Current Weather
The Spy FM

The Bulgers: A Tale Of Two Brothers

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
June 24, 2011

Alleged mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger is on his way back to Boston to face charges. Arrested after 16 years on the lam, Bulger is implicated in 19 murders linked to a brutal crime ring.

What many people outside Massachusetts don’t know is that Bulger’s brother may have been just as powerful in his own world.

William “Billy” Bulger held the longest ever term as state senate president, a position many in Boston consider more powerful than the governor.

Their two paths start in a working-class family in the immigrant neighborhood of South Boston during the Great Depression. The Bulger brothers lived in the projects. Historian Tom O’Connor grew up in the Catholic neighborhood, too, and says in those days there were three ways for the powerless to gain power.

“One was the church,” O’Connor says. “The other road to success was politics. And the third of course was, what?, crime.”

Crime is the road Whitey took, and he was formidable in that role, according to Peter Gelzinis covered the Bulger mob for the Boston Herald. He says Whitey was ruthless, but also very bright.

“To be a criminal on the level that he operated, you have to be a successful politician, and he mastered that,” says Gelzinis.

Whitey’s brother Billy mastered politics proper, and Gelzinis says, “I don’t think it’s an accident that they rise almost in direct proportion at the same time.”

He maintains that people were afraid to cross the legislator, knowing who his brother was. And he says police feared if they went after the criminal brother, their budgets would get cut.

But when Whitey fled Boston in 1994 to avoid arrest, pressure grew on the politician to say what he knew. Billy asked for immunity before testifying before Congress.

When a congressman asked, “what did you think your brother did for a living?” Billy Bulger replied, “Whatever — it was vague to me.”

The vague answers in 2003 outraged victims’ families, but South Boston friends like Joe Oteri defended him.

“We’re immigrants’ kids,” he said. “And one thing, when you’re part of a minority group that’s trying to break in and make it is loyalty, loyalty to the group mmbers. He was his brother. He was loyal to him. And he loves his brother.”

But the longer his brother he loved was on the lam, the more Billy Bulger’s political powered weakened. Eventually, he was forced out.

Late Thursday, Billy Bulger issued a statement on Whitey’s arrest, saying, like everyone else, he’s looking forward to a resolution. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

Listen Live Now!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center