On its 16th anniversary, search for ‘Whitey’ Bulger goes on
Yesterday marked James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s 16th anniversary as a fugitive, but the FBI says its worldwide manhunt got a boost last year from an appeal to plastic surgeons and dentists to be on the lookout for the elderly gangster and his girlfriend.
FBI agent Richard Teahan, coordinator of the Bulger Task Force, said during a telephone interview yesterday that agents received 50 to 100 leads after placing ads last spring in Plastic Surgery News and the American Dental Association’s newsletter with photos of Bulger and Catherine Greig, urging anyone who treated the fugitive couple to call the FBI.
“A lot of leads and tips have come in, both domestically and internationally,’’ said Teahan, adding that the task force eliminated many as look-alike sightings, but is continuing to investigate some of the leads generated by the ads.
The FBI’s full-page ad last year in Plastic Surgery News said Greig, 59, had breast implants, a face lift, liposuction, and eyelid surgery before she went on the run with Bulger, raising the possibility that she might be looking to replace the implants she received in 1982 or get a makeover.
Last May, the FBI posted a similar ad in the dental association’s Daily News, hoping that someone might recognize the fugitive couple as recently treated patients. Greig, a dental hygienist, had several porcelain dental crowns and had her teeth cleaned monthly before she fled, according to the ad.
A federal warrant for Bulger’s arrest was issued Jan. 4, 1995. The following day, Bulger’s longtime sidekick and codefendant, Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, was arrested, but Bulger had fled. It was later revealed in court that Bulger, now 81, was a longtime FBI informant and had been warned by his handler, former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., to flee just before his racketeering indictment.
After Bulger fled, he was charged with murder in 19 slayings in the 1970s and 1980s. Flemmi is serving a life sentence for 10 murders. And Connolly was sentenced to 10 years on federal racketeering charges and an additional 40 years in prison for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi that prompted them to kill a Boston businessman in Florida. Connolly is appealing his Florida murder conviction.
Bulger, who turned 81 in September, remains one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted, and the bureau is offering a $2 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
The last confirmed sighting of Bulger was in London in 2002, according to the FBI. Teahan said the FBI believes Bulger is still alive and traveling with Greig, of South Boston and Quincy. He said the Bulger Task Force, which is assigned full time to tracking Bulger, averaged several tips a week over the past year. In October, deputy US marshals joined the task force, which is also composed of FBI agents, State Police, and investigators from the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
Kevin J. Weeks, a former Bulger associate, speculated yesterday that Bulger is living a low-profile, quiet lifestyle in Europe and will never be captured. “Nobody outside of Boston really knows who Whitey Bulger is or cares who Whitey Bulger is,’’ said Weeks, who has coauthored a fictional book — “Where’s Whitey?’’ — which is due out in June. “Everyone is worried about terrorism. No one is worried about an aging criminal from America.’’
Weeks, who turned government witness and spent five years in prison for assisting Bulger in five murders, said he last saw Bulger in November 1996 during a secret rendezvous in New York City and suspects he has severed all ties with his former associates.
But, Teahan said the task force will not rule out the possibility that Bulger has received help while on the run and that part of the ongoing investigation is to locate anyone who may be harboring him. He said the manhunt remains worldwide and continues to focus on areas where Bulger has been, including Florida, New York, California, Chicago, London, and Paris.
“There continues to be multiple sightings coming out of Florida,’’ said Teahan, adding that Bulger could be anywhere.
“We just think it’s important not to give up and to keep pushing,’’ Teahan said. “Worldwide exposure is what will cause him to be apprehended.’’
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.