I didn’t know what Bulger’s legs looked like, but I told my man in San Diego I knew people who probably did, and that I’d get back to him. I was skeptical he’d seen Bulger, but I knew enough to take him seriously. “His legs are freckled and he has no hair on them,” he told me.

As it turns out, Whitey’s family, lovers, and rape victims may be the only ones who’ve ever seen the gangster’s legs.

070105_bulger_main2
JIM? IS THAT YOU? The Bulger possible in San Diego.
“He never once wore shorts when I was with him,” said Kevin Weeks, and as his right-hand man for 20 years, Weeks had seen Bulger in all sorts of positions: strangling a woman with his hands, blowing a victim’s brains out, and casually and cruelly killing another victim over the course of hours . . . but never in shorts.

The California sun has been known to loosen up a lot of people, however, and maybe “Jim,” as Bulger’s friends know him, had unburdened himself of both killing and clothing conventions. Perhaps he’s shed the long pants as easily as he discarded the 19 murder indictments and the 18 other killings Weeks says the fugitive owned up to one night. Maybe that was Whitey in shorts.

But the FBI wasn’t calling my man in San Diego, who now had a collection of videos and images of the subject that the bureau didn’t even know about. The fact that his Bulger look-alike hadn’t taken his hat off in the movie theater had my caller convinced and pumped him to go looking.

“They don’t even call me,” my West Coast contact fumed. “They bungle-f’d the whole thing.”

When he talked about the San Diego Bureau agent assigned to investigate Bulger sightings in Southern California, he was blunt: “She couldn’t solve a murder if it occurred in front of her.”

The Irish distraction
Perhaps the FBI and the Bulger Task Force were too emotionally invested in their Irish leads to care much about San Diego. Whitey fever had them in its clutches this year when the Irish Garda notified them that they had a Whitey look-alike they’d been watching, and they had him on video and audio tape. They were quite confident (70 percent confident, they claimed) they had their man.

In Boston, the FBI called an old Boston cop in from retirement in the early fall to check out the Irish tape, since not one person in the current Bulger Task Force had ever seen Whitey in person. Apart from what they’d seen on a few frames of video, they’d never seen him walk either.

The cop came in and saw someone who didn’t look or sound like Bulger — the voice was too high, he says, too whiny, too Irish in its brogue. He was noncommittal, but the surveillance operation in Ireland continued, apparently undimmed by the cop’s assessment, until the Garda and the bureau moved in on the Bulger-who-wasn’t and the Irish illusion was popped like an overblown balloon.

Back in Boston, the old cop had walked out of the bureau into the fresh air after seeing the video and joined the ranks of other FBI outsiders who’ve worked on or with the bureau’s Bulger Task Force and who are convinced the bureau is totally incapable of finding its man.

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