As a young instructor at the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists in the 1970s, Catherine E. Greig was known for her professionalism and reserve. Although Greig was an attentive listener, she talked little about her life outside the office. But then she fell hard for a man named Jimmy.
At the time she began dating Whitey Bulger in 1975, Greig, then 24, had already had her heart badly broken. Her first husband, a hotheaded firefighter and former Marine, had left her not long after they married for her own twin sister. But then there was “Jimmy’’ hotly pursuing her, delighting her with gifts of gold and furs and astonishing her with the breadth of his knowledge of history. For her cherished black poodles, there would be a pair of tiny diamond collars. That the ardent Jimmy happened also to be an ex-con and a notorious crime boss who was believed to have murdered her ex-husband’s brother didn’t seem to get in the way.
“She always talked about Jimmy. Jimmy this, and Jimmy that,’’ said Linda Hanlon, a former Forsyth dean who shared an office with Greig. “One day she came in and said, ‘Look what Jimmy gave me for my birthday!’ It was a beautiful Cartier watch, I mean really gorgeous. She liked it but she didn’t seem to realize what it really was or how valuable it was. I would say she was a little naive about some things.’’
The relationship between Cathy and Jimmy has become the subject of intense interest not only among the teams of investigators who pursued the accused murderer and the inscrutable woman at his side for 16 years until their arrest in June, but also among the men and women of Southie who knew her before. Their Cathy Greig was no gunman’s moll but a bookish schoolgirl with a bent for numbers and later a dental hygienist in spotless white lab coat. How the mild-mannered high school senior who was voted the best-looking girl in her class ended up on the run with an alleged murderer wanted by the FBI, and with a $100,000 bounty on her head, is the subject of widespread speculation on Broadway, the boulevard that splices South Boston’s heart.
The questions heard on the street are much the same as those that have long intrigued law enforcement: What kind of a woman stays with a man like Bulger? What kind of a person launders his clothes and carefully writes his grocery list, enabling his life on the lam? Was she held by fear, or was she so besotted that she stayed of her own accord? Even if she was not initially aware of the deadly scope of his doings, as her lawyer maintains, surely she would have learned of the gruesome deaths with which he is accused when the charges were made public in 2000.
Greig, 60, is confined to the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island as she awaits trial on charges of harboring a federal fugitive. As prosecutors consider bringing additional charges against her, questions about her character have become central not only to the outcome of her case but potentially to that of Bulger’s as well. Greig has unique knowledge of their years on the run and perhaps of Bulger’s criminal reign.
Kevin Reddington, Greig’s lawyer, has declared that she is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing and will not assist prosecutors. Her only crime, he has declared, “is a crime of passion, falling in love with this gentleman.’’ Relatives of his victims, however, charge that Greig’s assistance enabled Bulger to remain at large and prolonged their suffering.
By the time the couple disappeared in 1995, just as prosecutors unveiled a lengthy indictment against him, Bulger and Greig had been together for two decades. During those years, Greig abandoned her career and became increasingly dependent upon her lover, more than 20 years her senior. Theirs was a relationship that seemed to gradually engulf her and erode her independence, transforming her from an ambitious professional into a self-effacing helpmate. And when she fled with him, some of her former colleagues were not entirely surprised.
“I figured she’d been with him for such a long while that maybe there was just no going back,’’ said Julia McCarthy, who attended Northeastern University a year behind Greig and later worked with her at Forsyth. “Maybe she was offered the chance to go and she found she didn’t have anything around here but him anymore so she decided to go. He was her life, you know.’’
. . .
This is a story about love. But it is also a story about a place.
What developed between Bulger and Greig was deeply rooted in the tangle of gangland rivalries that prevailed in their native Southie at the time they came together. Southie is a place of beauty, offering sweeping vistas of Boston’s skyline. It is also a place of grit, steeped in a history of violence and a legendary aversion to outsiders that has become cliché. It has been called the most insular neighborhood in Boston, and maybe any American city. But it is a label that no longer fits—few sections of town have changed more rapidly.Continued...