America is fascinated with bad boys.
Perhaps its our rough and tumble past, the stubborn, rebellious streak that led us to forcibly cut the ties with mother England, the pioneer spirit that sent thousands of men and women traversing the vast wilderness stretching from the civilized East to the wild West.
We have a love affair with the outlaw, the rounder, the scalawag. We aggrandize them, we weave myths around them, we turn them into legends.
From Blackbeard and Captain Kidd to Jesse James and Billy the Kid, from John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, from Al Capone and Lucky Luciano to Bugsy Siegel and John Gotti, Americans have a fascination with criminals.
Fictional ne’er-do-wells are wildly popular. Movies like “The Godfather,” and television shows like “The Sopranos,” whet our appetite for a look at life on the seamy side.
Pick up a copy of Tuesday’s paper. You’ll likely see a photo of a gray-bearded, bald-headed grandfatherly man staring intently at the camera.
Look closely. This is the face of a real, live gangster.
James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger Jr. is no mythic figure, no colorful rake who thumbs his nose at convention and spends his life circumventing the law and outwitting those charged with its enforcement.
Whitey Bulger is no legend, no Don Vito Corleone or Tony Soprano, he is no sympathetic figure. He is a thug and a murderer.
Bulger was convicted Monday of racketeering, including drug trafficking and 11 murders out of the 18 of which he was accused.
One of those murders took place right here in Oklahoma, though Bulger’s operation was based in his native Boston. Roger Wheeler, a businessman in Tulsa, was the former chairman of Telex Corp. and the owner of World Jai Alai, a gambling operation from which Bulger and his partners had been skimming money for years. Wheeler found out about the skimming and threatened to bring down Bulger’s operation.
Wheeler had a regular Wednesday golf outing at posh Southern Hills Country Club. He and his buddies would play golf, then Wheeler would drink a Scotch and a chocolate chip shake. On May 27, 1981, Wheeler had finished his golf and his drinks and was preparing to drive home. He was sitting in his car in the Southern Hills parking lot when someone shot him between the eyes, killing him. He was 55 years old and a father of five.
Bulger didn’t kill Roger Wheeler, but ordered hired gun John Martorano to do so. Bulger still faces murder charges in Oklahoma, which, unlike Massachusetts, has the death penalty.
Granted, Bulger’s victims were not exactly members of the ladies’ aid society. Paul McGonagle was a member of a rival Boston gang, as was Thomas King. Arthur Barrett was a bank robber. Edward Halloran was a gangster turned federal informant, as were Richard Castucci and John McIntyre. Edward Conners was an associate of Bulger’s.
Some were shot, some by Bulger himself. Bulger strangled 26-year-old Deborah Hussey with his own hands.
Men of Whitey Bulger’s ilk are not some sort of anti-heroes, they are villains of the first order. Bulger is not some sort of modern-day Robin Hood, he is simply a hood.
They are not colorful, they are not darkly fascinating, they are not deserving of admiration or respect.
The best thing about fictional villains like Don Corleone, Tony Soprano, Dexter, Hannibal Lecter and Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty, is that they were the product of a writer’s imagination. They are not real, nor are their crimes.
The crimes of men like Whitey Bulger are all too real. Look closely at the photo of Whitey Bulger, look deeply into his eyes. This is the face of organized crime, not that of Tony Soprano.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
America is fascinated with bad boys.
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