As reputed gangster Stephen Flemmi drove his car through South Boston on a crisp September night in 1981, his girlfriend, Debra Davis, sat pressed against the passenger side door, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the man she no longer loved.
Davis, a stunning 26-year-old blonde, had fallen in love with a young Mexican businessman she had met while vacationing in Acapulco and wanted to end her nine-year romance with Flemmi. But he apparently had other plans.
The car came to a halt outside Flemmi's mother's house on East Third Street, and the unhappy couple walked inside. It was allegedly the last place Davis was seen alive.
A former associate of Flemmi and his longtime partner, South Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, has told investigators that Flemmi strangled Davis inside his mother's house, according to sources familiar with the investigation. It is unclear whether Mary Flemmi, who died last May, was home at the time.
Later that night, Flemmi and Bulger allegedly carried Davis's lifeless body outside and drove to an isolated area under the train tracks in Quincy, where they buried her in a marshy grave at the edge of the Neponset River, according to sources.
After two weeks of digging along the banks of the river last month in an area located just 100 yards from a condominium where Bulger used to live, investigators located the remains of a man who allegedly was murdered by Bulger and Flemmi in 1975. But they were unable to locate the remains of Davis and have suspended digging.
Still, federal prosecutors have pushed forward with a sweeping federal racketeering indictment, unsealed Sept. 28, that charges Bulger with 18 murders and Flemmi with 10 murders between 1973 and 1985. Both men are charged with slaying Davis. Bulger, 71, has a been a fugitive since he was indicted in January 1995 on federal racketeering charges, and Flemmi, 66, has remained in jail for about five years while awaiting trial in the earlier case.
"It's not a consolation to us that they have been charged with her murder if they don't find her body," said Victor Davis, who, along with several of his brothers, stood vigil near the Quincy site last month during the search for his sister's remains.
"We've always known Stevie killed her. Our ultimate goal is to bury her. If we don't get to bury her the right way, it's going to scar us for the rest of our lives. We want to know where she is."
Victor Davis was reluctant yesterday to discuss the case involving his sister, noting that the family has hired a lawyer and is considering a lawsuit against the FBI. Bulger and Flemmi were working as informants when Davis disappeared. In the years following her disappearance, FBI agents interviewed her mother at length on several occasions - yet her fate remained a mystery and Flemmi and Bulger were active informants through 1990.
Flemmi and Bulger occasionally hosted dinners for FBI agents at the South Boston home of Flemmi's mother - the same place where Debra Davis allegedly drew her last breath.
Bulger's brother, former state Senate president William Bulger, now president of the University of Massachusetts, lives next door.
During federal court hearings in 1998, a retired FBI supervisor testified that he was having dinner with Flemmi, Bulger, and another agent at Flemmi's mother's house when William Bulger dropped in to give some photographs to his brother.
The Davis family is referring questions about Debra Davis's case to their lawyer, but a glimpse of her life with Flemmi and her desperate effort to leave him for a better life emerged through earlier interviews with Victor Davis and his brothers and a number of sources familiar with the investigation into her disappearance and presumed murder.
Born on March 27, 1955, Davis was one of 10 children of Olga and Edward Davis, who began raising their family in Roxbury and later moved to Roslindale. Edward Davis ran a gas station on Harvard Street in Brookline, and his daughter Debra began working nearby at a jewelry store owned by Brookline jeweler George Taylor.
Davis was 17 when Flemmi, 21 years her senior, came into the shop to buy jewelry for another woman and immediately became smitten with Davis.
Living up to his reputation as a womanizer with an eye for very young women, Flemmi lavished Davis with expensive gifts. Soon they were living together in a luxury apartment on Longwood Avenue in Brookline. Years later, they moved into an apartment in Randolph.
Davis's father, who strongly disapproved of the relationship and didn't like Flemmi, drowned in 1975 after falling off a boat in Boston Harbor.
The relationship continued and so did the gifts from Flemmi to Davis: a Jaguar, a Corvette, a Mercedes. But she grew increasingly unhappy in the relationship.
"Debbie wanted to get married, have a baby, and live a normal life," Victor Davis said during earlier interviews. "Stevie didn't want that."
While vacationing in Acapulco with her mother, Davis met a wealthy, young entrepreneur who was in the poultry and olive oil business. The romance flourished, and Davis returned to Acapulco a few times for longer and longer vacations, staying there for about a month in the summer of 1981.
"She loved him. She was going to marry him," Victor Davis said. "She was preparing to leave Stevie, but was afraid."
She had reason to be afraid. Her frequent, extended trips to Acapulco had aroused Flemmi's suspicions, and while she was on one of those trips in the summer of 1981, Flemmi rifled her mother's house, looking for evidence that she was cheating on him, according to Victor Davis.
On Sept. 17, 1981, Debra Davis dropped her mother off after a shopping trip, kissed her goodbye, and drove off to meet Flemmi with a promise to call the next day. The call never came.
Flemmi apparently demanded that Davis remain with him, but he was never faithful to her.
At the same time that Flemmi shared an apartment with Davis, he was living with Marion Hussey, a woman he had been with after separating from his wife in the 1960s. Flemmi and Hussey had three children together, and now he is accused of killing Hussey's daughter from another marriage.
In January, the remains of Deborah Hussey, who was just three years younger than Debra Davis, were unearthed from a makeshift grave across from Florian Hall in Dorchester. Flemmi had allegedly been having an affair with Deborah Hussey since she was a teenager. Flemmi and Bulger are accused of killing Hussey in early 1985.
Within 48 hours of Davis's disappearance, her mother reported her missing to Randolph police. FBI agents later interviewed Olga Davis at length about her daughter's disappearance, but never confronted Flemmi about the case, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
The Davis family has long suspected Flemmi of killing Debra Davis, and prosecutors and investigators got a major break in the case when longtime Bulger associates began cooperating with authorities in the past year.
In January, Bulger's top deputy, Kevin Weeks, led investigators to the gravesite across from Florian Hall, where they unearthed the remains of Hussey and two Quincy men, Arthur "Bucky" Barrett and John McIntyre, who allegedly were killed by Bulger and Flemmi in 1983 and 1984.
Last month, investigators recovered the remains of a man believed to be Paul McGonagle from a grave at the edge of Tenean Beach in Dorchester. McGonagle, a Bulger rival, had disappeared in 1974. They also recovered the remains of a man believed to be Thomas King, who disappeared in 1975, from a burial site at the edge of the Neponset River in Quincy.
Investigators from the Massachusetts State Police, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service, who have spearheaded the Bulger-Flemmi probe, were unable to locate Davis's remains, despite information that she was buried at the Quincy site.
Investigators have said they are not giving up on finding Davis.