Home / Community Comment /

What is it about this fascination of ours with mobsters like Whitey?

A lot of Americans are fascinated with the lives of mobsters. We disapprove of  “regular” criminals, who commit one crime, but somehow we look at mobsters differently. We don’t like them, either, but we are intrigued about how they’ve made a life out of crime while we try to stay on the up and up with the law. The endless series of mobster movies like “The Godfather” has had a big impact on popular culture and on how mobsters are viewed.

In my family lore, there’s the story from the 1930’s about my mom going to a summer camp that was run by the sister of Louis Lepke, the head of Murder Inc., a group of notorious mobsters. Lepke supposedly hid out at the summer camp one summer while my mom was there.  On the other side of my family, a cousin was a bookie tied to Owney “the Killer” Madden’s gang in New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

My only brush with the underworld was distant but real. Back in the early 1970’s, I didn’t have a car, so I walked all over Dorchester while doing tenant and community organizing.  Once, while I was walking in Savin Hill, a guy came up, threatened me about what was I doing, and told me to hand over the work papers I was carrying. While I refused, I certainly was scared by this guy.

I mentioned the episode to a friend. Unbeknownst to me, he then told Eddie Connors, who ran the Bulldog Tavern in Savin Hill, about my experience, and Eddie, who I later learned was involved with the local mob, warned this guy off of me. In 1975, Eddie was gunned down in a telephone booth on Morrissey Boulevard and later it was revealed that Whitey Bulger had killed him.

My most vivid memory of the Whitey Bulger story occurred in 2004. The Bush-Kerry Presidential debate was being held at UMass Boston and all the news coverage was citing our local university with pride. Former Senate President Billy Bulger was then head of UMass, so he was doing regular interviews.  Then came debate night and there, within sight of UMass Boston, was a crew digging up bodies buried by Whitey Bulger farther down Morrissey Boulevard.  

I remember hearing the story back in the 1980’s that “Whitey kept the drugs out of Southie, so he wasn’t all bad.” That wasn’t the truth and Michael McDonald from Southie, the author of “All Souls,” punctured that myth when he and a courageous few others spoke out about the hundreds of drug victims in South Boston, individuals whom he recently called the “indirect hits of Whitey Bulger.”

Read the book “Black Mass” by former Globe staff members Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill and you’ll learn the chilling details of Bulger’s murders and how he got FBI agents to break the law to protect him and worse.

The trial of Whitey Bulger will be a circus. His acts haunt the families of his victims. Meanwhile, our fascination with mobsters continues.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.