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A View Of 'Whitey' Bulger From A Crime Novelist04:47

New England organized crime figure James "Whitey" Bulger is shown in these 1984 photos originally released by the FBI.MoreCloseclosemore
New England organized crime figure James "Whitey" Bulger is shown in these 1984 photos originally released by the FBI.

We heard the claim all day after word came in that authorities had nabbed mobster Whitey Bulger. We heard that news of his capture in Boston was as big as news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

In an interview that will air in Friday's Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep takes that claim to crime author Dennis Lehane, who's from Boston and whose novels are based in the city.

Lehane scoffed at the suggestion.

"I hate the grandeur that's paid to it," he said. "He was a criminal who left a lot of tragedy in his wake and nothing more."

Lehane said Whitey's story is attractive because of the stunningly different path taken by his brother, William Bulger. As ABC News writes in a story today, they were two of the "most feared men in a fierce city."

Except that Whitey became the boss of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, while William became the leader of the Massachusetts state House. "He was a dominant force in Massachusetts politics for more than four decades, the powerful president of the state Senate beginning in 1978, who landed a career-capping job as president of the University of Massachusetts system," writes ABC.

But Whitey, said Lehane, was quite simply "a rat:"

He was a guy "who destroyed generations of children," said Lehane. "A guy who got innocent people killed."

But somehow Whitey's life story seemed to touch you in Boston. Lehane explains that he bought his first bottle of liquor at Whitey's store.

"The first liquor store I bought liquor at illegally when I was 16-years-old was Whitey's," he told Steve. "So everybody knew that's the liquor store you went to. Why did you go to it? Because it was run by mobsters. They don't care if you have an ID."

And everyone gets it: Mob guys are bad people. But, asked Steve, why is it that we're all so enthralled by the gang narrative?

"It tickles something in us that we believe we don't speak of, which is this idea that maybe this whole thing rigged," said Lehane. "Maybe this faith we have in governments, maybe this belief we have in the electoral process, maybe this belief we have in this idea that some people are better than others is all a lie and that a gangster at the very least is upfront about this."

Tune into Morning Edition on your local NPR station to listen to full conversation. We'll post the as-aired interview Friday morning.

Copyright NPR 2018.


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