Accused murderer, racketeer and former FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger, captured with a stash of cash and guns after 16 years on the run, was one outlaw his South Boston neighbors thought would never be found.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Kevin Stuart, shaking his head at a copy of the Boston Herald with Bulger’s photo under the headline, “CAUGHT!” Stuart, 71, at breakfast with friends today at Mul’s Diner in the historically Irish-American enclave, said he was surprised by the capture. “Around here, he’s as big of a deal as bin Laden,” he said.
Bulger, 81, is wanted in connection with 19 murders as leader of the Winter Hill Gang. Described by the government as a “major organized-crime figure from South Boston,” he was arrested yesterday in Santa Monica, California. He and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60, were apprehended by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at their apartment following a tip, the agency said.
The arrest came after the FBI’s Boston office this week announced a new television ad campaign to generate information in its search for him. Bulger often used disguises to travel extensively through Europe, Canada and Mexico, the FBI said.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Bulger worked as an informant on mob activities for the FBI in Boston, according to the government. He was indicted in 1995 for racketeering violations, including activities while he was working for federal agents. Five years later, he was indicted for multiple murders.
Bulger’s notoriety as both an alleged gangster and FBI informant spread beyond South Boston, the neighborhood also known as “Southie.” Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie, “The Departed,” was set in Boston and featured a Bulger-like character played by Jack Nicholson. Some residents of the area, to the south of downtown Boston, seemed surprised at how long Bulger had evaded detection.
“He was a pretty lucky guy, really, to get away with it for so long,” said Michael Dore, 47, who works at the South Boston Community Health Center. “The real question is whether or not he rolls over on anyone. The bet on the street is no. He’s an old guy, there’s no real reason he needs to do that.”
Tom Tracy, 72, a South Boston resident since 1970 and a Bulger acquaintance, said the image Bulger tried to cultivate as a champion of the working class is false.
“None of this Robin Hood stuff you hear is true,” Tracy said, adding that he doesn’t think Bulger will be any help to the FBI. “He probably already has an escape plan.”
“There was a lot of folklore that surrounded him,” said Rob Alexander, 33, at Mul’s Diner. “He brought a lot of drama.”
About half of the two dozen people interviewed refused to give their names for fear of retaliation.
“I’ve got sons,” one woman said. “I don’t want to get them in any trouble when they’re running around out here.”
Tarnished the FBI
Bulger’s association with the FBI helped tarnish the agency’s reputation, according to a 2003 congressional report. Years before he went into hiding, he worked with Boston FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up a few doors down from his family in South Boston.
The report blasted the FBI for its use of Bulger and other alleged criminals as informants, calling it “one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement.”
Connolly, who had since retired, was eventually indicted for alerting Bulger and associates to ongoing investigations, the Associated Press reported. He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While seen in many movies as a bleak, working-class redoubt, South Boston has produced generations of the city’s best-known politicians, including former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn and Bulger’s brother, William, who served as president of the Massachusetts Senate from 1978 to 1996.
After becoming president of the University of Massachusetts, William Bulger appeared before a U.S. House committee and refused to answer questions about his brother’s whereabouts, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Today, he declined to comment when interviewed at his Boston home, the Boston Globe reported.
From his seat in Mul’s diner, Alexander said the neighborhood the Bulger brothers grew up in retains a complicated relationship with William’s ex-fugitive sibling.
“Most people don’t like him down here,” Alexander said. “But they respected him because they feared him.”