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NOTE: This feature article contains both copyrighted and non-copyrighted material. The unprotected material was created under the Creative Commons License with multiple author contributions via Wikipedia and have not been verified for historical accuracy. Quoted material, select photos from the prison case files and short passages from Bulger are abridged excerpts from the book “Letters from Alcatraz” (expanded eBook Amazon Kindle edition) by Michael Esslinger (Published by Ocean View Publishing).

James "Whitey" Bulger

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James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger, Jr. (born September 3, 1929) is a former organized crime figure from South Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Local folklore depicted Bulger as a Robin Hood style social bandit dedicated to protecting the neighborhood and its residents. Bulger allegedly masterminded a protection racket targeting drug kingpins and those running illegal gambling operations. Based upon the testimony of former associates, federal prosecutors have indicted Bulger for 19 murders.


Early Criminal Career

Bulger developed a reputation as a skilled thief or "tailgater" and a tough street fighter fiercely loyal to South Boston. This led to him meeting more experienced criminals and more lucrative opportunities. The elder Bulger worked as a union laborer and occasional longshoreman; however, he lost his arm in an industrial accident and the family was reduced to poverty. In May 1938, the Mary Ellen McCormack Housing Project, now known as Old Harbor Village public housing project, was opened in South Boston. The Bulger family moved in and the children grew up there. His younger brothers (William Michael and John P.) excelled at school but young James Joseph, Junior preferred the streets. Jimmy Bulger was arrested in 1943, at the age of 14 and charged with larceny. By then, Bulger had joined a street gang known as the "Shamrocks" and would eventually be arrested for assault, battery and armed robbery. He was sentenced to a juvenile reformatory. Shortly after his release in April 1948, he joined the United States Air Force. After his basic training, he was stationed first at the Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, then in Idaho. Bulger was sentenced to the stockade for several assaults. He was also arrested in 1950, for going absent without leave. Nevertheless, he received an honorable discharge in 1952, and returned to Boston.

Excerpts from his inmate case file at the United States Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta chronicle the criminal activities that landed him his first federal prison sentence, and eventually his transfer to Alcatraz:

The United States attorney indicates that on May 17, 1955 Bulger together with Donald Dermody and Carl Smith participated in the armed robbery of the Industrial National Bank, Darlington branch, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. In participating in this robbery, Bulger carried a .22 revolver and forced two employees of the bank to lie on the floor during the course of the robbery. The getaway from the robbery was accomplished by the use of a car stolen by three participants just prior to the robbery. The amount stolen was $42,112.00. On November 18, 1955, William L. O'Brien participated in the hold up of the Highland branch of the Melrose Truck Company, Melrose, Massachusetts. Prior to the robbery they stole the car to be used in the getaway from a MTA parking lot in East Boston. They then placed their switched cars in the parking lot of the Roosevelt school in Melrose and proceeded from there in the stolen car to the bank. Both O'Brien and Bulger were armed and took part in forcing the employees and customers in the bank to lie on the floor during the robbery. They then left the bank in the stolen car and switched their own cars at the Roosevelt school in Melrose. The total amount stolen in this case was $5,035. Then on November 23, 1955, Bulger, together with Richard R. Barchard, participated in the hold up of the Woodmar Branch of the Hoosier State Bank, Hammond, Indiana. He and Barchard had set up the robbery of this bank earlier in the fall of 1955 and made the trip from Boston to Indiana on or about November 23, 1955 for the expressed purpose of accomplishing this robbery. Both Bulger and O'Brien entered the bank. Bulger held two pistols on the persons in the bank while Barchard, unarmed, took the cash out of the drawers.

Inmates Version of Present Offense

During the initial social interview Bulger stated that he was introduced to Carl Smith by an ex-convict and later encouraged to drive for Smith on some deal he did not know about at the particular time. When he learned that this deal concerned a bank robbery he wanted to back out. He claims that he was even more afraid when he learned he had to go into the bank since two persons who was involved backed out. He stated that the bank robbery was successful and afterwards he was in on three more bank robberies. Eventually Smith was caught, after he robbed a bank with two men in Tennessee, then returned home and spent money extravagantly. Bulger said Smith "squealed on us" after he was caught. He states that he was caught in a nightclub in Revere, Massachusetts after being a fugitive for two months. He believes that a friend walked him into a trap. He states that he had dyed his hair and started dressing in contrast to his previous style of dressing.

Personal History and Family Background

This man is the second of six children born September 3, 1929 in Boston, Massachusetts. The father, James J Bulger, Sr., was born in St. John, Newfoundland about sixty years ago. He is retired now, according to his mother, and is in good health. He was employed on WPA. He was employed until recently as a watchman. He's had no serious difficulty with the law. He was arrested for assault with a revolver in Roxbury, Massachusetts once but the case was dismissed. The mother, Jean (McCarthy) Bulger, was born in Massachusetts about fifty years ago. She is in good health, a devoted mother and housewife. The probation officers report indicates that this man has had very little to do with his parents. They were unable to control him during his early years. His companions were usually persons of poor reputation and far from a good influence upon him. He would associate with known thieves and ex-convicts.

His schooling consisted of attending both parochial in public schools in South Boston, Massachusetts. He has very little interest in school. He went for a short time at the Brandeis vocational school in the ninth grade but left to go into the service. While in the United States Army he attended school and received a high school diploma.

As indicated above, this man has spent most of his time in local taverns where he associated with known criminals. Although this was his first penitentiary sentence is indicated that he has always been willing to participate in any law violations even if it meant using firearms in order to accomplish his goals. The police department records reveals juvenile delinquency and also fines paid as an adult for assault and larceny. This man was AWOL in the Army but he received an honorable discharge.

Present Situation

Bulger is a twenty-six-year-old single native of Massachusetts legal residence at Boston, Massachusetts who is serving twenty years for robbery of an FDIC Bank. It is now indicated that he has a possible murder charge indictment pending by the state of Indiana. He denies his guilt although he is accused by alleged eyewitnesses who are his codefendants in an Indiana bank robbery. This man wrote an anxious letter to his brother about this charge but it was difficult to tell whether he was bragging or complaining about the charge. Under any circumstances he appears deeply concerned such a warrant in all probability would affect his adjustment here. This man has close family ties and there are other persons in the community who has shown some interest in his welfare. He wants and training and typing here, thinking in terms of working his way into a clerical assignment.


On June 21, 1956, Bulger was convicted and sentenced to serve 20 years in federal prison for armed robbery and sent to USP Atlanta. Bulger’s inmate case file shows he was subjected to extreme testing under the MK-Ultra project. This was the code name of a U.S. government covert research operation experimenting in the behavioral engineering of humans (mind control) through the CIA's Scientific Intelligence Division. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and "officially halted" in 1973. The program itself engaged in many illegal activities; in particular it used unwitting convicts as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MK-Ultra involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate people's mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs (especially LSD) and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation. as well as various forms of torture.


James "Whitey" Bulger 1428-AZ


Bulger in 1953


Bulger's crime partner Richard Barchard, 1251-AZ


U.S.P. Atlanta where Bulger served from 1956 to 1959.


Jimmy Bulger at 14-years of age.


Bulger's official U.S.P. Atlanta mugshot taken on July 20, 1956

Author and Alcatraz historian Michael Esslinger discusses his own, extensive interviews with "Whitey" Bulger about his time at Alcatraz from 1959 to 1962. CBS News - New York.