Their reaction was swift, harsh, and unfiltered, a mix of grim satisfaction, disgust, and long-suffering resignation.
After hearing Tuesday that James “Whitey” Bulger had been killed in a federal penitentiary in West Virginia, the loved ones of the mobster’s victims did not struggle for words.
“There’s one less scumbag on the earth,” said Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was fatally shot in 1982 as he gave a ride home to Bulger’s intended target.
“They say you die the way you live, you know? He killed many people, and they ended up killing him,” said Donahue, who lives in Kingston. “I’m glad that he’s dead, and I’m glad that he died the way he did.”
Timothy Connors, whose father, Edward, was gunned down in 1975 in Dorchester, was equally blunt.
“I can only hope it was slow and painful,” said Connors, a Weymouth resident. “I’m obviously glad it wasn’t from natural causes.”
And Mary Callahan of Burlington, whose husband, John, was killed in 1982, joined the unsparing chorus.
“This is a Halloween present,” Callahan said with a slight chuckle. “It’s a treat.”
John Callahan, who had links to Bulger’s gang, was shot by Bulger hit man John Martorano in Florida. The murder was intended to prevent any cooperation with FBI agents who were seeking Callahan for questioning in the 1981 slaying of World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma and two other slayings in Boston.
Unlike some of the other victims’ relatives, Wheeler’s son, David, expressed no satisfaction that Bulger had died.
“I was happy for him to sit there in cold steel in prison. I was glad society was able to provide it,” said Wheeler, who lives in Texas.
However, the news of Bulger’s death triggered some jarring memories, Wheeler said. When he went to lunch Tuesday, a television showed a bulletin about the gangster’s slaying. The scene reminded him of a trip to the grocery store nearly 40 years ago, Wheeler said, when a television showed images of his father’s murder site.
“We each have our own personal button,” Wheeler said. “I’ve had to learn how to cope.”
Even those who expressed satisfaction that Bulger had met an end so similar to those he inflicted on others acknowledged this would do little to ease their own pain.
“When you’ve lost a loved one, that stays forever,” Mary Callahan said. “Love never dies.”
His father, Edward Connors, was murdered in a phone booth on Morrissey Boulevard because, authorities said, he had been talking about his involvement in the 1973 killing of Bulger rival James S. “Spike’’ O’Toole.
“Nothing’s changed,” Connors said. “There’s never any closure in a situation like this. It’s still about the person you lost.”
For Donahue, the news of Bulger’s alleged murder came as a surprise, considering he had been transferred only Monday to the penitentiary at Hazelton, W.Va., for medical reasons. She did not believe Bulger had long to live anyway — he had a history of heart problems — but she also did not expect him to be killed.
“We thought he would be dying soon, but we were still shocked by the way it happened,” Donahue said.
Bulger’s death should help her family find a bit of peace, Donahue said, after his decades-long presence in the news media, best-selling books, and high-profile movies.
“We won’t have to worry about hearing what’s going on with him now. We won’t have to worry about that anymore,” she said. “We’re always going to know he was the one who killed my husband, but it does make it easier that we won’t have to hear his name as much.”
Bulger’s legacy will endure, however, surfacing and resurfacing whenever the dark chapters of Boston’s organized crime are discussed.
“Whitey Bulger will never be dead in the eyes of Boston,” Callahan said. “He was always referred to as a legend, like Billy the Kid or Al Capone, but he will always be remembered for the bad that he did.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.