Bulger linked to '70s antibusing attacks

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / April 22, 2001
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As South Boston erupted in violence in the early days of court-ordered school desegregation in the mid-1970s, the hometown gangster James "Whitey" Bulger went on a personal rampage, firebombing the Brookline birthplace of President John F. Kennedy and torching a school that stood near the home of the judge who had ordered busing, according to a close Bulger associate.

Several days before US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity's plan to integrate Boston's schools went into effect in September 1974, Bulger and an accomplice set a blaze at an elementary school in the judge's Wellesley Hills neighborhood, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"That was an attack on Garrity," said the source, whose association with Bulger spanned more than three decades.

A year later, on Sept. 8, 1975, the first day of school in the second tumultuous year of court-ordered busing, Bulger and an unidentified cohort hurled a Molotov cocktail through the back-door window of Kennedy's birthplace, in retaliation for Senator Edward M. Kennedy's outspoken support for school desegregation, the source said.

Bulger, according to the source, fled the scene after spray-painting "Bus Teddy" in black on the sidewalk outside the national historic site.

"He was all rah-rah-rah about fighting busing," the source said of Bulger, who he said was furious at Garrity for forcing South Boston children to attend schools outside their neighborhood while black children were being bused in.

"He wanted to make a point. He liked to say he was doing something active to fight busing," the source said. "He was and is a racist."

While Bulger is charged with killing 19 people, including two women, from 1974 to 1985, as well as with extortion, drug trafficking, and money laundering, this is the first time he has been linked to busing violence in connection with busing.

Bulger never surfaced as a suspect in the blaze that caused about $30,000 in damage to Kennedy's birthplace, closing it for three months. Nor was he suspected of setting fire to the former Kingsbury Elementary School in Wellesley Hills, according to fire officials.

Both fires were determined to have been set, and the arson appeared to have been driven by antibusing sentiments, officials said at the time.

The fire at the school destroyed two classrooms and forced students to be temporarily bused to another school.

A Wellesley Fire Department lieutenant, Joseph Keough, who was among the firefighters who put out the fire on Sept. 11, 1974, at the school, said gasoline had been used to set it. He said officials believed the school had been targeted because it was in the neighborhood where Garrity lived.

The day after the fire, a man called the fire station claiming responsibility for the fire, and vowed to burn down every school in town over 30 years, Keough said.

"He said if the kids in Southie had to be bused, then the kids in Wellesley were going to have to be bused, because there would be no schools for them," said Keough, adding that the caller proved that he had set the fire by directing firefighters to the location where he had dumped a gas can used to set the blaze.

A Wellesley fire captain, Donald Fitzpatrick, said nobody was ever arrested for the fire. He voiced skepticism about the assertion that Bulger had a hand in it.

"I think everything is going to be blamed on Whitey," Fitzpatrick said. "He's not around, so blame Whitey."

Brookline's fire chief, John Spillane, said old reports had found that the fire at Kennedy's birthplace at 83 Beals St. was caused by a Molotov cocktail, and that all evidence had been turned over to the FBI.

Witnesses reported seeing two men run from the scene and speed away in a green Chevy Impala, according to reports.

The FBI took over the investigation because the two-story house where the Kennedy family lived from 1914 to 1920 - and where the president was born in 1917 - was registered as a national historic site in 1967 and is run by the National Park Service.

Bulger was recruited as an FBI informant in the fall of 1975. He served as an informant until at least 1990, according to court records. He has been a fugitive since he was indicted in January 1995 on federal racketeering charges, and he is currently on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Boston office, said she had not located the FBI's file on the fire at the Kennedy birthplace, and "without actually reviewing the file it would be difficult to comment on the particulars of that investigation."

The source who implicated Bulger in the two fires described as myth previous news reports that portrayed Bulger as a calming influence in South Boston during the early years of busing.

The source said Bulger had tried to recruit him and others to torch President Kennedy's birthplace in the fall of 1975, in a meeting at the City Point Athletic Association, a now-defunct after-hours social club at the corner of O and Third streets in South Boston, which was better known as the Mullins Club.

"We're not moral citizens, but burning down something of the Kennedys just didn't go with us," said the source. "We all turned him down on principle."

The source said he also suspected that Bulger had a grudge against the Kennedys that had nothing to do with busing.

After the fire at Kennedy's birthplace garnered local headlines, Bulger boasted that he had done it himself, according to the source, and said, "It probably had some effect."

While the source said he was unwilling to help Bulger set the fires, he admitted that he was involved in other violent antibusing acts - including an attack on The Boston Globe because of its coverage of school desegregation in Boston.

The source said he was the gunman who fired shots from a double-barreled shotgun into the newspaper's front lobby in October 1974, as a security guard ducked for cover.

The source also said that he returned the following night, but after seeing police lined up outside the building, he drove onto the Southeast Expressway and fired shots from the stopped car into the rear of the Globe building from a 22-caliber gun with a silencer.

"I thought the Globe had a biased attitude toward South Boston," the source said. "They were completely one-sided in their attitude toward the social experiment in South Boston. I had no expectation they'd change their mind because of violence; I just wanted to do something to them."

When asked if he was worried about killing someone, the source insisted that nobody was in danger of being hit because he never aimed for anyone. And, he added, "I'm a good shot."

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