The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger has drawn a graying cast of characters from the gangster’s old turf in South Boston to Moakley federal courthouse, but one figure has been conspicuously absent: his younger brother William.
A once-feared politician whose rise to power mirrored his brother’s descent into crime, William has told friends that the scrutiny the trial has brought to his family has been difficult for him. He has also complained to friends that he feels that he, too, is one of his brother’s victims, since he was forced out of his job as president of the University of Massachusetts amid questions about his relationship with Whitey.
Robert H. Quinn — a friend and former House speaker who entered the Legislature with Bulger in 1960 — speculated that the prospect of unwelcome press attention has kept William, 79, away from the trial, even as William’s daughter and another brother, John, have appeared on the wooden bench reserved for relatives.
“It’s a tough decision,” said Quinn, 85, who has regular lunches with Bulger at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain. “And one of the decisions I’m sure relates to you boys [in the media] and whether you’ll say, ‘Shame on him for showing up,’ and if he doesn’t show up, you’ll say, ‘Shame on him; he doesn’t give a damn.’ So what are you going to do?”
Bulger’s absence from the trial does not mean he has cut off contact with Whitey. William has visited his brother multiple times in Plymouth County jail. When Whitey was captured in 2011, William also attended his arraignment, and the two exchanged smiles upon seeing one another, apparently for the first time since Whitey fled federal authorities and went into hiding in 1994.
You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month
Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.
- High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
- Convenient access across all of your devices
- Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
- Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
- Less than 25¢ a week