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Opinion, Santa Monica, Police Department

The Capture of a Mob Boss in Santa Monica Provides Different View of the City

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Posted Jul. 4, 2011, 12:32 am

Steve Stajich / Mirror Columnist

Let’s not jump into any wrong-headed promotional campaigns just yet. Even though “Santa Monica: We’ll Leave You Alone” is a bumper sticker that might appeal to lots of people looking to get away from it all . . . and I mean all of it. “Surf Fed-Free!” might speak to the 18 to 35 mob boss demographic. I’m going to pitch “Santa Monica: The Perfect Place to Fade Away,” which was how one network TV reporter put it a few days after James “Whitey” Bulger, a reputed Boston gangster that was an FBI Most Wanted fugitive for more than a decade, was captured in the Santa Monica apartment he shared with his long-time girlfriend Catherine Greig. A heinous criminal picked our town as a place where he could quietly blend in. For years.

Bulger’s resume indicates he was something of a ‘people person,’ in that the people he couldn’t kill, he corrupted with money. Working both sides of the fence, Bulger fed information to the FBI about other mobsters and when they were busted it shored-up Bulger’s own empire. In the course of all that, Bulger got FBI agents to work for him, helping him to hide. But regarding that first technique, of killing his enemies: Bulger fled Boston in the mid-1990s when he was about to be arrested for his role in nearly two dozen murders starting back in the early ‘70s. There’s one account of a man nearly cut in half by the number of bullets fired into his torso. And if you lived in the 1000 block of Third Street in our city, this dude was your neighbor for many years. Maybe now you understand why they never answered your invitation to go Christmas caroling.

Does it mean anything, this discovery of such a dark and sinister element right under our noses? Any event that makes any portion of the greater L.A. area seem low profile or even somehow a hideout probably strikes us as a little funny because L.A. is where people come to make noise and become known; making their own lives grander and more compelling than stupid old everyday life, and leaving us spinning in their foamy wake as they zoom past us. What kind of smile crossed Bulger’s aging face when he watched local TV news fetishize Lindsey Lohan’s parole violations as the notorious mob killer sat chillin’ in Santa Monica.

What of the neighbors who only recently realized that the cranky old man who shouted at his female companion every once and a while was a figure worthy of portrayal in a Martin Scorsese gangster film? There’s no record that in 15 years anyone ever called the police in regard to Bulger and Greig. Maybe that’s some sort of minimum standard for being good neighbors. Follow that up with never cranking up your stereo or creating wafting clouds of pot smoke . . . and maybe everyone just leaves you alone. People who ran into her seemed to have liked Greig, one of them calling her “lady like.” In fact, Greig’s passion for keeping up her looks appears to have been what led to the couple’s capture. So we can at least give them a few points for keeping Santa Monica beautiful during their stay.

It shouldn’t come as news that respectable-appearing people sometimes turn out to have gotten where they are by dark means. Although it’s at least interesting to think about Bulger and Greig walking around in our sunshine, blending right in with citizens who didn’t kill to get where they are, but might have at one time or another considered that tactic. What is the flavor of a fat steak served in an expensive restaurant and paid for with earnings from adult films, or from a series of same-looking movies that feature teens being gored with agricultural equipment? Likely the same as that steak being paid for in any other way, but maybe you get my point about any good-size crowd in a busy L.A. restaurant. That one of those tables could have been Bulger and Greig, savoring the pork chops or ordering another bottle of wine, shouldn’t really surprise us all that much.

What did strike me as something of an eye-opener is the possibility that Santa Monica’s low-key, quiet demeanor may have worked as a shield of comfort for someone who deserved to be rotting in jail. Of course one element of criminal behavior is taking advantage of what can be had from the good behavior of others. Santa Monica residents may, generally, keep to themselves and their own business rather than peeking through their curtains like a nosey sitcom neighbor. But will every observation we make now be informed by the fact that Whitey Bulger and his moll successfully hid out in our town for years? “Those new folks in apartment 9 seem nice. But let me ask, does he look a little, you know, Boston mafia to you?” There might be second thoughts about those eating more than their share of free samples at Whole Foods. “That guy is making a meal out of those Bolivian cheese cubes. Somebody should say something, but . . . he looks like he’s packin’ heat.”

Another dimension of Bulger’s capture that impressed me was the degree to which crime drama in our entertainments hews to the reality of a successful ‘bust.’ There was, in fact, a lot of cash hidden in the walls; dreamy bundles of it. There was money hidden in other places and in offshore accounts, just like in the movies. There were guns in the apartment. There’s a related but almost opposite angle as well: all the facial recognition, computer-driven, wire-tapping, futuristic gear in the world proved secondary to sustained police work and some luck with a tip. It turns out that prompting human curiosity still gets the job done, regardless of how wireless we get. Ultimately, someone simply recognized Whitey’s girl. That they walked among us and weren’t captured for years reminded me of the Mr. Rodger’s theme song: “Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood? They’re the people that you meet each day.”

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Jul. 4, 2011, 4:33:58 am

Jay Isda MD said...

I think it is only fitting that Whitey Bulger would choose Santa Monica to hide out in. Whitey could search the whole wide world and and not find a city full of people so intent on impressing strangers that they do not even notice what is going on in their own backyard. Yes we feed the homeless, we have a wonderful police station and bus station, we have natural gas buses and our meter maids drive hybrids. Take a closer look and you will find city with schools that have lead paint flaking off the walls, where children are forced to leave the gym of a jr. high school during a wrestling tournament because the city has leased the court out to an adult basketball league. Just ask our neighbors in west LA what they think of our airport and the noise and fumes our "green city"makes. We live in a city so obsessed with keeping up with the Jones across town that we've ignored the Smiths, the Gonzalezes, the Washingtons and the Bulgerss who live in our neighborhood. Whitey was no dummy. He knew most of us are so obsessed with and busy being impressed by ourselves we wouldn't notice him.

Jul. 4, 2011, 5:13:43 am

David stearn said...

Who Cares.....Larger more sinister crimes were caught, created, and never investigated in WALL STREET and 911. Please leave this old guy alone and go after the guys who are killing miliions worldwide with their so called WARS.

Jul. 4, 2011, 12:08:18 pm

englishsunset said...

Surely you jest.

Jul. 4, 2011, 3:49:40 pm

Mar Preston said...

Well said, Steve. Who's to know if you keep your nose clean. Not that sociopath in the apartment next door.

Jul. 4, 2011, 8:24:17 pm

D'Lynn Waldron, PhD said...

In 2005, the FBI and Mass. State Police came to me to prepare materials in their search for Bulger and one time while they were at my place on Ocean Ave north of Montana, a phone call came from HQ of a Bulger spotting at Ocean and California. Bulger wasn't still there minutes later, probably on his way to the Pier, where in 2008 he was reported to America's most wanted (of which neither I nor probably our police were told).

Jul. 6, 2011, 10:53:36 am

A Neighbor said...

... or... you might look at it a different way. I was one of the neighbors whose Wheaten Terrier designated "Mr. and Mrs. Gasko" as two of her very best friends for the past 5 years or so... They were both very nice people. Perhaps the tranquility of the town, the fabulous surroundings and (ahem) terrific neighbors agreed with them and they mellowed into kinder, gentler people. That was how it seemed, anyway. They weren't hiding. They were out walking around every single day, enjoying their surroundings and chatting with their neighbors.

Jul. 7, 2011, 7:58:37 am

Another Neighbor said...

I agree with A Neighbor. They definitely weren't hiding. Both of them were very friendly and nice to those in the neighborhood, especially dog owners. If anything, they stood out for their concern for neighbors. I was one of many recipients of a flashlight from Charlie/Whitey when walking my dog at night. Whether it was an act or genuine I don't know, but they weren't hiding from their neighbors or hoping to be left alone.

Jul. 7, 2011, 1:36:03 pm

Judi E said...

Hey, Jay Isda MD - nice commentary about how encapsulated the nieghbors were. NOT. I live around the corner and spoke with "Charles and Carol Gasko" on hundreds of occasions. They were easily noticable -- they were remarkable in their courtesy. They would make a point to cross the street to chat with me and pet my dog. They reminded me of my father and his second wife. What I came away with is not some bulls**t commentary on self-absorption -- only that you never REALLY know anyone. Take your rhetoric somewhere else. When it happens to you, you'll understand, maybe.

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