Boston’s notorious gangster Whitey Bulger is currently sitting trial at the U.S. District Court here in Boston. You’ve probably seen his name in the headlines, but if you’re not familiar with his case, you might be wondering, “Who is this Whitey Bulger guy anyway?” He may not be Boston’s favorite son, but he’s an important part of local history and current events, so it’s worth getting a primer on Bulger if you’re interested in our city.
Bulger, born James Joseph Bulger Jr. in 1923, was a notorious South Boston crime boss and head of the Winter Hill Gang. Bulger was a lifelong criminal, serving time in a juvenile reformatory as a teen and then spending nine years in the federal penitentiary for armed robbery and hijacking shortly following his honorable discharge from the Army. It wasn’t until he was released from prison in 1965 that he really began his rise to power in Boston’s criminal underworld.
During the Killeen-Mullen crime war in the early 1970s, Bulger proved himself indispensable to the Mullen family and earned a high-ranking position in the Southie underworld following the families’ truce in 1972. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Bulger grew and consolidated his power, all while serving as a secret informant to the FBI, earning his own criminal activities a certain degree of protection from the federal authorities.
Eventually the DEA, Massachusetts State Police, and Boston Police Department were able to crack down on Bulger’s illegal gambling operations, forcing the crime boss to flee the city and become a fugitive in 1994. After spending sixteen years at large and twelve years on the FBI Most Wanted list, Bulger was finally captured on June 22, 2011.