Thursday, October 2, 2008

Winter Hill gang hub gets some religion

Once, it was the headquarters of Somerville's notorious Winter Hill Gang, the auto body shop where debts were settled, along with old scores. There, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi met and forged a partnership that would lead to murder, corruption, and a FBI scandal.

But soon the infamous hangout of gun-toting gangsters in the 1970s will be born again - as a Pentecostal church.

A preacher who bought the Marshall Street garage earlier this year from former gang leader Howie Winter said he plans to transform the building into the new home of the Somerville Church of God, which will open its doors in January.

The planned transformation was greeted yesterday with amusement by several of the gang's former members as they reminisced about the old days.

"Hallelujah!" said John Martorano, a 67-year-old hitman-turned-government witness who confessed to killing 20 people - including one victim that he shot to death in the garage in 1974. "I think it's great. I'm all for religion."