At least twice a day, Carol Gasko would crouch on the sidewalk in front of her Santa Monica apartment building to feed an abandoned, tiger-striped cat while her husband, Charlie, stood by protectively. They brought Tiger to the veterinarian when he was sick and kept his picture on their wall.
Their devotion caught the attention of Anna Bjornsdottir, a former actress and Miss Iceland 1974, who lived in the neighborhood for months at a time and sometimes stopped to chat while they fed the tabby.
“Isn’t she nice?’’ Bjornsdottir said of Gasko to a neighbor.
It was this bond, formed over the cat, that proved the downfall of one of America’s most wanted men, South Boston gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger, after 16 years on the run.
The Icelandic beauty, who gained minor fame decades ago starring in Vidal Sassoon and Noxzema commercials, was home in Reykjavik, Iceland, when she saw a CNN report on the FBI’s latest effort to track the 82-year-old Bulger and his 60-year-old girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Bjornsdottir recognized them immediately as the Gaskos, her former neighbors - Tiger’s benefactors - an ocean away on Third Street.
With a phone call to the FBI, Bjornsdottir ended one of the longest and most expansive manhunts in FBI history and brought Bulger home to face charges that he had killed 19 people, some of whose bodies were unearthed while the gangster was posing as a retiree in Southern California.
Now, through dozens of interviews with people who knew Bulger in Santa Monica and Boston as well as visits to Iceland and the couple’s California home, the Globe has drawn the first comprehensive picture of how Bulger lived on the lam all these years - and why he ultimately was caught.
“He said, ‘I used to like weapons and I used to fight.’ I just thought that was because he was in the military.”Enrique Sanchez, maintenance supervisor of Bulger’s building
The man once suspected of gallivanting through Europe had been holed up in the same rent-controlled apartment for at least 13 years, staying up late into the night watching television in his living room with black curtains drawn. When he finally went to bed, the aging gangster slept alone in the master bedroom - windows covered in opaque plastic sheeting - while his girlfriend used the guest room.
To fellow residents of the Princess Eugenia complex, the Gaskos were friendly retirees who valued their privacy. She sent thank you notes for small favors addressed to “kind neighbor,’’ but the couple seldom invited anyone into their home. Bulger once overruled Greig’s request to have a maintenance crew repaint the chipped walls in their apartment, perhaps because workers would have discovered the holes he cut to hide an arsenal of weapons and more than $800,000 in cash.
It was a carefully constructed life built on lies within lies, a life in which Bulger went by different names as the situation required. The FBI recovered 15 different aliases in the apartment along with a book, “Secrets of a Back-Alley ID Man,’’ about how to forge identification papers.
Bulger’s most important alter ego belonged to James William Lawlor, a destitute alcoholic with a resemblance to the gangster who gave Bulger his California driver’s license in exchange for money to pay the rent at a cheap motel. When Bulger needed to buy prescription drugs, drive a car, or dip into a bank account, he became Lawlor, even changing the man’s height and eye color on a state-issued identification card to match his features.
Despite Bulger’s post-arrest boast about trips to Las Vegas and visiting Boston “armed to the teeth,’’ there’s little to suggest the couple traveled much in recent years, especially after the crackdown in airport and border security following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Asked by a Santa Monica friend if she ever went anywhere, Greig mentioned only a single trip to San Francisco 10 years earlier.
Over time, the couple’s world grew smaller as the FBI pressured - or imprisoned - friends and family back east while boosting the reward for information leading to Bulger’s capture to $2 million. The FBI also offered a $100,000 reward for the capture of Greig, wanted for helping Bulger evade arrest.
Bulger became even more reclusive after the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden, the only person on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List more notorious than the gangster himself. Greig began telling people that his Alzheimer’s was progressing - though, in fact, his mind remained sharp - putting up an additional barrier to outsiders’ questions.
But it wasn’t enough. Catherine Greig had made a lasting impression on Bjornsdottir, the former beauty queen and actress perhaps most famous for starring as one of the blondes in Noxzema’s iconic “Take It Off’’ TV commercials. Now a 57-year-old yoga instructor and graphic designer, Bjornsdottir recently collected $2 million of the $2.1 million in combined FBI rewards for her tip leading to Bulger and Greig’s arrest in the basement of their Santa Monica apartment building on June 22.
Still, it is a testament to how thoroughly people believed in Charlie and Carol Gasko that, even as Bulger stood in handcuffs surrounded by FBI agents, one resident tried to explain that, whatever Charlie had done, it was a result of his dementia.
That very ordinariness helped Bulger live undetected, according to Charles “Chip’’ Fleming, a retired Boston police detective who spent six years assigned to the FBI-led task force that worked full time trying to track Bulger. While the FBI chased reported Bulger sightings from a Native American reservation in Wyoming to Piccadilly Circus in London, the gangster was quietly living within walking distance of one of America’s most famous landmarks, the Santa Monica Pier.
“We were looking for a gangster and that was part of the problem,’’ Fleming said. “He wasn’t a gangster anymore.’’
Did you rob a bank?
The residents of Apt. 303 fit in comfortably with most of the neighbors at the Princess Eugenia complex, a 27-unit building at 1012 Third St. two blocks from the ocean that once was home mainly to art scholars from the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Property records, which were poorly kept at the time, indicate Greig and Bulger moved in to their two-bedroom unit in April 1998 - paying just $863 a month - but some neighbors say they were there a couple of years earlier. By then, young professionals and retirees had taken over the building, people who were curious enough about one another to spark friendly conversation but often too busy or too polite to question any idiosyncrasies.
And the Gaskos were model tenants - they never made any noise, they paid their rent early, and they treated most neighbors with almost unctuous kindness. The fact that they always paid with cash raised few questions because other tenants had paid that way.
Every month, about a week before the rent was due, Greig would walk across the street to the property manager’s office at the Embassy Hotel Apartments, owned by the same landlord.
One of the managers, Birgitta Farinelli, would take the crisp bills from Greig and joke “Carol did you rob the bank again?’’ The two would laugh.
Greig usually explained that she withdrew the money from the bank while running errands, said Farinelli, a friendly Swedish immigrant who often chatted with Greig about the best places to get a haircut or manicure.
“I can’t tell you how incredibly nice these people were,’’ Farinelli said. “They were very low-maintenance. These people never complained.’’
Few who knew the hot-tempered Bulger during his Southie days would have described him as “incredibly nice.’’ The ruthless gangster allegedly strangled two women among his many victims, then took a nap while one of them was buried in the dirt cellar. He allegedly chained another man to a chair and tortured him for hours until he told Bulger where he had stashed cash, then shot him in the head with a machine gun.
Greig’s unstinting devotion to Bulger was remarkable, too, considering that she had tried long ago to break off her affair with Bulger and wasn’t even his first choice as a traveling companion.
A South Boston native who worked as a dental hygienist and dog groomer, Greig had been Bulger’s “other woman’’ for about 18 years while the gangster was sharing a South Boston home with Teresa Stanley and her four children.
Shortly before Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 to avoid arrest, Greig calmly revealed their on-and-off affair to a stunned Stanley, who had never met the younger woman.
“She wanted to break it off with him, and she had to do something that would just end it for them,’’ said Stanley.
The strategy worked - at first. A furious Bulger showed up as the two women discussed his infidelity at Greig’s Quincy home, Stanley recalled. The gangster got into a brief shoving match with Greig before leaving with Stanley.
A contrite Bulger, insisting the affair with Greig was over, took Stanley on a whirlwind tour of Europe that included visits to safe deposit boxes in preparation for their life on the run. When Bulger got word from a corrupt former FBI agent on Dec. 23, 1994, that he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges, Bulger hit the road with Stanley.
But Stanley missed her family and asked to go home after just a few weeks. On a winter night in early 1995, Bulger returned to Massachusetts, dropping Stanley off at a Chili’s Restaurant in Hingham. Then, he picked up Greig at Malibu Beach in Dorchester, and the couple headed south.
In retrospect, Stanley said Greig had done her a favor because if she hadn’t learned about the affair she might not have had the strength to leave Bulger.
“After 30 years I wouldn’t have been able to say: ‘That’s it. You’re on your own. See you later,’ ’’ Stanley said.
Greig was suddenly plunged into a fugitive’s life with a wanted man - and without the beloved French poodles she left at home - but she showed the gangster unwavering devotion. She changed her hair and her name, helping Bulger blend into the American landscape, and remained upbeat and affectionate even when Bulger seemed cranky and temperamental.
“She had this eternally positive energy,’’ said one Santa Monica neighbor who lived in their building. “She was almost too nice.’’
Goodwin, a longtime neighbor who was occasionally invited inside the couple’s apartment, recalled that Bulger would lie back on his futon as Greig bustled about the apartment.
When the two women talked in the hallway, Greig would often excuse herself, usually to take care of Bulger, Goodwin said. Greig suddenly would beam and her blue eyes would widen, Goodwin said, as she said, “Someone needs me. I’m needed!’’
Some people in the neighborhood described the Gaskos as a “darling’’ elderly couple, who sometimes held hands during their daily walks. But a few women who knew them said they rarely showed affection and that Bulger, almost 22 years older than Greig, seemed controlling.
“I never thought he treated her so well,’’ said Barbara Gluck, a photographer who lived down the hall and knew the Gaskos for more than 10 years. “I thought she was a very kind person . . . She was young and she looked very pretty. He was old and grizzled. I kept thinking to myself ‘What are they doing together?’ ’’
A Whitey lookalike
When Bulger fled Boston with Greig, he had a rock solid fake identity in his pocket. Posing as Thomas Baxter, Bulger bought a car in New York and traveled the country with Greig from Chicago to a resort town in Louisiana’s Cajun country. But when his former girlfriend Stanley started helping the FBI in 1996, she told agents about the Baxter alias and where Bulger had been staying, allowing them to track him to Louisiana. She quickly regretted what she had done and told a Bulger associate, who warned the gangster and sent him scrambling for new identities.
By the time, Bulger and Greig arrived in Santa Monica, they had settled on “Charles and Carol Gasko,’’ names they invented. It worked for paying bills with cash and cashier’s checks. But if they planned to drive, bank, or get health care, they would need identification in the form of driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers.
Sometime between 1998 and 2000, Bulger was walking in the Los Angeles area when he saw Lawlor, a homeless man living on the streets, according to two people who were briefed on the details of the relationship.
“He literally saw him on a bench,’’ said one of the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Bulger apparently was struck by how much they resembled each other: Both men had white beards, were bald on top, of Irish descent, and had the same ruddy complexion. Though Bulger was seven years older, the gangster, who had always taken good care of his health and appearance, looked younger than his age.
Bulger immediately devised a plan to assume the man’s identity.
“He saw the guy and realized there was some ability for them to be confused,’’ one of the two people said. “He took care of him and got him off the booze. They became friends.’’
Bulger told Lawlor he had entered the country illegally and needed to use his identification so he could stay in the United States. Bulger took Lawlor’s Social Security number, driver’s license, and birth certificate, information he used to pick up medicine at a Santa Monica pharmacy and dip into a bank account to buy clothes and health products, according to the federal indictment against Greig that identifies Lawlor only by his initials, JWL.
There were crucial differences between them - at 5 feet 4 inches tall, Lawlor was 4 inches shorter than Bulger and considerably heavier. Lawlor’s eyes were also hazel.
Bulger took care of that by lying to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency’s records suggest. In 2003, when the state of California issued Lawlor a senior citizen’s identification card by mail, Lawlor had grown 4 inches in height, weighed only 170 pounds, and had blue eyes, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records.
In exchange for letting Bulger take his name, Bulger agreed to pay the rent on Lawlor’s home, a one-room apartment at the West End Hotel on Sawtelle Boulevard in Los Angeles, a place where some other hard-luck people have lived for years.
It was in that tiny apartment that hotel employees found Lawlor dead of heart disease on Aug. 8, 2007. He had been dead for days.
Bulger was devastated by the news, according to people familiar with their relationship. But grief didn’t prevent him from continuing to use Lawlor’s name when he sought treatment at a Los Angeles clinic last year.
Nobody asked about Lawlor again, until late June of this year when two detectives from Massachusetts walked into the hotel, according to the building manager who declined to be identified.
“It was about a week after Whitey got popped,’’ the manager said.
They said they were visiting “in reference to Whitey Bulger.’’ And they were very curious about Lawlor: Who visited him? Who were his friends?
“I said, ‘Are you sure you got the right guy?’ ’’ said the manager, mystified that the short, overweight man with no money and seemingly no connections outside the hotel could be connected to Bulger.
“He wasn’t a flashy guy,’’ the manager said. “He was nondescript . . . Just a plain Joe.’’
The Gaskos at home
The view from the balcony of Bulger’s apartment showed palm tree-lined Third Street and the elegant, Mediterranean-style hotel across the street. But the couple was less interested in enjoying the view than in keeping prying eyes out.
Black curtains hung over the windows in the living room, where Bulger often spent the night, watching television with headphones on from a futon that folded out into a bed.
The fugitives, who told people they were from Chicago or Boston, kept most neighbors out of the dark, sparsely furnished apartment. The few who went inside said there were no pictures of the couple or any relatives. The only framed photos were of dogs and cats, including Tiger, recalled Enrique Sanchez, the building’s longtime maintenance supervisor. Mirrors and framed prints of works by Getty artists - pieces that had been hung by management before the couple moved in - were the only other wall decorations.
Bulger slept in the master bedroom, tucked in the back of the apartment and far out of sight from the front door. He covered the windows, which faced the building next door, with opaque plastic held by duct tape and covered them in black curtains.
Greig slept in the guest room, which had more closet space.
The rest of the apartment was austere, containing the same gray carpet that had been there since the 1990s, a big, oversized blue chair in the living room, a green, fraying couch that one neighbor described as being so shabby that the Salvation Army would have refused it.
The apartment looked like it belonged to “a very, very, very poor retired couple living on what they had,’’ said Goodwin, a 62-year-old minister who lived a few doors down from the couple.
Bulger painted the fireplace in the apartment black and covered the kitchen cabinets with brown stain, Sanchez said.
“I think he was bored,’’ he said, noting that Bulger also kept about 200 books on shelves.
Bulger made other, less obvious changes.
He cut several holes in the apartment, including the bathroom next to his bedroom and the wet bar. Inside them, he stuffed 30 knives and highpowered guns and wads of cash. More than $822,000 was found neatly stacked inside the holes at the time of his arrest. Bulger had amassed the weapons while still in Boston, then took them with him when he fled, according to a former Bulger associate who spoke on the condition he not be named.
The couple’s frugal lifestyle allowed them to pass themselves off as a retired couple on a fixed income - they didn’t even own a car. They dressed casually, Bulger usually wearing a fisherman-type hat with a brim pulled low over his face and concealing his bald head.
Greig, described as vain by law enforcement officials, let her hair go gray and, for the last several years, got the same haircut, a close-cropped shag, according to her longtime hairdresser.
The couple rarely talked of their past, though Sanchez said Bulger told him he once had a violent streak and a neighbor said the gangster admitted he carried a knife.
“He said, ‘I used to like weapons and I used to fight,’ ’’ Sanchez said. “I just thought that was because he was in the military.’’
Mostly, though, the Gaskos’ life centered on the mundane.
Greig shopped at the nearby farmer’s market twice a week, always pulling a metal cart down the street filled with her purchases and munching on dried apricots and nectarines she had bought at one of the stands. Under the name Carol Gasko, Greig ordered from catalogs like The Vermont Country Store, which sells flannel nightgowns and New England jellies.
Bulger worked out on a punching bag in the living room and eavesdropped on neighbors such as Joshua Bond, a tall, 28-year-old Mississippian who lived next door and played in a country band.
“He could relay word for word conversations I had with my friends,’’ said Bond, who is also a property manager. The couple never complained when he and his friends played country music well into the night.
Sanchez, a 64-year-old native of Guatemala, came to suspect that Bulger was using binoculars to peer in the windows of the Embassy Hotel across the street.
“I told the maids to be careful when they were cleaning, because the little old man across the street was spying on them,’’ he said in Spanish.
Bulger left the household chores to Greig.
Sanchez said Bulger refused to do laundry, though he always accompanied Greig when she went to the basement to clean their clothes.
“Enrique, why don’t you teach him how to do laundry?’’ she would joke.
“I don’t want to learn how to do that,’’ Bulger would shoot back. “That’s why I have you.’’
Bulger also sometimes showed a softer side.
He occasionally took Greig to Michael’s, a high-end restaurant two blocks away. They always asked to be seated in the same place, Table 23, nestled in the corner of the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard by the trees and bushes, said Andrew Turner, the restaurant’s general manager.
“It’s its own little nook,’’ Turner said. “It’s the best table in the sense of being able to have a view of everything, but also being isolated.’’ Bulger always paid in cash and, during a 2009 visit the month that Bulger turned 80, they left more than a 20 percent tip.
Bulger was also generous with neighbors, giving a woman with lung disease a $400 air purifier, tools to Enrique, and flashlights to women in the neighborhood. One young female tenant recalled that Bulger gave her a can of Mace.
“You have to protect yourself,’’ he told her, according to her account, which she gave on condition of anonymity because of the media attention the case has drawn. He demonstrated how she should use it if someone accosted her. “Just flip it open and spray it in his face,’’ pointing the can at her.
Bulger closely followed local crime. He would place the free Santa Monica newspaper at the doorsteps of the tenants he befriended and cautioned them to read the police blotter on Fridays. When a homeless man began loitering on the front steps of the apartment, Farinelli said, he went outside and told him to leave before he called the authorities.
“We thought he was a paranoid guy telling us to watch out, be careful of crime,’’ said a middle-aged man in the building. “We didn’t know he had experience.’’
In the months before his arrest - beginning around May 1 when Navy SEALS killed bin Laden - Bulger stopped circulating the newspaper and spent more time inside. Greig, who had already told neighbors that he had emphysema and early Alzheimer’s, said his condition was deteriorating.
“Charlie’s sleeping,’’ some neighbors recalled her saying in recent months. “He can’t breathe. Don’t bother him.’’
Greig still wrote to her neighbors, but there was a hint of anxiety in the notes.
“Just wanted to send a (belated) thank you for the Sudoku Books,’’ she wrote to 88-year-old Catalina Schlank, who gave the puzzle books thinking they would help Bulger fight symptoms of Alzheimer’s. “Charlie is too overwhelmed, but it is on my list to do. I’ve just been very busy every day . . . Thank you kind neighbor.’’
The FBI never stopped looking for Bulger. But after the FBI publicly admitted in 1997 that Bulger had been its longtime informant - confirming what the Globe had reported nine years earlier - many questioned whether the agency really wanted to catch him. That year, the FBI brought in other law enforcement agencies, creating a task force that once averaged about a dozen agents, officers, and analysts assigned full time to tracking Bulger.
During Bulger’s first two years on the run, he and Greig made dozens of calls to the Boston area. But their connections appeared to dry up after the depth of Bulger’s corrupt relationship with the FBI was exposed and relatives and friends of the fugitives were pressured to cooperate with the search.
Bulger’s former associates turned against him, leading to the discovery of secret graves and a new racketeering indictment in fall 2000 charging him with 19 killings. Bulger’s former FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr., who tipped the gangster off that he was about to be arrested, was eventually convicted of racketeering in Boston and murder in Florida.
Authorities launched billboard campaigns and media blitzes throughout the United States and Europe. The task force chased alleged Bulger sightings all over the world, but he remained elusive.
Though the FBI has declined to say how much the manhunt cost, Fleming, the retired Boston police detective who served on the task force until 2003, said it was easily the most expensive in FBI history
“I would say it’s in the millions,’’ said Fleming, noting that any promising Bulger tip became a top priority, no matter what the cost of pursuing it. “Whatever we asked for we got.’’
But nothing worked and the simple two-word question, “Where’s Whitey?’’ became a standing rebuke to the FBI.
All along, there were clues that Whitey Bulger was in Southern California, but they were among hundreds of sightings reported to the agency each year.
In January 2000, after “America’s Most Wanted’’ aired a segment on Bulger and Greig, a viewer called to report she had spotted them a couple of weeks earlier at a hair salon in Fountain Valley, Calif., a town located about an hour south of Santa Monica. The caller said Greig had her hair dyed, while Bulger waited outside in a car.
The owner of the salon told the Globe that Greig walked into her shop without an appointment in early 2000.
“I was busy with a lot of customers,’’ said the owner, who asked that she only be identified by her first name, Kim. “She brought the color when she came and I put it in for her. I think it was blonde.’’
Kim said one of her former customers, whose name she couldn’t recall, called in the tip, prompting FBI agents to interview people at the shop.
Agents returned several times over the years, but Greig has not been back, she said.
Then, in September 2002, a British businessman claimed he spotted Bulger strolling through London’s Piccadilly Circus. The FBI considered it the first credible sighting of the gangster in years and intensified its manhunt overseas. But several law enforcement officials say they now believe the London sighting was bogus.
In 2008, a Las Vegas man told “America’s Most Wanted’’ that he had spotted Bulger on the Santa Monica Pier talking about Boston with a young passerby who was wearing a Celtics shirt. Though the man, Keith Messina, left his name and cellphone number, which were later passed along to the FBI, he said he never received a call from the FBI about his tip.
Fleming said that the death of bin Laden may have been a turning point in the search.
“Once bin Laden was killed that freed up money to go toward Whitey,’’ said Fleming.
He added that Bulger was familiar enough with the inner-workings of the FBI to suspect that the terrorist’s death would shift more resources to him, given that the reward for his capture was the highest of any American fugitive.
But, even during the lean years when one reported Bulger sighting after another turned into dead ends, Fleming said members of the Bulger task force remembered one thing: “He’s got to be lucky every day, we’ve got to be lucky once.’’
Luck finally came in the form of Anna Bjornsdottir, who had gained fame after moving from her native Iceland to Southern California in the late 1970s.
She had competed as Miss Iceland in the 1974 Miss Universe pageant, where she was voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants. By 1980, she and her Icelandic rock musician husband were living the glamorous life in Los Angeles. A profile of the couple in People magazine described her as “one of the world’s most beautiful and successful models,’’ who earned more than $2,000 a day for appearing in commercials for Noxzema and Vidal Sassoon.
She eventually divorced her husband, and over the years settled into a quiet life, away from the spotlight in Iceland. She married Halldor Gudmundsson, an Icelandic businessman, with whom she published a book, about the exploits of Mosa, a cat they adopted after it survived weeks being lost in the mountains of Iceland.
The couple has rented apartments in Santa Monica over the past decade, staying up to six months at a time, according to several people who know them. Until about six years ago, they stayed at the Embassy Hotel, across from Bulger’s apartment. Then they moved to another apartment less than three blocks away.
After Tiger the cat’s elderly owner died, the tabby roamed the neighborhood, but initially wouldn’t go to anyone except Carol Gasko, who would come out at 6 a.m. daily and again in the evening carrying tin cans of food or plastic bags filled with tuna, according to neighbors.
When Bjornsdottir was out walking, she would often stop to talk to Greig while she fed the tabby.
“They both loved cats,’’ said a neighbor who immediately suspected Bjornsdottir was the tipster after learning the call came from Iceland. “Anna thought it was so nice that she took care of this cat. They became friends.’’
When a Boston Globe reporter approached Bjornsdottir outside her Reykjavik apartment in July and again in September, she ran inside without saying a word.
In response to a note from the Globe asking about her role in Bulger’s capture, Bjornsdottir’s husband sent an e-mail on her behalf saying she would not talk.
But one friend of Bjornsdottir in Iceland, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was not surprised that the former Miss Iceland would be the one to recognize Bulger and Greig.
“She’s a clever woman,’’ he said. “She’s good at noticing people.’’
The Gaskos unmasked
On Monday morning, June 20, the FBI launched a publicity campaign focused on Greig, in the hope that the sociable younger woman might be more recognizable than the much older Bulger.
Thirty-second television spots featuring photos of the couple and the worldwide effort to find them aired during commercial breaks of popular daytime shows that ran in 14 cities nationwide, including San Diego and San Francisco. But they did not run in the Los Angeles area.
Still, the campaign garnered international attention, with CNN reporting on the Bulger media blitz.
The FBI said the tip came into the agency’s Los Angeles office shortly after 8 p.m. the next day and was relayed to the Bulger task force in Boston, which by then had dwindled to a handful of investigators.
Just before 4 p.m. on June 22, the FBI began surveillance outside the Princess Eugenia complex. A couple of agents met Bond in his office at the hotel across the street. When they showed him photos of Bulger and Greig, he immediately recognized them.
When asked how sure he was, Bond said, “100 percent,’’ according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.
Hoping to draw Bulger outside peacefully, the FBI instructed Bond to call the Gaskos’ apartment and tell them someone had broken into their storage unit in the garage.
At 5:45 pm, when Bulger arrived to inspect his storage locker, he was immediately surrounded by FBI agents and Los Angeles police.
Goodwin was walking toward the laundry room in the garage when she spotted her elderly neighbor standing in handcuffs.
“You know, sir,’’ Goodwin said as she approached FBI agents and police. “This man has Alzheimer’s.’’
The officers stared back at her.
“Ma’am, when you see so many FBI you should know something serious is going down,’’ an officer responded.
FBI agents ordered Bulger to get down on his knees, but he refused.
“He looked old; he looked dejected,’’ Goodwin said. “He looked at me and he was sort of ashamed. He looked down.’’
Goodwin said FBI agents instructed Bulger to call Greig and she overheard him talking to her on a cellphone.
“Carol, stay in the apartment,’’ he said. “I’ve been arrested.’’
Minutes later, Goodwin said, she returned to the third floor and heard Greig speaking calmly to officers.
“In my opinion, she seemed glad it was over,’’ Goodwin said.
The next day, Goodwin said, she searched the Internet, read about the murder charges against Bulger and burst into tears.
“I cried for the families,’’ Goodwin said. She asked that the victims’ relatives know this:
“Just let them know he did not have a nice life. He lived afraid in his little apartment with the curtains drawn without any opportunity to spend his money and enjoy his life.’’
Other neighbors said they felt bewildered and sad.
“I miss them,’’ said Gayle Shankle, who received the air purifier from the couple.
Sanchez, who cleaned out the apartment after the FBI left, said the allegations against Bulger have not diminished his affection for the couple.
“We really were friends,’’ Sanchez said. “For me, they remain Charlie and Carol.’’
The FBI took nearly everything from the apartment. But the black curtains remained, as did Bulger’s futon and innocuous items like the frozen food and dozens of paper towels and rolls of toilet paper the couple had hoarded.
The holes in the wall remained for the building staff to repair. Above a hole cut into the master bathroom wall, the gangster had apparently written a cryptic message.
In pen, he had scrawled “Mice,’’ then drawn an arrow pointing to the words “All done.’’ Below, in Spanish, he wrote “Fin. Muerte.’’ End. Death.
Sanchez said one of the FBI agents asked him what he thought the message meant.
“I had no idea,’’ he said.
Three months after the couple was captured, the apartment was refurbished and decorated almost entirely in white. The gray old carpet was replaced with one that is plush and cream-colored. The fireplace Bulger painted black is now white.
In the kitchen, the stained cabinets are now a soft cream, but the brand-new refrigerator and LG stainless steel dishwasher the couple bought remain.
The rent increased from the $1,165 a month the couple was paying at the time of their arrest to $2,772. Two men, friends, signed the lease last month.
Two weeks ago, Sanchez received a letter from Bulger, who is being held without bail at the Plymouth County House of Correction, awaiting trial.
Sanchez declined to provide a copy of the letter, but spoke generally about its contents.
“He said he was sorry he wasn’t able to say goodbye, that he never told me who he really was,’’ said Sanchez.
He said Bulger seemed resigned to dying in prison - his age made it hard to believe he would live to face trial.
“ ‘For me, it’s over,’ ’’ Sanchez said Bulger wrote. But he wrote of his hopes that Greig, now being held without bail in a Rhode Island jail, might still be freed.
Somehow, the couple is still able to communicate, Sanchez said, because Bulger wrote him that Greig had delivered a message to him.
“She told him she doesn’t regret the 16 years she lived with him,’’ Sanchez said. “And he doesn’t either.’’Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.