Globetrotting in search of a fugitive
BOSTON – He has been “spotted” all over the United States, in Canada, Europe, Mexico and Brazil, Paraguay, and most recently, in two coastal resort towns in Uruguay.Despite unconfirmed sightings in about 30 countries and on every continent but Antarctica, notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger remains elusive after more than a decade on the run.Unfortunately for investigators, most of the hundreds of reported sightings have turned out to be just people who look like Bulger, a balding, 75-year-old man who could blend in almost anywhere.Last month, a Los Angeles TV station reported that investigators considered the possibility that Bulger could be the “senior citizen bandit” holding up banks in Southern California. That thought struck Boston investigators as comical.”The proposition that he would be wearing a baseball cap and robbing banks in Los Angeles is just hilarious,” said Tom Duffy, a retired Massachusetts State Police major who spent years investigating Bulger.Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, was also an FBI informant who ratted out his competitors in the Italian Mafia. He disappeared in 1994 after being tipped by his FBI handler, John Connolly, that he was about to be indicted on racketeering charges. Connolly is now serving a 10-year sentence.
Bulger is on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, has a $1 million reward on his head and has been featured at least a half dozen times on “America’s Most Wanted.” Last year, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said investigators had pursued 100 men on five continents in the past year alone. All turned out to be Bulger lookalikes.Some investigators say his average, non-distinct looks have helped him hide. FBI wanted posters describe Bulger as between 5-foot-7 and 5-foot-9, between 150 and 160 pounds, with a medium build, blue eyes and thinning white or silver hair. Investigators believe Bulger is traveling with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, now 54.”He can just blend in as a typical grandfather,” said Duffy. “If you saw this couple walking down a boardwalk somewhere, they wouldn’t stick out. There would be nothing that would draw your attention to them.”Former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said most of the people who reported seeing Bulger were “well-intentioned,” but just mistaken.”There has been enough publicity about it that it takes on a certain folklore quality so people may see someone with similar looks and think that they’ve seen him,” he said.”I think the reward also sort of creates some wishful thinking on the part of people – when they see someone who may bear resemblance and they can attach some dollar signs to that. They may see some things that are not there,” Stern said.
Stern said he once believed that he, too, had seen Whitey. Stern was in London, where the FBI reported the last confirmed sighting of Bulger in September 2002. Stern can’t remember exactly when it happened, though he said it was after that last confirmed sighting.He recalls that he was walking to his hotel, which was located not far from a London health club allegedly frequented by Bulger, and “I literally was walking down the street and did a double-take. When I looked more closely, it clearly wasn’t him. Your eyes can play tricks on you.”Over the years, some of the sightings and information released about Bulger have bordered on the silly.In 2001, police in Tulsa, Okla. – where Bulger was charged in the 1981 murder of a businessman – put out a wanted poster on its Web site saying Bulger may be hiding out in gay communities or nudist camps. The poster also said Bulger was believed to have “extreme bad breath.”The FBI’s poster on Bulger said Bulger would more likely be found in libraries or at historic sites. He was described as an avid reader with an interest in history, and a man who walks on beaches and in parks to stay physically fit. He was also described as an animal lover who might frequent animals shelters.Investigators believe Bulger had begun to prepare for a life on the run years before he fled. A timeline released by the FBI last year shows that he opened a London bank account under the alias “Thomas Baxter” as early as 1986.
“There is no question he had a horde of money stashed away,” Duffy said. “In the early ’80s, we know he was preparing for the day he had to flee.”Over the years, the FBI’s commitment to finding Bulger has been questioned by some who say investigators are worried he would embarrass the agency with additional revelations about the corrupt relationship between the FBI and some of its informants. But the FBI has vehemently denied allegations that it is not doing all it can to find Bulger.Duffy said Bulger is “highly intelligent” and constantly mobile, a combination that so far has kept him ahead of investigators.”Let’s assume he’s over in Europe – he’s not walking around with his Boston Red Sox cap on with a 9 millimeter in his pants,” Duffy said. “For all intents and purposes, he’s a retired career criminal, and I don’t see him doing anything to jeopardize that situation.”Vail, Colorado
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