The leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang and No. 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, Whitey Bulger was indicted for 19 counts of murder, racketeering, narcotics distribution and extortion. But it was his 16-year flight from justice on the eve of his arrest that made him a legend. In this exclusive excerpt from the new book “Hunting Whitey: The Inside Story of the Capture & Killing of America’s Most Wanted Crime Boss,” authors Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge reveal how the notorious Bulger finally got caught . . .
On the night of May 1, 2011, people around the world heard the news about the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US Special Forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Then-President Barack Obama made the announcement, interrupting a nationally televised baseball game between the Mets and the Phillies:
“Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children,” he declared.
In Santa Monica, at Barney’s Beanery on the Third Street Promenade, bar patrons broke into cheer; “USA, USA,” they shouted. At the popular Santa Monica pub Britannia, one grizzled barfly hoisted his mug in the air. “The bastard’s dead. I’ll drink to that!”
Inside apartment 303 at the Princess Eugenia Apartments, James “Whitey” Bulger sat in his living room with his girlfriend Catherine Greig, watching the announcement with a mixture of pride and dread. The patriotic side of Bulger was elated to learn that members of SEAL Team 6 had sent the terror mastermind back to his maker with a bullet above his left eye. But bin Laden’s death also meant that Bulger, 81, was now number one on the FBI’s list of most-wanted criminals. He knew the pressure to find him would intensify.
Bulger had been planning for such a showdown for years as he built up his personal arsenal at Nevada gun shows. He now owned more than 30 firearms, including a Ruger pistol and several Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers that he kept hidden inside cut-out walls and hollowed-out books, along with knives and $ 822,000 in cash. He also had two shotguns and two rifles stored under his bed and a pistol at his bedside.
Armed to the teeth, Bulger had vowed he’d never be taken alive.
Meanwhile, at FBI’s Boston headquarters at One Center Plaza, special agents Noreen Gleason and Rich Teahan were busy building a command post. The FBI was about to issue a PSA on Catherine Greig, which they hoped would generate a lot of leads.
“We didn’t really care how he was going to be found,” Teahan says. “We didn’t care if it was a local cop in Iowa or the DEA in Bogotà. All that mattered was catching the motherf—er.”
The FBI bought 350 time slots during daytime TV shows that appealed to women, including “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “The View,” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” On June 21, 2011, the Bulger Task Force let the 30-second commercial spot fly.
“This is an announcement by the FBI,” a female narrator declared. “Have you seen this woman?”
High-resolution photos of Greig slid into the video frame next to the FBI shield, along with a reward in bold type of $ 100,000.
“Greig has had plastic surgeries,” the narrator continued. “She’s wanted for harboring James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.”
Both Teahan and Gleason made sure the commercial evoked a sense of fear for Greig’s safety. They added a line about Bulger’s violent temper, along with the fact that he was wanted for 19 murders, in hopes of mobilizing a sisterhood of female viewers that might help rescue the girlfriend from harm’s way.
The spot generated major news and soon Teahan’s phone was inundated with interview requests from media around the world. Suddenly, Greig’s photos appeared on TV screens and Web sites everywhere.
Bulger was sitting in his apartment watching CNN when the story flashed on the screen. He then turned to Catherine.
“That’s it,” he said somberly.
Back at One Center Plaza, special agent Phil Torsney was faced with a big pile of tips. He recognized three different inquiries that had come from the same tipster — a woman named Anna Bjornsdottir from Reykjavik, Iceland.
“The person that I think is him is living at Princess Eugenia Apartments in Santa Monica, California. Call me back immediately,” Anna said in accented English. “They call themselves Charlie and Carol Gasko.”
It was Bjornsdottir who had once befriended Greig over their mutual love for the stray cat named Tiger. She had even provided an actual location and a name, which differentiated this tip from all the rest.
Agents checked federal law-enforcement databases and found a Carol and Charles Gasko living at the Santa Monica address. The strange thing was that the couple had no birth dates listed, no Social Security numbers, no California driver’s licenses or state identification cards. They were ghosts.
“Between the databases and what she was saying, I was quite convinced we had them,” said special agent Neil Sullivan, who was manning the command post.
Special Agent Scott Garriola had worked out of the Los Angeles office since 1991 and had hunted and captured dozens of dangerous fugitives, including one from the FBI’s Top Ten List.
Teahan phoned Garriola and brought him up to speed.
“I was still so pessimistic, having already covered so many Bulger leads over the years,” Garriola says. “But something told me that I should go cover this one.”
Garriola summoned four members of his fugitive team from the LAPD to join him on the hunt in Santa Monica. And then he called the tipster himself.
“How sure are you that the couple you met are the fugitives we are looking for?” he asked Bjornsdottir.
“He [Bulger] claimed he was from Chicago, but I have traveled around the country and I knew it wasn’t a Chicago accent. It was a Boston accent,” Bjornsdottir replied. “I got into several arguments with him. He’s a racist and very anti-Obama. But the woman he is with was very pleasant.
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” she added. “I’m 200 percent sure it’s them!”
That was good enough for Garriola.
Josh Bond, the manager at the Princess Eugenia Apartments, was napping on the couch in his apartment when he was awakened by a co-worker who told him that an FBI agent was in the office.
Bond went down to his office, where the agent showed him photos of Whitey and Catherine.
“I’ll make this real quick, I’m looking for a couple of fugitives,” Garriola told him. “Are these the people living in apartment 303 at Princess Eugenia?”
Bond stared at the photos of his friends Charlie and Carol and put his head in his hands.
“That’s my neighbor and his girlfriend,” Bond said. “Yes, 100 percent it’s them.”
Garriola told the manager their real names and that they were wanted for serious crimes including murder. Bond was shocked.
“I know who Whitey Bulger is,” Bond told him. “I went to school in Boston.”
“You never put the two and two together that this was Whitey Bulger?” Garriola asked.
“I never saw a picture of him before.”
“Well, it’s him and I need some information from you.”
Bond was unsure whether to cooperate.
“Umm, can we talk downstairs?” he asked
Garriola didn’t like that answer. He thought that maybe Bulger had set up a tripwire through the apartment manager to lure him somewhere long enough for Whitey to make his escape. The FBI agent called in his LAPD team members for backup.
“OK, you should meet your team in the back of their building,” Bond advised. “He’s always on the balcony with a pair of binoculars looking up and down the street.”
Garriola couldn’t believe how clueless the manager was.
“And you didn’t think that was odd as well?” he asked incredulously.
Bond then inquired about a subpoena. Garriola quickly mentioned the big FBI reward for Whitey’s capture and that triggered the manager’s interest.
“Somebody’s already in line for the $ 2 million reward for leading us to Bulger’s doorstep,” the agent said. “But there’s another $ 100 thousand reward for Catherine.”
“What can I do to help?” Bond asked.
The agent told Bond to meet him in the back alley of the Princess Eugenia. The two men then went upstairs to the third floor and Garriola pressed his ear against the front door of apartment 303.
So Garriola sneaked down to the garage underneath the apartment building and walked toward a set of storage lockers that were assigned to each unit. He found the locker for apartment 303 with the name “Gaskos” written in crayon.
The fugitive hunter had an idea. He’d retrieve a set of bolt cutters and cut the lock off. He’d then take some stuff out of the locker and toss it on the ground to make it look like a burglary in hopes of luring Bulger downstairs.
Garriola called for more backup and then phoned Bond.
“Call the Gaskos and tell them to meet you at their storage locker,” Garriola ordered.
Bond placed the call, but there was no answer. A moment later, he got a call back.
“Hi, Josh, did you just call?”
It was Catherine Greig on the line.
“Yes, Carol. I have some bad news. Your storage unit was broken into. Do you want me to call police or meet me down in the garage?”
Moments later, Catherine appeared on the balcony. Garriola fired off a quick text to Boston: Looking good, standby.
Then Whitey Bulger himself stepped out of the apartment in his white hat and took the elevator down to the garage.
Bulger later described the scene in vivid detail in a letter to author Michael Esslinger, which was shared with the authors of this book:
“When I got off the elevator . . . I could see my locker. I noticed that the door was hanging off. I knew something wasn’t right. What first caught my eye was that I saw a few pieces of colored tape on the cement as if to mark positions like on a stage. As I started walking toward my locker, a light was shined on me and quite a few men in full combat gear and armed with M4 Carbines — fully automatic machine guns and a couple point Glock handguns — took aim at me. The agent in charge yelled: ‘Who are you?‘ I said: ‘Who the f- -k are you, Homeland Security?’ ”
The agents demanded Bulger get on his knees. But he didn’t want to kneel in the spot where they wanted him because there was a small pool of oil there. Sixteen years on the run, millions in law enforcement spent, and all had come to this moment: a deadly standoff over whether Whitey would get his pants dirty.
“They were screaming, ‘We will shoot,’ and I responded, “‘Go ahead . . . I’m not kneeling down in the oil,‘” Bulger recalled. “I told them that there was a clean place to my right and for him to take two steps to the right to that area and then I’d comply.”
“S–t, is this guy gonna try to run on us?” Garriola wondered for a moment. But cornered with no chance to escape, Bulger moved two steps to the side and put his hands up. He’d feared this moment for the past 16 years and now it was finally here.
“What’s your name?” Garriola asked with his gun trained on Whitey’s chest.
“You know who I am,” Bulger said defiantly.
“OK, Whitey. We have a warrant for your arrest!”
Garriola then took out a pair of handcuffs and tied them to Bulger’s wrists.
“Is Catherine upstairs?”
“Do you have any guns up there?”
“Yeah,” Bulger replied. “And they’re all loaded.”
“What do you mean? Do I need to call a SWAT team to get her outta there?”
“No, no,” Whitey assured him. “All the guns are mine. She’s never held a gun and she’s not allowed in my bedroom.”
Garriola sent another group text to FBI HQ: One in custody and one to go. Bulger captured. Standby for Catherine.
The agent got a female detective to accompany him to apartment 303.
“Santa Monica PD,” Garriola shouted. “Open the door.”
Catherine walked to the door and turned the knob slowly. She opened the door and then let out an exasperated sigh.
“HUNTING WHITEY: The Inside Story of the Capture & Killing of America’s Most Wanted Crime Boss” by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. Copyright © 2020 by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.