Interviews with authors Kevin Cullen & Shelley Murphy ("Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster")

Shelley Murphy and Kevin Cullen cut their teeth at the Boston Herald before they were hired by the Boston Globe. As a result, they have a touch more edge than some of their colleagues at Morrissey Boulevard.  And -- interesting enough -- a touch more charm.  Their book, Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought him to Justice,  has hit the New York Times Best Seller List. Peter Kadzis interviewed them separately after they had concluded a publicity tour. Here is an edited transcript of those conversations. (Read an excerpt from their book here.)


How did your experience, first as a daily reporter where you had to handle a raft of different stories, and then as a columnist, prepare you for writing a book?
I guess to me a book is just long form journalism. I mean, I've always felt that the hardest part in the kind of print journalism I do, is taking stuff out because I just don't have room. This obviously was a different story. We had to come up with 150,000 words in about, I don't know, seven eight months. So, it was a lot of writing. But I didn't find that to be hard. I found the footnotes to be really hard. That was a pain. I can write a lot of words in one sitting. I was probably averaging 2000 to 3000 words a day when I was in writing mode, when I wasn't reporting. Shelley did more reporting on it and I did more writing on it so that's kind of how we divvied it up. I got an e-mail from an old FBI agent who loved the book he said, but "Boy," he goes, "You left a lot out." And I said, "Bobby, the thing's almost 500 pages long. How long do you want it to be?" You couldn't put everything in. You just had to give it more of a flavor of the guy. The hard part was deciding what to write, and what to take out, and what to go long on, and what to go short on.

Another personal question. What, if anything, did you learn about yourself and/or the city of Boston doing the book?
I learned it was a lot more complicated than I thought. was led to believe. I'm literally the guy that said, "This guy's a rat." I mean it wasn't that I was a genius, if anything, I was slow on the uptake. I mean, I always knew that Southie was as clannish and as kind of odd, that there's really no other place in the city. JP's not like that. Charlestown is to an extent, but Charlestown's different ‘cause it's so much smaller and it doesn't really have the ethnic mix. I always found that the interesting thing when I did a lot of looking at the demographics of South Boston, the Irish weren't nearly as dominant in numbers as I perceived them. My whole maternal side is from there. My mother was living on East 2nd Street when I was born, but I grew up in Malden. Still, I spentI salmost every weekend of my childhood in South Boston at my Aunt Mary's.. We were always there. We never missed a Sunday, Very often we were there Saturdays, too. I knew this. I knew Southie was clannish and I knew the Irish ethos existed, but I didn't know how much the other ethnics had to become Irish by osmosis. But I didn't know how much the sort of Irish ethos seeped into the character of the whole neighborhood, so that even Eastern Europeans were Irish. So that kind of surprised me.

Any surprises about Whitey?
The biggest surprise doing the book, I think, was when we got Whitey's letters, and for the first time we were seeing not what people think of Whitey but what Whitey thinks of himself. That to me is the most revelatory stuff that we have, even though I think half of it's bullshit, but that's the whole story. Whitey engaged in mythmaking from the time he was a young hoodlum, and he was so obsessed with what the neighbors thought of him, and he wanted to be well thought of, because he knew that was essential to his survival as a criminal. I laugh when I think about it. We have the scene of him picking up Joe Moakley's mom when she's coming home with the bags. And Mrs. Moakley was obviously a lovely lady and all that stuff, and I remember talking to Joe's brother Bobby about this before he died. But I said, "Bobby!" -- and I didn't put this in the book because I didn't want to embarrass the mother or anything -- "You guys must have all known he was a criminal!" I said, "You're all  poor and he's driving around in a car!"

And he goes, "You know," He goes, "Kevin, swear to God. We didn't. We didn't think like that."

I said, "But you had to."

He said, "You're comparing tailgating to bank robbery."

I said, "No I'm not. I'm just saying, you guys had to know that Whitey was a hood."

He goes, "Yeah, but there were a lot of hoods back then."

But Whitey was never your garden-variety hood.
Basically none of the mafia guys believed it. They thought the informer story was just some sort of cover or ploy or payback. The mafia didn't believe the FBI would get in bed with someone like Bulger. The mafia actually held a higher view of the FBI that it deserved. It's like it's straight of Martin Scorcese.

>> READ: Excerpt from "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster" <<

Have you ever met Whitey?
I walked into a liquor store once. And I look back at this, and I say, "What was I thinking?" Because I didn't tell anybody. I had just left the Herald and I was new at he Globe, and so I'm thinking, how do I impress my bosses? So I said, I think I'm gonna go right down and meet Whitey. I can get there in three minutes from the Globe. I drive down Old Colony, park right in front, walk into the liquor store, thinking I'm going to find Kevin, because I knew Kevin. And there's Jimmy [Whitey's name], behind the bar, I mean behind the counter. And there's nobody else in the store, it's just me and him. And I said, "Hi, Mr. Bulger. I'm Kevin Cullen from the Boston Globe. I know this is awkward, and maybe this is not the right time, but you know, is it possible that you and I could sit down and have a conversation?" And he looked at me, not like everybody says, "Oh, he stared at you and you thought he was gonna kill you." That isn't the look he gave me. He gave me this look like, "Kid, what are you, out of your fuckin' mind?" And he just looked at me, and then he sneered and he said, "Go fuck yourself." And I said, "Thank you, Mr. Bulger." And I left.

Any predictions on the trial?
I think  it's going to be a great show. Well, the other thing is, I know the families of the victims really want this to happen. I wonder if they'll regret it when it's over, because I think he's going to insult the memory of everyone. he killed or has since died. The guy, as we show in the letters that we got, the two things he's obsessed with is refuting that he's an informant and refuting that he killed those women. He can't live with that. Those are the two things that he's - because his attitude, Jimmy is, if anything, he's great at sophistry. And his take on that is: "I never gave any information to the FBI that resulted anybody going to prison." Which, you know what? I think that's true. I don't think he gave them anything actionable... He was always blowing smoke.

You know, they gave him credit for getting the probable cause to put the bugs in the Angiulo place, but that's baloney. Whitey only set foot in there once and it was so they could claim that he was an informant. He went there  a month before they filed and he just stood there for awhile while Stevie did all the talking. It was all baloney. So Jimmy, in his mind, believes that: "I was not an informant. They were giving me information."

The second thing though, he's got a real problem on the women murders. Because the first one, that's fine. He can say - it's him and Stevie. And frankly, that's a tossup who did it. But I have no doubt that Whitey was there for it. Who strangled her it seems to me is kind of irrelevant at this point. The problem Whitey has with the second murder is that it wasn't just him and Stevie. Kevin Weeks was there and Kevin Weeks told a consistent story from the moment he rolled and he and Stevie gave very similar stories about the murder. And Kevin still, to this day, I mean we talked to Kevin. He gave the book an A-, which I guess is pretty good. I don't know what he took the minus off for.

Credibility. It's there for credibility.
Yeah, I guess. Kevin still has a fondness for the guy who he calls Jimmy. I think that he doesn't go into the rat stuff as much as you would think he would. And there's no reason for Kevin to throw Whitey into a murder like that. What reason would Kevin have to do it? It doesn't get him any less time. And the way Kevin described those murders, he didn't think the killing of the women is any more depraved than shooting Bucky Barrett in the back of the head. Kevin felt really bad after that one because he saw the picture of Bucky's kids in his wallet after they whacked him. And Bucky was just a safe cracker, for Christ's sake, he wasn't a dangerous guy. And so, Kevin didn't see the killing of the women as any more egregious as the killing of anybody else. There's no way the FBI, the state police and the DEA, they're not saying, "Hey Kevin, put him in this murder ‘cause it really makes him look worse." Whitey's obsessed with his reputation on that, but Kevin didn't think of that.. As he said, it was just one of - he told me he did 40 murders. He goes, "I know he did at least 20 or so ‘cause I was involved at some level or not." So I think he's going to really, really go crazy on the women thing. But it's going to be an entertaining trial. As I wrote in a column a couple of weeks ago, all he needs is one credulous juror to look at that, sit there, and maybe have seen just one too many Jason Bourne movies and believe that the government was the creator of this guy.

And Whitey, you know he's gonna go back and say, "Hey, I was never violent. I was a bank robber. I never hurt anybody as a bank robber, and then these guys gave me LSD, and they didn't tell me it was for the CIA, and I didn't know that LSD could induce psychotic reactions, and I never had a good sleep, and I became violent after that..."

But the charges against him are pretty sweeping.
Hey, somebody might believe that. So, I don't think it's absolutely beyond the realm of possibility that he could get a mistrial. He's not going to get acquitted. There's no way he's going to get acquitted. The other thing is this is a RICO case, so all they really need is two predicate acts to convict him. The book-making stuff's slam-dunk. He was shaking down bookies, that's no big deal. And some of the murders will be believed, some of them might not be believed. So he's going to be convicted, there's no doubt in my mind he'll be convicted, but I think his dream would be to have them return not guiltys on some of the murders. But I think he's in La-La land. It's all mythmaking.

What do you think Whitey worries the most about?
The whole thing that people think he's a rat and a killer of women, he just can't handle that. And everybody says, "He might die." He's too mean to die. He will stay alive for that trial just so he can get up there and refute some of these things. But I'll tell you one thing, he threw Connolly under the bus. I know he said it to those guys because we talked to one of the agents that heard him say it, that he said, "You guys, John Connolly shouldn't be in jail and John Morris should be." People interpreted that that he was going to help Connolly. But Whitey would never help Connolly if it would hurt him, and right now he's invested in this story that he was never an informant and that Connolly was making stuff up. So, Connolly's screwed. He'll never get out. He's going to die in prison.



How would you say your years as a police reporter, court reporter, crime reporter, how did that prepare you for working on this book, which is very different from doing a newspaper story?
Well, it's really that this is something that I had wanted to do for a long time because I had covered the Whitey story for so many years. It started covering wave after wave of mafia prosecution in Boston, and then I covered the cases of the 51 members of South Boston-based cocaine rings who were indicted, and they paid tribute to Whitey. I knew there had been repeated efforts to get Whitey; I knew the DEA agents and Boston police officers who had been targeting him earlier. So I spent many years covering these cases. I covered the Wolf hearings in 1998. Actually, to back up for a second, Peter, on the night that, I knew there was a grand jury investigation targeting Whitey and Flemmi and Frank Salemme, and I wrote a story a week before I joined the Globe in 1993, I wrote one of my last stories for the Herald, was a front page story that this major bookmaker from Newton, Chico Krantz, was cooperating and that it looked like they were getting closer to actually getting a case against Whitey for the first time. So after many years of writing stories, I knew they were targeting him. And the night that they arrested Flemmi I got a tip at, like, 7:30 at night that Flemmi was in custody and they were out looking for Whitey and Frank Salemme. And I raced on down to the FBI headquarters in Boston. It was really cold; it was January 5, and I stood outside for hours waiting for them to bring Whitey in. And it would've been a very long wait, right?

Yeah. How many years? [Laughs]
Exactly. So I was there for every one of these cases. So then I sat through the Wolf hearings; I was there each step of the way as his associates began cooperating. I was there when they were digging up the bodies. I stood there, waiting through hours of digging, with the families, waiting until the remains of six different people were uncovered. So I really had been with it for a very long time. I can't think of any case linked to this, any story that I didn't cover. When Billy Bulger was testifying before Congress, shortly before that I acquired his grand jury testimony and broke the story that he had had a conversation with his brother while he was on the run, while Billy was still Senate president. It had just been a long, long time of covering it. I went to Louisiana when I found out Whitey had been hiding out in Louisiana, and I interviewed people down there that had met him on the run and did a huge piece on that. Broke the story that they thought they had him in London. Spent a week inside the FBI taskforce that was tracking him-they certainly didn't share anything with me, but I followed the manhunt and what they were doing. Covered Connolly's trial in 2002 in federal court, covered his Miami trial in 2008. So there's not a case I didn't cover, and when he was arrested I went out there as soon as I heard it. We posted a story online, and I flew out to California and was in the courtroom when the brought him in and then sort of retraced his steps out there, where he had been, and went down to Mexico where he went to buy his medicine, and actually broke the story that the tipster was the former Miss Iceland-the whole story with the cat and the tip. I broke that story.

Do you think in the professional sense working on this book has changed, or maybe I should say enhanced, your skills as a reporter in any way? Or is it more part of the continuum of what you've always done?
I would say a little bit of both. As a reporter, no, because I think that - I always thought that if you were to write a book, there were so many stories we had done that were newspaper stories and I thought, ‘Well, now we're writing a book, you're going to have a chance to really dig deep and get all kinds of new information.' And we did. We did dig deeper and we definitely got more information and we developed a lot of, pursued a lot of tips in a much broader way than you do for a newspaper story. But, it's amazing how quickly 400 pages goes. As a reporter, it's always "What do I cut?" and "How do I tell this?" in say 800 words. And we thought, ‘Well, 400 pages, this'll be easy." They asked us to keep it to 400 pages, and we had a hard time. When you look at a story that is chasing a guy like Whitey from the time he's a child right through to today, and there was a lot, and it was a little frustrating that we couldn't cram everything in that we wanted, but we were assured that nobody wanted the Encyclopedia Britannica on Whitey.

Why do you think Boston is so fascinated with Whitey? He's a figure now like Ted Williams and I think he will be after he's dead.
It's funny you should think of Ted Williams, because when I had done interviews with John Connolly back in '97 and '98 where he sat down and for the first time talked about how he cultivated Whitey as an informant, how he met him, he recounted meeting him in the South Boston projects when he was 8 years old and how it was like meeting Ted Williams because he was a legend in the projects. But I think as to why this broad appeal, I think it's that he's not a one dimensional figure. There's so much to the story. There's the notoriety of having served time in Alcatraz. There's the brother who became the most powerful politician, arguably, in Massachusetts, while Whitey's the top of the underworld. There's this rivalry with the mafia. There's the FBI corruption, using the FBI to help eliminate his rivals. And there's this carefully cultivated reputation that he had in his own community, trying to cultivate this Robin Hood image of himself. There's the women. He has one woman for 30 years that he has this relationship with, Theresa Stanley, and he raises a family, like raises her kids. And by all accounts, very stable home life. He was a good father to them according to Theresa. He was very good to her kids and lectured them on doing the right thing and studying hard and staying away from bad influences, and then he's off shaking down book makers and drug dealers. And then the fact that he was able to avoid capture for more than 16 years and he was a fixture on the FBI's ten most wanted list. And then the story of the capture. I mean, there's just so many interesting elements to this. And I also think there's this, still, for all we know, there's still this sort of mystery and cloud of conspiracy theories about what don't we know? We know a lot, but what else is there? And the fact that Whitey is saying, "I still have some secrets to tell." I mean, I just think it's a story that grabs people.

>> READ: Excerpt from "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Gangster" << 

Do you think that there could be undisclosed secrets?
I do. Because I think one of the biggest failings in this case to date is the fact that there was this corruption investigation that was handled by the FBI under the direction of John Durham, the special prosecutor brought in from CT after the Wolf hearings to look into the FBI's handling of Bulger and Flemmi. It was not just John Connolly and John Morris and Paul Rico, there were others who were implicated. The US Attorney at the time, Michael Sullivan promised there would be a report, there would be a full account of what happened. That was 11 years ago that was promised and we've never seen it. The only agent to ever serve time in jail, to ever go to trial, is John Connolly. I think that we should hear the whole story. There's still hundreds of documents under seal. The government is still insisting on a protective order in this case. They've turned all these documents over to the defense and argued they should not be shared with the public. And the question I have is why? Before, when the civil cases went to trial, the argument was "We don't want to do anything to mess up the criminal investigations which are ongoing." But now I think people deserve to hear everything. It was a really scandalous period in the FBI's history and they should make everything public.

What do you make of this notion of South Boston insularity? How does the nature of this insularity strike you? Beyond Whitey. For Whitey, for his brother Bill, for John McCormack, for Moakley. They're all individually different sorts of characters. People, myself included, we tend to see that the people who make it out of Southie, and I'd have to include Whitey in that, the roots of their success seem to be so deep in the South Boston soil.
Let me back up for a second. Sometimes we talk about that insularity in a negative way and there is a real positive part of that, too. There was a lot of pride in that community, and a lot of support. It was very much like the Dorchester neighborhood I grew up in, in Savin Hill, too. It's this sense of looking out for each other, taking care of each other. We're in this together. In that neighborhood, certainly there were areas, pockets of poverty, and Whitey grew up very poor. But it's interesting when you look at the two brothers, just to look at that for a second and their view of their childhood. Billy, when you read his book "While the Music Lasts," he describes his childhood as very idyllic, nostalgic. Very nostalgic. Good memories of a tight community and a bond and a friendship and a loyalty and everybody helping each other. And then Whitey, you read his files in prison, and he talks about it as being -- He's in trouble, he's being grabbed by the police and a drunken Irish cop puts a gun to his face or down his throat, and he describes his upbringing in very different ways. I suppose it depends on who you're hanging out with and how far you go in life and what opportunities you take advantage of. But there's a Southie that is very proud and they've got sort of a little bit of a superiority thing where they like it there. They like where they are. I mean that goes back to bussing. The anger over bussing, which people wanted to characterize as: if you were against bussing you were automatically branded racist. The reason that was so unfair is that really it was about community. I mean certainly there were people who were racist and were out there throwing rocks and shouting racial slurs and those are the ones who gave Southie that terrible image nationally. But there was a Southie, people who felt like "We love our community. We love our schools. There's a lot of pride. We don't want our kids being sent somewhere else and we wouldn't care if it was Wellesley, we want to stay here." And a feeling of - it's a beautiful community. You have the beach. You had the nice restaurants. People felt like, this is the hub of the universe, there's no need to be anywhere else. I think it goes back to that, in that neighborhood too, if somebody had a problem, if somebody lost a job, if somebody's house went on fire, if somebody's father died, they would throw a time. They would through a time and everybody would come and these were people that didn't have a lot, but they would be the first to help someone else who was down and out, to rally around and raise money. I think it really goes back to that whole thing of a village, of people helping each other, and that there was a lot of pride in that community.

Do you think Whitey ruthlessly exploited his family or do you think there was a degree of complicity at work there?
I'm going to be a little bit careful. I have to cover the trial, and I want to be sure not to be too judgmental. Kevin's a columnist, so he's entitled to his opinions. Me, I'm still reporting.

What's the record show?
Whitey -- his family always stood by him no matter what. They always stood by him. As to why that is, that's sort of a judgment call that people like you or all of us I guess will make. But when you look at the file, the prison file, he's pled guilty to a series of bank robberies, he's serving a sentence, and his family is completely supportive. But I think when you look at those letters that he's writing home and that his brother is writing on his behalf, the brother really believes that he's going to do well. The family really, earnestly things he's going to turn it around. And they are lobbying hard, especially Billy. They're all writing to him in prison, they're frustrated that he's so far away that they can't really get to visit him. Billy's pulling out all the stops as a BC law student to get Father Drinan to mentor him and House Speaker McCormack to get involved. I'm sure Kevin spoke to you about this yesterday but, as you see in the book, they actually get the director of the director of the Bureau of Prisons to go visit Whitey in Alcatraz and check on him and see how he's doing. I've never heard that happen with any inmate!

Whitey is still more than your average inmate.
And that's understandable, look at, now, Whitey's a high profile inmate and he's not even convicted yet so he's pre-trial, and they're keeping him segregated to make sure he doesn't get hurt. If you have a cooperating witness or a police officer in prison, they take certain precautions to make sure they're safe. But in terms of treatment, it's fascinating to look at the prison file and see that Billy's lobbying hard, and he's writing these very heartfelt sincere letters, saying, "I truly believe my brother will do well." And it's obvious that he has a loving family that supports him back home. The prison file is replete with references to: this is a politically connected family. But this goes beyond politics. There is a bond there that I'm not sure any of us can get at.

READ MORE: Whitey Bulger coverage from the Phoenix archives.

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