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US hopes accent translates into catch

Releases tapes of Bulger's voice

The last confirmed sighting of Bulger was in 2002. The last confirmed sighting of Bulger was in 2002.
Email|Print| Text size + By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / January 24, 2008

The voice is strong and clear with a distinct Boston accent. But fugitive gangster James "Whitey" Bulger sure doesn't sound like a tough guy in FBI tapes made public yesterday.

"Wow," says Bulger, while chatting on the phone in 1994 at his old headquarters, the Rotary Variety store in South Boston. "Boy, the cough medicine was strong."

Later, he tells his brother John: "Ah, did you need any cough medicine? OK, because I bought some stuff last night. It knocked me for a loop, you know."

The conversation may be mundane, but it was the first time that authorities have released tapes of Bulger's voice. The task force that has been combing the world for Bulger since he fled to avoid a 1995 federal racketeering indictment is hoping that someone might recognize it and help investigators find him.

"Although recordings were taken prior to Bulger's fugitive status, we believe that they depict the unique sound of Bulger's voice and may be recognizable by anyone who may have come in contact with him," said a statement released yesterday by federal and state officials.

US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan posted snippets of the 1994 audiotapes on his office's website, usdoj.gov/usao/ma, after a federal judge, who authorized the electronic surveillance, unsealed them yesterday at the government's request.

A former Bulger associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was skeptical about whether the voice recording could help in the manhunt.

"He doesn't have a distinctive voice like Orson Welles or James Earl Jones," said the associate. "If he sounded like Daffy Duck, maybe they'd have a better chance of catching him."

Bulger, 78, one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted, has been identified as a longtime FBI informant and has been charged with 19 slayings since he fled. The last confirmed sighting of him was in London in 2002, but the multiagency Bulger task force is still trying to determine whether a couple spotted in Sicily in April was him and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, according to the FBI.

Gail Marcinkiewicz, FBI spokeswoman, said the task force has not identified the couple, who were videotaped in the resort of Taormina, Sicily, and hope that a media blitz throughout Europe will help investigators locate and identify them.

On the FBI tape, Bulger's Boston accent is evident as he asks a friend about rental units that might be available for Patty at Marine Park in South Boston. It is unclear how many people can recognize a Boston accent. During his first year on the run, Bulger and Greig, portrayed themselves as retirees from New York while staying in Louisiana.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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