Whitey Bulger's life on the run
Fugitive's trail crisscrosses US
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 1/04/1998
GRAND 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
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
``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
They believe Bulger, 68, and Greig, 46, are traveling around the country,
staying in inexpensive motels and sometimes renting apartments. They pay cash
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
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
``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
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
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
``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.''
Ready to run
Penny Gautreaux is not the only one to see the good in Whitey Bulger. At
the Mary Ellen McCormack housing project in South Boston where Bulger, the
eldest of six children, was raised, people recall acts of kindness. They say
he delivered turkeys to poor families at Thanksgiving, and once bought a puppy
for a little boy whose dog had been hit by a car.
And for years while fraternizing with local mobsters, Bulger was secretly
working for ``the good guys.''
The FBI admitted last year in federal court that Bulger was an FBI
informant from 1971 through December 1990. He's been credited with leaking
information that helped the FBI send the hierarchy of the New England Mafia to
But when the Massachusetts State Police began building a case against
Bulger, the FBI joined the probe that resulted in the current federal
On Jan. 4, 1995 -- three years ago today -- a federal warrant was secretly
issued for Bulger's arrest. Bulger, his longtime associate Stephen ``The
Rifleman'' Flemmi, and reputed New England Mafia boss Francis ``Cadillac
Frank'' Salemme were charged with extortion.
Racketeering indictments followed a week later, alleging that Bulger was
shaking down drug dealers and collecting weekly payoffs from bookmakers.
A tip that the trio was planning to flee sent the FBI and State Police
scrambling to arrest them on Jan. 5, 1995, but only Flemmi was nabbed that
day. Salemme was captured seven months later hiding out in West Palm Beach,
Where was Whitey? On vacation.
Investigators now know that Bulger and another girlfriend, Theresa Stanley,
a woman he'd lived with for 30 years in South Boston, were traveling around
the country. They had spent time in San Francisco and were staying at Le
Richelieu Hotel in New Orleans' French Quarter from Dec. 26, 1994, through
Jan. 2, 1995.
``They were driving back to Boston when he heard there was a warrant for
him and turned around,'' said one investigator.
Investigators suspect Bulger and Stanley stayed at a hotel in Connecticut
or western Massachusetts for several days while he figured out what he was
going to do. Surrendering was not an option. He had spent nine years in
federal prisons, including Alcatraz, for bank robbery from 1956 to 1965, and
was determined never to return. He was ready for a life on the run; he already
had an alias.
So when the FBI issued a nationwide alert for James J. Bulger of South
Boston, he quickly became Thomas F. Baxter of Selden, N.Y., a town on Long
Investigators said Bulger began using Baxter's identity long before he was
on the run, even before the real Thomas F. Baxter of Woburn died in January
1979. Bulger obtained a Massachusetts license with his own photograph and
Baxter's name, birth date, and Social Security number. He renewed it every
In 1990, Bulger obtained a New York driver's license as Thomas Baxter, then
renewed it in 1994. For his address, he used the Selden home of cousins of a
trusted South Boston associate.
But while Bulger was prepared for the fugitive life, sources say Stanley
was not. In mid-January 1995, Bulger returned to the Boston area and dropped
off Stanley in Hingham.
Then he promptly picked up Catherine Greig, a dental hygienist who grew up
in South Boston and was living on Hillcrest Road in Quincy. Bulger had been
having an affair with Greig for more than a decade while living with Stanley,
according to investigators.
Bulger and Greig surfaced Jan. 17, 1995, in Selden, where he bought a new
black 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis under the name Tom Baxter. He paid $13,000 by
bank check and traded in a 1991 Mercury Sable.
Three days later, Bulger and Greig were in Grand Isle, an island that
advertises itself as ``The Cajun Bahamas'' and brags that it is one of the
world's 10 best fishing spots.
Most of its 1,500 year-round residents -- a population that swells to more
than 6,000 in summer -- earn their living shrimping or working on offshore oil
rigs. There are seven full-time police officers; the chief never wears a
It's only 3 feet above sea level, so homes are built on pilings, some at
least 9 feet high in case of flooding.
There are a couple of small supermarkets, and two restaurants open during
the off-season. There are no banks, just one ATM. The island is connected to
the mainland by a long drawbridge.
``The only people who go there are going there,'' FBI Supervisory Special
Agent Cassano said. ``You can't find it by accident. There's only one way onto
the island and the same way off. It's an odd place for them to be.''
Police Chief Roscoe Besson Jr. smiles ruefully at the memory. When FBI
agents arrived here last January with posters offering a $250,000 reward for
Whitey Bulger, he recognized the fugitive's photo right away.
Twice in 1996, Besson was slowing traffic outside the elementary school at
7 a.m. when he stopped cars on Louisiana Highway 1 to let Bulger cross the
``I stopped the traffic and let $250,000 get across the street,'' he said.
Bulger nodded politely once and waved another time. ``If he had taken off
running, I'd have been on him like gravy on rice.''
But Bulger didn't run. He strode confidently toward the beach for his
``If I see a guy with long stringy hair, nasty looking, I stop them,''
Besson said. ``I want to know who they are. Tom [Bulger] was clean-cut. I'd
see him walking. This is a tourist community. He and Helen were just traveling
In fact, Greig frequently went to the police chief's daughter, Chrisel
Page, to have her hair cut and colored -- L'Oreal light ash blonde or extra
light platinum blonde.
Greig walked alone to Page's salon. And now, Page speculates that Bulger
stayed away when he saw the police car belonging to her husband, a deputy for
the Jefferson Parish sheriff's department, parked in the driveway outside the
Greig was a nice lady and a generous tipper, Page said: ``I enjoyed her
It's unclear how long Bulger and Greig stayed here during their first
visit, but in June 1995 they were driving their Grand Marquis with New York
plates in Sheridan, Wyo., where they bought jewelry on an Indian reservation.
Three months later, they were spotted in Gulfport, Miss. And from Sept. 25
through Oct. 1, 1995, they were back on Long Island, N.Y., staying at a Best
Western motel in Holtsville.
Then in October 1995, while the FBI was chasing tips that Bulger was as far
away as Ireland or as close as Cape Cod, the cocky fugitive was back in South
From a pay phone inside Conley Terminal, a freight dock, Bulger called the
FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., to speak to an official who dealt with Bulger
when he was an informant.
``You double-crossing [expletive],'' Bulger screamed at John A. Morris, who
once supervised the FBI's organized crime squad in Boston and was then
assigned to the training academy.
Bulger accused the FBI of trying to smear his brother, then-Senate
President William M. Bulger, by falsely suggesting that the brothers were in
contact while he was on the lam.
A search for Bulger in South Boston, prompted by that call, was fruitless.
The first week of November 1995, Bulger was back in Grand Isle, staying at the
Water Edge Motel.
A television segment devoted to Bulger on ``Unsolved Mysteries'' aired
later that month. But if anybody here watched the show, they didn't recognize
polite Tom Baxter as the wanted gangster from Boston.
By all accounts, Bulger and Greig love dogs. Greig, who left her beloved
black poodles Gigi and Nikki in South Boston, carries a bag of biscuits in the
``They will stop and pat dogs on the side of the road,'' said one
investigator. ``The people they have befriended on the road are usually people
they met through the dogs.''
That's how they met the Gautreaux family. A brush fire near the Gautreaux
house in the fall of 1995 prompted Bulger and Greig to stop their car to
watch. They fed biscuits to Penny Gautreaux's dogs, and asked about places to
She directed them to ``It's Our Dream,'' a beachfront duplex they rented
for about $400 a month from Dec. 13, 1995, through Feb. 13, 1996, paying with
Soon the couple was having dinner at the Gautreaux house, often bringing
groceries. He loved Penny's fried potatoes, and urged her to teach his
girlfriend to cook them.
``So he's probably eating fried potatoes right now,'' Gautreaux said. ``He
loved to eat.''
It was very important to Bulger that they sit together for a family dinner.
Bulger often chided Penny Gautreaux to stop eating on the sofa in front of the
When their puppy was dying from a birth defect and a veterinarian suggested
they put it to sleep, Gautreaux said Bulger thought lethal injection was a
cruel way to die. He thought it more humane to shoot the dog, but couldn't
watch as Glenn Gautreaux killed the dog in their backyard.
``He turned his head while my husband shot the dog,'' Gautreaux said. ``He
had more than a tear.''
Bulger and Greig also loved to shop. At least four times a week they
traveled to the Wal-Mart SuperCenter, the closest big department store, 40
miles north in Galliano and open 24 hours a day.
They took different Gautreaux children with them each time and bought
things for them. It's also the store where Greig bought her prescription
contact lenses, and where, authorities suspect, Bulger used a pay phone.
Gautreaux didn't think it was odd when Bulger bought them expensive
appliances. The family needed them, she said; besides, he was just showing his
appreciation for the time he spent with them.
Lanny Schexnailere, owner of Island Appliance Sales, said the freezer,
stove and refrigerator cost a little more than $1,900; Bulger paid with $100
``I was introduced to him as Uncle Tom,'' said Schexnailere, who met Bulger
at a barbecue at the Gautreaux home. Somebody told him that Bulger was a
long-lost uncle of the Gautreauxs. ``Supposedly he left when he was a baby and
was raised by other people,'' he said. ``I figured maybe he made it big and
came back to help the family.''
Bulger left the island in February 1996, but when he returned in May of
that year, there was tension during his visits to the Gautreaux house.
The retired parents of Glenn Gautreux's ex-wife were now staying with the
family, and immediately clashed with Bulger.
``He had this attitude like he was the boss,'' said Thomas ``Black''
Rudolph, 64, Gautreaux's former father-in-law. He complained that Bulger was
rude, often whispering to Penny and Glenn in his presence. And Bulger insulted
Rudolph's wife, Mary, by saying her cooking wasn't as good as Penny's.
``He thought women should be seen and not heard,'' said Mary Rudolph,
recounting how Bulger claimed that all he had to do was clap his hands and
Greig would jump. The Rudolphs said Bulger teased them, saying, ``I have
control of my woman.''
Mary Rudolph admitted, ``I think he was joking. He was trying to be a macho
Still, the Rudolophs didn't appreciate Bulger's humor. ``I said I worked
every day of my life since I was 15 years old and he said he never had to
work, he had people working for him,'' Tom Rudolph said.
Irritated by Bulger's constant boasting about how he'd traveled around the
world and was in great shape, Tom Rudolph challenged him to a push-up contest.
Rudolph dropped to the floor and did three one-handed push-ups, then vowed
to do a one-handed push-up for every one that Bulger could do with two hands.
Rudolph said Bulger declined the challenge, claiming to be older than him.
But when Rudolph slapped his driver's license on the table and demanded to see
Bulger's, he refused to show it.
Despite their dislike of Bulger, the Rudolphs spoke warmly of Greig, who
spent most of her time playing outside with the dogs and children. She gave
the Labs baths and took them to the vet.
``I really enjoyed Helen because Helen was very quiet,'' Mary Rudolph said.
``She was always a loner. We walked on the beach one time and she said
something about missing New York. Helen was nice.''
The Rudolphs said Bulger once made Penny Gautreaux cry when he sternly
corrected the children. But Gautreaux insisted she welcomed Bulger's efforts
``He cared for them and that's why he was strict,'' Gautreaux said. ``If I
was as strict as him, maybe my kids would listen.''
Gautreaux said Bulger was good to her 18-year-old stepson, 10- and
9-year-old daughters, and 6-year-old son. He held the younger children on his
lap and read to them. He bought them books and toys, including the Milton
Bradley game ``Twister.''
The Rudolphs said Bulger once treated them and Penny and Glenn Gautreaux to
dinner at a fine restaurant, located just off-island in Fourchon.
When the hostess tried to seat them at a table in the center of the room
near other diners, Bulger insisted on a table in a darkened corner. He ordered
wine for the group, drank a couple of imported beers, and picked up the tab.
From May 19 through July 7, 1996, Bulger and Greig rented a two-bedroom
home on Cott Lane, a dead-end street around the corner from the Gautreauxs.
Henry and Barbara Wellman, retirees who owned the house and lived next
door, said he paid $1,700 in advance with $100 bills.
The Wellmans described the couple as ``quiet, polite, articulate, and
clean as a whistle.''
Bulger gave Henry Wellman copies of Soldier of Fortune magazine after he
Barbara Wellman said Greig implied Bulger was retired, telling her, ``Well,
he never could travel all his life, and finally he can, and he never wants to
``To be perfectly honest,'' Henry Wellman confessed, ``I wish we had more
tenants like them. They didn't bother anyone. If they're criminals, I don't
know which side I'm going to go on.''
But it appears Bulger's infamous temper was evident on at least one
Henry Wellman recalled with a chuckle that Bulger once tangled with a group
of men who constantly hung out across the street, drinking beer and staring at
everyone who walked by.
Glaring from his deck at the men who were leering at Greig while she walked
to their apartment, Bulger snapped, ``What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen
a real woman before?''
Wellman said, ``I was proud of him. To tell you the truth, I liked him. He
didn't give me any reason not to.''
When Bulger and Greig left Grand Isle on July 7, 1996, they left behind
clothes and an iron that are now in FBI custody.
``He said they were going to San Diego,'' said Henry Wellman, adding,
``which probably means they're in the Caribbean.''
Actually, Bulger's next stop was back on Long Island. That same month, FBI
agents missed Bulger but found the Grand Marquis he had bought there 18 months
In the 18 months since he had bought the car, Bulger had driven 65,000 miles.
Receipts found inside the Marquis led investigators to Louisiana for the first
time. But again, Bulger was gone.
Last May the FBI offered a $250,000 reward for Bulger's capture and
announced a criminal charge against Greig for harboring a fugitive.
There have been reports that Bulger may have traveled around the country
for years prior to his January 1995 indictment, stashing money and possibly
fake identifications in safe deposit boxes. But investigators also suspect
Bulger is relying on a trusted associate to routinely funnel him cash.
``We don't know the source of the money, and if we did it would probably be
a lot easier to track him,'' FBI Supervisory Special Agent Cassano said.
Federal authorities seized $1.9 million that Bulger claimed as his share of
a 1991 Mass Millions jackpot, and $199,000 from a safe deposit box and two
bank accounts he held in Boston.
Recently, investigators located a bank account belonging to Bulger in
Clearwater, Fla., where he owns a condominium. They are in the process of
trying to seize that money.
Investigators believe Bulger is a millionaire from gambling, loansharking,
and drug profits.
The Violent Fugitive Task Force has recently placed ads with Bulger's
photograph in USA Today, Soldier of Fortune magazine, and the South Boston
Tribune announcing the reward. They've posted more recent photographs of
Bulger and Greig on the FBI's Internet website.
Tips keep coming, but Bulger remains elusive -- a friendly man in a hat and
sunglasses cruising around the country.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 01/04/1998.
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.