BOSTON -- He is Boston's boogeyman. A fugitive. A phantom. And a fixture since 2000 on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list.
James J. "Whitey" Bulger, the mobster and government informant linked to 21 killings, vanished from this city with his girlfriend days before a warrant was issued for his arrest 10 years ago this month.
James J. Bulger, as he looked in the 1980s and, at right, as the Bulger Fugitive Task Force believes he looks today. He was last spotted in 2002, in London.
(Fbi Photos Via AP)
Since then, the investigation into his crime ring has ensnared dozens of former associates, friends and family members, generating 27 cases and 59 convictions. But, to the torment of his victims' families, his whereabouts remain a mystery, despite a $1 million government bounty and "sightings" in 44 states and on five continents.
"The only piece of the puzzle that's left right now is Bulger. Just about everybody else's been rounded up and adjudicated," said Thomas J. Foley, who retired as superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police last May after leading its investigation for 14 years. "Ten years ago I said, 'Yeah, we'll get him.' I never expected he'd be out this long, but I still hope and feel he'll be caught and brought to justice, so we can have an accounting of what he did and give some closure to those families."
A product of the tight-knit Irish enclave of South Boston, Bulger rose through this city's criminal ranks with brutality, charisma and, it was later revealed, a willingness to rat out rivals. According to court documents, he became a bookmaker, a thief, a drug peddler, a gun smuggler for the Irish Republican Army, and a hit man handy with a knife. The plot twists of Bulger's grisly reign atop Boston's Winter Hill Gang and his disappearance are as familiar to residents of this region as reruns of the "Godfather" trilogy.
"What makes this story so different from other big-city mobsters was his involvement with the feds," said Dick Lehr, a former Boston Globe reporter and co-author of the book "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob," which describes how Bulger, now a white-haired 75, fed information to agents about his rivals in the Italian Mafia in exchange for the government's tacit protection.
"Here's a guy whose reputation has undergone a complete makeover from this Robin Hood-style mob boss with the skills of a Houdini, to now the ultimate snitch, betrayer, murderer, drug dealer," Lehr said. "There's been an enormous correction in terms of his public image."
Many of the main characters in the Bulger saga have fallen on hard times since he disappeared.
Former FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up next door to Bulger in South Boston and was his official handler beginning in 1975, is serving a 10-year prison term for tipping off the mobster that his arrest was imminent, allowing him to flee Boston, just before Christmas in 1994.
Stephen J. "The Rifleman" Flemmi, who led the Winter Hill Gang alongside Bulger and collaborated on many of the killings, was sentenced last January to life in prison.
Former Boston FBI agent H. Paul Rico, 78, died in police custody a year ago, before he could face charges that he had conspired with Bulger and Flemmi to commit a murder.
Bulger's youngest brother, John "Jackie" Bulger, pleaded guilty in 2003 to two counts each of perjury and obstruction of justice.
And William M. Bulger -- who presided over the Massachusetts state Senate from 1978 to 1996 while his brother Whitey ruled the Boston underworld -- was forced to resign as president of the University of Massachusetts system in 2003, after sparking outrage by invoking his right to silence when asked about his brother's activities during a 2003 congressional inquiry.
But despite the roundup that authorities claim crushed the Irish mob in Boston and stamped out the corruption that had plagued the city's FBI office, one question still haunts investigators and Bostonians: Where's Whitey?