Today we're talking with Thomas J. Foley, author of Most Wanted: Pursuing Whitey Bulger, the Murderous Mob Chief the FBI Secretly Protected
FQ: - You mention several times that Bulger’s reputation, particularly in South Boston, was of a sort of Robin Hood. Did he actually ever do anything to help the residents of South Boston that promoted this image, or was it a complete myth?
Whatever he did he did to promote and maintain this false image. It has been told that he helped the elderly and the poor but we found those stories to be more hype than fact. He and his supporters also claimed that he kept drugs out of the South Boston neighborhoods while law enforcement was aware that he was profiting from the drug trade.
FQ: You make it very clear that Whitey Bulger was no Robin Hood, that he was an incredibly cold-hearted, sadistic killer. If there was one thing you’d like people to know about him, what would it be?
That he was ruthless and how his victims suffered. If you read the accounts of how his victims died you would understand that he was no Robin Hood.
FQ: As a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, and alum of the University of Massachusetts where Billy Bulger was President, I find it odd that so many of my fellow residents know little to nothing about the Bulger family. Whereas the New York mobsters seemed to hold almost celebrity status, the Massachusetts mob seemed to stay under the radar. Would you agree with this assessment and if so, why do you think the Massachusetts mob was largely unknown by the public?
Bulger and his crew were not the average run of the mill organized crime group. Boston had its share of celebrity type gangsters just like New York. A lot has been written about the Patriarca/Anguilo crime family that was once part of La Cosa Nostra or Mafia in Boston. They were known as traditional organized crime, following the same culture and structure of other mafia groups throughout the country. They were organized and disciplined with titles such as boss, underboss, consigliere, capo, and soldier. In contrast was the so called Irish organized crime group operating around the same time in the Boston area. In the 1960’s Boston had several of these groups and after lengthy gang wars the Winter Hill Gang emerged. Bulger was part of this group known for their ability to strike at their enemies in a military type manner efficiently disposing of the problem. The mafia in Boston feared and respected the Winter Hill Gang and both operated in a somewhat peaceful coexistence as far as organized crime goes. Bulger’s ability to stay under the radar screen for some time was directly related to the public relations effort making him out to be a “not that bad a guy” and the FBI’s efforts to protect him. Law enforcement knew how dangerous he was but it took time to peel away the layers of false reports and image building over the years. In addition his brother Billy held the most powerful political position in the State as State Senate president. There was little appetite by those in powerful positions to take him on. Bill controlled the legislature and Whitey controlled the streets.
FQ: At the Greek diner, the Busy Bee, you mention doing surveillance and winding up sitting just one booth over from Steve Flemmi, one of Bulger’s associates. Would you tell our readers a bit about that experience?
The challenge that faces organized crime investigators is to be able to maintain constant surveillance of organized crime members activities without being detected. Cases are built on criminal conversations when OC members gather. In this particular case, at the Busy Bee restaurant in Brookline just down the street from Fenway Park, Flemmi and Mafia boss Frank Salemme met with others on a regular basis. Blending in with the other partrons we tried to get as close as possible. We tried to overhear their conversations and at the same time tried to “bug” the booths they were sitting in. Our team had good success on a regular basis but it was always a challenge; a challenge to overhear incriminating conversations and a challenge not to be detected.
FQ: The descriptions of the murders of Steve Flemmi’s girlfriends, Debbie Davis and Debbie Hussey, by Bulger were quite upsetting. It really shed light on Bulger’s horrific, brutal personality. After questioning Kevin Weeks about the murders, were you able to go home and not "bring work home with you"?
I think it was these murders that really drove us and made us so determined to bring Bulger to justice. As difficult as it was to listen to the gory details of these murders at the same time it was uplifting in that our case against Bulger was being strengthened. Finally we had eye witness testimony and the bodies to prove what we had been saying for years; mainly that Bulger was an animal not that harmless guy that many tried to portray him as. Those in law enforcement who protected him and defended him for so long could no longer do so when the bones of his victims including both Debbie Hussey and Debbie Davis were being pulled from shallow graves after tortuous deaths. Difficult for us to live with; yes. But it was making the case to bring Bulger to justice.
FQ: Is Catherine Greig, Bulger’s girlfriend, also awaiting trial? What is likely to happen to her? Is she still "a real ballbuster"?
Catherine Greig has plead guilty to related charges. She is to be sentenced this June. She has tried to portray herself as an innocent bystander but she is far from it.
FQ: So many people would have given up long before seeing Whitey Bulger brought to justice. Between the threats and FBI cover-ups/misinformation, how did you keep going?
Our job was to investigate organized crime. Bulger was the most dangerous and ruthless organized crime figure in Boston for many years. When we targeted him we soon found out that Bulger’s activities were only part of the problem. Corruption in law enforcement directly related to Bulger’s criminal activities soon began to make an organized crime case expand into a deep and complicated public corruption investigation. For us to quit, like others had done in the past, would mean we would become part of the problem. It was our job and we knew it was time for this to end.
FQ: One of the things I kept wondering as I read your book was that your wife must have been incredibly understanding – and worried. Did your investigation of such a dangerous criminal put a strain on your relationship?
Our team was fortunate to have understanding wives in a business that I can only describe as extremely demanding and challenging. Often we didn’t tell our wives of all we were involved in so that they didn’t worry and at other times they were the ones we relied on when we needed to talk. I know my wife understood the importance of our work and what we were up against. She made so very difficult a time a lot more bearable.
FQ: Will you be attending the trail (and/or testifying) of Whitey Bulger?
Yes..I will be attending the trial. I have testified in other related trials but have not been told if I will be needed to testify at this time.
To learn more about Most Wanted: Pursuing Whitey Bulger, the Murderous Mob Chief the FBI Secretly Protected please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.