Q & A With Bulger Biographer
Dick Lehr is the co-author of the book “Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal.” First published in 2001, the book has undergone a number of revisions as the story of Bulger and the FBI has unfolded. Its latest revision has been published this month.
Lehr and his co-author Gerry O’Neill are former reporters for the Boston Globe, whose Globe Spotlight Team report in September 1988 on the tale of the two Bulger brothers first raised the issue in public of Bulger’s “special relationship” to the FBI. They are now at work on a biography titled “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss.” It will be published by Crown/Random House.
David Boeri: With all these many, many books in the realm of Bulgerology, why do we need a biography?
Dick Lehr: To write the definitive, the full life story, is the story that still hasn’t been told. You realize there’s plenty of interesting material that’s never been told before and that’s what we’ve been getting. And I think Bulger warrants a biography now because he goes down into history as one of the 20th century’s most notorious gangsters. He did something no other gangster that we know of has ever done and that’s compromise the FBI, bring it to its knees, not just in a single case, but as a way of life. And I think that puts him at the front of the line.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in your research for the Whitey story?
One of the biggest surprises, going back to 1988, when the Boston Globe first reported that Whitey had a so-called “special relationship,” that first cut at this story, was how well-wired Whitey had it in the underworld. Because there was real concern that revealing that Bulger had a “special relationship” — which was a not very great cover for the fact that he was an informant — that he would be killed. That was a real concern.
What came out after was that he had sold everybody a story that would explain why someone might see him and [FBI agent John] Connolly. And that was that Connolly was their source, that it was one-way, and that Connolly was a corrupted agent, which was true, but it didn’t tell the whole story. But it did become Whitey’s cover. So if anybody ever saw him with Connolly and asked, ‘Hey what are you doing with that FBI guy?’ Whitey could say, ‘Hey, that’s my guy — he’s my rat.’ So there really were no worries or repercussions when in the beginning when we started writing, Oh, Whitey and the FBI, Oh, Whitey and John Connolly. He had already, as he so masterfully does throughout his life, planted the seed in the event that that were to happen. And that was a big surprise.
Throughout a lifetime he’s strategically always been able to anticipate and plant seeds in the event something happens down the road and he’s already a step ahead in terms of everyone, strategy and analysis. Seeing that over a lifetime is fascinating and revealing.