The Old Man Next Door
October 28, 2013 4:15 PM   Subscribe

"Saddam had his spider hole. Manson had Barker Ranch. For James “Whitey” Bulger, the anonymity of advanced age provided ample cover for him to hide out 16 years in Santa Monica, a stash of blood money stuffed in the walls and guns at the ready." The last days of America’s most wanted mobster.
posted by porn in the woods (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'd like to point out The Couple in 303, my pals Eric and Gideon's phenomenal radio piece for KCRW on Whitey.
posted by mykescipark at 4:36 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the most remarkable aspects of the incredible Bulger story is barely mentioned in this article. His brother Billy was one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts during Whitey's reign as boss of the Winter Hill Gang. Billy claimed he had no idea that his brother was a gangster, and while everyone in the state reacted with a sarcastic "yeah, right," Billy was so powerful that no politician or media figure dared challenge the idea.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:59 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know if Billy Bulger was "too powerful" for anyone to challenge the idea – my recollection is that the media constantly did exactly that, intimating often that Billy and Whitey might be in communication. The media was not his friend; but the media doesn't win elections, and the people of South Boston just happened to really like Billy Bulger, as a local kid who did good and as a guy who "protects our interests." And either the Feds had nothing on him or didn't choose to pursue anything, most likely the former since there have been plenty of times in the past two decades when they would have loved to catch Billy and Whitey talking to each other and thereby prove that they are great at police work and not totally bumbling bozos. To be honest, there were and probably still are plenty of people in South Boston who really liked Whitey himself, though his good-guy mobster myth is pretty much exploded by now. I mean, after all, Billy Bulger did get forced out of office for not cooperating with the prosecution, and by local politicians, most notably Mitt Romney; so it's not like he was pulling all the strings everywhere.
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The office he was forced out of was the Presidency of UMass, not the State Senate. He was President of the Senate longer than anyone else. Whatever intimations the media may have issued, he was feared, or as they put it, respected by MA politicians
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:45 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Following a 1956 conviction for a bank heist, he served nine years of a 20-year sentence in Alcatraz, Leavenworth, and other federal penitentiaries before appeals from Father Robert Drinan, a family friend and future congressman, helped win his early release.

One of the cool things they left out was that he actually went back and visited Alcatraz while on the run
posted by mulligan at 5:51 PM on October 28, 2013

Meanwhile, the townie bar down the street from the Marshall St garage where a bunch of the Winter Hill Gang hung out (in Winter Hill, Somerville) has now gentrified into a high end small-plates Turkish restaurant with high-end cocktails. Oh, things do change.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:03 PM on October 28, 2013

Great article. So, $822,000 in cash hidden in the apartment. I'm surprised his sordid career wouldn't allow him to build a more substantial nest egg. Maybe he went through a lot of money when living in Europe.
posted by Triplanetary at 7:51 PM on October 28, 2013

There's always money in the banana stand.
posted by dumbland at 8:09 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The whole area around Whitey's old Triple O's bar is being overrun by yuppies in their LEED-certified condos:

Triple O-My: Whitey Bulger's Old Block Turning Boutique-y
posted by adamg at 8:24 PM on October 28, 2013

Another classic Whitey Bulger story: the time he won the Massachusetts State Lottery. I assume it was some kind of money laundering scam, e.g., he bought his shares of the winning ticket after the fact.
posted by carmicha at 8:30 PM on October 28, 2013

He liked country music, so there's that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:01 PM on October 28, 2013

Despite how brutal he is or who he hurt anyone who can stick it to the man like Whitey did and get away with it gets a couple of respect points from me.

He drove home to me the point that the cops and the feds can be bought off and owned just like anybody else.
posted by Renoroc at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2013

I had my mind changed a bit by the trial. Of course Whitey was guilty. But I came away thinking that the FBI let a two-bit criminal go a lot longer than he would have naturally gone by protecting him and building him up. And my mind has been changed in the reading I've done about his brother Billy. I grew up in and around Southie and early on I bought the story about the the good brother and the bad brother. And later I threw it out--as many did--and saw it as the two bad brothers doing bad in different ways. But the reading and thinking that I did this summer made me see it differently. This blog post-- is a good place to start to think about Billy Bulger in a different light. While it gets into some arcane details-- it is great food for thought.
posted by Cassford at 11:14 PM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

See also: Seth Stevenson's Bulger trial blog for Slate. (navigate via a drop-down menu at the top of the page. Die, Slate redesign, die.) Best paragraph of the whole thing, concerning Whitey's attorney's opening statement: "But a dangerous fugitive? Please. Carney will not brook this accusation. When Whitey went on the lam for 16 years—during which time he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list—he had simply “settled in California.” The same way Saddam Hussein settled in that spider hole outside Tikrit. Whitey was “not hiding” and was “living openly, in plain sight.” Using an alias. With guns and cash stowed in his walls. You know, like any other harmless retiree."

I think both the Slate blog and the LA article have in common finding Whitey a fascinating outlaw hero initially before he emerges as a despicable murderer, but the LA article really drives home his kind of mind-numbing ordinariness in California. When I first read it, I kind of expected more drama (and I suspect probably the editors did, too), but I've come around to feeling like it's its own kind of indictment: all of Whitey's sins and crimes earned him nothing more than a boring retirement in a suburban apartment.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:20 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ask someone there—or anywhere else in Los Angeles—to identify a real-life local Mob boss and you’ll be lucky to get the long-gone Bugsy Siegel or Mickey Cohen

I'm clearly not an Angelino, but is this an accurate statment? Do folks in LA think that all the cocaine and Korean massage girls just grow on trees or something?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:19 AM on October 29, 2013

Cassford, thanks for the link. Your comment reminded me of the old joke "You know you're from Boston when you know there are two Bulger brothers running the city and you're not sure which is the bigger crook."

It's nice to see that put to rest.
posted by Hactar at 6:13 AM on October 29, 2013

Not only Whitey and Billy, the whole Bulger family has been abusing Boston for years. Patronage jobs got another Bulger brother in the probation office and the MBTA. Nieces, nephews and other relatives have all been blessed with state or MBTA jobs that guarantee early retirement (some as early as age 47) and generous pensions and medical plans.
posted by Gungho at 6:52 AM on October 29, 2013

Do folks in LA think that all the cocaine and Korean massage girls just grow on trees or something?

My takeaway from that wasn't "people in Los Angeles don't believe there is organized crime," just that the "famous mob boss" is a thing of the past.
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 AM on October 29, 2013

Bulger set fire to John F. Kennedy’s birthplace

Okay, what's up with that?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:33 AM on October 29, 2013

My takeaway from that wasn't "people in Los Angeles don't believe there is organized crime," just that the "famous mob boss" is a thing of the past.

It's interesting that in the home of hollywood glitz the guys that make it big in organized crime are anonymous while in the cities of the east coast where people often go to disolve into anonymity they are celebrities.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:37 AM on October 29, 2013

I think it's rather that the guys who make it big in crime in LA are ubiquitous. It'd be neat if they wore a uniform, like they did in the East way back when, but even Mafiosi know better than that these days.
posted by koeselitz at 10:41 AM on October 29, 2013

Another great Bulger story: he drove to Vancouver to attend the Stanley Cup finals in June 2011.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 12:18 PM on October 29, 2013

I wonder if Robert Heinlein ratted him out.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:51 AM on November 8, 2013

William Bulger, Whitey's brother, breaks silence on mobster
The entire situation "has been a source of great anguish. Just because I visit him, doesn't mean I condone it," William Bulger told reporter Janet Wu.

Asked what he means by "it," the former University of Massachusetts president would not directly address the murders, drug trafficking and other gangland activities his brother was convicted of, but acknowledged he was not blind to the obvious.

"I always knew there was fact and fiction. I couldn't sort it out. I try to be rational about all of this," he said. "All that has come out doesn't come out of thin air. I don't know what is true or not."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:33 PM on November 15, 2013

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