There is an art to writing true-crime. The key is to immerse yourself in the worlds of both the criminal and the victim. To develop and understand their psychological profiles, a writer must get a sense of their personal space – where they lived and where they died.
While researching our book Hunting Whitey: The Inside Story of the Capture & Killing of America’s Most Wanted Crime Boss, we utilized our investigative reporting skills in an effort to bring the reader as close as possible to the subjects we were writing about. Our skills had served us well in the past; whether it was visiting old crime scenes of the Boston Strangler, tracing the hunting ground of Jack the Ripper in East London, or examining the entryway of the Dakota apartment building in New York City where Mark David Chapman turned a fan’s obsession into murderous rage on the night he shot and killed John Lennon in 1980.
To write about such things, you must be able to feel it and walk in the footsteps of infamy.
We journeyed through Whitey Bulger’s old South Boston neighborhood, an area familiar to us having lived in Southie during the height of the Irish mob boss’s criminal power. We studied the small, attractive looking home where Whitey and his gang brought their victims for interrogation, torture and finally death. We examined the desolate areas where Bulger had buried several bodies and decades of secrets.
But we never got a true sense of the man until we became the first reporters to gain entrance to Whitey’s lair, the nondescript apartment in Southern California where he had hid for more than a decade before ultimately getting the designation of America’s Most Wanted fugitive by the FBI.
When we arrived in Los Angeles for this pursuit, we had no plan. We had set up no interviews. But we just knew that we had to see the place for ourselves. Escaping the stingy cold of Boston, where winter refused to submit to early spring, we landed at LAX, grabbed a rental car and drove eleven miles to Santa Monica and eventually found our way to 3rd Street. We parked our rented Nissan and we stepped out across the street from a white three story apartment building with the Victorian name – Princess Eugenia. There was no sign out front. It had been taken down long ago to discourage gawkers from taking selfies at the notorious address. We walked up the steps and entered the vestibule where co-author Dave Wedge pressed the button for the building manager.
“I’m Dave Wedge and I’m here with my partner Casey Sherman,” he said. “We’re writers from Boston and we’re working on a new project about Whitey Bulger. Can you talk?”
“No, I don’t wanna talk,” said the voice on the intercom. “I’m all done talking.”
“Well can you at least let us in the building?” Sherman asked.
There was no reply and the front door remained locked.
Seconds later, a young resident fresh from his morning run entered the vestibule. He asked us if we needed to get inside. We nodded. He then put his key in the door lock, pushed open the door and we followed.
The interior hallway smelled of fresh paint. A small portrait of Queen Elizabeth I hung in the lobby in an attempt to project a regal flair. The queen’s eyes followed us as we began knocking on door after door with no answer. We then stepped into the elevator to the third floor and made our way to apartment 303. I rapped my knuckles on the front door but again – silence.
We continued to gumshoe and spoke with a couple of residents who had heard about the story we were chasing, but weren’t living in the building at the time.
“It’s crazy that it happened here,” one guy holding a toddler said to us.
We returned to the first floor and knocked on the apartment closest to the front entrance. An elderly woman named Catalina Schlank opened her door and welcomed us inside her neatly kept home.
“I was more friendly with her because she was helpful to me,” Schlank said in a think Argentinean accent. “I have lived here for 46 years. They were very good neighbors.”
Schlank then stood up and walked across her living room and pulled out a bag.
“Would you like to see the letters?” she asked before fanning about a dozen or so cards out on her couch.
We examined the first one. It was a holiday card with an illustration of a red covered bridge in a field of snow. We opened it and read the inscription.
May the special gifts of health, peace, joy and happiness be yours throughout the year.
Carol & Charlie Gasko
I handed the card to Catalina and she stared at it.
“You would never believe they were Mafiosi. He had a nice face, a sweet face.”
After spending twenty minutes interviewing the neighbor, we left the building and headed toward our car when suddenly we were confronted by the building’s maintenance man.
“Don’t worry, we’re leaving,” I said trying to quell his concerns.
“You’re here to write a story about Bulger, right?” he asked.
“Yup,” Dave replied. “We think we got everything we need. We don’t mean to bother you.”
“Would you like to see where they caught him?” the maintenance man asked excitedly.
We said yes and he led us into the basement car port to the exact oil stained spot where Whitey Bulger’s decades long criminal odyssey had come to an end. Dave took some photos with his phone as I chatted with the worker.
“We knocked on apartment 303, which was Bulger’s apartment, but got no answer. Does anyone live there?”
The worker explained that the place was being renovated and that it would be available for rent in another month or so.
“Do you have the key?” I asked. “Can you take us inside?”
The maintenance man smiled and showed us to the elevator. Seconds later, we found ourselves back on the 3rd floor and headed toward apartment 303.
Dave and I took deep breaths. To our knowledge, no reporter had ever been inside the apartment where Whitey Bulger and his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig had lived as America’s most wanted fugitive couple for more than a decade under the names Charles and Carol Gasko.
We stepped into the apartment which had the rugs ripped up and had just been painted white. There was a fireplace in the center of the living room and a screened balcony off to the side. The kitchen was quite small and led to two bedrooms in the back where the couple had slept separately.
Bulger was long gone but you could still feel his presence there. We walked the grid through the small apartment going from room to room and tried to imagine what it had been like for both Whitey and Catherine while living here. We examined the repaired walls where Whitey had cut through the plaster to hide a cache of guns, knives and more than $800,000 in cash. We stepped out onto the narrow balcony where Bulger had stood night after night with a pair of binoculars studying the street below; looking for possible assassins and the law enforcement agents who had committed themselves to bringing him to justice.
While Whitey and Catherine must have felt some sense of relief that they were free, unlike Bulger’s closest criminal partner and the crooked FBI agent who covered up many of their crimes, there was also likely a sense of dread that accompanied them each day.
It was the fear of getting caught.
After enjoying this rare look inside Whitey’s lair, we searched for the Santa Monica police department, finding it less than one mile away.
How did Bulger and his girlfriend stay in the shadows and yet in plain sight for so long and what steps did law enforcement take to finally bring them both to justice?
We were determined to find out.
Casey Sherman & Dave Wedge