By Jill Harmacinski
Notorious gangsters like James "Whitey" Bulger don't just launder money, loanshark, intimidate and brutally murder people. They also meticulously plan their own escape strategies, a local FBI agent explained yesterday.
"You're dealing with career criminals. They plan the crime and they also plan how they are going to get away," said Warren Bamford, a special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office who retired a year ago.
Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, spent 16 years as fugitives before their capture Wednesday night at a California apartment building where they lived for 15 years.
Investigators found a large amount of cash and weapons stashed inside the one-bedroom Santa Monica apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The couple used the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko.
Bulger and Greig went into hiding in 1995. Now, an 81-year-old man with $2 million in reward money on his head, Bulger rose to No. 1 on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after international terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed this spring.
Bamford, a 1976 Central Catholic High School graduate who still lives in the Merrimack Valley, was very pleased but not surprised to hear Bulger was captured. Bamford led the Boston FBI from 2007 until his retirement. During those three years, Bulger was a major focus, he said.
"There are a lot of people who put a lot of work into this. The team never stopped working or looking for him ... There was always a team working on this at any given time," said Bamford.
Bamford, who now works for the private utility firm National Grid, said he was inundated with phone calls and emails yesterday morning after news of Bulger's capture went viral.
On Monday, the FBI released an ad campaign focused on Greig, 60, a blonde who frequented hair salons and former dental hygienist known to have her teeth cleaned often. Bamford was unsure if heightened publicity of Greig lead to Bulger's downfall, but said it was possible.
"Where there are the likely weaknesses, we can expect vulnerability," he said.
Bulger of South Boston was charged in 19 murders, but fled in 1995 after former FBI agent John Connolly Jr. tipped him off that he was about to be indicted. The public would later learn Bulger had been an FBI informant for years, all while allegedly committing a long list of crimes.
"You could go back in the annals of criminal history and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone as diabolical as Bulger," said Tom Duffy, a retired state police major who was one of the lead investigators in the criminal case against Bulger.
"Killing people was his first option. They don't get any colder than him," said Duffy.
Bulger, nicknamed "Whitey" for his bright platinum hair, grew up in South Boston. He became one of the most notorious criminals in Boston while his younger brother, William Bulger, became one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts, leading the state Senate for 17 years.
Along with Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, Bulger led the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran gambling, loan-sharking and drug rackets in the Boston area.
He became an FBI informant in the 1970s, providing information on his gang's main rival, the New England Mob. At the time, bringing down the Mafia was one of the FBI's top priorities.
In the working-class neighborhood of Southie, Bulger's neighbors knew he had been in and out of prison for various crimes, but he used a mix of charm and intimidation to create an image of a tough but generally harmless gangster.
"If there was an elderly woman carrying a bag of groceries across the street, he would take the groceries and carry them for her," said Duffy. "People liked that about him. It gave them the psychological feeling that their neighborhood was being protected when he was around."
But to law enforcement, Bulger was one of the most ruthless killers they had ever known.
"I think he enjoyed killing," said Massachusetts state police Det. Lt. Stephen Johnson. "We know from people who were there that post-murders, he would act super-relaxed. His associates said he would be in a good mood for a long time after he killed someone."
John McIntyre, a 32-year-old fisherman from Quincy, was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1984.
Investigators say Connolly, the former FBI agent, tipped off Bulger that McIntyre had talked to U.S. Customs agents in an investigation of Bulger's involvement in a failed plan to send guns to the Irish Republican Army aboard a Gloucester fishing boat.
Flemmi testified during a civil lawsuit filed by McIntyre's family that Bulger lured McIntyre to a party, chained him to a chair, interrogated him at gunpoint for five hours, then tried to strangle him with a rope. When that didn't kill him, Bulger asked, "Do you want one in the head?"
"Yes, please," McIntyre responded.
The first bullet failed to kill him, so Bulger shot him a few more times, according to Flemmi.
Bulger is also accused of strangling Flemmi's girlfriend, Debra Davis, carrying the 26-year-old down the stairs as he choked her. Flemmi testified that Bulger said she had to die because Flemmi had told her that he and Bulger were FBI informants.
Bulger associate Kevin Weeks testified that Bulger also strangled 26-year-old Deborah Hussey, the daughter of Flemmi's common-law wife, because she had a drug problem and used their names whenever she got in trouble.
In both cases, Bulger insisted on pulling out the women's teeth so they would be difficult to identify, said Flemmi.
"The scope of his criminal activity was like a tornado. It cut a wide swath and it damaged and destroyed people's lives," said William Christie, an attorney who represents the McIntyre family.
An inspiration for the 2006 Martin Scorsese film, "The Departed," Bulger was only about 5-feet, 8-inches tall and 150 pounds. But he only had to give a look or raise his voice to instill fear in people.
"He had a menacing voice, and everybody knew he knew how to pull a trigger without remorse," Johnson said.
"He enjoyed the dog-and-pony show he would put on when he was extorting someone," Johnson said. "There wasn't anyone who said no."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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