James Bulger, more commonly known as Whitey Bulger, takes center stage in Black Mass , the new crime drama starring Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch and Joel Edgerton. The movie, which focuses on Bulger's (Depp) return to the Boston crime scene in the 1970s and his turn as an F.B.I. informant, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and will hit theaters on Sept. 18. The complicated relationship between Bulger, dubbed "one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history" in the film's tagline, and his F.B.I. handler, John Connolly (Edgerton), is at the heart of Black Mass. But who is Whitey Bulger, really?
Well, if you ask the 85-year-old Bulger, who is currently in prison serving two consecutive life sentences, Whitey Bulger is nothing but "a myth created by the media to help them generate Revenue and to hurt a relation because they didn't appreciate his independence and daring to support an agenda they opposed." These claims come from a letter Bulger wrote to a group of high school students in June, who wrote to him for a school project, reported The Washington Post. So, is Bulger truly a myth, as he claims? It might be impossible to tell.
As Bulger's brother and former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger (played by Cumberbatch in the film) once told NewsCenter 5, "I always knew there was fact and fiction. I couldn't sort it out. I try to be rational about all of this. All that has come out doesn't come out of thin air. I don't know what is true or not."
Fact and fiction will likely only get more confused with the release of Black Mass. In anticipation of the film, here are five things we do know about Whitey Bulger.
1. He Spent Time In Alcatraz
Bulger, born in 1929, was raised in South Boston with his five siblings and was first arrested at the age of 13. In 1956, he was arrested for a string of bank robberies and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his crimes. Bulger only served nine, though, three of which were spent in San Francisco's Alcatraz, known for housing only the most dangerous criminals. Bulger is believed to have enjoyed his time in the isolated prison, with CNN reporting that the gangster allegedly wrote in 2011, "If I could choose my epitaph on my tombstone, it would be 'I'd rather be in Alcatraz.'"
2. He Was An F.B.I. Informant
Once he was released from Alcatraz, Bulger returned to Boston, where he joined, and eventually led, the Winter Hill Gang. In the 1970s, Bulger and his associate Stephen J. Flemmi became F.B.I. informants with the goal of taking down the Italian Mafia in Boston. Bulger is believed to have become close friends with his F.B.I. handler, John Connolly, who is not only accused of letting Bulger get away with murder during their partnership, but also of warning him to flee before the F.B.I. indicted him in Boston in 1995. It should also be noted that at his trial in 2013, Bulger denied ever being an informant.
3. He Was On The Run For 16 Years
Bulger was on the run for 16 years until he was finally captured by the F.B.I. in 2011. He was arrested in Santa Monica, California, outside the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, who ran away with him in 1995 and was also arrested.
4. He Was Charged With Involvement In 19 Murders
In 2011, Bulger pleaded not guilty to charges implicating him with 19 murders, as well as a handful of other serious crimes. The indictment stated that Bulger had killed 11 people during his time acting as an F.B.I. informant — his handler, Connolly, is currently in jail after being found guilty of second-degree murder that also involved Bulger. In August 2013, Bulger was found guilty for his part in 11 of the 19 murders.
5. He Has Filed An Appeal
In July, Bulger's attorney, Hank Brennan, argued in the US Court of Appeals that Bulger's conviction was the result of an unfair trial because Bulger was unable to present to the jury his claim that a federal prosecutor had promised him immunity. This defense was not allowed to be presented during Bulger's trial after Judge Denise Casper saw that Bulger offered no evidence of the alleged immunity deal. The appeals court are expected to rule on Bulger's case in a few months.
Whitey Bulger's led an interesting life, to say the least; it's no wonder that Black Mass looks as crazy-cool as it does.
Images: Warner Bros. (4)