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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Whitey’
Question of the Day
WHITEY: THE LIFE OF AMERICA’S MOST NOTORIOUS MOB BOSS
By Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Crown, $27, 448 pages
There have been a good number of books written about Boston’s Irish mob boss, Whitey Bulger, and up to now “Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal” by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill was the best one in my view. But Mr. Lehr and Mr. O’Neill have surpassed themselves with “Whitey.”
“This biography of James J. “Whitey” Bulger will explain the evolution of Bulger from juvenile delinquent in the 1940s to stone-cold killer in the 1960s, from unchallenged crime boss in the 1980s with the blessing of a corrupted FBI, to fugitive from justice in 1995, and, finally, to his capture sixteen years later in June 2011 at age eighty-one,” Mr. Lehr and Mr. O’Neill write in “Whitey.”
“Whitey” offers an interesting history of the Bulger clan, tracing the family from Ireland to Newfoundland, and finally to Boston. In tracing the Bulger family history, one also learns about the history of Boston and the South Boston section of the city known as “Southie.”
Mr. Lehr and Mr. O’Neill state that much of the material in “Whitey” is new, culled from recently released records, as well as sealed material the authors obtained from their sources.
The authors delve into 500 pages of Bulger’s prison file, CIA files and federal court records, which document his participation in a LSD project while incarcerated. Bulger’s prison record also documents his early political influence from not only his brother Bill, then a rising star in Boston politics, but also from then-Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, a Bulger family friend.
Based on new records, debriefings and sworn testimony, the authors recount a series of killings Bulger committed over the years in pursuit of his expanding criminal enterprise. His victims included criminal rivals, national business figures and even young women that he reportedly strangled to death.
The authors also expand on their coverage of the “unholy alliance” with the Boston FBI and FBI Special Agent John Connelly, who was under the spell of Whitey and his politician brother Bill. We learn that Whitey used his brother Bill to sell his connection to Connelly to his criminal crew, telling them that Connelly will protect the gang as he owed an allegiance to Bill for helping him go to college and mentoring him.
Bulger provided the FBI with information about New England’s Patriarca Cosa Nostra crime family in return for the FBI’s protection and acquiescence to his own crimes, which included drug trafficking, extortion and homicide.
Mr. Lehr, a professor of journalism at Boston University and a former reporter for The Boston Globe, and Mr. O’Neill, the former editor of The Boston Globe’s investigative team, consider “Whitey” to be the third part of a trilogy following “Black Mass” and “The Underboss,” a book that covers the FBI’s successful bugging of the Boston Cosa Nostra’s headquarters.
I contacted Dick Lehr and asked him why, after the success of “Black Mass,” he and his co-author wrote a biography of Whitey Bulger.
“The bulk and the focus of ‘Black Mass’ is the Whitey Bulger-FBI years, basically two decades from 1975 to 1995. When Whitey was captured, we realized that this guy now warrants a biography,” Mr. Lehr told me.
Mr. Lehr said that he and his co-author realized that in 1975 when he cut his deal with the Boston FBI, Bulger was already 48. He lived half a life that the authors had barely scratched the surface of in “Black Mass.”
“There was this whole life that had not been explored, and Whitey Bulger has a place in American history as a significant crime figure,” Mr. Lehr said. “We wanted to put the “Black Mass” years in a larger context of his life story, a biography, in which we try to not just tell this dramatic and horrific story, but get more into the why and how in the making of this monster.”
“He despised and hated informers. Psychologically, he was projecting. He was known for viciousness and torturing. When he was killing an informant, a rat, he brought a special viciousness to bear. That helped feed the notion that Whitey absolutely can’t stand a rat. It was such an anathema to him, such a horror — in part because he hates himself.”
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