Since his arrest one year ago today, James “Whitey” Bulger has been winding his way through the judicial system, seeing many familiar faces along the way as he prepares for his long-awaited trial.
But he has at least one significant encounter remaining: When he goes to trial, possibly this fall, he will probably come face to face with his longtime partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who avoided a death sentence by pleading guilty to some of the killings on the pair’s long list of alleged murders and agreeing to testify against him.
Billy St. Croix, one of Flemmi’s sons, said this week that he has reignited a relationship with his father since Bulger’s arrest. St. Croix said his father seems eager to take the stand, in what will perhaps be Boston’s most notorious criminal trial.
“It will be an interesting showdown,” said St. Croix, 51, who said he left organized crime after learning the extent of his father’s wrongdoing, including the killing of his sister.
St. Croix said Flemmi told him he watched one night in 1985 in a house in South Boston as Bulger allegedly strangled St. Croix’s older sister, Deborah Hussey, whom Flemmi had raised as his stepdaughter. Her death is one of the 19 murders Bulger is accused of participating in, according to a federal racketeering indictment that named him and other members of his Winter Hill Gang.
Bulger fled in 1995 after being tipped off by his FBI handler John J. Connolly about an imminent indictment. Flemmi was arrested. He later confessed to 10 murders, with the agreement that he will testify against Bulger.
Bulger’s arrest was very much a spectacle: He has been escorted by gun-toting US marshals by helicopter in Hollywood-like fashion, and court documents have painted an intriguing portrait of his life on the lam.
And his highly anticipated trial, with Flemmi’s testimony, could help answer longstanding questions about their corrupt relationship with the FBI in Boston, a dark time in the agency’s history, which led to Congressional hearings and reforms in the ways the agency works with informants.
Already, Connolly, serving prison sentences for corruption and aiding in a murder related to Bulger, has expressed hope that anything Bulger has told authorities could shed light on the case and vindicate him.
St. Croix said Flemmi — whom he described as a master manipulator, equal in savvy to Bulger — is likely to dispute some of Bulger’s accounts of their crimes, as well as the accounts of their other associates who have testified in previous trials and hearings.
Flemmi, who has testified in civil cases, would not discuss the case at length, St. Croix said, because of the pending trial. He said Flemmi only told him, in his cunning style, “Well you know Billy, it’s a pretty interesting story.”
St. Croix also isn’t sure why his father is eager to testify: Perhaps to spend time out of his jail cell, to see an old friend, or simply to flex his ego, he speculated.
“These guys are cut from the same cloth: They want to go down in infamy,” said St. Croix.
St. Croix is writing a book about his family’s history, he said, including Flemmi’s alleged sexual assaults against his sisters.
Bulger, now 82, is slated to go to trial Nov. 5.
His lead lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., has asked that the trial be postponed at least a year, saying he cannot possibly be ready for the scheduled start date, because of an overwhelming amount of evidence to examine.
Carney also said his ability to discuss the case with Bulger has been complicated by Bulger’s refusal to communicate over the phone or by e-mail. Bulger learned that one of his letters had been turned over to prosecutors, even though it had been marked “attorney-client privilege,” and he does not trust authorities.
Prosecutors said in court documents filed Thursday that the review of Bulger’s mail in that case was “unfortunate” and an “inadvertent and isolated incident.”
They have opposed delaying the trial, saying that the aging Bulger is trying to stall the case and that they are trying to ensure that the families of his victims see justice soon.
But Carney said in court documents that Bulger “is looking forward to his trial.”
“He is physically in good health. Mentally, he is sharp, focused, candid, and effusive, with an excellent memory of events,” Carney said. “His assistance to prepare for trial is essential, especially to dispel the lies advanced by the cooperating witnesses when they thought they would never encounter him again.”
Earlier this month, Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping him remain a fugitive for 16 years. She pleaded guilty in March, but has not cooperated with authorities.
After brief stays across the country, Bulger and Greig lived in the same rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica for 16 years.
Neighbors said they were friendly but reclusive. Greig, who managed their affairs, interacted more with their neighbors.
Bulger generally kept to himself, but befriended a few people, sometimes buying them gifts.
One of their former neighbors, Catalina Schlank, 89, said in an interview this week that she still cannot believe that Bulger was one of America’s Most Wanted, and that Greig, who helped her with chores, was his accomplice on the lam.
Residents in the apartment complex have begun to put the arrest of their neighbors behind them, she said, but tourists still come by to take pictures of Unit 303, where Bulger and Greig lived.
“It’s not as many as before, but they still come,” she said.
Thomas Foley, a retired State Police colonel who helped build the criminal case against Bulger and recently published a book about it, said he never expected that Bulger would remain in hiding so long.
But, he said, Santa Monica was the type of place he would expect Bulger to choose for a hideout: quiet and oceanside, like Clearwater, Fla. where he once stayed.
Foley also said it was to be expected that Bulger would be reclusive, even nervous, in hiding.
“It was a life of paranoia, the guy lived that kind of life. He was always on guard, always on the lookout,” Foley said. “It’s just a relief to know where he is right now, on everybody’s part.”