As he sits brooding in his drab cell awaiting trial, South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is telling friends that while he feels tortured by his cramped captivity, with its isolation, strip searches, and dismal food, he is ready and eager for “the big show” — the trial where he will defend his sense of honor if not exactly his innocence.
But however defiant he remains, Bulger was prepared to give prosecutors an easy way out, saying he offered himself up for execution if the government would let the woman he loves walk free.
“I never loved anyone like I do her and offered my life [execution] if they would free her — but no they want me to suffer — they know this is the worst punishment for me by hurting her!” Bulger wrote to a friend last year as his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, faced the prospect of years in prison for her devotion to him.
Two other women are also much on Bulger’s mind these days — two whose murders he is charged with, but who he insists he did not kill. Despite the clear, contrary recollections of his criminal associates, Bulger is adamant on the point — murdering women, he claims, is against his personal code.
“I never killed any women,” Bulger wrote to a friend.
Bulger’s generous view of himself, not as a cunning killer and cynical informer but as a criminal with scruples and a kind of noble romantic, is detailed in a new and comprehensive biography of Boston’s most infamous criminal, to be published this week. Also detailed are all the reasons not to accept his self-serving self-portrait, from his long and murderous career as a gangster to his well-documented history of providing information to the FBI.
The book, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice,” written by the authors of this article (Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy), with editorial support from The Globe, reveals a host of new information about Bulger, from his pursuit of domestic tranquillity in a tangled romantic triangle, to his seeking out a psychiatrist a la Tony Soprano, to his heretofore little-known role as an agent of mayhem during the city’s school desegregation crisis. The book also provides a window into Bulger’s thinking and state of mind as he molders in jail, reflections recorded in letters he wrote to a close friend and which the authors reviewed. It is in one of those letters that the 83-year-old Bulger contends that he offered to plead guilty to 19 murders — including some he says he did not commit — and submit himself to the death penalty in Florida or Oklahoma in exchange for leniency for Greig.
Prosecutors spurned his offer, he says, and Greig, 61, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last June to eight years in prison for harboring Bulger during the 16 years they spent on the run, most of them in a modest, two-bedroom rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
Greig’s sentence infuriated Bulger, who confided in another letter to his longtime friend, Richard Sunday, that she had managed to do what the criminal justice system couldn’t: “Got me to live crime free 16 years – for this they should give her a medal.”
While he worries about Greig’s life in prison, Bulger says his attitude about his upcoming trial, scheduled to begin in June, is “bring it on.” He relishes the prospect of taking the stand and is especially determined to prove that he was not an FBI informant and did not kill two women whose murders are among the 19 he is charged with.
In the book, to be published Monday by W.W. Norton & Co.,Bulger comes off as part defiant, part delusional, cloaked in something of a persecution complex. His self-image is noteworthy for its self-regard. Much of it, especially his denial of being an informant, is completely at odds with the public record and appears to undermine his defense strategy of asserting that he had immunity from a federal prosecutor to commit his crimes.
The book also provides a fuller account than previously available of:
■ Bulger’s nine years in prison as a young man, where he vowed to reform, and how his politician brother William relied on influential politicians to get him parole.
■ His stealth campaign of violence to protest court-ordered busing of South Boston students, including the firebombing of President John F. Kennedy’s birthplace in Brookline.
■ His face-to-face meeting with the founder of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which led to Boston’s Irish mob being enlisted as weapons procurers for the IRA.Continued...