How I Remember Whitey As the elusive mobster who has captivated Boston for decades finally lands in court, seven longtime Whitey watchers share their favorite tales about Bulger.
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How I Remember Whitey

Irish mob boss James J. "Whitey" Bulger's scheduled arraignment in a Boston courtroom Friday after 16 years on the lam will open yet another chapter in the violent crime-and-politics family saga that has consumed Beantown reporters since the 1980s.

An early mug shot shows James "Whitey" Bulger in 1953. Boston Police hide caption

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Boston Police

An early mug shot shows James "Whitey" Bulger in 1953.

Boston Police

"I've spent half my career chasing Whitey Bulger around," says Gerard O'Neill, retired head of the Boston Globe investigative team, which in 1988 outed Bulger as an FBI informant since the mid-1970s.

Suspected of 19 murders, Bulger disappeared in December 1994 after being tipped off by an FBI pal that federal racketeering charges against him and his top associate, Stephen Flemmi, were about to be filed.

During his absence, his politically powerful brother, William "Billy" Bulger, who had served 17 years as state Senate president, stepped down from the presidency of the University of Massachusetts and into a quiet retirement.

His FBI pal, John Connolly, the agent and childhood friend of the Bulgers, is in prison, convicted of racketeering for tipping Whitey Bulger off about the impending indictment.

John Martorano, a Whitey Bulger associate who admitted to 20 murders before cutting a deal to turn evidence on Connolly, is a free man and has been featured on 60 Minutes.

Flemmi, sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001 for extortion and money laundering, still faces 10 federal and state murder charges. Kevin Weeks, a close Whitey Bulger associate, was facing federal racketeering charges in 1999 when he decided to cut a deal with investigators, leading them to the bodies of some of Bulger's alleged victims. After five years in prison, he wrote a memoir.

And now, the final puzzle piece has fallen into place: the capture of Whitey Bulger, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, and a man many never thought would be brought to justice.

It was — and continues to be — the story of a lifetime for many journalists, some of whom shared their Whitey Bulger tales with us.

Gerard O'Neill

Retired head of the Boston Globe's investigative team, which first reported in 1988 suspicions that Whitey Bulger was an FBI informant, and co-author of Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.

Before he disappeared, the DEA was after him for a while. They put a bug in his car. It became clear that Bulger discovered it. It was a badge of honor to go back and reclaim the bug so you won't have someone taunting you. So the DEA guys roust Bulger, put him up against the side of the car and Bulger says: "Hey, hey, we're all good guys here. You're the 'good good' guys, we're the 'bad good' guys." They had a laugh. Give us the bug and we'll be on our way. Thank you very much. ...

There was a reporter for the Boston Herald American, Paul Corsetti, who had written some critical things about [Whitey's brother] Billy Bulger. Corsetti used to drink at this kind of high-end bar at Quincy Market. While he was there, he finds that someone had slid in beside him on a bar stool. "My name is James Bulger," the man said. "I kill people for a living. What you're saying about my brother has to stop."

[An account of this incident was included in a book by Howie Carr, a longtime Boston Herald columnist and Boston radio personality. It says that Bulger also made clear he had information on the cars Corsetti and his wife drove and the schedule of their young daughter's day-care routine.]

... When we did our first investigation series on the Bulgers in 1988, the FBI called up Kevin Cullen [then a Globe investigative reporter, now a columnist]. They had doped out that we were going to write a story that Bulger was an FBI informant. The agent said, "If you guys are thinking of doing that, he'll think nothing of clipping the bunch of you." I thought it was the FBI trying to intimidate us. Clearly, in retrospect, that was the case. We were very concerned about Kevin Cullen. He was living in South Boston. I thought he was in genuine danger. We moved him out for a couple weeks. They later tried to say it was a friendly warning to go slow, and be careful. I thought it was true colors all around. ...

When Bulger's mother died in 1980, and Billy was president of the state Senate, Whitey was concerned about leaving the church and being photographed with his brother. He feared the bad publicity for his brother. So he hid out in the belfry of the church. The family and the casket passed directly under him when they left the church. The price of infamy — you can't even lay your mother to rest. But whatever he gets coming to him, he more than deserves. He's a psychopath. Pure evil.

Jonathan Wells

Producer at CBS station WBZ in Boston and former Boston Herald investigative reporter and editor

For years, there were friends and apologists of Whitey in the media and in law enforcement. They tried to describe him as a Robin Hood — giving turkeys to widows, describing him as a crime boss who kept drugs out of the neighborhood, kept order. Even at the time, it rang hollow. He was not only letting drugs into the neighborhood but extorting big payments from the drug dealers to do business in the city, not just Southie. It came out later that under the guard of the FBI, he was murdering people serially. Even after he fled, he was being romanticized. Anyone who turned up to accuse him of something was set upon. When [John] Martorano became a government witness, Mike Barnicle had a column for Boston Globe, before he was booted for plagiarism, carrying water for the Bulger family. He said that Martorano used to shoot black people for fun, and how disgraceful that they'd use them as a government witness. Right to the end, people like Barnicle were doing their work for the Bulger family. His life was so toxic for the city: It reached into politics, the media and law enforcement. Martorano got a sweetheart deal, but he also delivered John Connolly to the government, which was a major breakthrough.

Phyllis Karas

Author, with Kevin Weeks, Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob and Where's Whitey?

It was 1990. A young woman came into the convenience store that Jimmy (Whitey) ran. Said her daughter couldn't play in the back of the triple-decker where they lived in Southie because there were all these needles in the yard. When they'd call the police, the family on the first floor, ex-boxers, brothers Al and Pat, would clean everything up before police got there and then be back in business dealing drugs the next day. Jimmy and Kevin went to the house, and when people started pulling up to get drugs, they told them to get out, and beat up a couple of them. But the dealing continued. One night, Jimmy and Kevin drove over to Curley's lumber yard, picked up some plywood, nailed it over all the dealers' windows, and spray painted "no drugs" on the wood. They told the brothers they had 24 hours to get out of the neighborhood. They were gone. There was a part of Whitey that was protecting his neighborhood.

Joe Bergantino

Former investigative reporter for WBZ-TV in Boston, now director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University.

This goes back almost 30 years. In the early 1980s, we got a phone call from an informant who tipped us off that Whitey Bulger was running arms to Ireland — for the IRA, of course. We had a long phone conversation in which he explained that he was aboard the trawler that delivered the guns. The informant — John McIntyre — disappeared within a few days after the phone call. His body was unearthed several years later. If I remember correctly, Whitey and his gang tortured him — pulling out his teeth, one by one. We did several stories in the early '80s about the trawler and its connection to Whitey. [Note: McIntyre's family has claimed in court that the FBI was responsible for his death because Connolly allegedly tipped off Bulger that McIntyre was cooperating with authorities investigating Bulger and Flemmi.]

Andrew Gully

A former longtime reporter and editor at the Boston Herald

There are so many gruesome stories about Whitey. I look at this as not a story of a traditional mob boss, but more about the corruption of the entire city culture for over a quarter-century. The reach of Whitey Bulger went into the criminal justice system, and into the political system because of his brother, Billy. When Whitey had a no-show job in a courthouse in Suffolk County, the housing judge there was going to let him go. So the state froze the courthouse budget. You couldn't mess with Whitey without getting the repercussions of Billy. And the other way around. That was the early chilling effect. That story was known for years and years. And you had the horrifying story of how Whitey strangled Flemmi's girlfriends, cut off fingers, pulled out teeth. From stark brutality to political influence. You think of the fallout for people like the Wheeler family, the Donahue family. They lost their fathers because of Whitey. All the honest FBI agents will have to live with this legacy for a long time — suspicion, innuendo. The harm done is significant. [Jai Alai business owner Roger Wheeler was murdered after learning Bulger was skimming money from Wheeler's Florida operation. Michael Donahue was murdered when he gave a ride home to a neighbor who, unknown to Donahue, had offered information on Bulger to the FBI.]

Ralph Ranalli

Author of Deadly Alliance: The FBI's Secret Partnership with the Mob, and former Boston Herald and Boston Globe reporter

When I first started covering Whitey Bulger in federal courts in Boston back in the early 1990s, I began hearing about an informant program called "Top Echelon." I ran across documents that described the program and called the FBI's national press office. I said, "Hey, I want to talk about this Top Echelon program." They said, sorry we don't talk about informants. I told them I wasn't asking about a specific informant, I just wanted to know about a program. The press officer said never talk about informant programs, ever, and when I asked for his name to quote him, he said, "We're off the record." He said the conversation was over, and hung up on me. This wasn't Cold War with Russia intrigue; this was just how a domestic law enforcement agency was going after a bunch of bookmakers and wise guys, and they won't acknowledge the program exists? It just set off alarm bells, that there must be something really, really wrong here. And it turned out to be the case. They made deals with these high-ranking organized crime figures to bring down other high-ranking organized crime figures, with tons of collateral damage. People murdered, lives ruined because the FBI let these informants run amok and protected them. It's just this stain on Boston and on the FBI that this sociopath was allowed to run loose and terrorize people, commit or order a bunch of murders because he was helping a small group of very ambitious law enforcement people make cases. He was this looming, terrifying presence. It shook the faith of a lot of people in law enforcement and also damaged relations between the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in Boston for a whole generation.

Jay Atkinson

Author of Legends of Winter Hill: Cops, Con Men, and Joe McCain, the Last Real Detective

There was a small-time drug dealer, Danny Jacie, a handsome, 21-year-old kid who was having a love affair with Flemmi's girlfriend, Debbie Davis. One night at dusk, police patrolling a road on the Milton-Quincy border see a car passing them at high speed going in the opposite direction. It was a flashy car, the kind Flemmi drove, so they did a U-turn to follow it. They lost him. But then they came upon a body in the clearing — it was Danny Jacie. I've seen the autopsy photos. He was killed, execution style, in the back of the head. The murder was never solved. There are many other Danny Jacies. Murders that have gone unremarked because the families had no juice or because they're low-level dealers like Danny Jacie. In addition to the bodies already discovered and the murder charges already made, there are more. They had some agreement with a crematorium in West Roxbury, where two bodies would be delivered in one coffin. The debriefing and — maybe — cooperation of Whitey Bulger may bring to light what really happened to the Danny Jacies of that time. [Debbie Davis disappeared in 1981; Flemmi claimed she had run off with a rich Mexican chicken farmer, Atkinson says. Flemmi in 2009 testified that he watched Bulger strangle Davis, they both pulled out her teeth, and they buried her along the Neponset River.]