Tonight, at 9|8c, America Declassified looks into the questions surrounding Boston mobster Whitey Bulger’s time on the run. Investigator Michele McPhee recounts the story of Bulger and her time spent looking for answers.
The murder of Amy Lord on July 23, 2013, was the type of crime Bostonians would never believe could happen in Southie.
She was a pretty 24-year-old newcomer to the tight-knit neighborhood attacked by a career criminal in the vestibule of her building. He then forced her her own Jeep to withdraw cash from 5 separate ATM machines. Lord’s unimaginable ordeal only ended when her captor stabbed and strangled her to death.
It’s been a long time since anyone missed James “Whitey” Bulger, the legendary Boston mobster whose former headquarters at South Boston’s Rotary Liquor store is one of the stops that Lord’s alleged attacker made after he killed her.
Bulger nostalgia is still very much alive in certain pockets of his neighborhood. When I went to Southie to report on Lord’s murder a native wrinkled his bulbous nose at me and blurted in a Boston accent thick as Irish oatmeal: “This sort of thing wouldn’t be happening if Whitey was still around.”
I was stunned. It astonished me that even as the truth about Bulger was revealed in a courtroom right down the road from Rotary Liquors, the faulty legend of his Robin Hood-like stature still existed among some of his former compatriots. On that very day, Bulger was on trial in connection with sweeping racketeering indictment in a federal courthouse in South Boston, the same neighborhood he had terrorized for decades.
By July, jurors had heard prosecutors describe how Bulger killed Debbie Davis, who was just 26 in 1981 when she was lured to an apartment on E. 3rd Street in Southie and strangled to death. After he killed her, prosecutors said, Bulger took a nap as his criminal underling cleaned up the mess. Four years later, another 26-year-old woman, Deborah Hussey, met a similar fate in a Southie apartment. Beaten. Strangled. Dumped. All by Bulger’s hand, according to courtroom testimony.
“This wouldn’t happen if Whitey was still around…”
Despite the unrelenting coverage of the trial that unearthed exactly the type of man Bulger really was, the legend, the lore, of Whitey remained as strong in 2013 for some South Bostonians as it did in 1994, the year he fled town, tipped off to a pending indictment by his dirty FBI handler.
I grew up in Boston and had heard the ridiculous claims about what a great guy Bulger was my entire life. The storied lore just intensified when Bulger became the FBI’s Most Wanted fugitive — second only to Osama Bin Laden — for a time after he “vanished” in 1994.
That’s why I was so eager to be part of America Declassified. As an investigator I had a chance to investigate exactly how Bulger managed to find his way to back to St. Catherine’s parish, only this time his church was just blocks from one of the most picturesque beaches in the world. For 16 years, he was hiding in plain sight, living in an apartment that was steps from the world-famous Santa Monica Promenade and it was rent-stabilized.
Bulger must have been the luckiest Irishman this side of the Atlantic or he had some high-level help on the West Coast. Help, perhaps, in the form of his old friend FBI Supervisor John Morris.
The mobster and the bureau boss shared a lot of secrets. Bulger helped bankroll Morris’ affair with an FBI secretary and bribed him with cash and wine. Morris even made Bulger dinner at his home. In return Morris signed off on FBI bogus reports, thwarted efforts made by honest cops to take Bulger down, and tipped him to anyone who wanted to play nice with the feds, signing their death warrants.
Being in Santa Monica and seeing how well Bulger was living, sunset strolls with his mob moll, fresh fruits from the farmer’s market, shopping for true crime books [including one I authored, A Mob Story, found on his bookshelf] on the famous Third Avenue Promenade, enraged me.
Bulger is 84 years old and will likely die in a federal prison, but when he does there will remain so many unanswered questions about his time on the run.
Who helped him get there? Where are the “millions upon millions upon millions” he is believed to have squirrelled away?
How was Bulger able to hide in plain sight in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world? How was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted able to watch a Celtics championship game at Sonny McLeans, a Boston-themed barroom, without being noticed?
Being an investigator on America DcClassified gave me a chance to ask those very questions. Was Bulger’s Santa Monica hideout part of a widespread DOJ conspiracy or was it sheer incompetence on the part of the FBI? It will be up to Travel Channel viewers to decide.
Michele McPhee is a best selling true crime author, ABC News producer, radio show host and Emmy-nominated investigative reporter. She has written five true crime books A Professor’s Rage; A Date Date With Death; Heartless – The True Story of Neil Entwistle and the Brutal Murder of His Wife and Baby; When Evil Rules; and A Mob Story.