Bulger begins life sentence as a relic of a vanished age
A hoodlum left with his notoriety and nothing else
Former mob boss and fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger, once a legend now a shrinking man of 84.
Besides being a convicted murderer, James “Whitey” Bulger is an avowed racist and misogynist, pontificating on how the races should not mix and how women should know their place. So the irony was palpable yesterday in Boston as he sat at the defendant’s table and was lectured and sentenced to life in prison by an accomplished federal judge who happens to be an African American woman.
James “Whitey” Bulger, once a legend, now a shrinking man of 84, learned his fate in a courthouse named for his old neighbour in South Boston, Joe Moakley, the congressman. But that was the old Southie, a Southie that no longer exists.
That he was put away for life by US district court judge Denise Casper captured, in part, how much the neighbourhood and the city Bulger used to rule with an iron fist and gun has changed.
He was sentenced to life in prison in a courtroom a few hundred yards down the street on the Southie waterfront where, 31 years ago, he slaughtered two men, murders facilitated by corrupt FBI agents who had used Whitey as their informer and routinely got people who might turn him in killed.
The 1982 murder of Brian Halloran, a hoodlum who tried to shop Whitey to the FBI, not knowing he was their prized snitch, and Michael Donahue, an innocent truck driver who had the misfortune of offering a ride to Halloran, took place when the waterfront was a grimy, smelly place frequented by fishermen and few others.
A few years ago, Jon Cronin, an immigrant from Cork, opened a bar, the Whiskey Priest, on the spot where Bulger levelled his rifle and riddled Halloran and Donahue with bullets. The young people who frequent Cronin’s pub, for the most part, haven’t a clue who Whitey Bulger is. He is not part of their Boston.
In the 16 years that Whitey spent on the lam, after being tipped off about his impending arrest by his corrupt FBI handler John Connolly, the Southie waterfront has changed, changed utterly. Fish processing plants and shot-and-a-beer bar rooms gave way to high-rise hotels and high-end restaurants. The young people who pay anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 a month for waterfront apartments think nothing of dropping $12 on a cocktail.
Yuppies walk the waterfront where Whitey once trolled with a machine gun in easy reach. The neighbourhood has been rebranded. It’s called the Seaport, and it’s full of new money and new energy, and it houses the Institute of Contemporary Art, one of the most beautiful buildings in one of the most vibrant sections of the city.
As the US marshals drove Whitey away from the courthouse yesterday, back to his holding cell in Plymouth, where the Pilgrims landed in 1620, it may have dawned on him that all those yuppies, all those glitzy restaurants and bars, were missed opportunities. He would have been able to extort so much money from them, maybe even have to kill some of them, because back in the day the FBI had his back, protecting him from prosecution in exchange for his dubious value as an informant against the Mafia.