As a jury deliberates in a Boston federal court over the fate of notorious mobster James (Whitey) Bulger, families of victims, law enforcement and a fascinated public await the outcome of the long saga of Whitey and the corrupt FBI. In the United States v. James J. Bulger, the famous South Boston resident is charged with 32 counts, including extortion, money laundering and 19 counts of murder.
A verdict in the case will also bring some closure to Boston Globe reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, who have been following Whitey for almost 30 years, beginning in the days when the Globe reported that Whitey had a “special relationship” with the FBI and a corrupt agent, John Connolly Jr. Mr. Cullen, a Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist, and Ms. Murphy, a reporter, are currently covering the trial, which started in early June, for the Globe.
The authors arrived on the Island last Friday to speak about their book, Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice, at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival. Ms. Murphy had filed a story earlier that day, and Mr. Cullen wrote his column on the trial at the Lampost on Friday night. During the book festival they talked about all things Whitey at a packed panel discussion with Dick Lehr, a former Globe colleague and the author of Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss.
“I started writing about him in the ‘80s, so I feel very fortunate to be here for the end,” Ms. Murphy said during an interview after the panel on the porch of the Harbor View Hotel. She recalled that during some civil cases over Whitey’s alleged crimes, she was the only reporter in the courtroom. She was there the night Mr. Bulger’s associate Steve Flemmi was arrested and the FBI was looking for Mr. Bulger, and she was there when the police were digging up the bodies of some of the 19 people Mr. Bulger allegedly killed.
In June 2011, Mr. Bulger was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been a fugitive for 16 years with his girlfriend, Cathy Greig. Ms. Murphy was one of three Boston reporters in the courtroom for Mr. Bulger’s first appearance. She recalled that the 81 year old grinned and mocked the reporters as they took notes. All of these details are recounted in the reporters’ book, which was published in February.
“To me, it would have really been a travesty if he were able to ride off into the sunset, if they had never captured him and there was no . . . end for the families,” she said. “There would have always been this what happened, wondering how his life ended. I felt like whatever happens on this trial, the important thing was that there was a trial.”
During the much-publicized trial, Ms. Murphy has been in the courtroom every day, one of about 15 members of the media. She has a “golden ticket” — a yellow assigned media pass — in her purse. Rows are reserved for victims’ families, the prosecution, the defense and Whitey’s family. Overflow courtrooms with a live feed of the action have held more members of the public and the media, often including Mr. Cullen.
“I can tell you the public interest in this trial has been intense,” Ms. Murphy said. The doors open at 7 a.m., and “at one point in the trial people were lining up at 1:30 in the morning. It’s like they were waiting for iPhones.”
“When this trial started I had 1,500 Twitter followers and right now I have 7,000,” Mr. Cullen added.
Ms. Murphy has gained almost 4,000 Twitter followers during the trial. “People come up to me in the hallways outside the courthouse and say thank you for tweeting. There are victims’ families that are following me that can’t come,” she said.
“I think most people are interested,” said Mr. Cullen. “I think it’s history.”
Ms. Murphy said she thought the worst moment of the trial came when the court was shown a picture of alleged victim Deborah Hussey’s skeleton. “That was a person,” she said. “It was just horrible. One of the jurors was crying.”
Ms. Murphy said that although Whitey could still be tried for murders in Florida and Oklahoma, the trial would likely be the end of the line for him.
“Whitey’s funny because in one of the letters [he sent from prison] he said the reason he didn’t respond to us was because that would make us important,” Ms. Murphy said. “And I would like Whitey to know that we don’t really need Whitey to make us important. For me, this was never personal . . . For me, he’s just a guy who is charged with horrible, horrible things, who allegedly got away with murder for years because he had this corrupt relationship with the FBI, and because of that he left this trail of victims.
“For me this was about really being a voice for people who didn’t have a voice. It was about making sure there was scrutiny, that we never stopped putting the pressure on to find him, to bring him back and to see it through. These poor families, they are going to live with this forever, but for us this is about making sure that there was some justice, however it turns out. Making sure that he had his day.”
For his part, Mr. Cullen is ready to move on. “To be honest, for me, I really want to move on from this guy. I have so many things I want to do and spend my limited brainpower on. I feel like Shelley and I have devoted the majority of our professional lives to this guy who is such a scumbag. And as interesting as he is, he’s vile and I just want to go do something that’s more life-affirming. When he walks into whatever prison he walks into, I honestly do not want to write another word about him. I really don’t.”
“And he can claim whatever he claims, but the bottom line is we’ll move on,” Ms. Murphy added. “Sadly enough there are other terrible things that happen in this world that we’ll be writing about. And hopefully some good happy stories and fun stuff. I can write about how much fun it is to be on the Vineyard in the summer.”