Welcome back. The year was 1981 when Roger Wheeler, the new owner of World Jai Lai, was shot to death in the parking lot of Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. His was the first of four murders ordered by James “Whitey” Bulger to hide the fact that he was skimming money from the World Jai Lai organization. John Callahan, Brian Halloran and an innocent bystander named Michael Donahue were next.
By now I’m sure you readers have heard most of this gangster’s story, including how after sixteen years as a fugitive he was arrested in a rent controlled apartment just a block off the beach in California where he had been living under an alias with his girlfriend Katherine Greig. You long time readers may also remember that I happened to be in Santa Monica at the time and just a mile way from the apartment where they had been living. I wrote about the arrest in my weekly column including a few minor details that weren’t covered in the national press.
Bitten by Whitey’s story, in 2013 I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to attend his trial. For three months I sent back stories from the courtroom about the sensational proceedings. While most reporters focused on Whitey and his eventual conviction on eleven counts of murder, I had another goal. By meeting some of the big time national reporters who were covering the trial I hoped to promote my book Footprints in the Dew which at the time hadn’t yet been published.
Wearing my western hat, boots and jeans into the federal courthouse in downtown Boston I didn’t look like a big city reporter and my accent didn’t make me sound like one either. Most of the news people were friendly but they were intent on interviewing any of the key witnesses or family members of victims who entered the courthouse. My own reluctance to rush up to witnesses resulted in two of the biggest scoops I could have hoped for.
The first person I met was a CBS national correspondent. We stayed in touch after the trial and I went to NYC several times to meet up with her. The other person I met opened a door into Whitey’s world. This meeting was a chance encounter in an elevator on the way to the courtroom where the trial was being held. This man who all the other reporters wanted to talk with approached me. “You’re not like one of them are you?” he asked. No I wasn’t and that short exchange had big consequences for me.
You see this man who shunned the press was the only member of Whitey’s family to attend the trial. He was Whitey Bulger’s brother John Bulger and in my soon to be released new book Before the Dew you’ll read how our meeting along with help from Gentner Drummond, the Examiner Enterprise and a dozen others played a role in the development of Footprints in the Dew.
Starting Thanksgiving weekend for the next five weeks I will be on the road to promote the new book starting with book signing events at Best of Books in Edmond, Full Circle in Oklahoma City and Brace’s Books in Ponca City. Then on December 1st I will be at Moxie’s on 2nd street in Bartlesville. Friends if you haven’t been in downtown Bartlesville lately you need to check it out. Shops and restaurants are springing up everywhere and there are big plans for holiday events. I hope to see you there.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….