“Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice”
By Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy; W.W. Norton ($26.95)
When Whitey Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., late on the afternoon of June 22, 2011, it brought to an end one of the longest, and strangest, manhunts in U.S. history. Nearly 82, Bulger had spent 15 years hiding in plain sight in an apartment complex near the Pacific with longtime girlfriend Cathy Greig.
In that time, he had literally reinvented himself: from a ruthless murderer and extortionist, who for more than a quarter century ruled South Boston, or Southie, to a grandfatherly figure, white-haired, bearded and nondescript.
“We were looking for a gangster, and that was part of the problem,” explains former Boston police detective Charles Fleming in Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy’s “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice,” a definitive account of Bulger’s life and the city that helped create him. “He wasn’t a gangster anymore.”
That’s true, of course, although there is more to the story, since Bulger was nothing if not contradictory. How the man who inspired Jack Nicholson’s brutal mob boss Frank Costello in the Martin Scorsese film “The Departed” could simply walk away from a life of crime is an open question, but Bulger offers up a hint.
“She did what all the cops, prisons and courts couldn’t,” he wrote of Greig after his arrest. “Got me to live crime free for 16 years — for this they should give her a medal.”
“Whitey Bulger” is a portrait of its subject in all his complexity: devoted son and brother, vicious killer, neighborhood folk hero, anti-integration activist. (In 1975, he firebombed John F. Kennedy’s birthplace in Brookline, Mass., to protest Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s support for enforced school busing, spray-painting the sidewalk in front of the house with the slogan “Bus Teddy.”)