Bostonians Have Mixed Reactions To Bulger's Arrest

Originally published on June 23, 2011 6:11 pm
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TOVIA SMITH: I'm Tovia Smith in South Boston, Whitey Bulger's old stomping grounds, where many Southie residents still can't believe that Bulger was finally caught.

JEAN O: It's about time. The guy has got to face justice, you know, and pay for his crimes.

SMITH: Forty-five-year-old Jean O'Brien was walking by the Southie liquor store that was a nexus for Whitey Bulger's Winter Hill Gang back in the day. Born and raised here, O'Brien grew up on the lore and the gore of Whitey's alleged escapades. She recalls the day she came home from work to find a tent set up across the street from her house with a big excavation project going on. She was told it was connected to an investigation of Bulger.

BRIEN: Whitey Bulger had bodies buried over there and they're digging them up. I remember thinking, wow, I walk my dog over there. You know, and here, this guy was having bodies buried over there. So, he had no respect for human life.

SMITH: Even to this day, Whitey Bulger still inspires enough fear that many here refuse to talk on the record about him.

MARTHA MANNING: I wouldn't dare do anything. He has friends here.

SMITH: Does it make you feel better that he's picked up now, that he's arrested?

MANNING: He was arrested?

SMITH: Yeah.


SMITH: They got him this morning.

MANNING: I didn't know that. That is wonderful. That makes me very happy. You know what, I'm not afraid to say anything about him now.

SMITH: Boston resident Martha Manning is not the only one relieved. Relatives of Bulger's long list of alleged victims expressed a sense of satisfaction. Attorney William Christie represents the families of two murdered men who have won court cases against the FBI arguing that rogue agents enabled the brutal hits.

WILLIAM CHRISTIE: A lot of people who participated or aided and abetted have been brought to justice. But the evidence that we have is that Bulger was the actual trigger man in both murders and he's the one that got away with it - at least for 16 years. And so the fact that he has now been brought to justice is a great sense of vindication.

SMITH: Lifelong Southie resident Patrick Michael O'Malley says many grew up looking up to Bulger as a kind of modern-day Robin Hood.

PATRICK MICHAEL O: A lot of people liked him, because he helped a lot of people. If you didn't have food on the table, he'd made sure you got it.

SMITH: Indeed, even today, some who grew up in Southie, like Jill Conley and Candice Lavoie, expressed mixed feelings at Bulger's arrest.

JILL CONLEY: He's an old man. I don't think he's going to be hurting nobody. Let him live out his life, you know?

CANDICE LAVOIE: I don't think that, you know, what happened way back when should matter now. I mean, he's 82 years old.

CONLEY: He's going to die soon anyway. Who - I mean, I'm sure he's a changed person now.

LAVOIE: I'm sure.

SMITH: Many here say they are not surprised Bugler wasn't arrested sooner. Years after FBI agents were convicted for tipping Bulger off so he could evade arrest, folks like Kevin Stewart remain suspicious about law enforcement.

KEVIN STEWART: I don't think they were trying. I mean bin Laden. They got him, but they couldn't find Whitey? They weren't looking very hard.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.