One of America's most wanted men, who had spent time in Belfast, is finally under lock and key, after a long-running FBI manhunt ended with the arrest of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, the mob boss whose life inspired several books and 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 sprawling 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.
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 and extortion amongst other serious crimes.
The arrest came 16 years after Bulger fled Boston, leading police on a merry dance through Ireland, France, Thailand and Spain.
His last known sighting 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 to Piccadilly Circus.
Bulger owed his nickname “Whitey” to a distinctive shock of grey hair, and 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 TV and print advertising campaign.
James Joseph Bulger was the son of working class Irish immigrants. 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. His greatest coup was perhaps achieved in 1990, when Bulger is believed to have orchestrated one of the biggest art heists in history: the theft of 13 paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet from a Boston museum.
Despite his prolific criminal activities, Bulger was also a longstanding FBI informant, supplying information about the rival New England Mafia.
To the embarrassment of the FBI, his disappearance in 1995 was prompted by a corrupt agent who tipped him off that he was about to be indicted. His girlfriend, Catherine Greig, may have unwittingly been the author of Bulger's downfall. She was the subject of the FBI's adverts. Within days a tip-off led police to flat 33 in the Princess Eugenia apartment complex near Santa Monica beach.profileBulger, nicknamed “Whitey” for his shock of bright platinum hair, grew up in a gritty south Boston housing project, and went on to become Boston's most notorious gangster. He led the violent Winter Hill Gang, a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area.
by Ralph Riegel
James ‘Whitey' Bulger was immensely proud of his Irish heritage.
In fact, it was his Irish-American connections that are believed to have helped America's Most Wanted successfully stay on the run from the FBI for 16 years.
Both Bulger's parents emigrated to Boston from Ireland and, in his late teens, he gravitated towards the Irish-American mafia.
As he became one of the most feared men in Boston, Bulger struck up close links with republican groups in the US. In the 1970s and ’80s he is understood to have visited Dublin and Belfast.
When he finally went on the run in 1995, it was these contacts that enabled Bulger to access safe houses, new identities and, most crucially of all, new passports.
At one time, US police feared Bulger (81) had a new identity provided specially for him by the IRA. Police are convinced he was in Ireland for some time in 2002.
So strong are the links that US police now want to determine if he hid 13 prized paintings – stolen in Boston in 1990 – in Ireland. The paintings include a Rembrandt, a Vermeer, five Degas drawings and a Manet portrait.
The FBI, via Interpol, had regularly been in contact with gardai over suspicions Bulger may have spent some time holidaying in Ireland.