Authorities say a man who was on the witness list for the racketeering trial of reputed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger has died.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office says Stephen “Stippo” Rakes was found dead Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln, Mass., with no obvious signs of trauma to his body.
According to ABC News, police originally told the family the death seemed to be a suicide. His family and friends are skeptical, however, and are awaiting the autopsy results determining the 59-year-old’s cause and manner of death.
“Stippo would not kill himself. Absolutely not,” Rakes’ close friend Steve Davis – whose sister was allegedly murdered by Bulger – said. “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 day I see [Bulger] in a box, not breathing, will be better,” Rakes himself told the Associated Press in April.
Prosecutors say Rakes and his former wife were forced to sell Bulger their South Boston liquor store in 1984 to use as a headquarters for his gang and as a source of legitimate income, after Bulger threatened their daughter at gunpoint.
But another prosecution witness has testified that their story wasn’t true, and it was unclear whether prosecutors would put Rakes on the stand.
According to the Boston Globe, Rakes was told Tuesday afternoon that would not be called to testify.
The news of Rakes’ death has shocked those with a connection to the case.
Patricia Donahue, whose husband was also among the 19 whose murders Bulger is being charged for, told the Globe: “I feel so bad…You sit here every day with these victims and they become part of your life. He seemed so spirited. He had a lot of spirit.”
83-year-old James “Whitey” Bulger’s trial has gripped Boston, with new details of his activities coming to light. Former drug kingpin William David Lindholm testified Wednesday that Bulger forced him to play an impromptu game of Russian roulette in a nightclub as a way to make him hand over $1 million.
Bulger was captured in California after 16 years on the run as one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.