Mobsters get pretty good media treatment, all things considered. Run-of-the-mill murderers get (rightly) demonized on courtroom TV, and even petty criminals get their scowling faces in the paper for all to see when they have been sentenced to a few years in the slammer (years that are likely to make them more determined and skilled criminals when they get out). And even in the movies, the bad guy, if he's a bad guy on his own, is depicted as someone to be feared and caught and punished.
But the mob? They've been given, appallingly, some sort of celebrity status. "The Godfather" series is not some warning about the damage and death organized crime can bring. It depicts murder and other crimes as just part of a particularly dysfunctional family. Ditto with "The Sopranos."
Is it because of the bizarre comingling of something as presumably illogical as murder with the rules and rituals of something more sensible? Is it that we all secretly wonder if our own dysfunctional families (and I'm with writer Mary Kerr on this one – a dysfunctional family is a family with more than one person it in) are just a couple of gun permits away from something truly dangerous? What on earth makes it all so entertaining?
That was the value of the trial and conviction of James "Whitey" Bulger in Boston, the Irish mobster (not the offensively stereotypical Italian usually depicted on TV and in the movies). It was a compelling trial, to be sure – partly because of the amazing feat of law enforcement in never giving up and finally apprehending Bulger in California. Bulger is 84 years old, and may have thought he had quite literally dodged the bullet. Instead, he was found guilty of involvement in 11 murders, as well as racketeering.
The details at the trial were gruesome. There was the story of the young woman, Debra Davis, who was dating onetime Bulger friend Stephen Flemmi. Bulger was accused of strangling and dismembering Davis because Flemmi had told her he and Bulger were FBI informants (though that was one murder the jury did not find enough evidence to convict Bulger of). There was Deborah Hussey, Flemmi's stepdaughter, someone who had called Flemmi "daddy." Bulger thought she knew too much and had been talking too much around town, so he strangled her. There was the man, John McIntyre, whom a witness said Bulger tried – unsuccessfully – to strangle with a thick rope. When he couldn't manage, Bulger asked the victim if he wanted one in the head. "Yes, please," McIntyre allegedly responded. So Bulger shot him.
There's nothing glamorous about a mobster, nothing that deserves entertainment-style treatment on the big or small screen. There's just the pain he's left for the families of his victims. And there is, finally, some justice.
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