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Whitey Bulger, a savvy, feared fugitive, is found frail and paranoid

The FBI arrests legendary Boston mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger, now 81 years old and ailing, and his companion in Santa Monica. They had been on the run for 16 years.

June 24, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Andrew Blankstein and Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
  • FBI agents carry out bags and boxes of evidence Thursday morning from the Santa Monica apartment building where Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger was arrested. He had been on the lam since 1994.
FBI agents carry out bags and boxes of evidence Thursday morning from the… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

James "Whitey" Bulger's image seemed set in stone. He was a Boston "Southie," a street punk who climbed out of the projects on a ladder of crime — petty larceny, then burglary, then bank robbery, then at least 21 murders, according to authorities, one in which a man standing in a phone booth was shot so many times his torso was nearly severed from his legs.

Savvy and feared, Bulger seized control of a mob empire, running rackets, shakedowns and drug deals over 40 years, officials say, before fleeing Boston in December 1994 on the eve of a federal indictment.

While the feds chased leads for 16 years in 19 countries, Bulger supposedly stashed fake passports and bank accounts across the Western world. Even as he rose to No. 2 on the most-wanted list, right behind Osama bin Laden, he appeared to be living as an untouchable bon vivant. He was reportedly seen at a banquet in Washington wearing a smart white suit with a red pocket square, and sighted strolling through a $500-a-night hotel in London's Piccadilly Circus.

Photos: The hunt for James "Whitey" Bulger

But soon after Bulger was lured out of a Santa Monica apartment on Wednesday and arrested at long last, it became clear that the reputed mobster was an old and ailing man living a quiet life. The end did not come in a hail of gunfire, as he'd once predicted, but in a cloud of frail confusion.

Bulger quickly conceded to authorities that he was Whitey Bulger — not Charles Gasko, as everyone knew him — but he seemed addled, befuddled by all the commotion. Informed that he was under arrest, he managed to muster a final act of defiance, refusing an order to lie on the ground so that he could be handcuffed.

His apartment was a half a mile from the ocean at 1012 3rd St. But it was rent-controlled, perhaps 800 square feet, and faced the other direction, toward a truck rental shop and a nursing home. An exit sign cast a green hue over his door, and the dim overhead lights in the hall emitted a constant hum.

Most days, other residents said, he was cloistered inside apartment 303 — where he hoarded 30 guns and about $800,000 in cash, sources said. When he ventured out, he still put on an elegant jacket. But he'd turned 81 in September, and his mind appeared to be descending into dementia and paranoid rage, residents said. When his younger, gregarious girlfriend smiled and greeted neighbors, he'd begun barking at her: "Shut up! Don't talk!"

"She was living with hell," neighbor Barbara Gluck, who lived across the hall, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "She was caretaking a crazy man."

On Thursday, Bulger and his longtime companion, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, made brief appearances in federal court in Los Angeles.

Bulger was wearing glasses and was dressed in a white, loose-fitting shirt; the remnants of his white hair formed a fringe around his balding head, and he had a white mustache and beard. He clutched a thick stack of documents. Asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge John E. McDermott if he had been advised of the charges filed against him, Bulger replied: "I got 'em all here. It'll take me quite a while to finish these."

Then he added: "I know them all anyways."

Bulger faces federal racketeering charges in connection with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, drug-dealing, extortion and money laundering, officials said. He will also face state murder charges in Florida and in Oklahoma, where he has long been wanted in connection with the slayings of two businessmen. Both states have indicated that they are exploring the possibility of seeking the death penalty; the federal charges would not carry the possibility of a death sentence.

"Bulger's criminal activities have been marked by the corpses his killers and associates have left behind in car trunks and alleyways," said Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney for Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Bulger and Grieg did not contest the federal government's decision to hold them without bail. They are expected to be flown to Boston soon, where their arrest has captivated the city and brought a sense of satisfaction to many of those victimized.

"I never thought they'd capture him alive or in the country," said Michael Donahue, 42, who was 13 in 1982, when his father was gunned down, allegedly by Bulger.

The elder Michael Donahue had agreed to give a man a ride home from a bar. The man turned out to be an FBI informant; Bulger and an accomplice were waiting outside, and Donahue was killed along with the informant, authorities said.

Greig, 60, has not been connected directly to Bulger's alleged crimes; she will face a federal charge of harboring a fugitive. That charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but federal officials suggested Thursday that they will review her case to determine whether they can bring any additional charges against her.

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