Murderabilia: 'Whitey' Bulger Items Go Up For Auction

Jun 25, 2016
Originally published on June 25, 2016 8:48 am

Wanna walk in James "Whitey" Bulger's shoes?

His size 9 1/2 Asics sneakers — with extra cushion insoles — are among hundreds of items once owned by the convicted mobster that are being auctioned off by the government, to benefit Bulger's victims.

On the block is pretty much everything but the kitchen sink that was seized from the California apartment where Bulger was captured five years ago, with his girlfriend Catherine Greig, after 16 years on the run.

Think of it as a great big Gangster Garage Sale. There's heaps of the mundane, like little ceramic cats, dinner plates and used furniture from the modest Santa Monica apartment where the fugitives were trying to blend in as just another couple living out a quiet retirement.

But there are also some doozies. It turns out the former mob boss who went to the mat at his federal trial — denying he was ever a government informant — kept his pens in a ceramic mug in the shape of a rat.

"Read into that what you may," laughs Thomas J. Abernathy III, an assistant chief inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service asset forfeiture division. "You gotta love the rat-cup."

Apparently, many do. The pre-bidding price was already north of $2,500 on Friday morning, 24 hours before the live auction was set to begin.

Also hot is lot 1103: a sterling silver "psycho killer skull ring" worn by the killer now serving life in federal prison.

"It's definitely one of the most unique items we have here," Abernathy says.

All of Bulger's stuff will be staged at the auction to look like a replica of his apartment, complete with the boxing mannequin that stood in the fugitive's window, making it look like someone was watching his place.

For the right price, you can take home his wooden desk, couch or flat screen TV. You can buy his collection of books (many with handwritten notes in the margins), including one on how to change your identity. Or you can bid on his desk calendar with his personal notes, his hoodies and jeans, or the white hat he was wearing when he was caught.

But Abernathy says the Marshals did draw a line.

"We were obviously very careful in what we thought was tasteful and would bring in the most income to the victims," he says.

You will not find his deodorant, or any intimate apparel, on the block.

"We certainly don't want to glamorize or minimize the severity and the brutality of his crimes," says U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. "On the other hand, we'd like to generate a certain amount of interest... and have a successful action."

'A Piece Of Boston History'

"What he did was horrible, but I have a weird nostalgia being from Southie," says Mark Jette, who still lives in Bulger's old neighborhood. He can recall interactions with Bulger as a teenager, around the neighborhood and at one of Bulger's favorite bars.

"We used to see him everywhere," Jette recalls. "I remember his driving up down, and all the kids would yell, 'He's here!' Him and Cadillac Man and all, they would hand out $5 bills to all the kids... So we saw a different side of him as kids."

Curtis Kelley, a cook who works in Southie, says he'd spend a thousand dollars for some Bulger memorabilia.

"I'm going, definitely I'll go," Kelley says. "Just to say I have a piece of Boston history."

Jette says he cringes at the idea of buying any so-called "murderabilia." But he says he is intrigued that he could own, for example, a pair of the sunglasses or one of the fedora hats he often saw Bulger wearing.

"If the proceeds are going to the victims, it's fine," Jette says.

But some of the victims and relatives see it differently.

"It sickens me to think, you know, the people and the hype on this," says Steve Davis, whose sister Debra Davis was strangled to death. "I mean, he was a rat bastard. He's a nobody!"

Davis says any proceeds from the auction won't be worth the pain it's stirring up all over again.

"I wish they'd put it to rest," he says. "They should have just destroyed everything. By the time I get a check... it's probably not even dinner money."

Especially since some of the most valuable things are not on the block, says Patricia Donahue, whose husband was killed by Bulger.

Federal law bars the government from selling any of the 30 guns Bulger had stashed away. And officials are still deciding what do to with the memoir that Bulger was in the midst of writing when he was caught.

"I think that would probably be more money than anything they have up there, but they don't want to release that," says Donahue.

One thing already going directly to victims: the $822,000 in cash that Bulger hid in his wall. Officials say they're already cutting those checks.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Want to walk in Whitey Bulger's shoes? Today, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Department of Justice are auctioning off hundreds of items that once belonged to mobster James Whitey Bulger. There's intense interest in jewelry, clothing, knickknacks that were all seized from the California apartment where he was captured after 16 years on the run. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the proceeds go to Bulger's victims.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Call it the great big gangster garage sale.

T. J. ABERNATHY: We have all sorts of lovely personal items.

SMITH: T.J. Abernathy from the U.S. Marshals Service says it's pretty much everything but the kitchen sink from the modest Santa Monica apartment where Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, hid by blending in as just another couple living out a quiet retirement.

ABERNATHY: You know, there's Christmas coasters, a pair of Thanksgiving Indian figurines, so there's some really nice stuff in here, if you're into that.

SMITH: There are some doozies in the mix. Turns out the mob boss, who went to the mat as his federal trial denying he was ever a government informant, kept his pens in a ceramic mug in the shape of a rat.

ABERNATHY: Read into that what you may (laughter).

SMITH: Another hot item - lot number 1103, a sterling silver ring with what's called the psycho killer skull, once worn by the killer now serving life.

ABERNATHY: It's definitely one of the more unique items that we have here.

SMITH: All Bulger's stuff will be staged at the auction to look like a replica of his apartment, complete with the boxing mannequin that stood in the fugitive's window making it look like someone was watching his apartment. There are books, like one on how to change your identity, the running shoes Bulger bought while on the run and the white hat he was wearing when he was caught. But Abernathy says they did draw a line.

ABERNATHY: We were obviously very careful on what we thought was tasteful and would bring in the most income to the victims.

SMITH: It is a delicate balance, says U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

CARMEN ORTIZ: We certainly don't want to glamorize or minimize the severity and the brutality of his crimes. On the other hand, we'd like, you know, to generate a certain amount of interest.

CURTIS KELLEY: I'm going. Definitely, I'll go.

SMITH: Thirty-year-old Curtis Kelley, a Boston cook, says he'd spend a thousand dollars for some Whitey memorabilia.

KELLEY: One thing at least, if not more. Just to have it, to say I have a piece of Boston history.

MARK JETTE: What he did was horrible, but I have a weird nostalgia, you know, being from Southie.

KELLEY: Mark Jette, who still lives in Whitey's old neighborhood, says he cringes at the idea of so-called murderabilia (ph). But he's intrigued that he could own, say, one of the fedora hats he often saw Bulger wearing.

JETTE: I remember him driving up and down. All the kids would yell he's here. You know, and him and Cadillac Man and all of them would hand out five dollar bills to all the kids. And so, like, we saw a different side of him as kids.

STEVE DAVIS: It sickens to think, you know, the people and the hype on this. I mean, he was a rat [expletive]. He's a nobody.

SMITH: Steve Davis, whose sister Debra was strangled to death, says any proceeds from the auction won't be worth the pain it stirs up.

DAVIS: I wish they'd put it to rest. You know, by the time I get a check, it's probably not even dinner money.

SMITH: Especially since some of the most valuable things are not on the block, says Patricia Donahue, whose husband was killed by Bulger. The government can't sell the 30 guns Bulger had stashed away. And officials are still deciding what to do with the memoir that Bulger was writing when he was caught.

PATRICIA DONAHUE: I think that would probably be more money than anything that they have up there, but they don't want to release that.

SMITH: One thing already going directly to victims - the $822,000 in cash Bulger hid in his wall. Officials say those checks are in the mail. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.