Collins, sweeping the sidewalk outside his bar, doesn't pretend to have been ignorant of the past. He just preferred to stay out of the fray and remain on Bulger's good side. Like other old-timers, Collins credits Bulger with preventing South Boston from being flooded with heroin in the 1960s.
"If he found out you were dealing, you were going to pay," Collins said, referring to the myriad ways the Winter Hill Gang was known to thrash its enemies, including strangulation and stomping them to death.
Others say Bulger merely controlled the heroin trade and steered it toward other areas.
"He had such control over this community," said Castagna, who said no matter how many horrible things you heard about Bulger, there was always someone with a "nice" story to tell about him.
Such as the time Bulger overheard a young thug bragging about having stolen computers from a school. Shortly afterward, he took the kid for a ride in his car. "And next thing you know, all those computers were back in school," she said, repeating Bulger lore that may or may not be true.
Whatever the truth, Collins said some things are clear. "A lot of guys wanted to be just like him but didn't have the guts," he said. "It made life really interesting in South Boston."
Photos: James 'Whitey' Bulger
Richard A. Serrano in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.