BOSTON — Geriatric ex-New England mobsters, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, were reunited in court Wednesday when Flemmi took the stand against his old friend and partner in crime who's on trial for the killing of a nightclub owner in 1993.
But so much time has passed since the two have seen each other that 83-year-old Flemmi couldn't even recognize 84-year-old Salemme, who was sitting in the courtroom.
"I would recognize him if I see him but ... I can't see him," said Flemmi, who stood up, scanned the room and looked right past Salemme. Salemme, who headed the New England family of La Costa Nostra in the early 1990s, was sitting at a table with his lawyers several feet away, with slicked-back wisps of grey hair, a brown jacket and blue tie.
Flemmi is the government's star witness and the former partner of notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger. Flemmi is expected to testify that he walked in on the killing of Steven DiSarro. Prosecutors say Salemme's son strangled DiSarro while another man, Paul Weadick, held DiSarro's feet. Prosecutors say Salemme watched because he was worried DiSarro would cooperate with authorities.
DiSarro's nightclub, The Channel, was under scrutiny at the time for Salemme's involvement in the business. Federal authorities told DiSarro he was about to be indicted and should work with them against the Salemmes.
DiSarro's body wasn't found until 2016, when authorities received a tip it was buried behind a building in Providence, Rhode Island.
Salemme and Weadick, who's also on trial, deny any involvement in the killing. Salemme's son died in 1995.
Salemme shook his head as Flemmi walked into the courtroom, wearing an olive green jacket and tan shirt. After the trial wrapped up for the day Wednesday, Salemme spoke briefly to reporters about Flemmi not recognizing him. "He's soft. He had a stroke," Salemme said, and pulled down the side of his mouth.
Flemmi, who's serving life in prison for 10 killings, matter-of-factly described for jurors his and Salemme's involvement in grisly slayings during Boston's gang wars of the 1960s. Flemmi explained how he helped Salemme in 1968 to blow up the car of a lawyer — who lost his leg, but survived — and how they fled afterward when they were tipped off by the FBI that they were about to be indicted.
Later, Flemmi told jurors, he killed another man who was involved in the bombing because they were worried he'd talk to authorities.
"He was a witness, I didn't feel that he would be able to stand up," Flemmi said.
Flemmi was also a key witness in the 2013 trial of Bulger, who was caught in 2011 after nearly two decades on the lam.
Flemmi is expected to remain on the stand in Salemme's case for several days.