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|James 'Whitey' Bulger, 16 years on the FBI's most-wanted list, comes
|Andrew Gumbel in Santa Monica
| Crime saga of
Boston mobster that shamed the feds ends with arrests at Californian seaside
For more than
20 years, the Irish-American mobster known as James "Whitey" Bulger played an
audacious double game in working-class south Boston. He fixed horse races,
forced businesses to pay him off or sell up, and told his debtors to cough up
the cash if they didn't want to have their ears cut off and stuffed in their
His mob, the Winter Hill gang, supplanted the local mafia
taking over their drug rackets and leaving a trail of corpses. And
Bulger did it all with the support, if not the encouragement, of the FBI, which
nominally was using him as an informant but allowed him to expand his power by
arresting and imprisoning many of the rivals who stood in his way.
was one of the most scandal-stained crime sagas in modern American history,
which came to a surprising end on Wednesday. In an incongruously comfortable
beach community in southern California, 81-year-old Bulger, a federal fugitive
since 1995, was found living quietly with his partner in an apartment building
filled with white-haired pensioners and beach bums who never gave him a second
Bulger and his 60-year-old partner, Catherine Greig, were
arrested without incident after police lured him outside the building.
The FBI said it had confirmed their location 24 hours earlier, possibly
as a result of television ads they starting running a day earlier on daytime
chatshows, in which they described Greig's multiple plastic surgeries and
fondness for regular dental cleanings.
Their modest apartment was
searched overnight, yielding firearms and a large quantity of cash. Both were
due to make their first appearance in federal court on Thursday.
ago, Bulger told his secret FBI handler that "you can't survive without friends
in law enforcement". So it proved.
"It's a long time coming and we're
glad he's finally in custody," Brian Kelly, a federal prosecutor who has been
gunning for Bulger for years, told the Boston Globe.
The FBI was
covered in shame in the 1990s when it emerged that its Boston field office had
essentially become one with the forces of organised crime.
handler and childhood friend, retired agent John Connolly, was convicted on
racketeering charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he remains.
Bulger's brother, for years a prominent Massachusetts politician, was forced to
resign as president of the University of Massachusetts after he disclosed he
had phone contact with Whitey after he was officially on the run.
FBI switched roles from abetting crime to co-ordinating a worldwide manhunt.
Bulger had fled Boston shortly before he was due to be indicted, tipped off by
Connolly, and was believed to be constantly on the move, relying on cash
deposits hidden around the world to keep one step ahead of the feds. His
longtime partner, another secret FBI informant called Stephen Flemmi, chose to
stay in Boston and was rapidly arrested and jailed.
found multiple echoes in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning thriller The Departed,
with its themes of double-dealing between the worlds of crime and law
enforcement. He was a fixture on the bureau's Ten Most Wanted list, right below
Osama bin Laden another man who enjoyed the protection of the American
establishment before becoming an enemy. The reward money for information
leading to his arrest kept increasing, rising to $2m (£1.25m).
2002 Bulger was seen in London, only to vanish again. More recently there was
an unconfirmed sighting in Fountain Valley, a suburb south of Los Angeles, and
some people speculated that a pensioner who robbed three Orange County banks
might have been him. (It almost certainly wasn't.)
The FBI had known
Greig was more likely to show herself than her companion, appealing for
information from doctors or dentists should anyone meeting her description walk
in for an appointment.
Intriguingly, the television ads did not play in
the Los Angeles area suggesting, perhaps, that the couple were already
under surveillance and that they were a diversionary tactic by the feds to
lower their guard and minimise the risk of a shootout, booby traps or other
Bulger's alias was Charlie Rosenzweig. With his balding head
and glasses, framed by the white hair that gave rise to his nickname, he would
have had no trouble passing himself off as just another old Jewish guy taking
daily walks on Santa Monica beach and ambling around the farmer's market, a
couple of blocks from his apartment.
The FBI said he did not appear to
be in good health, but gave few details. A statement said merely: "Recent
publicity produced a tip that led agents to a residence in Santa Monica,
California, where they located Bulger and Greig Wednesday evening."
Bulger is wanted for 19 murders, including that of an Oklahoma
businessman suspected of skimming money off the Winter Hill gang's gambling
operations, who was shot in the head at a Tulsa country club, and a Florida
gambling executive whose corpse was found in the locked boot of his Cadillac at
Much of the evidence against him emerged after he was
"outed" as an FBI informant. Outraged former associates came forward with an
avalanche of information likely to guarantee he will now die in prison.