Tale of Two Brothers: Whitey and Billy Bulger's Rise to Power in Crime and Politics

VIDEO: James "Whitey" Bulgers brother was a prominent Massachusetts politician.
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They were the kings of Boston, perhaps the two most-feared men in a fierce city – for reasons that were often, though not always, opposed.

There was James J. "Whitey" Bulger, the eldest brother, the boss of Boston's feared Winter Hill gang. He was, until his capture after a long manhunt last night, among the most wanted men in America for the web of crime and deceit he wove through his city and into the upper reaches of the FBI.

Then there was William M. "Billy" Bulger, four years younger, the boss of the State House just a few miles away, on Beacon Hill. He was a dominant force in Massachusetts politics for more than four decades, the powerful president of the state Senate beginning in 1978, who landed a career-capping job as president of the University of Massachusetts system.

The lives and strange careers of the Brothers Bulger is a Shakespearean tale flavored with chowdah accents, shaped on the gritty streets of South Boston.

It was a relationship even Hollywood couldn't do justice to. Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed" was inspired by Whitey Bulger, but there was no Billy character, as if the truth was too incredible for fiction.

The Bulgers' lives and careers rose parallel to each other, even as they popped up on the front pages of Boston's newspapers for very different reasons.

Billy Bulger wielded pork as his political weapon, and was accused of all manner of bullying and strong-arm tactics under the famous golden dome of the Massachusetts State House. But he was never implicated in any of his brother's notorious criminal endeavors, despite decades of intense surveillance directed at the mob boss.

Whitey was, by all accounts, proud of his brother's rise, and the two men were actually rumored to be close. But Whitey stuck to Boston's underworld, apparently knowing any help he offered his brother's political career would surely backfire.

In a brief phone conversation in 1995, the Bulgers' worlds collided in a way that would later turn public. Whitey -- who'd gone into hiding earlier that year, just before he was to be indicted on racketeering charges -- placed a brief phone call to his younger brother. Billy had gone to a pre-arranged location to receive the call and Whitey was just calling to let him know he was safe, Billy Bulger would later testify.

Whitey was on the lam, wanted by the FBI for multiple murder and racketeering charges, and Billy knew that. But one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics didn't tell authorities about the phone call, a fact that hangs over his legacy to this day.

Eight years later, with Billy hauled before Congress after he admitted the conversation to a grand jury, the younger brother peeled back the curtain on the complicated bonds of blood and ambition.

"I know my brother stands accused of many things -- serious crimes, brutal crimes," Billy Bulger told a House committee. "I do still live in the hope that the worst of the charges against him will prove groundless. It is my hope."

Last night, Billy Bulger offered a brisk "no comment" to a Boston Globe reporter who visited him at his home shortly after news of his brother's arrest broke late yesterday. Through an attorney, the 77-year-old longtime political powerbroker declined to comment to ABC.

To some longtime observers, the rise and fall of the two Bulgers has a semblance of symmetry. Both men rose, survived and thrived in top posts in cutthroat fields, united by brilliance and street smarts.

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