A key witness in the trial of Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger was found dead on Thursday. ABC News reported that a body “found near a walking path” was that of Stephen “Stippo” Rakes.
Police have indicated the death appeared to be a suicide, but a source close to Rakes’s family told ABC, “he had no phone, no wallet, and police are still looking for his car.”
Bulger, who is accused of extortion and murdering at least 19 people while running an organized crime operation, was captured in 2011 in California after being on the run for 16 years. He was also a federal informant at one time.
According to federal prosecutors, Rakes “was supposed to testify that Bulger and associate Stephen Flemmi threatened his daughter at gunpoint and forced him to turn over his South Boston liquor store, which became Bulger’s headquarters.” A witness had recently testified that this story was not accurate.
Steve Davis, a longtime friend of Rakes’ whose sister was allegedly murdered by Bulger, has been meeting with Rakes for breakfast before the trial. He said he did not meet Rakes on Wednesday and could not reach him on Tuesday night.
“Stippo would not kill himself. Absolutely not,” Davis told ABC News. “He was looking forward to taking the stand. He told me over and over he had a big bombshell to drop. He had everything to live for and was looking forward to his day in court.
The news comes on the day that Bulger’s former partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, is slated to take the stand and testify that he and Bulger coordinated the killings of at least two people. Rakes’s testimony may have implicated Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence, in even more crimes.