The Capture of Whitey Bulger

Aug 15, 2011 - by Don Fulsom

James “Whitey” Bulger

James “Whitey” Bulger

Accused in the mid-1990s of nearly a score of gangland murders, James “Whitey” Bulger, the reputed boss of Boston’s Irish Mafia, fled town and evaded the FBI for an astonishing 16 years.

by Don Fulsom

Nick-named for the color of his hair, Bulger had gained a reputation as a guy who would kill anyone he thought might betray him. Indeed, he was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s murder-happy mobster in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 big screen crime thriller The Departed.

One of the grisliest murders attributed to Bulger was the strangling of his top lieutenant’s girlfriend, apparently to keep her from snitching about the gang’s operations.  Bulger is accused of chopping off all of the dead woman’s fingers and pulling out all of her teeth so she couldn’t be identified.

Were it not for his own girlfriend, it turns out, Whitey might still be a Top Ten fugitive with a $2 million bounty (the most ever for a domestic fugitive) on his head.

When arrested in June 2011, the 81-year-old Bulger and his 60-year-old companion, Catherine Greig, were living in Santa Monica, Calif. They had been hiding in plain sight—about four miles from an FBI office—for fifteen years.

Using the names Charlie and Carol Gasko, they blended into the community as a typical retired couple.  Unlike most such pairs, however, the “Gaskos” paid for everything—including their rent—with cash. They were only too happy to peel off $1,145 in greenbacks every month for a rent-controlled apartment just blocks from the beach.  After all, their newer neighbors in the Princess Eugenia apartment complex paid nearly twice as much for similar units.

Besides, even 15 years worth of sizable monthly cash rent payments did little to dent the ready financial reserves of this fake husband and wife. G-men found $822,000 in bills (and 30 guns) hidden in the walls of Whitey’s lair shortly after snapping handcuffs on the fugitive and his moll.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was not the couple’s suspicious cash-only lifestyle that led the FBI to Whitey Bulger.  Instead, it was a TV campaign that targeted his girlfriend’s vanity.

The FBI knew several unusual facts about Catherine Greig.  First, that she was a plastic surgery junkie.  Before disappearing with Whitey, she reportedly had breast implants, a full facelift and a nose job. Second, lawmen knew that this former dental hygienist couldn’t let a month go by without having her own teeth professionally cleaned.

So the FBI put out a reward of $100,000 for tips leading to Catherine’s arrest.  And it ran public service ads on TV shows like “Ellen,” “The View” and “Live with Regis and Kelly”—shows that were popular with women in her age group. 

The 30-second ads featured Catherine’s photo and highlighted her fondness for plastic surgery, beauty salons and oral cleanliness.  The ads opened with this line: "There is someone in the United States or elsewhere in the world who knows Catherine Greig as a neighbor, friend or co-worker.”

Within 48 hours, the first solid tip came in, and the apprehension of Whitey and Catherine quickly followed.  An FBI official told the Boston Globe that “neither resisted arrest,” and that Whitey “did not appear to be in good health.” 

The New York Times reported that Bulger told a neighbor he had emphysema and spent his days lying on the couch watching TV. Bulger is now mostly bald, but has a “thick white beard,” while Catherine appears “spectral, with short white hair and sunken cheeks,” according to the Times.

Charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion, and money laundering, Bulger could face the death penalty if found guilty. Appearing in shackles in U.S. District Court in Boston in early July 2011, Bulger spoke in a clear voice and thick local accent, as he said "not guilty" several times during his arraignment on a 32-count indictment.

The Los Angeles Times has disclosed that authorities are trying to figure out how Bulger was able to live fairly openly in Santa Monica. They are also keenly interested in whether Whitey got any financial help.

In an interview with the FBI on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston, Bulger said he "previously stashed money with people he trusted." But the newspaper adds that Bulger “did not say whether anyone is hiding assets for him now, according to court records.”

A federal grand jury in Boston has indicted Greig for “harboring and concealing” Whitey, and of conspiring to “take steps to prevent Bulger's discovery and arrest."

Announced in August 2011, the indictment says Catherine and her boyfriend obtained “multiple means of identification, including Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, and state identification cards of other persons in order to conceal Greig’s and Bulger’s true identities from others.”

The Boston Herald reports that Greig’s indictment maintains that the fugitive couple purchased “goods and services, including necessities such as rent and drug prescriptions, using cash and money orders so as to conceal their true identities and the source of the funds.”

Greig’s indictment, according to the Herald, also notes that she would do the shopping, and pick up prescription drugs for Whitey, to reduce his exposure while on they were on the lam.

Greig could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison if she is convicted.

It may take years before Bulger goes on trial. The gangster's provisional attorney, Peter Krupp, stresses that each murder charge is a "case in itself, which will have to be separately investigated and defended," according to Reuters. Jack McDevitt, associate dean in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University
told Reuters that some type of plea deal would be a more likely scenario for Greig than for Bulger.

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