|'Whitey' Bulger's Pals Now Geriatric Gangsters|
|By MICHELE McPHEE||Jul 15, 2013, 12:03 PM|
The Boston courtroom for the murder trial of James "Whitey" Bulger has resembled a nursing home at times.
Bookmaker Dick O'Brien, 84, was wheeled into federal court in a wheelchair.
Another bookie, James Katz, 73, brought his oxygen tank.
James Martorano, 72, testified using phrases that could have come from a dime-store crime novel -- back when there were dime stores.
One elderly witness, an admitted former drug dealer, was so used to prison time he brought a plastic bag with him to court with socks and underwear "in case he got locked back up for what he said on the stand,'' a court official told ABC News.
At the center of this ring of geriatric mobsters is Bulger, 83, a still fierce figure despite the liver spots on his hands. Bulger is on trial in federal court for a string of crimes including 19 murders. Prosecutors say that some of his victims were strangled with those arthritic hands.
Bulger's trial has entered its third week with a series of senior citizens describing the criminal havoc and reign of fear his Winter Hill Gang wreaked all over Boston with the help of corrupt FBI officials
Bulger trial is not just about organized crime and FBI corruption. It is also a glimpse into three decades of Boston's old-school organized crime figures who controlled the rackets from the 1960s through the 1990s.
There has been testimony about "boilers" – stolen cars – and "broadsides" which involved pulling up to a moving vehicle with two shooters firing machine guns. Long before cell phones there were walkie-talkies used by the "radio car" operators in charge of surveillance at the scenes of hits. Cash was delivered in brown paper sandwich bags.
Martorano was wearing a "knee-cutter," which was a long white pea coat, when he whacked a man in a phone booth using a "grease gun," or a machine gun. There hasn't been a phone booth in Boston since the 1990s.
Confessed killer Kevin Weeks testified that he carried a beeper so his boss, Bulger, could summon him.
"These guys are like gangsters from the Paleolithic era,'' said T.J. English, best-selling true crime author who wrote "Paddy Whacked." English has attended the trial daily and is writing a book about the Bulger trial.
"What's weird is how similar the Winter Hill Gang was to The Westies,'' added English, who also wrote a book about those Irish mobsters in New York's Hells Kitchen. "They represent the last generation of the American gangsters with roots going all the way back to the Prohibition era."
Bulger has been imprisoned since his arrest in June 2011 when he was captured after 16 years on the run hiding in the predominantly elderly community of Santa Monica, Calif., where he and his longtime mistress, Catherine Greig, blended in alongside the aging shuffleboard players on the Promenade and in their favorite restaurant, Michael's on 3rd Street where they came in the early evening with other retirees.
After his capture, the FBI recovered a Medical Alert Card and bracelet along with AARP membership cards in the name of a homeless person Bulger befriended, according to evidence photos taken at his apartment complex and obtained by ABC News.
Bulger is being held at the Plymouth County Correctional Center, but has been raced into Boston hospitals several times for health-related issues, including incontinence. During one visit to Boston Medical Center he was checked in using the name of the fictional detective Perry Mason.
"He's an old man who got to live the end of his life along the beach, living the life of Riley,'' said Patricia Donahue, whose husband Michael was an innocent man killed by gunfire aimed at a passenger in his car on May 11, 1982. Bulger is charged with Michael Donahue's slaying. "He's 83. He could die before this trial is even over."