LOS ANGELES — Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger spent almost all of his 16 years on the lam in the same California apartment complex, paying his rent in cash while he and his girlfriend hid from one of the biggest manhunts in U.S. history.
The property managers said Thursday that the couple — who went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko — moved in around 1996. The managers asked that their names not be used because they didn’t want additional attention from the media.
The FBI finally caught the 81-year-old Bulger and longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig on Wednesday, ending a 16-year manhunt. The model for the ruthless gangland boss played by Jack Nicholson in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie “The Departed,” Bulger was wanted for 19 murders.
“He left a trail of bodies,” said Tom Duffy, a retired state police major in Massachusetts. “You did not double-cross him. If you did, you were dead.”
The arrest was based on a tip that came just days after the FBI began circulating pictures of Greig on daytime TV. The campaign that started Monday asked people, particularly women, to be on the lookout for Greig, pointing out she had plastic surgery several times and was known to frequent beauty salons and visit the dentist every month.
The property managers at the Princess Eugenia, a three-story, 28-unit building of one- and two-bedroom apartments in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Santa Monica, recalled the couple as sweet people and ideal tenants who always paid their rent on time. Santa Monica property records show the apartment had a rent-controlled rate of $1,145 a month.
In one instance, the man gave a worker at the apartment building his flashlight because he was concerned about her crossing the road after she finished her shift at night. When the father of one the property managers’ parents died, the man sent a card offering his condolences, and he periodically sent gifts to people at the complex.
Meanwhile, Bulger had a $2 million reward on his head and rose to No. 1 on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list after Osama bin Laden was killed. He had fled in 1995.
FBI agents put the apartment under surveillance on Wednesday afternoon and, employing a ruse that officials would not explain, lured Bulger out and arrested him without incident, authorities said.
A variety of guns and a large amount of cash were found in the apartment, the FBI said. Federal investigators declined to say how Bulger got enough money to live on.
Bulger and Greig were scheduled to appear in Los Angeles federal court Thursday. He faces federal charges that include murder, conspiracy to commit murder, narcotics distribution, extortion and money laundering. Greig, 60, is charged with harbouring a fugitive.
At the same time he was boss of the Winter Hill Gang, South Boston’s murderous Irish mob, Bulger was an FBI informant, supplying information about the rival New England Mafia. But he fled in January 1995 when a retired agent tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.
That set off a major scandal at the FBI, which was found to have an overly cozy relationship with its underworld informants in Boston, protecting mob figures for decades and allowing them to commit murders as long as they were supplying useful information.
The arrest brings an end to a manhunt in which the FBI received reported sightings of Bulger and Greig from all over the U.S. and parts of Europe. In many of those sightings, investigators could not confirm whether it was Bulger.
Bulger, nicknamed “Whitey” for his shock of bright platinum hair, grew up in a gritty South Boston housing project and went on to become Boston’s most notorious gangster.
Along with Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, he led the Winter Hill Gang, which ran loansharking, gambling and drug rackets in the Boston area. U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern said in 2000 that the two were “responsible for a reign of intimidation and murder that spanned 25 years.”
Prosecutors said Bulger went on the run after being warned by John Connolly Jr., a then-retired FBI agent in Boston who had made Bulger an informant 20 years earlier. Connolly was convicted of racketeering in 2002 for protecting Bulger and Flemmi, also an FBI informant. Connolly was also found guilty of murder in Miami for helping to set in motion a mob hit in 1982 against John Callahan, president of World Jai-Alai.
Along with the federal charges in Boston, Bulger faces murder charges in Miami in the killing of the gambling executive and in Oklahoma in the slaying of a businessman. Both Florida and Oklahoma have the death penalty.