Bulger's only slip-up led to capture

SANTA MONICA, Calif. —Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger did almost everything right in evading capture for 16 years.

The notorious mobster's run from the law was remarkable for its longevity, which was due mainly to the unremarkable new identity he built for himself while on the lam.

He adopted an unassuming lifestyle, paid for everything with cash, didn't drive a car, limited his social contact to small talk and adhered to the code of silence from the mob life he left behind. When federal agents tracked him to his lair this week, it was only after targeting the one part of his past that Bulger didn't leave behind — his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

By all accounts, the two did little to ever arouse suspicion, posing as two retirees holed up in a bland white 1970s apartment complex in Santa Monica amid other buildings of the same era.

Although Bulger — who fled Boston in 1995 after a retired FBI agent who had recruited him as an informant tipped him to a pending indictment — was believed to have millions of dollars stashed in secret accounts, and investigators found $800,000 hidden in the apartment, the couple didn't live lavishly. They paid $1,145 cash several days in advance each month for a rent-controlled unit, while newer neighbors paid more than twice as much. Greig shopped at a 99-cent store.

Occasionally, they splurged, even while remaining discreet.

Andrew Turner, the general manager of Michael's, recognized pictures of the fugitives this week as the couple who dined occasionally at table No. 23 at the upscale institution. He had a record of them paying their $190 tab in cash for a meal that included Grey Goose vodka cocktails, foie gras, steak and lobster, topped off by wine, in September 2009 — the month Bulger turned 80. The couple kept to themselves and were unassuming, Turner recalled.

"This guy was just nice, mild and meek, milquetoast in a little apartment in Santa Monica," said Bill Keefer, a retired U.S. marshal who supervised the witness protection program in Los Angeles, Hawaii and Long Island, N.Y. "This guy should have been a supervisor with the marshal's witness protection program. He did an outstanding job, the louse."

As they reinvented themselves, Bulger and Greig stuck to a low-key lifestyle that didn't invite attention.

Neighbors said they stuck close to home, walking to the nearby Third Street Promenade, the city's outdoor mall, or strolling along the Palisades Park, a ribbon of grass and trees that runs along a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean a few blocks from home.

Bulger, now 81, has been linked to 19 murders, including the strangling of an associate's girlfriend who knew he was a snitch and the murder of a man shot so many times his leg was almost severed from his body.