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Dublin: 0 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Everything you need to know about the infamous Whitey Bulger

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was captured last night after 16 years on the run. But how did the Irish-American mobster become such a notorious figure?

A 1994 photo of Bulger released by the FBI
A 1994 photo of Bulger released by the FBI
Image: ASSOCIATED PRESS/AP

FUGITIVE MOBSTER JAMES ‘Whitey’ Bulger was captured with his girlfriend last night after 16 years on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. He was indicted for 19 murders. But where did he come from and why was he so important to the US authorities?

  • James Bulger, Jr,was a legendary crime figure and at one time something of a folk hero in Boston. He inspired Jack Nicholson’s dandified gangster Frank Costello in 2006 movie The Departed, set in Irish south Boston. His name still holds a powerful appeal – even last night, several New Englanders living in LA gathered at the scene of his capture. One told the LA Times: “If this was Boston, there’d be a thousand people out here.”
  • Bulger was born in a Boston housing project 1929, the eldest son of two Irish-Americans. His father had emigrated from the West, his maternal grandparents from Cork city. He was in trouble from an early age: first jailed at 14, there are stories of him driving his car wildly off the road and through railway stations – always with a girl in tow.
  • He first went on the run in 1956, but it was short-lived: he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years for hijacking liquor trucks. During his sentence he spent time in Alcatraz, where he befriended murderer Clarence ‘The Choctaw Kid’ Carnes.
  • In 1965 he was released, returned to Boston and became a lieutenant in the feared Winter Hill Gang. He swiftly rose through the ranks. However, along with associate Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi, Bulger cut a deal to become an FBI informant providing information on the Italian mafia in exchange for protection. His contact was FBI agent John Connolly.
  • Bulger’s brother William, a politician, was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1970. He would later serve for many years as president of the body, then president of the University of Massachusetts, before stepping down amid pressure over his family ties.
  • When Howie Winter and 20 others were arrested in 1979, Connolly and an FBI associate persuaded prosecutors to leave Bulger and Flemmi untouched and the pair stepped into the gang’s leadership.

James Bulger and girlfriend Catherine Greig, in a video still provided by the FBI (AP Photo/FBI)

  • In the early 1980s, Winter Hill gang members were implicated in several murders. After one – in which Bulger and Flemmi are said to have gunned down a former henchman in broad daylight – Connolly filed an FBI report claiming the hit was the work of rival gangsters.
  • Bulger is said to have helped load seven tons of assault rifles meant for the IRA aboard the trawler Valhalla in 1984. However, the shipment was stopped and seized by the Irish navy and gardai. The crew, including future Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris, were arrested. Speaking on RTE’s Today With Pat Kenny this morning, Boston Globe writer Kevin Cullen said the IRA “believed he [Bulger] was responsible for that mission being compromised.”
  • Bulger was finally indicted in 1995 on racketeering charges. However, he was tipped off by John Connolly and disappeared just before he could be seized. In 2002, Connolly was convicted of racketeering for his part in warning Bulger of the imminent police operation, amid huge controversy over the FBI’s relationship with mob informants.
  • During Bulger’s time on the run, the FBI have investigated dozens of reported sightings around the world, and even released videos of couples resembling Whitey and his girlfriend Catherine Greig. This has added to the mystique surrounding his career – as have FBI statements that he loves animals and carries a knife at all times.
  • There have been persistent rumours that he could be hiding out in Ireland, with one FBI agent telling the Sunday Tribune in 2008 that “we’ve got a lot of new leads and many of them point to Ireland.” Kevin Cullen said today: “He definitely had a bank deposit box in Dublin [...] I know he’s been to Ireland.” However, he cast doubt on the idea that Bulger could have hidden here – saying that he would have been in too much danger from the IRA over the Valhalla debacle.
  • At the time of his arrest after a tip-off, the FBI was offering a $2million reward for information leading to his capture – the largest ever offered for a so-called ‘Top Ten’ non-international fugitive.

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