No, I don’t mean that Whitey is reviewing books, though by all accounts he was a reader, particularly of history and military matters. No, I thought in light of his semi-recent arrest I would offer quick reviews of basically every book on Whitey.
For those who don’t know, Whitey Bulger was the biggest man in Boston crime for about 20 years, while also being an FBI informant. He essentially took advantage of the FBI’s perpetual hard-on for busting the Mafia and fed the FBI information on local Italian mobsters (and any other competition he wanted out of the way) in exchange for being able to operate with impunity. Eventually, Whitey’s luck ran out and he fled indictment in 1995 and hadn’t been seen until his arrest in June of this year. He was arrested in Santa Monica, CA looking like this:
Which begs one simple question, perhaps the FBI wouldn’t have taken 16 years to find him if they had bothered to perhaps make up a sketch of him wearing a beard (and maybe a captain’s hat)?
The feds hire all types of forensic artists, psychiatrists, even psychics, yet they don’t know the first thing old school Irish dudes do when they go to seed and retire near the ocean is a grow a “I don’t give a fuck” beard?
It is an improvement on their earlier efforts, which often used the infamous “Whitey in a Red Sox hat and aviators” picture, which makes him look like about 1 in 3 guys over 50 living in the greater Boston area. If it narrows things down, he was last seen driving a Mercury Grand Marquis! He also hung out at a neighborhood liquor store and played the lottery. Oh, and he’s Irish… Feed that into the crime computer and I’m sure you’ll have your man in no time!
Regardless, I was sure they would never catch him. Most of the reported sightings have been overseas, in England or Italy and were totally bogus sightings of grouchy looking old white guys.
So, for those who now want to catch up on Whitey Bulger related books, here’s a quick rundown of almost all of them.
Black Mass- Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.
If you are only going to read one book about Whitey, read Black Mass. It covers his entire criminal career and goes into heavy detail about his relationship with the FBI. Despite all that, it is not a dry read by any means and certainly touches upon some of the juicier anecdotes that are in some of the more personal “tell-all” books. If you read this, there will be very little you will not know about Whitey and his world.
After Whitey fled, books by his former associates developed into a cottage industry of sorts. Tough guys were lining up to dish dirt and make a little retirement money. If my memory serves, the first one to come out was by Edward MacKenzie.
Street Soldier- Edward MacKenzie Jr
MacKenzie (or “Edzo” in Southie parlance) was a minor member of Whitey Bulger’s world. He managed a bar, was a legbreaker, and dealt a little coke on the side. The thing that’s most noticeable in this book is how little Bulger appears. If anything, this book reinforced Bulger’s aura of mystique, as MacKenzie did not appear to really know Bulger that well. He is painted in broad strokes, with little in the way of details. By the time MacKenzie started working for him in the mid 1980’s, Bulger was succesful enough that he didn’t need or want to really talk to low-level street guys like MacKenzie. The most lasting image of Whitey in this book is about his sexual proclivities. He liked young girls. And he liked to do weird things with them. MacKenzie ran a gym, which had a back room equipped with two-way mirrors (don’t ask) and in one notable passage, MacKenzie describes seeing Whitey at work on a young girl:
A naked girl lay face-down on a plastic tarp on the floor. Whitey, equally naked, kneeled over her. He was spreading different colors of paint all over her body; she looked like a tie-dye T-shirt, She was no older than fifteen or sixteen.
Anyways, since this book came out in 2003, books by people closer to Whitey have come out and made this book largely superfluous. It’s actually of more interest to people who have read Michael Patrick MacDonald’s excellent memoir of growing up in Southie, All Souls. MacKenzie was good friends with MacDonald’s older brother Frankie and it’s interesting to read about their family from two opposite viewpoints: the voice of an innocent young kid and that of a violent thug. Be forewarned: this book is definitely seamy as all hell, and MacKenzie talks about going gay bashing, shooting up black projects while screaming “Niggers Suck”, and how breaking people’s bones gave him a boner.
Brutal- Kevin Weeks
If you want more dirt and inside story than Black Mass can provide, this is the book for you. From about the late 1970’s up until his arrest in 1999, Kevin Weeks was Whitey’s main assistant and Number 1 Guy. He drove Whitey around, and as Whitey got more cautious, served as his go-between with the outside world. As such, he was party to most of what Whitey did, including a lot of extortion and a fair amount of murders. Weeks was in the room when Bulger and his partner Stephen Flemmi killed people. He was in the basement digging the hole while Flemmi removed teeth from corpses with pliers. Oddly enough, while all this was going on, Bulger was always upstairs taking a nap.
A Criminal and an Irishman- Patrick Nee
In his book, Pat Nee puts forth his own theory on Bulger’s naptime:
He had to go upstairs and lie down; I figure that the release of sexual excitement from killing had exhausted him. Jimmy Bulger had climaxed in his pants.
Jesus Christ! That is some really disturbing shit. At least Eddie MacKenzie only confessed to getting a “semi” when crippling someone.
Pat Nee’s book is limited, but interesting. Nee is the only person writing who knew Bulger when he was just another guy in the South Boston criminal landscape, not THE guy. So, unlike Weeks or MacKenzie, he has no reverence for him (the fact that Bulger later set him up probably doesn’t hurt either). Although there is an age difference, both entered the criminal world around the same time, with Bulger getting released from his first jail sentence for armed robbery in 1965 around when Nee was discharged from the Marines. The parts about their early history and the early 70’s war between Nee’s Mullin gang and the Killeen gang that Bulger was affiliated with at the time was interesting. The latter part of the book is about Nee’s activities related to the IRA and the infamous gun smuggling mission aboard the ship Valhalla.
The Brothers Bulger- Howie Carr
Howie Carr is a local loudmouth radio host and columnist in Boston. He has carved out a niche for himself as an expert on Whitey Bulger. When Whitey was arrested Carr probably had to go upstairs and lie down on the couch for a nap, if you get my drift. The main angle for this book is that it traces the parallel history between Whitey’s upward mobility in the underworld with the rise of his younger brother Billy Bulger in the world of Massachusetts politics (Black Mass touches on a little of that as well). Besides the information on Billy, most of the things covered in this book can be found in other places. Also, when compared to the more serious journalistic voices of Lehr and O’Neill in Black Mass or the “money on the table, bodies in the basement, guns in the trunk” nitty gritty of the tell-all books, Carr’s tone falls inbetween and suffers at the comparison to either.
There are a few more Bulger related books, but really at this point, I don’t think I could read another. Now, the only real new information will come out at Whitey’s trial, and it remains to be seen if Whitey’s talking.