Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp
Some crazy facts about the real “Whitey” Bulger.
1. He’d rather be in Alcatraz
Already in prison for armed robbery, Bulger was sent to the now-defunct federal prison on Alcatraz Island off San Francisco’s shoreline in November 1959 after allegedly planning a prison escape in Atlanta. He spent three years in Alcatraz before his eventual release in 1965.
Shortly after Bulger’s 2011 capture, Alcatraz historian and author Michael Esslinger wrote to the imprisoned Bulger asking for details about his time in the notorious federal penitentiary.
Much to Esslinger’s surprise, Bulger wrote back extensively about his fond memories of his time in Alcatraz. Esslinger told CBS’ Bill Whitaker that Bulger wrote,
“‘If I could choose my epitaph on my tombstone, it would be ‘I’d rather be in Alcatraz.’ ‘”
2. Volunteered for LSD testing in prison
While imprisoned in Atlanta for the bank robbery conviction in 1957, Bulger volunteered to be a drug test subject in an effort to reduce his prison sentence.
So he was injected with LSD — a not-so-well-known drug at the time, he thought it was the effort to find a cure for schizophrenia, according to Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, authors of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster And The Manhunt That Brought Him To Justice.”
Bulger said he suffered from lifelong insomnia and nightmares as a result of the experiment.
He later learned that the experiments were actually part of the CIA’s so-called MKULTRA program to develop a mind-control weapon carried out at dozens of universities and institutions from 1953 to 1967, according to T.J. English, author of “Whitey’s Payback,” citing multiple sources including some of Bulger’s associates.
English also wrote:
“(Bulger) was enraged to learn how the covert program had destroyed so many lives. According to (Bulger’s associate Kevin) Weeks, Bulger had even taken preliminary steps to track down the overseer of the program, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer … and assassinate him,”
3. Only known son died at age 6
Bulger and girlfriend Lindsey Cyr had been dating only a few months in 1966 when Cyr became pregnant. Bulger wasn’t pleased, so when the baby was born in May 1967, Cyr listed her ex-boyfriend as the boy’s father on the birth certificate. Speaking publicly for the first time in 2010, Cyr told The Boston Globe that Bulger also kept his son’s identity a secret to protect him from his father’s numerous enemies.
Despite his initial reluctance toward fatherhood, Cyr said Bulger doted on the boy.
“He helped pay for child care and showered Douglas with toys,”
wrote the Globe’s Cullen and Murphy.
As Bulger rose through the ranks of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang in 1973, 6-year-old Douglas fell ill and was hospitalized with Reye’s Syndrome, a severe reaction to aspirin. Bulger sat by his side for three days, wrote Cullen and Murphy.
“When he died, Jimmy (Bulger) was out of his mind,”
4. He was honorably discharged from the military despite arrests
Bulger served nearly four years in the U.S. Air Force, working as an aircraft mechanic and earning his high school diploma. Yet the future gang leader never strayed far from trouble. During his military service, the young Bulger was arrested for going AWOL and, in a separate incident, police arrested him on rape charges.
He was never convicted or sentenced on either charge and received an honorable discharge in 1952.
5. He hated the nickname ‘Whitey’
Nearly every mobster has a colorful nickname, but family and associates say Bulger hated “Whitey,” a reference to his white-blond hair as a child. He preferred his real name, Jim, and reportedly he was also OK with the moniker “Boots,” which referred to his fondness for cowboy boots.
6. His old apartment is for rent
During the time that Bulger spent eluding authorities, he and girlfriend Catherine Greig lived as Charlie and Carol Gasko in a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California. In his letters to Esslinger, Bulger described that time as “a 16-year honeymoon.”
A neighbor described the couple as a quiet and polite, who sometimes helped carry her groceries.
In the summer of 2014, the seaside apartment was put up for rent, according to several media reports.
It’s the same apartment where federal agents found more than $822,000 in cash hidden inside the walls after his capture.
7. If not for legendary Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, the UFC as we know it today may not exist. Bulger was a mainstay in the organized crime scene around Boston, and his gang actually had a run-in with Dana White long before he was the UFC President.
“My partner and I, Peter (Welch), we ran a ‘get kids off the street’ program back there and we used to teach boxing classes, however we could make money, we made money. So one day I was teaching a class in one of the big clubs in South Boston and these two guys walked into the class and said, ‘Hey, we need to talk to you.’ At first I’m thinking, ‘Does this guy own the club?’ and when he asked me, ‘Do you know who I am?’ that was when I realized what was going on”
“He basically said, ‘You owe us money’. It was like $2,500, which was like $25,000 to me back then, and the guy who said, ‘You owe us money’ was actually a guy named *Kevin Weeks*, who if you saw the trial he’s Whitey’s right-hand man. I’m sure he’s very prominent in the movie, but yeah basically said I owed him some money, and I didn’t pay him. This went on for a while and one day I was at my place and I got a call and they said, ‘You owe us the money tomorrow by 1 o’clock’. I literally hung up the phone, picked up the phone and called Delta, bought a ticket to Vegas, and got the fuck out a town.”
Las Vegas is where he reconnected with old friends Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and eventually bought the UFC for $2million.
*In the upcoming “Black Mass” film, “Breaking Bad” star, Jesse Plemons actually plays Kevin Weeks*
An infamous gangster who evaded capture for decades before finally being arrested in 2011, Bulger was exposed to LSD testing while in a federal prison in Atlanta in exchange for a lighter sentence. For 18 months, Bulger and other inmates were subjected to drug testing, which Bulger described in his notebook as “horrible LSD experiences followed by thoughts of suicide and deep depression.” He was so deeply and negatively affected by the project that Bulger compared the program’s doctor to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor responsible for the horrific human experimentation conducted at concentration camps. Bulger’s anxiety was compounded by his inability to ask for help or disclose what he was experiencing, as he feared that telling anyone of his visual and auditory hallucinations would lead to lifelong commitment in an insane asylum. The effects of the LSD on Bulger were such that the mobster reflected on the irony of his situation in his notebook, writing, “I was in prison for committing a crime and feel they committed a worse crime on me.” The gangster was apparently so enraged after learning of the program’s intent and the effects it had on other that he strongly considered tracking down Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, the pharmacologist who oversaw the program, with the goal of assassination.
“I was in prison for committing a crime and feel they committed a worse crime on me.”
—Whitey Bulger journal entry about participating in MKULTRA
In A Nutshell
Infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger has been in the headlines for months. The elusive killer went on the lam in 1994, spending 16 years in hiding despite being prominently displayed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. The now-84-year-old gangster was finally captured in 2011 and sentenced to two life sentences plus five years on November 14, 2013. His murderous exploits are legendary, but few realize that before he made men tremble at his feet, Bulger was a guinea pig for the CIA’s MK-ULTRA mind control program.
On November 14, 2013, 84-year-old James “Whitey” Bulger was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years, the last chapter in the saga of a man who terrorized Boston. The head of the Winter Hill Gang, a faction of the Irish mob, Bulger ran the southern part of the city. His crew was involved in extortion, drugs, and money laundering amid countless other transgressions. US prosecutors indicted Bulger for 19 murders, 11 of which he was convicted for, but there is no telling how much blood is truly on this man’s hands.
In the late ’50s, Bulger was sentenced to a bid in federal prison, where he was approached to take part in experiments with LSD and other drugs in exchange for a reduction of his sentence. This was part of the CIA’s murky MK-ULTRA behavioral engineering program. Bulger was told the experiments were in an effort to find a cure for schizophrenia. Letters to his brother William (whose life took a bizarre turn from his gangster brother—William Bulger served as both the President of the Massachusetts Senate and the President of the University of Massachusetts) indicate that he was initially pleased with the opportunity to shorten his sentence.
However, things took a horrifying turn. One of Bulger’s notebooks recounts his experiences under the influence, claiming that he had a “morbid fear of LSD,” and that he felt that his head was changing shape and he was hearing voices. Long after his release from prison, Whitey remained haunted, afraid to have children for fear the drugs had somehow altered his chromosomes.
One thing is certain: The CIA’s experiments did nothing to soften Bulger’s character. After his release from prison, he once again resumed his barbarous ways, racking up a grisly resume. Despite its vast reach, infiltrating institutions on every level of private and public society, comparatively little is known of MK-Ultra—CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all the files on the project destroyed in 1973.
In the notebook — undated, but apparently written in the years after he was released from prison — Whitey described “horrible LSD experiences followed by thoughts of suicide and deep depression.” Yet he was determined to keep it all to himself so he would not be “committed for life.”
WBZ acquired these photos of Whitey Bulger that span the 1950s to the 1990s, many of them never seen before.
At one point, Whitey wrote that he developed a “morbid fear of LSD” and felt if he had any more of it, “it would push me over the edge.” He was afraid that “if I mentioned hearing voices” or the “seeming movement of calendar in cell, etc., that I’d be committed for life and never see the outside again.”
“The CIA was looking to LSD as a potential incapacitating agent and interrogation agent,” said Dr. John Halpern, who specializes in psychiatry and drug abuse research at McLean Hospital.
Whitey wrote that he felt like his “head changes shape” and the only “antidote is to look in mirror” to make sure his head was still the same.
The Whitey Bulger Letters
“Could very well be that a person enrolled in a MK-ULTRA program in the late 50’s, 60’s received large doses of LSD, it’s quite possible,” Halpern said.
In the notebook, Whitey compared the doctor running the LSD program back in federal prison to “a modern day Dr. Mengele” — a reference to the notorious Nazi doctor.
“I was in prison for committing a crime,” he wrote, “and feel they committed a worse crime on me.”
But, there’s no sympathy from the families of victims killed during Bulger’s reign of terror on Boston streets.
“I think he’s been a monster since birth,” said Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was gunned down in the early 1980’s allegedly by Bulger. “He’s a sociopath and I don’t think you can blame the drugs on that.”
Whitey goes on to write about “nightly nightmares” and wonders whether the LSD caused him years of “stomach problems” and “allergies.”
Later, he said he read of LSD causing chromosome damage and felt if he got married his wife would “demand children,” and those children, he feared, would have “mental problems” and “no life.”
He wrote of lingering effects. He said he had to “wear long sleeve shirts to bed — because bear arms make me nervous.”
“Sometimes when awake and area is quiet, with eyes closed, you see shafts of light piercing the darkness,” he wrote.
Dr. Halpern never examined Whitey, but he described how troubling LSD could be for a man like Bulger, a crime boss fueled by power and control.
“For someone who has a tremendous need for security through control this could lead to a tremendous sense of anxiety and they could feel quite damaged,” Halpern said.
In letters from prison to his brother William, Whitey wrote about how excited he was about the LSD project in the beginning and how he could earn “good time” by taking part in it.
In fact, he wrote that he spent Christmas Eve in 1957 working on the LSD project and then rang in the New Year in the same place — and was extremely happy about it.
But, it was evident in this notebook that things changed.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO TO PLAY H.H. HOLMES DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE, CLICK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT AMERICA’S MOST INFAMOUS SERIAL KILLER AND HIS MURDER CASTLE