The Mobster and Me

  • Journalism

  • Oct. 2001

  • Boston Herald / CPI Media

From death row to freedom to the head of the Boston Mafia

The Mobster and Me

After being released from a 33-year prison sentence — and a death sentence — I sat with Peter Limone and his wife just days after his release from prison in a very high-profile corruption case involving both the FBI and notorious mobster, James 'Whitey' Bulger. Years later while watching the local news, I discovered I've been had by the innocence angle he was peddling.

You'll recognize names in the story —the infamous criminal Whitey Bulger — as well as contemporary law enforcement officials in the news today — like John Durham and Robert Mueller.

Today Peter Limone is a senior citizen who takes short pauses in conversations simply to smile; to enjoy the little nuances of life in his new-found freedom and fame, all the while recalling his years as a condemned and voiceless man.

“What I want to do right now is just enjoy my family,” Limone said in a scratchy voice while sitting at the dining room table of his modest Medford home, his wife, Olympia, sitting across from him. “I just wanted to come here and my wife and all my grandchildren and kids were here. That’s the first time I had them all together.”

He is now a free man, an adjusting man, a content man reconciled with his family and American justice. At 66, Limone can today revel in simple pleasures. It is the first time in a long time it has been possible.

“The reason for all of this publicity is he spent 33 years in prison,” Olympia said of her husband. “I mean, look at him and you’d never think it!”


Peter Limone
Peter Limone leaving the Joe Moakley Courthouse with his wife, Olympia, in arm and an exoneration for murder behind him.

Wrongfully accused

It was late on an Oct. 27 afternoon in 1967, on the occasion of his 10th wedding anniversary, that Limone could feel the heat closing on him. He did not yet know he was a doomed man.

Limone had just received word that his name had been linked to five others in association with the 1965 murder of a childhood friend named Edward “Teddy” Deegan, a purported hoodlum, and that the police were looking for him.

Knowing and professing his own innocence, Limone decided to turn himself in to authorities and be an honest man. The truth, he must have naively thought, would set him free.

Ultimately it did, but he would need to endure half of his life as an incarcerated manfor it to happen. Jailed the next day, Oct. 28, later indicted and tried for Deegan’s murder, Limone was sentenced to death by electric chair in 1968.

His wife Olympia recalls the day the investigation became serious.

“I remember it exactly,” she said. “My son went to the Bartlett private elementary school and they were having parents night that night and I waited for Peter to come home to go. We waited for him and then his brother called and told me to go along without him and he would explain later.

“So I went to the school without [Peter] and then his brother met me there and told me that he would be indicted for this ridiculous murder,” she continued. “He was going to straighten out his things and turn himself in a couple of days later.”

That night, though Limone did not return home, Olympia said the eldest of the couple’s four children, a son also named Peter, waited for him.

“The police came the next day (Oct. 28) and surrounded my house,” she said. “[They] scared my kids to death and searched the whole house. I never saw him again until the trial.”

He is now a free man, an adjusting man, a content man reconciled with his family and American justice. At 66, Limone can today revel in simple pleasures. It is the first time in a long time it has been possible.

Olympia, or as Limone calls her, “Oly,” said she cried for a week afterward.

At the trial Limone thought he would not be found guilty.

“I’m an innocent man,'” he remembers thinking, “‘I’m gonna win this thing.'”

He did not. Exasperated at the charges, he filed several appeals, but none were to any avail.

“I was a fool,” Olympia said. “The day the jury was going to come back with a verdict, (Joseph “The Animal”) Barboza was the only witness and he was an admitted killer so I said there is no way this jury is going to buy his story. (Before the verdict) I said to Peter, my son, `When I come home, you father will be with me.’

“When I came home he was sitting on the steps in the back and when he saw me, I was crying. He knew,” she said. “He took it the worst. I just kept telling him [Peter] would get out soon, but the years went by.”

Afterwards Olympia told Limone in prison about their son.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Limone said. “When she left I felt so bad.”

A life sentence

His kids, and as the years progressed, his eight grandchildren visited Limone in prison and gave him hope. Otherwise, Limone said, finding an occupation to stave off idleness is all one has to avoid going mad.

“Institutionalized,” he called it, a condition that occurs when a prisoner with a long sentence becomes so used to the prison routine that freedom becomes a world less desirable than prison.

It is a condition Limone said he fought by reading and woodworking. Many of his creations now adorn his home.

In addition to reading the Transcript to track his grandchildren in their notable activities, Limone said his favorite book which he read in prison was “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. It is about the American government’s atrocities against the American Indians of the Plains, an injustice with which Limone said he could identify.

“You know why I read it?” Limone asked. “Because it opened my eyes to [things] that I never believed. What we did to the Indians – if you didn’t look into this stuff, if I didn’t read into this stuff, I would have never known.

“We actually threw them out of their own country,” he continued. “The only thing I identify with (the Plains Indians) is what the (government) did to me. The Indians got a better break than me. At least they could fight. I couldn’t.”

Limone’s lone solace was that he would not face the electric chair, due to a 1972 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that halted executions at the time. His sentence was changed to life without parole.

“Had they not abolished the death penalty, by all means, he would have been gone,” Olympia said. “They would have killed him.”

Sitting on the steps waiting for a father who would not come would not be the last of Limone’s two sons’ torments. While in school, Olympia said, they endured the “your father is a murderer” bit and, as a result of finances, all of Limone’s children went to work early.

“My family helped out,” he said. “Her family helped out. God bless them. If we didn’t have big families we would have been on welfare.”

New hope

Although Limone had all but resigned himself to life in prison, last December brought him new hope when an important FBI document was published that indicated improprieties occurred in Limone’s arrest, including facts that were unavailable for the initial trial.

It was revealed in the 26-page report compiled late last year by John Durham, head of a Justice Department task force investigating the Boston branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that Limone is, and always was, an innocent man.

The report showed that facts that could have set Limone free were withheld by one-time Boston FBI agent H. Paul Rico. Rico now faces a slew of felony charges in several states, murder among them, and Limone said there is also a report that said Rico knew of Deegan’s planned killing two days before it actually happened.

“This Rico was ruthless,” Olympia said. “It’s not only what he did to [Peter], it’s what he did to other people.”

This information was reported to Limone’s attorney and shortly thereafter Limone was cleared of all wrongdoing, though that fact will not be formalized until Jan. 30 when Limone is scheduled in court. It is something he can deal with.

“I never gave up,” he said. “I just kept punching.”

Olympia said she knew how he coped.

“He’s a strong man,” Olympia said. “Believe me. Even if he had a good wife out there, if he were weak he would have just broken up.”

Peter Limone
Peter Limone at his sentencing for murder in 1966.
Peter Limone
Peter Limone is with his wife, Olympia, outside the Joe Moakley Courthouse in South Boston.

The outside world

The world and Boston have changed. To Limone it “was a shock.”

“I was just looking around and I said, `My God, look at this,'” he said of the new Boston.

He missed disco, the fall of communism in Germany and the Soviet Union and the Reagan years. When Limone was first arrested, Robert Kennedy and Jack Kerouac were still alive and the Beatles had yet to put out the White Album.

Not that Limone would have worn bell-bottoms or bought into Microsoft early – though he may think of it as he shops for all new clothes – but the opportunity, he said, would have been nice.

As far as seeking damages for the incalculable joys and travails lost in his personal life, such as communions, graduations, the birth of his grandchildren, or the sacrifices his family made because of Limone’s condition, those matters will be settled later.

He does, however, have a distrust for the government.

“It makes you wonder,” Limone said, “You say to yourself, `If they did it to me, what can they do to other people?’ But right now we want to get this thing over with and then we will worry about that.”

As to getting reacquainted with the woman he married more than 40 years ago, Limone said it is difficult.

“It’s good, but you know my wife’s lived her life here a long time alone,” Limone said. “I lived alone for 33 years. I lived in a cell. She’ll say `Pick that up’ or `Don’t put that on the table’ because you forget. ”

But, he added, it is something that can be managed.

And while he would take his wife on a cruise if he had the money, Limone said he is now just enjoying the world around him. For now, he is a smiling man.