RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
From member station WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch has this tale of two brothers.
CURT NICKISCH: Take a guess which one of the Bulger brothers is describing himself here at the height of his power in 1992.
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WILLIAM: Autocratic, dictatorial, boss, those kinds of things.
NICKISCH: Their two paths start at the same point: a working-class family in the immigrant neighborhood of South Boston during the Great Depression. The Bulger brothers lived in the projects. Historian Tom O'Connor grew up in the Catholic neighborhood, too, and says in those days, there were three ways for the powerless to gain power.
TOM O: One was the church. The other road to success was politics. And the third, of course, was - what? Crime.
NICKISCH: Crime is the road Whitey took.
PETER GELZINIS: He was formidable.
NICKISCH: Peter Gelzinis has covered the Bulger mob for the Boston Herald. He says Whitey was ruthless, but also very bright.
GELZINIS: To be a criminal on the level that he operated, you have to be a successful politician, and he mastered that.
NICKISCH: Whitey's brother Billy mastered politics proper.
GELZINIS: I don't think it's an accident that they rise almost in direct proportion at the same time.
NICKISCH: Unidentified Man: What is it that you thought your brother did for a living?
BULGER: Whatever. It was vague to me.
NICKISCH: Those vague answers in 2003 outraged victims' families, but South Boston friends like Joe Oteri defended him.
JOE OTERI: We're immigrants' kids. And one thing, when you're a part of a minority group that's trying to break in and make it, is loyalty.
NICKISCH: For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch, in Boston.
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