Fugitive mobster James “Whitey” Bulger on Friday appeared before a Boston court handcuffed and under tight security two days after he was captured after 16 years on the run.
Dozens watching on the public benches strained for a glimpse as the balding and white-bearded Bulger walked into the courtroom in the city where he was once feared as one of the leaders of the notorious “Winter Hill” gang.
The 81-year-old Irish-American, whose life inspired a gritty Hollywood movie, spoke only once during the brief proceedings appearing before two magistrates.
Asked by Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler if he could afford a lawyer, the portly, tired-looking Bulger replied: “Well, I could if you’d give me back my money.”
Bulger, who is charged with 19 murders in the 1970s and 80s in Boston, was detained late on Wednesday in Santa Monica, California, where he had been living under an assumed name with his long-term girlfriend Catherine Greig, 60.
Police found some $800,000 in cash and a “fairly big arsenal” of weapons in Bulger’s modest apartment after his arrest, law enforcement sources said.
Flown to Boston on a private jet on Friday, the couple were driven by motorcade to the John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse, where a huge crowd gathered to see the legendary gangster from Boston’s tough, predominantly Irish South Side.
“For the people of Boston it’s as if their own Osama bin Laden has been captured,” Bonnie Sashin, 60, who said she was an interested citizen, told AFP.
Some of the relatives of his victims had packed into the main courtroom, while video screens had been erected in two other rooms to cope with the large spillover crowd.
Bulger’s brother, William, a well-known and influential former president of the Massachusetts senate, was also in the audience.
A lot of law students turned up to watch because the case “deals with alleged corruption by the FBI and alleged violence of the most savage nature and it’s something people believe has had a profound impact on Boston. It’s Boston’s story,” Sashin added.
Greig was also to appear before the two justices, Bowler and Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin.
Bulger fled Boston in January 1995 after being tipped off by an FBI contact that he was about to be arrested. He was spotted in London in 2002 and in California in 2000 and 2005, but had managed to evade arrest.
After he fled, it emerged that he had been a long-time FBI informant about the mafia, fuelling suspicion about the agency’s fruitless efforts to find him.
Bulger became the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Departed,” the gritty 2006 crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and also starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.
Bulger and Greig had lived for years under the pseudonyms Charles and Carol Gasko. They confirmed their real identities at a hearing on Thursday in downtown Los Angeles, and did not apply for bail.