“I LOVE THE WEST END HOUSE,” yelled Marcia Leppo, the wife of legendary West Ender and trial lawyer, Marty Leppo. There is no name more synonymous with West End House than Leppo. Patriarch Jake Leppo was a camper in the 1920s and his wife Mollie was a President of the West End House Auxiliary (organization that supported the activities of the club and camp, like a PTO for camp). The wives of the Leppos are as passionate about the place as their husbands.
In 1939, eight year old Marty Leppo first came to camp for 2 weeks. West End House was always talked about in their house in Brookline, MA. His father, Jake, slept in “Tent 8” near the waterfront, and that is where Marty would start as well. Marty eventually moved to a tent for older campers. At that time the Mendelsohn Cabin (future Bill’s Cabin) was the only “bungalow” in camp, so mostly everyone lived in a tent.
Marty remembers his first trip to camp. It started with a bus from the Club on Blossom Street, then a train to Portland, Maine. Prior to his departure, “My dad fell off an elevator shaft and I went to see him. He had 100 stitches all over his body. I didn’t appreciate how badly injured he was.” It seems that his father’s injury was underplayed, so that Marty would be comfortable leaving to go to camp.
Marty remembers the activities, including outdoor basketball, boxing, swimming, track, and softball. West End played baseball vs. local town teams. Marty later worked in the kitchen as a dishwasher as he got older. The cook at the time loved to yell “Time to feed the animals!” when it was mealtime. There was a rivalry between the counselors and the workers. They played basketball and softball against each other. Marty also had the unlucky task of having to disinfect the well known “Country Club,” the bathroom shed with 6 wooden toilets.
Marty’s last year at camp, 1951, was a memorable one. It was the first year of Color War and he coached the blue team with his friend, Charlie Egan. Back at Brookline High, Charlie was the class President and Marty was his Vice President. Charlie later moved to Chicago and became a lawyer for the Hallmark company. The other coach was long time friend Larry Gilligan. The three friends won a close Color War victory over the white team after winning Song Night.
Marty grew up in Brookline, but always wanted to be considered an original West Ender. “A Dorchester or Brookline kid was an outsider. It was an honor to be from the West End. West End kids always got applause. I considered myself a West Ender. I played ball in the West End.” Marty’s good friends were from the West End, he later became the lawyer for many of these guys. Later in life, he even took an apartment in the West End so he could legitimately claim “I WAS a West Ender.”
When asked about “being one of the boys,” Marty was quick to point out “That was the House Song, NOT the Camp Song.” Marty went on to recite the song as he’s probably done thousands of times throughout his life. “West End kids were good citizens, honest, hardworking. West End (club) was always a place to go for dances, track meets, and watching basketball. People had a place to gather and stay out of trouble.”
Marty speaks most highly of his guys from the “Olympic Club,” a club within the club, which was started by dear friends Arthur Geller and Larry Gilligan. Marty came up to camp, with his wife and son Carl, during this past Old Timers’ Week (2022) to make a speech in memory of Arthur Geller. He was thrilled to put up a picture of the old Olympic Club group. Those guys stayed close for many years. “They sent me business.” Before he became a lawyer, in 1950, Marty got a job through his Olympic Club connections. He worked starting on Saturdays at 9:15 pm, spending all night assembling Boston Globes for the big Sunday edition. For this he earned $18.75 each time.
The Olympic Club guys would always get together. Marty was there for an event honoring Jacky Resnick, for being the all time leading basketball scorer at Suffolk College. “It was a pleasure.” Arthur Geller was on the team as well. “There is something about being a West Ender, it means he has your back.” Marty later represented many of his friends who needed his legal counsel. During our interview, it occurred to Marty that he was thinking of Norty Miller during the Celtics game (earlier in the day) and that he needed to call him and have breakfast soon, to catch up.
There were many men that Marty looked up to, but Jack Burnes was near the top. He was the Executive Director, having replaced another legend, Mitchell Freiman. “Jack Burnes was a wonderful human being. He cared for kids from non-affluent areas of Boston and helped everyone who had a problem.” According to Marty, Jack WAS “The Spirit of the House.” In fact, Marty remembers playing catcher vs. a local town team. He never wore a cup or a chest protector. Some kid, from a team in town, would hit him with his bat on purpose. Jack Burnes protested and it never happened again. Jack Burnes always took care of his boys.
After his time as a camper and counselor were over, Marty would go to great lengths to visit camp. “One time I drove 2,000 miles to come to Old Timers’ Week, just for a couple of days.” He was in the Marines in North Carolina and drove to Boston, picked up some friends and made the pilgrimage to Parsonsfield, ME. When World War II ended in 1945, there was a week just for the veterans, then for the old alumni, which is when Marty would come.
Marty Leppo is a long time criminal lawyer, who has defended West Enders and many members accused of being a part of “organized crime.” During his many cases and travels, he ran into West Enders, even in California. One time he met up with his pal Larry Gilligan while working a murder case in Los Angeles. Another time, he was in San Diego for months on a lengthy trial. He became friendly with the lawyers and was invited to breakfast for the Navy League. There, he met someone from the West End. Marty often wore a WEH cap and t-shirt. “Hey, you’re a West Ender,” yelled someone. “West Ender, WHAT’S UP BROTHER?” Marty replied.
Marty graduated Northeastern University and entered Boston University Law School after a stint in the Marines. He gained a great reputation early in his career after winning many big cases. There was an article written about Marty in The Enterprise in 2021, describing his amazing career. Members of organized crime, from Providence and Boston, hired Marty to represent them. He estimates that he has tried cases in 15-18 states. He has done many cases with some really bad police work. There was one case in which he represented three men, who were found “not guilty” of murder. Then the jury came back again and said “guilty.” But his clients did not commit the murder. This case has bothered Marty for 50 years as his clients, all African-Americans, seems to have been a clear victim of racism. Two of the men died in prison and one finally got out after the true murderer eventually admitted it, years later. Marty is still deeply saddened by this case.
What most interests me about Marty’s career, is how he has become one of the go to sounding boards for the famous “Heist” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Gardner Heist saw 13 pieces of priceless art stolen, in the middle of the night, on March 18th, 1990. Two men, dressed as police officers, tied up the two guards and spent an unprecedented 81 minutes collecting items to steal. A typical art heist usually takes a few minutes. It remains the most costly unsolved art heist in history, as precious paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer were taken and have never been recovered. The estimated value of the items is hard to say, but is often estimated as $500 million to $1 billion. It was not a coincidence that this took place after a St. Patrick’s Day of celebrating in Boston, when the police were not readily available. If you listen to the “Last Seen” podcast you can hear Marty discuss the Heist. In fact, episode 3 is titled “Not a Bunch of Jamokes,” which is a quote directly from Marty stressing that the robbers were definitely professionals, “Not a Bunch of Jamokes” as some people have theorized. Marty is interviewed on the case often, as many of his clients were suspects in the Heist. Also, Marty is interviewed in the Netflix documentary, “This is a Robbery,” and delivers one of the most memorable lines of the documentary. “The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was an art thief’s delight.” While there was a security system in place, the two guards did not have the experience (one was a musician) to protect this priceless palace of art. Marty is featured in the trailer (54 second mark).
When I asked Marty about the Heist, it was clear this is something he’s asked about often. The very day I spoke to Marty, he had received a call earlier in the day on the Gardner Heist. “I represented all of the suspects. I don’t know where the paintings are. They filmed most of that (the documentary) from my office. Twenty-five or more interviews. Knowing the players, I have more info than anyone else.” One of his clients, Myles Connors, has been one of the top suspects throughout. “I speak to Myles Connors five times a week. I’m writing a book on it. There was so much crime back then. I really don’t know what happened. It was pulled off so simply. The place (Gardner museum) was trampled. They couldn’t come up with a lead.” Marty dispels the idea that the art is destroyed. “It would make no sense for the art to be deliberately destroyed. A robbery could have been committed to get someone a reduced sentence.” This is what happened when the Museum of Fine Arts was robbed before the Gardner. Marty does not know what happened to the art and even if he did know something, he wouldn’t be able to say anything because of attorney-client privilege.
The Leppo family tree at West End is vast. Marty and Marcia had three boys, all West Enders, of course. Carl’s son, Matthew, was a long time camper. Ricky Leppo, another of Marty’s boys, was a West Ender as well. His son Jacob was a long time camper also.
Andrew “Unna” Leppo, was a long time camper and a High Senior Captain on for the legendary, Blue Lords. Sadly, Andrew passed away in 2018 as did his son Vincent, in 2020. Vincent also went to camp and was a High Senior Captain, in 2009, for the Blue Savage. Despite the deep family sadness, Marty was happy that there was a fundraiser in memory of Andrew. In 2019, they organized a Wrestling event called “Unstamania” with the proceeds going towards West End House Camp. During the last two summers two boys were the beneficiaries of scholarships given through the Andrew Leppo Memorial Scholarship fund.
There have been several Leppos through the years. In fact, there is a picture from 2007 of seven Leppo campers huddling around a stone in the memory of the original Leppo from the 1920s, Jake.
Marty and Marcia now live in Stoughton and are as sharp and witty as ever. We did this interview a few hours after the Celtics won game seven over the 76ers (2023). Let’s just say Marcia was not impressed with Jayson Tatum’s play in game six. She admitted screaming “Tatum WAKE UP!” But she was happy with his 51 point performance hours earlier. Marty laughed at one point and said “She just stuck her tongue out at me.” After 62 years, they clearly are as connected as ever.
When I asked Marty what lessons he had learned from being a West Ender, he said, “There is good in everyone, trust in everyone, even someone shaken isn’t broken. Be as honest, forthcoming, loyal to as many people as you can. It’s all about loyalty and caring.” Thank you for sharing how you “Became One of the Boys.” I think it’s safe to say that despite growing up in Brookline, Marty Leppo is as much a West Ender as there ever has been.