The Old Man Next Door

The last days of America’s most wanted mobster, James “Whitey” Bulger
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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

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