Today marks 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 today 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 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.
A federal warrant for Bulger's arrest was issued Jan. 4, 1995. But, Bulger, now 81, was tipped by a corrupt FBI agent and fled before his federal racketeering indictment in Boston. He was later charged with 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s and exposed as a longtime FBI informant. He 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, a dental hygienist from South Boston and Quincy. He said the Bulger Task Force, which is assigned full-time to tracking Bulger, averaged three to five tips a week over the past year. In October, deputy US marshals joined the task force, which also comprises FBI agents, State Police, and investigators from the Massachusetts Department of Correction.
Bulger's former associate-turned-author Kevin J. Weeks speculated today 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 co-authored 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 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 won't 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 are committed to this case,'' Teahan said. "We just think it's important not to give up and to keep pushing. Worldwide exposure is what will cause him to be apprehended.''