Excerpted with permission from the forthcoming book, WHERE THE BODIES WERE BURIED: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him by T.J. English. Copyright © 2015 by T.J. English. To be published on September 15 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
HE STROLLED INTO the café, an unassuming man with little indication that he had lived a life so far outside the norm as to be extraordinary. At age eighty-one, he still had a full, healthy mane of hair, though it was now completely white. He moved slowly but held his head high, and in the right light his blue eyes shined as bright as they had forty-six years ago when his life was first plunged into darkness. These days, he did not wish to be viewed as an aberration. He was a knockaround guy from the neighborhood, which is all he ever wanted to be. Back in the day, he was a handyman by trade, someone who helped people out for a modest sum. He did what he could to support his wife and four kids, until he got roped into one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice in the history of the United States.
The man extended his hand. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Joe Salvati.”
We were standing in a café on Hanover Street, the central commercial street in Boston’s North End, one of the last authentic Italian American neighborhoods in the country. Joseph Salvati was born here in 1933 and lived in the neighborhood most of his life—except for those years he was locked away deep within the belly of the beast.
I shook the hand of Joe Salvati. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time,” I said.
Salvati smiled a bit. He realized that he had gained a degree of notoriety in his golden years. It’s nice to have a legacy, he figured, though he would rather be known as a good husband and father than as a man who got monumentally screwed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
We had arrived in Café Pompeii, a venerable grappa and espresso joint on Hanover Street. We were there so that I might interview Joe Salvati about his life. Also, I wanted to ask him some questions about James “Whitey” Bulger.
It was late July 2013. The trial of Whitey Bulger—notorious gangster; longtime fugitive from the law; indicted on thirty-two counts of racketeering, including nineteen murders—had been ongoing in Boston for several weeks. I had been attending the trial on a daily basis and had not missed a moment of public testimony or in-court legal discussions among the various prosecutors, defense lawyers, and the judge. The trial was a major media event in the city and the nation based on Bulger’s infamy as the last of a certain type of old-school gangster, with a criminal lineage that stretched back at least to the 1950s.
After we sat down and ordered some espresso, I said to Salvati, “I’ve noticed something about the Bulger trial.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Every time your name comes up, the prosecutors immediately raise an objection.”
Again, Joe smiled—not a smile of mirth; it was a knowing smile, tinged with regret. “That’s because when my name comes up, they know they’re gonna have to talk about Barboza. And they don’t wanna talk about Barboza.”