Down-on-his-luck vet befriended by Bulger

California DMV Handout

James William Lawlor had a strong enough resemblance to Bulger that the gangster convinced Lawlor, an Army veteran and alcoholic, to let him use his California driver's license.

By Globe Staff 

James William Lawlor was a loner, the perfect mark for a gangster looking for another identity.

An Army veteran who struggled with alcoholism, he lived alone in a cheap hotel, 4 miles from James “Whitey’’ Bulger, who two sources say paid his rent in exchange for using Lawlor’s identity to get a California driver’s license.


“We’re not talking Beverly Hills here,’’ said Bill LaJaunie, former resident manager of the West End Hotel.

Yoon S. Byun / Globe Staff

The West End Hotel.

A Manhattan native with “US Army Irish’’ tattooed on his right arm, Lawlor led a sedentary life, watching old movies and reading paperbacks. No one could recall Bulger visiting.

Lawlor married once. But his wife, Nancy Lyn, died in 1995 and, according to her death certificate, they had divorced. Yet he kept her ashes in an urn in his room.

“He never really got over’’ her, LaJaunie said.

On Aug. 3, 2007, the 70-year-old Lawlor came to the front office one last time to pay his rent, likely with cash Bulger had given him. He said he was tired and going to bed.


Five days later, tenants smelled something coming from Room 29, Lawlor’s apartment. LaJaunie found the man dead on the floor, a book at his side, television blaring.

The Los Angeles coroner listed the cause of death as heart disease.

No one claimed the body.

His remains were buried at Riverside National Cemetery, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The urn was buried with him.