The Biggest Rat: Whitey Bulger’s Decades of Deceit – Part 2 – Whitey’s Formative Years

Big RatJames Cagney - you dirty rat


James Joseph Bulger Jr. was born on Sept. 3, 1929 in the town of Everett, Mass., an industrial hamlet just north of Boston. Before Bulger was born, his father, James Sr., had lost his left arm at the elbow after getting it caught between two freight cars while working in the local rail yards. Bulger Sr., who had had an unsuccessful marriage while he was in this twenties, became smitten with Jean McCarthy, who was 22 years his junior. They married and had a daughter, also named Jean, the year before the junior Bulger was born. James Jr. had piercing blue eyes and a light complexion, as well as straw colored hair. Because of his striking looks, his childhood friends called him “Whitey”: a nickname Bulger never took a shine to. Whitey preferred to be called “Jimmy.”

When he was six years old, the Bulger family moved from Everett to Dorchester in Boston, and they settled in the parish of St. Mark’s Church. Whitey didn’t distinguish himself in the St. Mark’s classrooms; he was too fidgety and he could barely sit still in class. The following year the Bulgers moved into a triple-decker house on Crescent Avenue, which was in St. Margaret’s’ parish.

The locale changed, but Whitey’s attitude in the classroom remained the same.

Whitey’s younger brother, William “Billy” Bulger, who is notorious is his own way, wrote in his self-serving autobiography While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics, “My brother Jimmy found school boring. His teachers, like my mother, often discovered that Jimmy was suddenly missing.”

In 1938, after one year at St. Margaret’s, the Bulger family moved again; this time to the newly-built Old Harbor Village projects, a government-funded housing development with 1016 apartments. Through a lottery, the Bulgers were able to obtain a three-bedroom apartment, on the top (third) floor, at 41 Logan Way, which was part of a three-section Boston neighborhood called Southie. Southie was predominantly Irish; with a few Italians sprinkled in for flavor. The new digs came in handy, since by this time the Bulger brood had grown to five children. Besides, Jean, James, and William Bulger, there was also Carol, and an infant named John, whom everyone called Jack.

While some things change; other things remain the same. Whitey was no better a student at Thomas N. Hart Public Grammar School then he had been at St. Mark’s and St. Margaret’s. Whitey was ostensibly a student at Thomas N. Hart from the fifth to the eighth grade, but his marks were an embarrassment to the Bulger family. A federal probation officer wrote in a 1956 presentencing report concerning Whitey, “His scholastic record was poor. He failed in all of his subjects, receiving poor marks in conduct and effort. The school report shows that he was surly, lazy, and had no interest in school work.”

When he was 13-years-old, Whitey was arrested for the first time; on a charge of school delinquency and larceny. He joined a local gang called the Shamrocks, and his early life of crime continued; unabated. Whitey spent some time in a juvenile reformatory; which only increased Whitey’s knowledge of how to operate successfully in the underworld. In the next three years, Whitey was arrested six more times, and his crimes became more violent; including charges for assault and battery. However, due to the political influences present throughout Southie, particularly favoring the Irish, Whitey never spent a night in the big boy’s jail.

When he was seventeen, Whitey enlisted as a roustabout, or circus laborer, in the traveling Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Whitey’s brother Bill explained Whitey’s actions as such: “I think Jimmy had a more adventuresome spirit than some. It didn’t always involve doing something wrong. The circus came to town; he went off with the circus. Something like that looked like adventures, so off he went.”

Because the work was hard and the pay was not so great, Whitey lasted only a year busting his hump putting circus tents up and tearing them down; plus shoveling dung left behind by the circus animals, most of them huge creatures known to eat hardily. Predictably, shoveling shit was not what James “Whitey” Bulger had in mind as a vocation.

Free from the circus constraints, Whitey went back running the street of Southie, without a high school diploma and without any visible means of support. Still, Whitey was able to drive a fairly new car, which piqued the interest of the local police. Police intelligence pegged Whitey as a “tailgater,” or a thief who made his living selling goods that fell off the tailgates of parked trucks making deliveries in the neighborhood. In this line of work, an arrest was usually imminent. But Whitey was quick and efficient, and the law was always two steps behind.

Whitey’s brother Billy said he saw his brother’s outlook on life change when Whitey was still a teenager.

“I saw Jim change from a blithe spirit to a rebel whose cause I could never discern,” Billy said. “He was in a constant state of revolt against – I’m not sure what. He was as restless as a claustrophobic in a dark closet.”

When he was eighteen, Whitey was arrested; not for tailgating, but yet again for assault and battery. Southie’s Irish political contacts once again pulled some strings for the neighborhood Irish lad, and Whitey escaped jail time; after paying a measly fifty bucks fine.

Yet, his brother Billy did not think what Whitey was doing as a teenager was that far out of line.

“Jim’s scrapes were small in those growing up years,” Billy said. “But in time they were enough of them to make him known to the police. That was a dangerous situation. Some policemen used their billy clubs more than their brains. And Jim was defiant and wouldn’t give an inch. His speech was bold. He was often beaten; sometimes savagely. For a while I thought that all police were vicious.”

Probably figuring he was destined for the clink if he remained running the streets of Southie, Whitey Bulger finally did the smart thing – the patriotic thing – he enlisted in the United States Air Force while the war was raging in Korea. After enduring basic training, Whitey was stationed at the Smokey Hill Air Force base in Salina, Kansas, and then at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. Yet, Whitey’s pent up anger repeatedly got the best of him. Whitey was locked in the stockade several times for assault, and as a result, he was not considered by his superiors a prime candidate to fight the war in Korea. This suited Whitey just fine, and he made a military career stateside, frequently going absent without leave.

His brother Billy wrote, “It was clear he was enjoying himself. The Air Force apparently had more rules than planes, and he delighted in breaking, or circumventing great number of them. It appeared from his letters that he contrived a new system each week for being absent without leave, and he did so with impunity. His conduct was not from lack of patriotism. He was just being Jim. I believed then, and I believe now that he would have performed well in combat.”

Younger brother Billy may have been right, but the odds were certainly against it. It’s hard to envision Whitey Bulger could have prevented himself from stealing whatever he could get his hands on, and then selling it on the Korean black market. Creeps like Whitey talk patriotism, but in their mental makeup patriotism falls to a poor second behind capitalism. The truth is – most criminals would rather make an illegal dime than a legal dollar. It’s just the way they’re wired.

Despite the fact Whitey, by any measure, was a dreadful United States Airman, he somehow managed to get an honorable discharge from the military. I guess the “Luck of the Irish” extended to Whitey in the Armed Forces too; either that or he had a military Southie connection.

Although there is no proof, the latter is more likely.


One Response to “The Biggest Rat: Whitey Bulger’s Decades of Deceit – Part 2 – Whitey’s Formative Years”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: