The book describes how a rebellious Bulger grew to realize the importance of political influence, as his brother William, elected as a state representative while Whitey was on Alcatraz, cobbled together an influential stable of supporters to lobby for Whitey’s parole, including US House Speaker John McCormack and future congressman Robert Drinan. At Bill Bulger’s request, Drinan began a prison correspondence with Whitey and eventually agreed to become his parole adviser. McCormack, meanwhile, kept the Bulger family informed on Whitey’s often rocky road through the federal prison system, intervening personally with the director of the US Bureau of Prisons.
While Bulger convinced many, including Sunday and prison authorities, that he was determined to go straight as soon as he got out, the authors describe his short-lived legitimate life in construction before he quickly drifted back into crime, signing on as an enforcer for the Killeen brothers, who ran the rackets in Southie during the 1960s and early 1970s.
The book contains an account of how the founder of the modern, or Provisional IRA, Joe Cahill, was smuggled into the United States and met with Bulger at his hangout, Triple O’s lounge on West Broadway. At that meeting, Cahill commissioned Bulger and a group of Irish-American gangsters that included Pat Nee of South Boston and the late Joe Murray of Charlestown to serve as arms procurers for the IRA. Cahill, who was barred from entering the country, was smuggled across the border from Canada on a bus chartered by Boston Bruins fans who journeyed to Montreal to see the Bruins play the Canadiens.
The authors also document the violence Whitey Bulger helped orchestrate to register his opposition to the court-ordered desegregation of Boston’s public schools that led to the busing of students to and from South Boston High. In one of the letters he sent to Sunday, Bulger boasted about riddling the offices of the Globe with gunfire in protest over what he called the Globe’s demonization of Southie and its residents during busing. The book also recounts his firebombing of the Brookline birthplace of President John F. Kennedy because of the Kennedy family’s support of US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., whose order imposed busing, and a separate attack on a Wellesley elementary school near Garrity’s home.
The authors have pieced together how Bulger and Greig arrived in Santa Monica and bought identification documents from mentally disabled and substance-abusing individuals to establish new identities. While the relationships were exploitive, Bulger took a shine to a lonely Army veteran whose identity he bought. He paid for the man’s rent until the man died in his bed of heart failure, and Bulger became emotional in describing his friendship with the man to the federal agents who brought him back to Boston after his arrest.
That arrest is spelled out in previously unreported detail, explaining how a deputy US marshal and an FBI agent working in a largely depleted fugitive task force were able to find Bulger in a matter of months after 16 years of a search that began as farce and descended into frustrating dead ends. A series of public service announcements focusing on Greig led to a news story on CNN that was seen in Iceland by a former beauty queen who rented an apartment for several months each year in the same Santa Monica neighborhood as Bulger and Greig. Murphy, one of the authors, tracked Anna Bjornsdottir down in Iceland, confirming that the woman had come to know the fugitive couple – known as Charlie and Carol Gasko — because they had shared a love of animals, in particular an abandoned cat in their neighborhood that Greig fed dutifully while Bulger stood at her side.
In one of his letters, Bulger seemed to appreciate the absurdity of how his life on the run, the climax to a criminal career that is the stuff of legends, came to an end. “A cat got me captured,” he lamented.
Bulger refused to cooperate with the authors of the book.