It could have been the final scene of a horror flick or an episode of Hoarders.
“You can walk in Whitey’s shoe’s, imagine that?” the auctioneer declared, breaking his rhythmic call for a beat and a half, before diving back in, pushing up the bid for a pair of new white, size 9.5 Asics sneakers, while his assistants shrieked and yelped to mark each new offer.
When James “Whitey” Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Greig were arrested in Santa Monica on 22 June 2011, they had in their apartment: 30 guns, $822,198 cash. Also, as was revealed in the Boston auction Saturday: 10 pairs of white sneakers, a plethora of cat paraphernalia, 27 pairs of used women’s sunglasses, a skull ring, a skull belt, a diamond claddagh ring, books about the second world war , books about cowboys, a portrait of a poodle, and a mug shaped like a beady eyed rat.
The story of the South Boston gangster has been told many times over, in many different forms. At first, it was told between neighbors, in the 70s and 80s when he was hailed as a kind of “Robin Hood” for the Irish community in Boston. This story was based on the premise that he was a “good bad guy” who played by certain bad guy rules: he did not kill women, he kept drugs out of South Boston, and he was not a rat. None of which was true.
Bulger’s cash, as well as the more than $100,000 in proceeds from the auction held by the US Marshals office on Saturday are being split between the estates of 20 murder victims, and three extortion victims.
The government has only proved Bulger committed 11 murders, so this number includes the murder victims’ cases the government couldn’t make stick. Like, Deborah Davis, the 26-year-old girlfriend of one of Bulger’s cohorts, who was strangled to death and had her teeth removed before she was buried by the Neponset river in Quincy. The jury issued a “no finding” in her case, but her family will receive a share of the money. Her brother, Steven, was at the auction Saturday.
Steven Davis is critical of those who still glamorize the serial killer, which for him includes the film, Black Mass. The film-makers did not consult with the victims’ families. “It’s almost like we got kicked in the face by Johnny Depp,” said Davis, of the actor who played the man he says killed his sister.
But on Saturday, Bulger’s notoriety would help give a little something back to the victims. Davis brought his friends and lashed a few bids, to keep the rates high, he said.
“Some of the stuff it makes me a little sick,” said Davis, imagining someone putting their foot into one of Bulger’s old shoes. But ultimately, he is says he is in favor of the auction. “It will help the families.”
“To a certain extent, it’s sort of distasteful,” said Carmen Ortiz, the US attorney in Massachusetts, who said the office was selective about what ultimately hit the auction. Bulger’s weapons were not for sale. Nor was his manuscript, a sort of autobiography Bulger was penning at the time of his arrest. “A lot of the writing had references to violent acts,” Ortiz said.
What is left “exhibits what their interests were,” Ortiz said.
“He bought certain items in bulk,” she said. “It’s clear she really liked the cats.”
John Gibbons, Massachusetts United States marshal, says the hoarding, the sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats, was “indicative of how they lived”. They were fugitives, he explained. “They were under the radar.”
Bulger was 81-years-old, he’d been on the lam for 16 years when he was arrested, after being tipped off about his imminent arrest by a Boston FBI agent, John Connolly, that Bulger had been feeding information to. Connolly is currently serving time for racketeering, obstruction of justice, and murder charges. His supervisor, John Morris received immunity. Bulger’s brother, William, once the president of the State Senate, was forced to resign his position as the president of the University of Massachusetts, after he refused to cooperate in the search for his fugitive brother.
John Kelley, 54, a who owns a limousine company in Andover, won the first bid of the day, the punching bag mannequin Bulger left by his window, so people would think someone was home, complete with a tan wide-brimmed hat. Kelley took it home for $4,900.
Kelley approached Davis shortly afterward. “Sorry for your loss,” said Kelley, shaking his hand. Davis gave him a hug.
“He came up, he felt bad, he didn’t want to feel like he insulted me for what he did,” said Davis. “It’s almost like he donated.”
“He almost had a tear in his eye,” he added.
Later Kelley bought the skull ring for $5,200. Kelley, who grew-up in Lynn, said he’s heard stories about Bulger his whole life. “When we grew up, he was a hero, but we were kids, when you’re older you realize what he did.”
A woman leaving the auction with two cat statuettes, said she felt like she purchased a piece of Boston’s history, “Plus he’s probably pissed that everyone has his stuff.”
The day’s highest bidding item, a 14k diamond claddagh ring, went to real estate developer Colm Dunphy, 52, from Co. Tyrone in northern Ireland, who’s been living in Boston for the last 30 years. It cost him $23,000.
“Because I like it, and it’s my birthday,” Dunphy replied when asked why he bought the ring. “I’m going to wear it myself.”