Video: Notorious mobster captured after 16 years

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/23/2011 2:03:00 PM ET 2011-06-23T18:03:00

A feared and legendary figure in Boston, mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger became a household name when he disappeared in 1995 after an FBI agent tipped him off to his impending indictment.

Bulger, who had been an informant for the FBI, fled Boston with a companion, Catherine Greig.

Their 16-year run from the law came to an end Wednesday when the FBI apprehended the 81-year-old mobster and his girlfriend in Santa Monica, Calif. The arrests came just days after the government launched a new publicity campaign to locate them.

Raised in humble beginnings, the violent minutiae of Bulger's life — including an alleged 19 murders — cast a dark shadow over a family that also boasts one of Massachusetts' most powerful politicians.

So compelling was Bulger's attempted departure from his life of crime that Martin Scorsese adapted it for the screen with great effect in the Oscar-winning film, "The Departed."

Two brothers, two paths
James Bulger and his younger brother, William, are a study in contrasts.

Raised in a gritty South Boston housing project, James Bulger rose up to lead a murderous gang, while William became a respected politician and university president.

As poor youths, William grew close to his brother after their father's railyard accident led James to find ways to help provide for the family, friends told the Boston Globe.

William, who graduated from Boston College and also obtained a law degree from the school, was first elected to the state's House of Representatives in 1961, where he led efforts to write early child abuse reporting laws. He was elected to the state Senate in 1970 and served as the body's president from 1978 to 1996. According to reports, his tenure was the longest-ever for the post.

William then served as the president of the University of Massachusetts from 1996 to 2003.

Story: Bulger headed back to Boston to face charges

For many years, William Bulger was able to avoid any tarnish from his brother's alleged crimes. But in August 2003, William Bulger resigned his post as president of UMass amid pressure from Gov. Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

His resignation came two months after he testified about his brother before a congressional committee. William Bulger said he spoke to his brother shortly after he went on the run in 1995, but said he had not heard from him since and did not know where he was hiding out.

Video: Notorious mobster captured after 16 years (on this page)

According to the Boston Globe, Bulger said that speaking with his fugitive brother was "in no way inconsistent" with his responsibilities as a public official.

William Bulger had no comment on the arrest early Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported.

'You did not double-cross him'
An inspiration for the ruthless gangland boss in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed," Bulger was wanted for 19 murders. One victim was shot between the eyes in a parking lot at his country club in Oklahoma.

Another was gunned down in broad daylight on a South Boston street to prevent him from talking about the killing in Oklahoma. Others were taken out for running afoul of Bulger's gambling enterprises.

"He left a trail of bodies," said Tom Duffy, a retired state police major in Massachusetts. "You did not double-cross him. If you did, you were dead."

BULGER
Anonymous  /  AP
This is an undated handout file photo the FBI released in this Dec. 30, 1998 showing reputed Boston mobster and fugitive James J. "Whitey" Bulger.

At the same time he was boss of South Boston's murderous Winter Hill Gang, a mostly Irish mob, Bulger was an FBI informant, supplying information about the rival New England Mafia. But he fled in January 1995 when an agent tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.

That set off a major scandal at the FBI, which was found to have an overly cozy relationship with its underworld informants, protecting mob figures and allowing them to carry out their murderous business as long as they were supplying useful information.

Prosecutors said Bulger went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr., an FBI agent who had made Bulger an FBI informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, also an FBI informant.

A congressional committee, in a draft report issued in 2003, blasted the FBI for its use of Bulger and other criminals as informants, calling it "one of the greatest failures in the history of federal law enforcement."

Photoblog: Bulger, through the years

In September 2002, the FBI received its most reliable tip in years when a British businessman who had met Bulger eight years earlier said he spotted Bulger on a London street.

After the sighting, the FBI's multiagency violent fugitive task force in Boston and inspectors from New Scotland Yard scoured London hotels, Internet cafes and gyms in search of Bulger. The FBI also released an updated sketch, using the businessman's description of Bulger as tan, white-haired and sporting a gray goatee.

Reportedly nicknamed "Whitey" for his shock of bright platinum hair, he was placed on the FBI's list in 1999. His girlfriend was charged in 1997 with harboring a fugitive.

This article contains reporting from msnbc.com, The Associated Press and Reuters.

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