The families of James “Whitey” Bulger’s victims are still deciding whether to accept a federal settlement to a share of $822,000 in cash and valuables seized from the gangster’s hideout, in exchange for not suing for more. The money was found behind a wall of Bulger’s Santa Monica residence; an apartment that has become a site of both anguish and curiosity. Steve Davis, whose sister Debra was murdered by Bulger, stands to collect a fraction of the cash seized from the gangster’s home away from home on the lam. But Davis said the money is the least of his concerns. He still has questions about how Bulger was able to elude the feds for so long.
“That’s why I went down myself investigating it, to see how this guy could hide in the open public and stroll the beach and how he was never picked up.”
In Santa Monica not long ago, Davis stood in front of the 28-unit building where Bulger hid out in plain sight.
“Three blocks from the beach and three and a half blocks from his niece.”
Actually Bulger’s niece, Mary Hurley, lived 2 miles away. Three blocks, two miles… either way, Davis remains suspicious about what the extended Bulger family knew about the gangster’s flight and why he ended up in Santa Monica at 1012 Third Street.
The couple held a status address. Just two blocks down is the city's popular tourist and commercial strip, called the Third Street Promenade, a breezy, open-air corridor of stores, restaurants and street performers.
Bulger paid less than $1200 a month in cash for his rent-controlled 2-bedroom unit. It recently leased for nearly $3,000 a month. I rang the building intercom to try to speak to the supervisor about apartment 303. I was told that no one was available to comment.
A couple leaving the building told me that stirring up recent history was the last thing the management company wanted. Ted and Linda Rowe from Toronto were visiting their daughter, who lives on the 3rd floor, a few doors down from Bulger’s place.
“To me it’s just another apartment,” said Ted Rowe. “You know, nobody runs up and said ‘hey you’re staying at Whitey’s place’. My daughter wasn’t here at the time when he lived here. She’s only been here three years.”
Whitey and Catherine Greig—his fugitive partner–rented the apartment in 1996 using the alias Charles and Carol Gasko. Law enforcement officials believe that two of Grieg’s brothers-in-law were likely murdered by Whitey in the 60s and 70s. But that did not dissuade her from running off with the infamous mobster. The pair was arrested in 2011 after a neighbor from Iceland—who was friendly with Greig but not her cantankerous partner—finally put two and two together when Greig’s photo was showcased on national TV.
Across the street from the building, an aspiring script-writer named Ben and his buddy Carlos, pointed to Bulger’s unit.
“The one right at top on the right hand corner.”
They work here at the Embassy Hotel and said tourists often ask about Bulger. And Ben happily recounted the tale of his capture.
“Oh, yeah a lot of people stop by. A lot of people ask where it happened and how it happened. You know, many cop cars show up at the same time. And they all kind of raid his place. “
Even so, Bulger’s apartment is not exactly the must-see attraction, like the mansions of the stars in Beverly Hills. Still, Kathleen O’Brien visiting from Boston, said as long as you’re in the neighborhood, you might as well stop by.
“I think he lived like he lived pretty much out in the open. It seems to me it would be like hiding out in Boston near Faneuil Hall. You know it doesn’t seem really hidden—that well.”
I asked her if she was surprised by the fact that he pulled this off for fifteen years.
“No, I mean he had a lot of connections,” said O’Brien.
In Bulger’s apartment, the wall where cash and guns were stashed has been repaired. No one has found written anywhere in the notoriously vain gangster’s hideout: “James Whitey Bulger slept here.” But tourists are finding their way to this site anyway. Bulger’s victims have until the end of the month to decide whether they’ll agree to the settlement, and take the cash that was hidden away for so long.