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The Old Man Next Door

Saddam had his spider hole. Manson had Barker Ranch. For James “Whitey” Bulger, the anonymity of advanced age provided ample cover for him to hide out 16 years in Santa Monica, a stash of blood money stuffed in the walls and guns at the ready. The last days of America’s most wanted mobster

James Bulger's booking photos from 2011, when he was 81, and 1984, the year he killed drug smuggler John McIntyre for snitching.

Josh Bond had just drifted off to sleep when the phone rang. It was the middle of a June afternoon in 2011, and Bond, 28, had been looking forward to taking a half day off from his duties as manager of the Princess Eugenia, a homely three-story apartment building not far from Santa Monica’s Palisades Park. He and a buddy had tickets to see My Morning Jacket play that night at the Pantages Theatre, and a “disco nap” was exactly what Bond needed. But now the phone was ringing, and time off or not, Bond knew that an apartment manager is always on duty. On the other end of the line was an assistant manager from across the street at the Embassy Hotel Apartments—the Princess Eugenia’s elegant sister, which Bond also managed. There was urgency in the woman’s voice.

“The FBI’s here,” she told Bond.

“What do they want, and why are you calling me?” he snapped, hoping the woman could handle the visitors by herself.

“They want to talk about one of the tenants.”

Bond spoke to Scott Garriola, a veteran special agent who oversees the Fugitive Task Force of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. Garriola, too, had the day off, but a call from the bureau’s Boston office had put him back on the clock in a hurry. He needed to discuss Apartment 303.

“I asked if we could do it tomorrow or the next day, because I’d been working two weeks straight,” Bond remembers. A native of rural Mississippi, he speaks with an animated affability that almost masks his slight Southern accent. With owlish spectacles and a tentative beard, he has the aspect of a doctoral candidate. Bond had been the night manager of a low-income hotel while studying film and English at Boston University, and he had worked at other hotels and apartment buildings in Brookline and Allston. During that time, he’d seen his share of prostitutes and crackheads—as well as the cops and FBI agents who raided the premises in pursuit of heroin dealers and rapists. But Garriola said, No, this couldn’t wait.

Bond left the Princess Eugenia and slowly walked across the street to the Embassy, an ornate, Mediterranean-style hotel built in the Roaring Twenties. Inside the building, Garriola and four more agents showed Bond wanted posters featuring images of a retired couple the FBI was pursuing. A few of the pictures were about 20 years old; others were guesses as to what the man, now 81, and woman, 60, might look like today. Bond recognized the pair right away: They were Charlie and Carol Gasko—his next-door neighbors. Charlie was bald with a neatly clipped white beard and frequently dropped by the manager’s apartment to chat about current events and the country music band Bond played in. The old man was always curious about Bond’s family but had nothing to say about his own life. He was in good shape for a person his age; he made abundant use of the exercise equipment in his apartment and exuded an edgy vigor: Charlie once pulled a knife on a mentally disturbed man who’d surprised the couple outside the Eugenia, and another time he yelled at Bond for abruptly coming up behind him on the apartment’s front steps. His wife, Carol, was the less assertive and opinionated of the two and never seemed to have a frosted hair out of place.

When Bond saw Charlie’s real name on the posters, a name he’d heard of when he lived in Boston, he was taken aback. “I was in a little shock about who the people were,” Bond says. “I realized the FBI wasn’t going to let me leave until they had this guy in custody. So it was, ‘OK, let’s get this thing going.’ ”

Bond called his friend. “Hey, man, I don’t think I’m going to be able to come,” he said. Why? his friend wanted to know. “I can’t really tell you.”

The guy the FBI was keen to speak to had, since the death of Osama bin Laden the month before, topped its Ten Most Wanted list: James “Whitey” Bulger, who had run South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang and had been a fugitive for the past 16 years. “Carol” was really Catherine Greig, a girlfriend whom he’d known since the 1970s. Bulger had been indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and charged with committing or ordering the murder of 19 people during a criminal career in Southie that stretched five decades. His reign involved the biggest breach of FBI security and ethics in the bureau’s history.

Garriola’s plan was to send Bond knocking on Apartment 303’s door to see who answered, and the FBI would take it from there. Bond didn’t like that idea. Charlie, after all, had recently been tacking a note on the apartment’s door advising people not to knock if the sign was up—as it was now. “No!” Bond said. “I don’t ever knock on his door. I’m not going over there!”

Garriola came up with a Plan B: Bond could simply call the Gaskos. That Bond would do. No one in 303 picked up, but when Greig called back soon after, the apartment manager told her the unit’s storage locker in the underground parking lot had been broken into, and he was about to report it to the police. Would Charlie like to meet him and check out the locker first? Don’t call the police, she told him—Charlie will be right down. Bond left the Embassy and walked back toward the Princess Eugenia, ringing his friend one more time: It looked like he’d be able to make the show after all.

As he held the cell phone to his ear, Bond glanced up and saw Greig standing on the couple’s balcony, a cramped rectangle three stories above the street. She seemed apprehensive. Bond stopped and sheepishly mouthed “hello” to her. But she didn’t see him.


This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

Bulger stuffed guns and cash into the walls of his Santa Monica apartment.

Whitey Bulger reportedly committed his first murder in 1969 at the age of 40, which marked him as a late bloomer in the killing business. In 1979, following years of internecine warfare among South Boston’s Irish crime clans, Bulger assumed control of the Winter Hill Gang, becoming the community’s undisputed overlord of drug dealing, loan-sharking, gambling, and extortion. His headquarters was the Triple O’s Lounge; when its owner complained that he could lose his license because of Bulger’s activities there, the mobster shot back, “You could lose your life.”

Born in the Crash year of 1929, Bulger was the son of a hard-luck laborer and a homemaker. He grew up handsome and with a distinctive shock of blond hair that inspired the nickname he detests; associates addressed him as Jim or Jimmy. As a teenager he had briefly run away with the Ringling Brothers Circus. Bulger fought his way out of both slum life and the repressive Catholic culture that dominated existence in the public housing projects he lived in, moving from petty larceny in the 1940s to armed robbery to extortion. Following a 1956 conviction for a bank heist, he served nine years of a 20-year sentence in Alcatraz, Leavenworth, and other federal penitentiaries before appeals from Father Robert Drinan, a family friend and future congressman, helped win his early release.

Serving time in Atlanta during the early part of his confinement, Bulger sought to lessen his sentence by volunteering for covert CIA-sponsored medical experiments with LSD. They proved to be horrible experiences “followed by thoughts of suicide and deep depression,” he’d later write in his diaries, adding, “I was in prison for committing a crime and feel they committed a worse crime on me.”

In the 1970s, Bulger fought Boston’s attempt to integrate its public schools by busing black students to predominantly white schools. Bulger set fire to John F. Kennedy’s birthplace and firebombed an elementary school. He also sent shotgun blasts into the Boston Globe building and tried to have Plymouth Rock blown up, though the Pilgrim landmark was barely scratched. A decade later, he fancied himself a soldier in another war, organizing a shipment of arms to the Irish Republican Army. The weapons were seized by the Irish navy, and several arrests were made.

With his ascent, neighborhood mythmaking began casting Bulger as a modern Robin Hood who handed out free turkeys on Thanksgiving and gave Southie’s elderly rides in his car. He wouldn’t let hard narcotics into the community, went the stories, and he let it be known that his code of honor forbade him from hurting women. To South Bostonians Bulger represented a form of traditional neighborhood values. “I’m an old-school guy,” he told Josh Bond at the Princess Eugenia. “Where I grew up, Italians didn’t mix with Irish.”

Money was never a problem for the Winter Hill crew. If he needed cash, Bulger would order a bookie, a drug dealer, or sometimes an innocent civilian to appear in his office above the Triple O’s. Pointing to a black body bag, he would tell the visitor that he, Bulger, had been contracted by the Mob to kill the individual—and would—unless the guy paid him $50,000. The man would be sent on his way, a walking hostage who had to raise his own ransom.

“He had these laser, piercing blue eyes—they burned holes in you as though he was pure evil,” says Steve Davis, who found himself summoned by Bulger one day in 1982. Davis, 55, describes himself at the time of that meeting as a “street hustler.” His sister, Debra, had been the girlfriend of Bulger’s longtime associate Stephen Flemmi until she suddenly disappeared from Southie the year before. “I thought I was dead,” Davis remembers. “He asked me for money, and I wouldn’t give him any.” Although Davis left with his life that day, Bulger handed him a bullet as a reminder of his “debt.”

Not so lucky was Debbie Hussey, the 26-year-old daughter of Flemmi’s live-in mistress. Dubbed “The Rifleman,” Flemmi was a serial philanderer who had sexually molested Hussey since the time she was an adolescent. After Hussey matured into a drug-addicted prostitute, Bulger convinced Flemmi that she had become a liability who needed to be killed.

So one night Flemmi lured Hussey into an unoccupied house, where Bulger attacked and strangled her. To make sure she was dead, Flemmi reputedly applied a tourniquet around her throat, tightening a rope with a stick. Then Bulger lay down, as he often did following a murder, to nap while Flemmi removed Hussey’s teeth with pliers to make her corpse more difficult to identify. (Davis’s sister, it turned out, had allegedly been dispatched in a similar way.) Flemmi and two other associates buried Hussey in the basement. Months later they had to dig up and rebury her—along with two other rotting bodies—because the home had gone on the market.

Hussey’s murder didn’t make it into The Departed, the 2006 Martin Scorsese film inspired by Bulger. In that film Jack Nicholson’s Irish Mob boss dies in an appropriately cinematic shoot-out, while Bulger was living an exceedingly uncinematic life at the Princess Eugenia, a half-hour drive from Nicholson’s home in the Hollywood Hills. Santa Monica was the biblical opposite of the South Boston Whitey Bulger had known as a child and as a crime baron. Not many American gangsters live long enough to choose where they retire. With its temperate climate and reputation for relaxed living, the seaside town must have seemed like a paradisiacal reward for surviving his opponents on both sides of the law in scruffy Southie.

Santa Monica offered Bulger priceless anonymity. Thousands of miles from Boston, it’s a city where the very notion of organized crime seems like National Geographic exotica. Ask someone there—or anywhere else in Los Angeles—to identify a real-life local Mob boss and you’ll be lucky to get the long-gone Bugsy Siegel or Mickey Cohen; for residents of New York, Boston, and Chicago the name of the current local Mafia don is as familiar as the mayor’s, the police chief’s, or a cardinal’s.




This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

Where Bulger lived with girlfriend Catherine Greig (seen here in her booking photo).

The Princess Eugenia’s 27 units sit behind some cypress and a tall bottlebrush tree at 1012 3rd Street, on the corner of Washington Avenue. The building’s frontage is tidy, though the place is indistinguishable from any of the neighboring white-stucco complexes. The steps leading to its small lobby are covered with green carpeting, and lacking windows, the halls inside are dark and claustrophobic.

It was perfect for Bulger and Greig, who arrived in Santa Monica at the end of 1996. The furnished, rent-controlled units came with a laid-back management that did not require credit checks and accepted cash payments of the then-$837 month-to-month rent for the two-bedroom apartment. With a large aging population, this was an area where they could easily blend in and live out a modest retirement. But if they were run to ground, it would be the place where Bulger would die: Behind the maps and pictures of American flags that adorned his apartment, Bulger had punched holes in the walls, stuffing them with $822,198 in cash and 30 guns—pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, and at least one assault rifle.

Creating their California identities from birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security numbers purchased from local homeless and near-homeless people, the couple became the Gaskos and moved into a third-floor corner apartment, which commanded a view of traffic. 

The Gaskos established an insular routine early on as a retired, childless couple from Chicago. Bulger became a familiar if somewhat eccentric sight on their balcony, an old man intently peering through binoculars. But he mostly remained indoors, watching television late into the night (a favorite show: America’s Most Wanted) or reading the newspaper and underlining local crime reports, which he shared with neighbors. “He would circle an item from the Santa Monica Mirror and leave it at my door,” says Bond. “He knew what was going on in the building and in the neighborhood.”

Greig fit the servile profile of many Bulger girlfriends and shared a long history with him—Bulger had murdered a brother-in-law of hers who belonged to a rival gang. She cheerily ventured forth as Carol to buy groceries at Whole Foods and pick up heart medicine for Charlie, making regular stops at the Haircutters on Wilshire to touch up her do. Bulger, whose blond hair had long since fallen out, was just as fastidious about his grooming, paying routine visits to a barber, whom he left 100 percent tips for $14 beard trims. “They took away one of my best customers!” the barber lamented in an interview with the public radio station KPCC. Among the few luxuries the couple allowed themselves were occasional trips to Michael’s, the upscale Santa Monica restaurant. For Bulger’s 80th birthday they ran up a $192 bill for a steak and lobster dinner with foie gras, plus vodka highballs and chardonnay.

Usually the pair could be seen together in public only during their twice-daily neighborhood walks, taken at sunrise and before sundown; Bulger would don a floppy fisherman’s cap and oversize sunglasses that obscured what his beard did not.

“I usually saw him outside,” says Barbara Gluck, who lived on the same floor as Bulger and Greig. “He’d have a hat on and dark glasses—I don’t even think I could recognize his face.” Gluck, a professional photographer who had covered the Vietnam War for The New York Times, found the Gaskos a most odd couple. Carol was the nice one who would stop to chat; grouchy Charlie was reliably impatient to get moving. “I’d say, ‘Hi, Carol, what’s happening?’ and he’d always stand with his arms crossed and then say, ‘Come on, Carol—let’s go!’ I felt that she had subjugated herself, and I really couldn’t figure out why. Carol was such a lovely person. So kind. Why would she submit her life to a man like Whitey?”

Catalina Schlank, who is 90, has lived at the Princess Eugenia since moving there in 1974, a decade after arriving from Argentina. To her the pair had a storybook quality. “They were nice neighbors and courteous with me,” says Schlank. “They were elegant. You could just picture them as a young couple.” She remembers how Greig would place tenants’ mail on their doorsteps, since the letter carrier usually dumped onto the floor whatever didn’t fit into the tiny boxes. Schlank still has some of the notes Greig gave her, written in tall, clear cursive letters, to express appreciation for the occasional pieces of fruit or a pocketbook the older woman had given her. “Many thanks for the American Hero stationery.” “Hope you have a great month. (March already!)” Bulger had written thank-yous as well. Schlank found him nothing but a courtly, caring figure of a man who insisted on carrying her luggage should he see her with a suitcase and who once, without warning or explanation, came over and enthusiastically hugged her.

But nobody in the building drew Bulger’s focus like Josh Bond, whose position of authority may have had something to do with the gangster’s neighborliness. One night Bond had been playing country music in his apartment when he heard a knock on the door. It was Bulger—who had come not to complain about the volume but to compliment his musical taste and offer a gift, a black Stetson that Bulger said he had no use for. Other small offerings followed over time: exercise equipment to build up Bond’s arms, a beard trimmer, a coffee-table book about Elvis Presley, a half-empty bottle of Grand Marnier. Still, Bulger’s attentions didn’t seem unusual to him.

One character trait that did seem especially striking to people was Bulger and Greig’s sentimental fondness for animals. John Weiskopf, a writer who lived at the Embassy Hotel Apartments, remembers Greig stepping in to rescue one particular cat. “There was a guy named Don who lived next door to the Princess Eugenia,” Weiskopf says. “He was mentally ill—I think he had a shrapnel injury. He had become the guardian of this stray cat named Tiger. But at some point Don had to be taken away.”

Soon Weiskopf noticed a woman feeding Tiger every day near the Embassy’s courtyard wishing well. One day he approached her. “You feed Tiger,” Weiskopf said, hoping to start a conversation. “Yeah,” acknowledged Greig, who hadn’t come to talk. Their discourse lasted 90 seconds, but Greig and Bulger would continue caring for the cat for five or six years, paying its vet bills. They even kept a photograph of the cat in their apartment.




This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

Bulger's apartment door after being visited by the Fugitive Task Force in 2011.

Barbara Gluck was turning her car off 3rdStreet to park in the Princess Eugenia’s underground garage when she saw two men in gray suits standing by the entry lock. It was early in the evening of Wednesday, June 22, 2011.

“Do you live in this building?” one of the men asked.

“Who are you?” Gluck demanded. The two men flashed their golden FBI badges, and Gluck, annoyed, entered the subterranean structure. Inside there were about ten more men, all in suits, standing near the garage elevator. Scott Garriola was among them. Nobody would tell Gluck as much, but the Fugitive Task Force—a joint FBI-Los Angeles Police Department operation—was there because of a million-to-one tip that had come in less than 24 hours before. An FBI video appeal had begun airing in select TV markets (although, because of budget restrictions, not in Los Angeles), featuring photographs of Bulger and Greig and a hot line for tips. Anna Bjornsdottir, who had been crowned Miss Iceland in 1974, was watching CNN in Reykjavík when she saw the FBI spot. Bjornsdottir recognized the couple from the days when she had lived at the Embassy Hotel Apartments. After getting through to an FBI agent in Los Angeles, she explained why she especially remembered Greig: They had bonded over a stray cat that prowled the Embassy grounds. The former beauty queen’s tip won her a $2 million reward.

By the time Greig called Josh Bond and told him that Charlie was on his way to the storage locker, Garriola’s team was in place beneath the Eugenia. From an unoccupied third-floor unit at the Embassy across the street, other task force members kept an eye on Apartment 303. It was about seven o’clock, and they had been on the scene since 1 p.m. Suddenly Garriola and his men heard the elevator’s machinery engage—someone was coming down. When the car arrived, there was a pause and then its door opened. Out stepped an old bearded man wearing white summer slacks.

Garriola shouted at Bulger to put his hands up, step forward, and kneel down. The gangster refused and cursed Garriola, who repeated the order. Bulger finally knelt on the oily floor and was handcuffed—his initial refusal had not come from a quixotic defiance of authority but from a reluctance to get his white trousers dirty. Moments later Greig was brought in handcuffs to the garage. At first Bulger insisted he was Charlie Gasko, but as Garriola persisted in questioning his identity, the old fugitive gave up the ruse. Then Garriola handed him a form granting the FBI the right to search Apartment 303, and he signed the waiver with a name he had not written in years: “James J. Bulger.”

Bulger seemed in high spirits, despite the handcuffs, chatting with agents as Bond finally entered the garage. “Hi, Josh!” a voice rang out. The manager turned to see who’d called his name. It was Greig.

Soon Bond was on his way to the My Morning Jacket gig. As he drove toward Hollywood, Bond phoned his bosses to tell them that the Princess Eugenia was about to receive a lot of publicity. Then he began phoning family and friends with another message: “I just helped the FBI arrest the most wanted man in America!”

Whitey Bulger doesn’t hold it against Josh Bond for setting him up. He has assured the Princess Eugenia’s manager of this in letters written from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, where Bulger has been held since the couple was returned to the state from Los Angeles. Greig was the first to stand trial. In 2012, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, along with some fraud charges, and was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

Bulger no longer wore the aura of an antihero as his RICO trial began this past June in Boston. A flood of newspaper articles and books had transformed Robin Hood into King Rat: Bulger had been narking on fellow hoods to various police agencies long before the bureau “turned” him in 1975—indeed, almost from the start of his criminal career. For that matter, so had Flemmi.

When the FBI’s John Connolly first reached out to Whitey to become an informant, the agent was already a friend of Bulger’s brother, William, whose divergent career path took him to the presidencies of both the Massachusetts state senate and university system. Though Bulger also served as the FBI’s eyes and ears inside the various Irish gangs, the bureau’s original idea seems to have been to enlist Bulger to spy on Boston’s Italian Mafia—whose demolition in the 1980s would be partly due to Bulger’s information. But news about Boston’s underworld started to flow the other way once the informant began bribing his FBI handlers.




This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

About half a dozen agents in the bureau’s Boston office landed on Bulger’s payroll, including its top administrator, John Morris, and his subordinate, Connolly, a gregarious wheeler-dealer who had grown up in the same housing project as the Bulger family. Initially the data that Connolly and other agents provided FBI informant BS 1544 TE, as Bulger was designated, allowed him to identify FBI and police informers who needed to be eliminated. But then the intel was used to warn Bulger of pending arrests and other actions against him being planned by non-FBI law enforcement agencies. Rumors of Bulger’s special arrangement with the FBI tainted the bureau’s Boston office in the eyes of other police agencies for years.

The demise of Bulger’s criminal Camelot came, fittingly, after he was snitched out by a bookie in 1992. As a result, by 1993 a task force of state police and federal Drug Enforcement Agency cops was organized to catch Bulger—a coalition that deliberately cut the FBI out of its operation and kept it secret from the bureau as long as possible. Connolly retired in 1990, but his FBI radar was still very much online. In the final days of 1994, he was able to warn Bulger and Flemmi one last time of plans to apprehend them. Flemmi, believing he was arrestproof, remained in Boston and was taken into custody; his eventual conviction on murder charges led to a life sentence.

Bulger and his longtime girlfriend, Teresa Stanley, however, fled to Europe, Florida, and New Orleans, relying on cash that he had stashed in far-flung bank deposit boxes. But Stanley grew homesick for Southie, so Bulger had to return to Boston and trade her in for Catherine Greig. When the pair tried to create new lives for themselves in Grand Isle, Louisiana, Stanley gave up Bulger’s alias to Boston FBI agents—who dutifully informed Bulger’s remaining lieutenants so they could let him know. The warning, along with the Boston FBI’s purposely bungled search for Bulger and Greig, enabled the couple to stay well out of reach of their captors for years.

In 1998, however, a cornered, retired John Morris testified before a federal judge about his bureau’s corruption and Whitey Bulger. Morris’s appearance earned him immunity from prosecution, but the FBI finally arrested Connolly for obstruction of justice and racketeering. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison—after which he began serving a 40-year term on a 2008 conviction for second-degree murder for his role in setting up two victims to be killed by Bulger’s men.

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There had been no escape from the media for Bulger’s old neighbors in the days that followed his arrest. Reporters tried to sneak into Apartment 303, while across the street at the Embassy, whose rooms had no air-conditioning, residents who left their windows open during the summer night were kept up by the activities of reporters and news van crews. Visiting Bostonians would ask locals to take their pictures as they stood next to the Princess Eugenia’s sign. Then there were the tour buses. “Whitey Bulger lived in this apartment building!” neighbors heard guides announce over loudspeakers.

But the excitement was nothing compared to the media scrum drawn to Boston for Bulger’s two-month trial. While legal experts speculated whether he’d testify, his lawyers began with an extraordinary move, seeking to claim that a deceased federal prosecutor had granted Bulger and Flemmi blanket immunity for their information to the FBI—essentially a license to commit any crime they wanted, including murder. Absurd as the defense might seem, it would have potentially opened the gates for testimony about FBI corruption and the complicity of individuals in other law enforcement agencies. Bulger’s judge wouldn’t permit the argument. The defense attorneys were left to claim that he merely pretended to give away secrets and that the information he received from the FBI was not part of a reciprocal exchange; rather it was a product purchased by Bulger with hard-earned blood money. The spin was intended to make the gangster somehow look less like a rat and more like a shrewd businessman.

Steve Davis, whose sister had disappeared 32 years before, was a constant—and sometimes volatile—presence in and out of court, at one point loudly correcting Stephen Flemmi’s testimony from the gallery. Burly and tattooed, Davis was a man obsessed with avenging Debra’s murder and a reminder of the human wreckage Bulger stood accused of leaving in his wake. Davis speaks in a Southie accent that is vanishing among residents of that gentrifying neighborhood. “My wife says, ‘I can smell fall in the air. What are we going to do for Labor Day?’ It’s only a few weeks away, but I was so tied up with this trial the whole summer, I lost track of time,” he said days after the proceedings ended in August.

During Flemmi’s six-day appearance, the two former partners occasionally spat epithets at one another, each accusing the other man of being a rat. In the witness chair Flemmi denied being friends with Bulger, despite their sometimes vacationing together. He described his relationship with Bulger as “strictly criminal” and said, “Bulger kind of resented the fact that I didn’t spend enough time with him.... He would contact me, and I wouldn’t respond.”




This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine

It took jurors five days to convict Bulger of 31 of the 32 counts he faced. The 19 killings attributed to him were “racketeering acts,” which meant, technically speaking, that this hadn’t been a murder trial. Yet some families were denied the satisfaction of seeing Bulger at least convicted of complicity in their loved ones’ deaths. The jury declared that prosecutors had “not proved” Bulger had committed seven of the murders named in his indictment; in an eighth alleged murder—Debra Davis’s—the jury brought in a “no finding” decision. Some jurors later stated that key government witnesses included men who had once formed Bulger’s killer elite and were too unreliable to be believed when blaming every one of the 19 murders on him. Family members of the victims were crushed. “My father just got murdered again, 40 years later, in that courtroom,” said William O’Brien, whose father Bulger had been accused of shooting.

The trial’s sole “no finding” verdict was especially painful for Steve Davis. “It was like being told you’ve got incurable cancer,” he says, describing the moment he heard the pronouncement in court. “ ‘No finding’ is something you get for a speeding ticket. My sister wasn’t a fucking speeding ticket. I can take ‘not guilty’—but ‘no finding’? I’m not a drinker, but since that verdict I’ve been drinking. It sucks.”

Davis is hoping the Boston district attorney will file murder charges against Bulger for the eight deaths for which he was acquitted. He has also worked with a writer on a book about Debra’s murder and, like the rest of Boston, awaits Bulger’s sentencing in mid-November. That day could see the former king of Southie condemned to spend his remaining years in prison, a place where informers are considered to be among the lowest life-forms. (“I don’t think anybody likes it” is what Flemmi said on the stand when he was asked about being called a rat. “I don’t think Mr. Bulger likes it, either.”)

Did Bulger really believe the trial could end with his acquittal? At best, he could have inflicted some damage on the government and somehow made the case that he wasn’t a rat but a consumer of FBI intelligence in Boston—which in Bulger’s day was a buyer’s market. Only Bulger’s diary, if he still kept one, could reveal his thought process or the full extent of his dark secrets.

It’s certainly hard to imagine how any film could capture the real Whitey Bulger, the
acid-damaged Irish patriot who might well believe he is a Robin Hood. It could show a man killing people because he believes their money should be his. A camera could record the shootings, stabbings, and strangulations. It could render the teeth being pulled out, along with the burials and reburials. But how to explain the nap that follows each murder?

The trial’s revelations and verdicts won’t change the opinion of Bulger and Greig’s Santa Monica neighbor Catalina Schlank. “They may have been bad people in Boston, but here they were completely nice,” she says. “Through the influence of TV and movies we’ve formed an idea of how a mafioso looks. He did not look like that. He was handsome—I never saw his bald head.”       

 

Steven Mikulan, a writer-at-large for Los Angeles, wrote about the 1959 murder of Barbara Finch in the April issue.



This feature originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Los Angeles magazine