Gangster who inspired Nicholson's role in 'The Departed' is held at last


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The Independent Online

One of America's most wanted men is finally under lock and key, after a long-running FBI manhunt ended with the arrest of James "Whitey" Bulger, the mob boss whose improbable life story inspired Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film The Departed.

The 81-year-old was apprehended several thousand miles from the mean streets of Boston, where he once presided over a huge criminal empire.

Investigators acting on a tip-off found him living quietly alongside fellow retirees in an apartment complex near the beaches of Santa Monica, on the west side of Los Angeles. Bulger was due to appear in court last night.

Prosecutors said they would apply for him to be sent back to the east coast, where he is accused of carrying out at least 21 murders during the 1970s and 1980s. He also faces charges of racketeering, kidnapping, extortion and several other crimes.

The arrest came 16 years after Bulger fled Boston, leading police a merry dance through Ireland, France, Thailand and Spain. The last known sighting of him was in London, which he visited in 2002 to withdraw a portion of his ill-gotten fortune from a safety deposit box held by a private bank near Piccadilly Circus.

Bulger – who owed his nickname "Whitey" to a distinctive shock of grey hair – had been the most senior homegrown crook on the FBI's "10 most wanted" list for most of the past decade.

He was discovered just days after the Bureau launched an expensive television and print campaign seeking to determine his whereabouts.

As the inspiration for the ruthless boss played by Jack Nicholson in The Departed, James Joseph Bulger was the son of working class Irish immigrants. As a teenager, he joined a street gang called "The Shamrocks" and was arrested several times during the 1940s for a string of assaults and robberies.

In 1956, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for armed robbery, but was released after just under a decade. After returning to Boston, he fought his way to the top of the city's most feared criminal organisation, the Winter Hill Gang. At the peak of his powers, "Whitey" presided over a gambling, prostitution, drug and violent crime empire worth tens of millions of dollars.