Whitey Bulger — How He Terrified Mayor Kevin White

Whitey Bulger Terrified Mayor Kevin White

Kevin H. White, Mayor of Boston 1968–1984

Fear Was Whitey’s Greatest Weapon Against Mayor Kevin White

Even in 1975, Whitey Bulger had enough of a reputation to put the fear into Boston’s leading political figure — Mayor Kevin White. So much so, that the mayor was frightened out of his wits one night when leaving his gym in South Boston. Afraid that Whitey or one of his thugs would be waiting to kill him in the dark parking lot.

Mayor White admitted as much in a 1978 interview with WGBH TV’s Christopher Lydon. “I was never more scared in my life,” White said,  “…Whitey would be crazy enough to do it. And if they shoot me, they win all the marbles.”

Why was the mayor so afraid of Whitey Bulger? And why would Whitey want to kill him?

This was during school desegregation. Also known as forced busing, it had turned the whole city of Boston upside down. During desegregation, tempers were especially high. There were lots of protest marches, lots of violence and plenty of resentment.

Whitey Bulger In a Surveillance Photo With Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks

Whitey Bulger With Colleagues Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks On Castle Island in South Boston — DEA photo by Special Agent Mike Swidwinski.

Whitey Bulger’s Business Disrupted by Desegregation

South Boston was at the center of the storm. As the buses rolled into town, so did lots of cops. As a South Boston resident, Whitey Bulger was just as resentful as everyone else in his community. He also resented the police presence because it made it more difficult to conduct his business on the streets.

At the time, Whitey was part of a merger of different gangs, the Mullens, the Killeens and Winter Hill. To the police, they were referred to as the “Irish Mafia.” (Read more about the history of the gangs, and how Whitey ended up on top, in this ShortList article.)

J. Anthony Lukas writes about the mayor’s concern that the gangs would infiltrate an anti-busing march in September, 1974. In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book Common Ground, Lukas says White feared the gangs would draw weapons and shoot at the police if the march was stopped. There were also reports that the gangs were passing out weapons to kids in South Boston so they could join the battle as well. One rumor had Whitey Bulger preparing to blow up all the bridges into South Boston to keep the buses out.

Senator William Bulger vs Mayor Kevin White in the Busing Crisis

During Busing, South Boston Senator Billy Bulger Was No Friend of Mayor Kevin White

Billy Bulger’s Political World Disrupted by Desegregation

Another reason the mayor was terrified was because of Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger. The senator from South Boston was a fierce opponent of busing and one of Mayor White’s biggest political adversaries. The two had a very tense relationship. Kevin White was certain that if he ever crossed Billy Bulger, the senator would call on his brother Whitey to punish, even kill, him.

There’s no evidence that Billy Bulger ever asked his brother to do such a thing. But the fear was real enough for Mayor White. In a 1992 Boston Magazine article, he talks about a night he was called to meet at senator Bulger’s house in South Boston. The meeting was to take care of political business. But all the way there, the mayor feared that Billy had called him to South Boston where Whitey Bulger could kill him more easily.

Kevin White survived the years of desegregation, serving as mayor of Boston until 1984. And he survived any threats, real or imagined, from Whitey Bulger. Succeeding White as mayor was Raymond Flynn, the first South Boston politician elected mayor of Boston.

(This post authored by Steve Burke)

Steve Burke

Read another post — Whitey Bulger — How He Shipped Arms to the IRA

Whitey Bulger — How He Beat the State Police

Remembering Kevin White

Boston and Its Busing Problem — An Irish Family Feud

Home Page — The Chieftains of South Boston

Whitey Bulger — An Irish American Who Gave Back … Sort of.

The IRA Asks Whitey Bulger for a Favor

If you’re Irish American, ask yourself this—what have you done for Ireland lately? Now imagine you’re Whitey Bulger, and it’s the IRA doing the asking.

The question came from the IRA back in the early eighties (Whitey’s mother was first generation Irish American.) The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had a specific request: a million dollars worth of hi tech weapons to be shipped across the Atlantic to aid the IRA in its efforts.

Whitey Bulger IRA Connection

In 1984 Whitey Bulger Schemed With Pat Nee and Joe Murray, Running Guns to the IRA.

Patrick Nee was Whitey’s colleague in Boston’s Irish Mafia. He was also an Irish immigrant and enthusiastic supporter of the IRA. Although not as excited as Nee about supporting the organization, Whitey agreed to partner with Nee and Joe Murray of Charlestown because he saw an opportunity to make a buck.

It was Whitey’s idea to set up a sort of triangle trade. When the IRA asked for weapons, Bulger asked for help in securing the funds necessary to purchase the weapons. They contacted an Irish American admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard. An IRA sympathizer, the admiral made sure no Coast Guard boats were patrolling certain waters off Boston on certain nights.

Whitey’s Trade Plan: Drugs for Money, Money for Weapons

Ships laden with bales of marijuana rendezvoused with small craft, which then ferried the drugs to a wharf in Chelsea. There they were loaded onto tractor trailers for distribution throughout New England.

The operation created an impressive cash flow for Whitey Bulger. As a result, he maintained it long after securing sufficient funds to purchase the weapons. Because the IRA became insistent, Whitey finally turned off the cash spigot and finished obtaining the weapons. He arranged for everything to be shipped to Ireland on a fishing trawler named the Valhalla.

The Valhalla Carried Seven Tons of Weapons from Gloucester to the IRA.

In 1984, the Valhalla left Gloucester, Ma, loaded with seven tons of munitions, including assault rifles, hand grenades and Redeye surface-to-air missiles.

The weapons never reached Ireland though. An informant within the IRA’s senior leadership spilled the beans, and the shipment was intercepted by the Irish Navy.

Everyone Loses, Except Whitey Bulger

There were a lot of losers in the operation, including the IRA and the crew of the Valhalla when they returned to Boston. Whitey Bulger and his partners were the only winners. Their drug-smuggling scheme let them leave the game with some serious money.

That’s the short, simple version of the tale. It gets more complicated when you take in different versions of the story from different players. For example, Patrick Nee believed that Whitey Bulger was the one who tipped off the CIA about the weapons shipment. Supposedly to enhance his own standing as an informant.

To read more, the Irish Times has a good post that takes you deeper into this story, with all its interesting details.

That’s just a quick look into Whitey Bulger’s triangle trade with the IRA. I found the whole story interesting enough to weave it into a chapter of my novel (Chapter 2—The Zugzwang). The name Valhalla has been changed to Avalon, but the spirit of the true-life story is all there.

(This post authored by Steve Burke)

Steve Burke

Read Another Post  Whitey Bulger — How He Terrified Mayor Kevin White

Whitey Bulger — How He Beat the State Police

Boston and Its Busing Problem — An Irish Family Feud

Remembering Kevin White

Home Page The Chieftains of South Boston