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A lethal spike
After months of relative quiet, Boston saw nine unrelated murders in 20 days

MAYBE IT WAS the temperature, which finally crept above 45 degrees in mid March. All we know is that, after a winter lull, the streets of Boston returned to the carnage that led to 61 homicides last year. In a 20-day stretch beginning March 14, nine victims — eight men and one woman — fell in a flurry of apparently unrelated, deadly violence.

They died in Roxbury, Dorchester, Charlestown, and East Boston; in the street, in their homes, in cars, and on a bus; in midday and late at night; they were teenaged, adult, and elderly; they were black and white. They were shot, stabbed, and strangled. They left behind three young children and two more yet to be born, who will never see their fathers.

This happens in some large cities, but not in Boston. For the past 10 years, the city has averaged less than a homicide a week — typically even less than that in March and April. Only twice in the past six years has the city seen 10 or more killings in a month, both times in August (including last summer).

These nine deaths were by no means the only acts of violence during those 20 days; they were the ones that ended with funerals. Among those wounded during the same three weeks were a 30-year-old man shot in the stomach in a Roslindale community center; another 30-year-old man shot twice in his Roxbury home; a 62-year-old woman stabbed in the stomach in the South End; two men critically stabbed in an East Boston restaurant; and a 22-year-old man shot in the leg on Huntington Avenue.

The wave of murders seems to have stopped again, for now — just as it stopped in the heart of winter, before the calm ended with five murders in eight days. Let’s take this moment to reflect on the city’s most recent victims, and on what we know about their deaths.

James Funches, Monday, March 14

Police are not saying what happened to 73-year-old James Funches, and nobody around the Whittier Street Housing Development seems to know much more than what was in the newspapers. At 11 o’clock on a Monday morning, firefighters responded to a blaze in a sixth-floor window of the development’s 180 Ruggles Street building. When they arrived, they initially could not get the door open, apparently because the people inside had blocked it with an appliance. Finally gaining entry through a window, they found James Funches near death, his body bearing signs of beating and strangulation. Funches died before reaching a hospital.

Firefighters also found Funches’s 27-year-old grandson, who lived in the apartment with Funches, shot in both legs. (Police have asked that his name not be printed, as he is a potential witness. Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have printed his name, and the Herald ran his photograph.)

The sixth-floor window looking out toward the Madison Park High School ball field is still boarded up. Apparently, after the attack the grandson had set a fire on the kitchen stove to signal for help.

Police did not officially declare it a homicide until March 22, and will not confirm other reported details: that two men entered the apartment posing as either police officers or US marshals; that the grandson, who has a criminal record, may have been the target of the attack; and that Funches may have tried to protect his grandson from the intruders.

Funches’s wife died last year from pneumonia, and nearby family were helping him as he aged. In addition his grandson, he had a granddaughter, Waltia, living nearby, and a son, James Funches Jr., who is a pastor in Dorchester.

Leon Bocage, Wednesday, March 16

Leon Bocage, 25, was two months away from becoming a father when he was shot to death at his home at 780 Shawmut Street, in Roxbury, where he lived with his mother.

Bocage was the last of four siblings to have kids, and was looking forward to it, along with his girlfriend of three years, says his mother, Ethel Duncan. "He was good with kids," Duncan says.

Bocage appears to have been shot outside the townhouse a little before 2 p.m. on that Wednesday afternoon, less than a half-hour after he was seen by friends at the Lenox housing development where he grew up. He apparently made his way back inside the house, where he called 911 and collapsed. Emergency respondents who first arrived could not get in the house and left, Duncan says. A friend of hers found Bocage at 3 p.m.

Bocage had a criminal history, including a six-month stay at the Suffolk County House of Correction in 2001 for violating probation on a conviction for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Duncan believes that her son had put his troubles behind him, and it is unknown whether detectives have discovered evidence of any recent criminal activity. Bocage’s brother, a Cablevision employee in Maryland, was helping him set up a cable subcontracting business, she says. Bocage was also hoping to continue his education, which he stopped after graduating from Madison Park High School.

He and Duncan had planned a week-long vacation to visit family in Atlanta — a birthday trip for Bocage, slated for March because "he wanted to make sure there was no chance he would be gone when the baby came," Duncan recalls.

In the meantime, he kept busy fixing up his Honda hatchback and doing chores for a sick neighbor. "He lived like he had the world," Duncan says. "He had been through the gangs and started over." Someone ended that attempt in a mid-afternoon shooting. Police are investigating but have made no arrests.

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Issue Date: April 29 - May 5, 2005
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