bulger wouldn't look his way.

"The day I see him in a box, not breathing, will be better," Rakes told the Associated Press that day.

Rakes, who was to testify on behalf of the prosecution, claimed that a liquor mart he owned became Bulger's after Bulger and his men threatened to kill him.

"I'm pretty angry still about what happened close to 30 years ago, and I want to make sure Bulger gets justice," Rakes told CBS Boston in April 2012. "I'll be satisfied when he's in jail and never coming out."

According to Rakes' account, Bulger, along with two of his lieutenants, Kevin Weeks and Steve Flemmi, showed up at Rakes' house while he was preparing dinner for his daughters. Rakes said the men threatened to kill him if he didn't given them the store, for which they gave him $67,000.

That account, however, was contradicted by Weeks last week, who testified against his old boss, Bulger, for the prosecution. "We didn't go to him to buy the store, he came to us," Weeks said of Rakes, according to the Boston Herald. "So, it wasn't like regular extortion."

Rakes, allowed to watch Weeks' testimony, "reddened as he listened with his arms folded," according to the Herald.

But Rakes, who was a "constant presence" at the trial for the last six weeks, learned he wouldn't have his chance to rebut in court, according to the Boston Globe. Steve Davis, the brother of alleged Bulger victim Debra Davis, told the Globe that Rakes was told Tuesday that prosecutors did not plan to call him to testify, and that devastated him.

Rakes was eager to get on the witness stand, Tommy Donahue, son of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue, said Thursday.

"He said he wanted to get up there and tell his side of the story," Donahue told the Associated Press.

The Massachusetts office of the chief medical examiner is conducting an autopsy, officials said.

Prosecutors in the trial expected to wrap up their case next week.

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