Whitey Bulger's life on the run
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 01/04/98
RAND ISLE, La. - He didn't look like a gangster. Grandfatherly was more like it, what with his receding gray hair, Bing Crosby-style straw hat, windbreaker and khakis.
He was staying on this small Louisiana resort island on the Gulf of Mexico during the off-season with his girlfriend, an attractive blonde about 20 years his junior, in a beachfront duplex called ''It's Our Dream.''
He liked to play with neighbor Penny Gautreaux's two black Labrador retrievers, so she didn't hesitate to invite him to dinner when he smelled her Cajun cooking and joked, ''Do you have enough for us?''
It soon became a ritual. For months at a time in 1995 and 1996, when they visited this island 90 miles south of New Orleans, the couple who introduced themselves as Tom and Helen from New York would have dinner every night with Gautreaux, her husband, Glenn, and their four children.
They lavished the family with gifts: a stove, a refrigerator, a freezer, toys, clothing, books. Soon the children were calling them ''Uncle Tom'' and ''Aunt Helen.''
Penny Gautreaux, a 31-year-old meter reader for the town, said it was only when the FBI came calling last January that she learned ''Uncle Tom'' was one of the most wanted fugitives in the country: reputed South Boston crime boss James J. ''Whitey'' Bulger.
But investigators also got a surprise: They had a hard time convincing Penny Gautreaux and others who have encountered the charming Bulger during his time on the run that he is dangerous.
These days, he just doesn't look like the Irish underworld leader wanted on federal racketeering charges in Boston for plotting with the Mafia to split up gambling and drug profits throughout New England.
The Whitey Bulger who is accused of holding a knife to a mortgage broker's throat at a South Boston variety store while extorting $50,000 was driving around this remote island offering dog biscuits to strays from a bag in the trunk of his Mercury Grand Marquis.
The Whitey Bulger who was branded a reputed killer, crime boss, and bank robber by the 1986 President's Commission on Organized Crime often shut off the Gautreaux television, lecturing them on how bad it was to expose children to violent shows, including the local news.
This Whitey Bulger wept when a dying puppy was shot in the head to end its suffering. He went fishing once and tossed back all the small fish.
When two of the Gautreaux children came home from school with a note saying they had vision problems, Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, bought them glasses.
''He was a very nice man,'' said Penny Gautreaux, a slender brunette who doesn't regret welcoming Bulger into her home. ''He treated us like family. He was kind. He really had a nice personality. How could you not love him?''
Keeping in touch
In the three years since a federal warrant was issued in Boston for his arrest on charges of racketeering and extortion, Whitey Bulger has blended into the American landscape.
Members of the multiagency task force assigned to find him believe his nondescript looks, ability to charm strangers, and seemingly endless flow of cash are helping him elude capture.
Investigators have a good idea of where he's been; they don't know where he is.
They believe Bulger, 68, and Greig, 46, are traveling around the country, staying in inexpensive motels and sometimes renting apartments. They pay cash for everything.
They've been spotted in New York, Louisiana, Wyoming, Mississippi - and even his hometown of South Boston.
Money is not a problem for Bulger, who doles out crisp $100 bills from a stash tucked inside a pouch strapped to his waist. The pouch also contains a pearl-handled knife.
Investigators declined to comment on whether they know where Bulger has been during the past year. But they say that he remains in contact with associates in the Boston area in an apparent effort to retain control of his organization.
''We know that he's making telephone calls to this area often,'' said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Thomas Cassano, who heads the Violent Fugitive Task Force in Boston. ''We know that he's getting messages to people. He's not doing what a good fugitive does. A good fugitive cuts all ties.''
It's the kind of brazen behavior that investigators hope will lead to Bulger's capture.
Last August, responsibility for the search was transferred from the FBI's Organized Crime Squad to the agency's Violent Fugitive Task Force, comprised of investigators from the FBI, Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police, Department of Correction, and state Parole Board. Four investigators from the 16-member task force are assigned full-time to track Bulger.
According to sources familiar with the probe, a federal grand jury in Boston recently subpoenaed some of Bulger's friends from Boston, New York, and Louisiana in an effort to pressure them to testify against him. They're being asked about his travel habits, his recent exploits, and the source of his money.
Investigators believe Bulger's generosity to the Gautreaux family and others while on the lam is motivated by self-interest. They say he uses impoverished families who unwittingly make it easy for him to evade detection. He ingratiates himself with gifts that buy loyalty.
It was only when Penny Gautreaux was called before the federal grand jury in Boston in November that she admitted Bulger bought her a stove, refrigerator, and freezer. ''He wanted to give [them] to us as a gift for cooking for him,'' Gautreaux told the Globe. She said Bulger has called her twice since leaving this island in July 1996, but she hasn't talked to him since the FBI traced him to Louisiana a year ago. She said she doesn't know where he is hiding.
Scoffing at investigators' speculation that Bulger used her family to hide, Gautreaux said Bulger was genuinely affectionate to them and his gifts went beyond money.
''He gave us inspiration and courage,'' said Gautreaux, crediting Bulger with motivating her husband to start his own carpentry business.
''He'd say, 'Get off your lazy butt; you've got beautiful kids. You need to make something out of your life,''' Gautreaux said. ''If my husband was sitting down drinking coffee, he'd say, 'Go to work.' Stuff I couldn't make him do, he could.'''
Gautreaux has to return to Boston this week with her husband and 18-year-old stepson to testify in front of the grand jury again, and she resents the FBI for forcing her to do so.
She refuses to believe Bulger is as bad as the FBI makes him out to be. ''I figured they made it bigger than what it is,'' she said. ''Really, I hate them more than him.''