Ruthless killer or Robin Hood? Mob boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger to stand trial

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The case of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger will bring Boston gangland into the courtroom, reports Rupert Cornwell

His exploits make Tony Soprano look like a novice. Long before he was captured in 2011 after a decade and a half on the run, books had been written about him, and a Hollywood movie had featured Jack Nicholson playing the character inspired by him. Now, finally, the real James “Whitey” Bulger is about to appear in court to answer for his alleged crimes that include racketeering, trafficking and extortion, not to mention 19 murders.

He’s far older now, a slow-moving man of 83. Long gone is the rich crop of silver hair that earned Bulger his nickname. But once the jury selection that starts today is complete, America will be treated to a history of organised crime in Boston for much of the second half of the 20th century.

The Mafia, be it old-style Italian or Irish, or more modern Chinese, may have lost some of its clout in recent times, but none of its hold on America’s imagination. And the scheduled witness list at the trial of a man who used to rule the old Irish neighbourhoods of South Boston will not disappoint.

It was unclear whether the court will hear testimony from John Connolly, the former FBI agent who tipped off Bulger to his impending arrest in 1994 and whose dealings with the mob boss formed the basis for the 2006 film The Departed. But three of Bulger’s former lieutenants will give evidence.

One is Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi, a hitman and former FBI informant who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, among them the garotting of his step-daughter. He’ll be followed on the witness stand by John Martorano, another enforcer for Bulger’s gang, who has admitted killing 20 people; and by Kevin Weeks, a close Bulger associate who shortly after his 1999 arrest led the authorities to the graves of half a dozen Bulger victims.

Bulger’s lawyers, JW Carney Jr. and Hank Brennan, look likely to use the trial to attack the credibility of the former associates testifying against him. “The government now offers these men as witnesses against James Bulger with no apparent regard for their complete lack of credibility,” they wrote in a recent court filing.

But the star of the show will be Bulger himself. In another lifetime he might have achieved conventional eminence – his younger brother William was for 18 years leader of the state Senate. James, however, made a living on the streets of South Boston. He started out as a teenager in the 1940s with a street gang named The Shamrocks. He was intelligent, scheming and tough. But arrests followed, and nine years in a string of federal prisons. After his release in 1965 he returned to Massachusetts and by the early 1970s was dominating the criminal universe in South Boston. His alleged activities covered the usual mob specialities: extortion and protection, racketeering, loan-sharking, arms trafficking and, indirectly, drugs.

At times, Bulger acquired something of a Robin Hood aura as he kept streets relatively free of petty crime, and imposed an order of sorts on drug dealers and illegal gambling operations.

The truth, however, was rather different. The FBI and Massachusetts prosecutors believe he personally killed at least 19 people, among them the innocent brother of a rival, and two girlfriends who Bulger feared had come to learn too much about his operations. His resourcefulness and ruthlessness were legendary. “He could teach the Devil tricks,” a gangland associate once said.

Ultimately, he could not escape the grasp of the law. Sealed indictments for racketeering were drawn up by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Massachusetts state police. Some time in December 1994, Bulger was tipped off by Connolly, and two days before Christmas he fled Boston, accompanied by his common-law wife, Theresa Stanley.

His movements thereafter are a blur: a series of stops inside the US, a last confirmed sighting in London in 2002, and various reported other ones in America, Europe and beyond, some of them spurred by a $2m FBI reward on his head, and a record 16 citations on the TV show America’s Most Wanted. At some point too his companion changed, from Ms Stanley to girlfriend Catherine Greig.

Police finally arrested Bulger and Greig on 22 June 2011. In the apartment they found $800,000 in cash, two dozen firearms, and a selection of false IDs. After 16-and-a-half years on the run, the game for James “Whitey” Bulger was finally up.

Winter Hill Gang: Key witnesses

Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi

Bulger’s former partner in the Winter Hill Gang, who pleaded guilty to 10 murders and is serving a life sentence. A former soldier, Flemmi earned his nickname for his marksmanship skills.

John  ‘The Cook’ Martorano

A former hit man for the Winter Hill Gang, Martorano has admitted to killing 20 people. After going on the run for 16 years, he took a plea bargain in 1999 and served 12 years. He was released in 2007.

Kevin ‘Two’ Weeks

A former Bulger lieutenant, Weeks served five years for racketeering. He earned the nickname Kevin Two Weeks for the time it took him to agree to become an informant after being arrested in 1999.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past