Tag: mafia

Whitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

March 30th, 2013 — 11:56pm

Whitey BulgerWhitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

As I write this book review, Whitey Bulger sits in jail after being on the run for than 15 years before he was captured with his girlfriend in Santa Monica, California where they had been living under assumed false names. Whitey is scheduled for trial in June of this year (2013) in Boston where he is accused of committing numerous murders plus other crimes which took place over more than fifty years. The statue of limitations is 20 years for all crimes except murder.  Even now prior to this long anticipated trial  there are numerous legal maneuvers taking place, the latest being the replacement of a federal judge who was ordered to step down from the trail because he was  federal prosecutor in Boston in the 1980s at the time Bulger was working as an FBI informant while allegedly committing crimes including murder.

This book which is written by two award winning   Boston Globe crime reporters who have researched book in great detail which is documented at the end of their work. The references include various books and articles as well as interviews with many  of criminals who were at one time confederates of  Bulger, federal and local law officers, as well as an assortment of other people whose paths crossed with Whitey Bulger.

There is no doubt that this man is one of most remarkable criminals of our time and yet on the other hand is a typical product of the south side of Boston for his generation. Not that most of the young men who grew up there at that time became criminals. Whitey’s own brother Bill Bulger became one of the most prominent and popular members of the Massachusetts state legislature. Others of the kids in his neighborhood became lawyers judges, doctors businessmen etc. Perhaps what characterized them was being children of immigrants (in this case Irish  whereas in other nearby locales it was Italian), poverty, hard working parents, competitiveness, being a street fighter when necessary and usually intense loyalty to one’s buddies. Why some kids would choose a life of crime, drugs or drug dealing, be gamblers, or run protection schemes and shakedowns is a complicated questions and even this insightful book couldn’t really figure it out. What is clear, is that Whitey Bulger grew up as very smart tough guy and served honorably in the US military, became up a budding criminal  and as a young man spent a lot of time  in federal prisons including Alcatraz. An interesting sidelight of his early years of incarceration in the 1950s and 60s, is that while in prison he volunteered, in exchange for some time off his sentence, to be subject in the infamous government sponsored research about LSD. He had no way of knowing about the resultant persistent hallucinations and periodic paranoia that he would have for several years before they faded into the background. This is not to suggest that LSD was responsible for his subsequent life of crime but it is an early  example of how his life became greatly impacted by the federal government.

Upon his release from federal detention after serving a substantial number of years, still in his 30s perhaps with some intention of going straight, he soon became very involved with the crime and the gangster world of the Irish gangs vs the Italian (Mafia ) gangs. He became enmeshed  in a life of crime which mostly included bank robberies, shakedowns and protection for the gamblers and drug dealers, as well as an occasional murder of another bad guy who from his point of view clearly deserved this fate. During the course of this life style he made the acquaintance of some FBI guys – one in particular who were interested in using him as an informant as was a common practice of the G-Men.  Whitey got drawn into this role along with one of his partners in crime , although they didn’t  take money for passing on information particularly info about their competitors in the Mafia. His relationship with the FBI is probably the most revealing aspect of this book and an area which has already been a fascinating subject for students of this era and are sure to be a focal point of the upcoming trial of Bulger. Some of the FBI agents grew up in the same home territory as Bulger. They themselves were seemingly fascinated and intrigued by the underworld of crime which they interacted with as they extracted information from their informers which allowed them to eliminate many of the leading criminals of that time. At least one of Whitey’s FBI handlers received great honors and commendations from his higher up in the FBI. Whitey on the other hand was often tipped off in ways that protected him from being caught and which also identified other criminals who were working against him . This led to Whitey having to eliminate some of them.  It seemed pretty clear that these FBI people knew of Whitey’s high crimes including many murders which on occasion even accidentally murdered the wrong person and at least two times killed  women for various reasons. Now that Whitey Bulger is coming up for trial and a new generation of agents and prosecutors appear ready to ask for whatever justice is possible for society and the families of these murdered victims, what will this now 83 year old man reveal about his life of crime and his relationship  with the FBI ?

The authors have done a very good job in documenting this man’s life and his relationships. At times,  I thought they overdid descriptions of his everyday mundane life in the name of being as complete as they could. Of course they were writing in the third person and they could only imagine his inner thoughts and feelings, based on all their sources which included people quoting Whitey and telling and even a few of his writings and letters. As interesting as the story and the life of this man is, I did not have any certainty that they really got inside of his head. I could not help compare this book to another story of a gangster criminal that I recently read, “I Heard You Paint Houses” which is the story of the man who says he killed Jimmy Hoffa and describes the details in a very believable fashion. That book was written by Charles Brandt, a former prosecutor based on interviews and the cooperation of the subject, another Irishman Frank Sheeran who was very close although not a full fledged member of the Mafia. It felt 100% genuine. Nevertheless the Bulger story is unique enough and one that is known to most Bostonians and should be known by anyone fascinated by crime in America. This is especially true  as the trial goes on  which is scheduled to take place June . It  will be certainly in all the  newspapers and featured on all those news magazine tv shows, and this book  will allow you to have a deeper understanding of one the most important criminals cases of the last century as it comes to it’s final conclusion.

Comment » | B - Biography

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

February 22nd, 2012 — 3:50pm


I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank” the Irishman”  Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa- by Charles Brandt (2005 edition)

When his friend and mafia boss Russell Bufalino introduced a young Frank Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa, Hoffa’s first words were, I heard you paint houses.” These are code words for “ I heard you do killings.” Little did any of these men imagine that many years later the last person who Hoffa would ever speak to would be Sheernan who killed Hoffa at the bequest of Bufalino. Not only did Sheeran “paint houses” but when required he could also do his “own carpentry” which means he could get rid of the body.

This book is the story of Frank Sheeran as told to Charles Brandt , a former homicide investigator, prosecutor and Chief Deputy Attorney General of the State of Delaware who had prosecuted many homicides in his day. For nearly five years, Brandt gained the confidence of an older Sheernan who was in his twilight years and knew that he was dying. These interviews occurred over numerous visits, many were video or audio recorded. There also were a few trips that were taken by the author, some with Sheernan to locations where “things had happened.” In the 2005 edition of this book there was an epilog with statements by some of the key players including Sheeran’s daughter which gives further authenticity to some the amazing stories in this book.

Sheeran grew up with a tough father in a tough Irish neighborhood. He relates an incident where he knocked out his school principal, breaking his jaw, after he  was pushed around by him. He served overseas in  Europe during World War II. He became a “sniper” which entailed killing lots of enemy troops. He also related that it was not an uncommon practice to kill prisoners of war in cold blood when it was not convenient to them bring them back for detention. He became a family man after the war, getting married and having children. He worked as a truck driver among other jobs and became involved in the union movement. The reader learns how it was quite common for him and his co-workers to steal merchandise that they were transporting and then sell it to increase their earnings. Such activities are presented as “ just making a living”.

Sheeran has a chance meeting with Russell Bufalino who turns out to be one of higher up Mafia bosses. Despite not being Italian he gains the trust of his new friend and meets many other mob connected people.  When a reliable person is needed to “paint a house” Sheeran is someone who would handle the job. There were at least 20-30 such jobs including the famous hit of Joey Gallo and of course Jimmy Hoffa . The reason for the Hoffa hit, the consequences to Sheeran if he didn’t do it to one of his best friends, the details of it,  and his subsequent feelings about it are all described in great detail.

While not described in as much detail, there is also information about another well known hit and that is the “whacking of JFK.”  It is suggested that the mob needed to take some of the power away from Bobby Kennedy who as Attorney General under his brother was after the mob. Sheeran describes how he delivered the high powered rifles that were to be used for this shooting. As is often the case, the unsuspecting triggerman  is killed after a big time hit. Jack Ruby is described as a well known member of the mob who was suppose to arrange for Lee Harvey Oswald to be eliminated after he killed Kennedy. When those plans were botched, Ruby had to do it himself.

In the end so many of the perpetrators of the big time mob activities described in this book ended up in federal prison. Some were turned against each other to get time off so they wouldn’t die in prison.  Sheeran served his time and apparently never turned into “ a rat” …except in this book in a more less final confession before he died.

This book feels like a genuine window into the under belly of this world of crime and killings. If most of the participants were not already gone, you might  almost feel that your life was in danger after reading this book for knowing all this information.

Postscript: There is a rumor that Robert DiNero is on board for playing the Irishman  for a film project that will make of movie of this book with Martin Scorsese directing  and also  starring Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.

2 comments » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

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