Whitey Fabrications: Following Footnotes

(1) fool grinning

Yesterday I mentioned working on my book “Boston Bamboozled.” I’m reading the book I talked about that called Whitey “arguably the most significant organized crime figure of the twentieth century.” 

My job as I see it is to find out what there is out there that I don’t know about. So I’m reading this book and when I come upon something new or which I was not clear about I want to see the source of it. 

Now I’ve mentioned this before. There are books out there like the ones written by Howie Carr that have no footnotes. There is no way to check back to see whether he’s just making something up or there is a basis for his statement. You have to accept what he says is true without verifying it. Ronald Reagan reminded us that would be luddicrous. Another book without footnotes is the one by Ralph Ranalli. Again he wants us to trust what he says without backing it up.

So we end up with gangsters telling their lies and authors telling their stories none of which we can check out ourselves. But in the book I’m now reading there are footnotes, so when I come to something that is new to me I check out the source.

The book is about Whitey and the murder of Roger Wheeler. I’m just getting into it having read that the name Bulger is Gaelic for “yellow belly” and that “Wheeler never knew that he’d been taken out on the orders of Whitey Bulger, a thug for all seasons. . . . ” by John Martorno and Joseph McDonald. Hardly was Whitey ordering Martorano around.

The authors seemed to be lacking an understanding of what happened. They wrote Wheeler got a $33 million line of credit from a Boston bank to buy World Jai Alai (WJA) . It had three restrictions: (1) “he had to keep Richard P. Donovan . . .president”; (Donovan took over after John Callahan had to step down because of his association with organized crime people); (2) “Donovan could only be replaced by John B. Callahan”  (makes no sense because Callahan had to step down) and (3) Wheeler could not change the nature of the business or equity distribution.

There was a footnote attached to the statement. Footnote #13 referred to Donovan being replaced by Callahan. The source was Howie Carr’s book at page 160. That in itself is a bad source because Carr doesn’t source anything he writes. Even as bad as that is, nothing on that page mentioned Donovan or Callahan, never mind anything about the bank.

The next footnote #14 supported the statement that “there is no evidence that the [bank] knew of the Callahan-Winter Hill gang relationship.” The source refers to an interview of Tulsa detective Michael Huff with the author. We have no idea if Huff spoke to anyone at the bank. If he didn’t, there would be no evidence since it wasn’t sought.

The authors write: “Thus, the New York Times theorized Wheeler received significant tax sheltering opportunities from the deal but little else. (my emphasis) They supported that with footnote #15, a NY Times article from June 4, 1981. That article was written by a reporter in Tulsa although in the NT Times was not anything the NY Times was theorizing. What the Tulsa reporter wrote was: “A top official of World Jai-Alai said, further, that the main business value of the venture was that it was ”basically a tax shelter.” He also notes that Wheeler told his college alumni magazine he “invested in World Jai-Alai ”simply to make money,”  Hardly, the little else the authors would have us believe.

Although there’s a footnote 16 in the footnotes, there’s none in the text. The statement that “some suspected that sources within the Boston Police Department had alerted Callahan [that the CT state police knew he was hanging around with gangsters]”  is supported by footnote 17 which cites Ranalli, 162. There Ranalli says “investigators still believe” Callahan was tipped off without giving an reference for that.

How can you verify anything when nothing is sourced? There’s a statement: “Wheeler reportedly asked Rico to take a polygraph test. He refused.” That is sourced to Detective Huff who didn’t know Wheeler when he was living. Another statement: “said reports by a catering manager that financial statements at the Connecticut fronton showing profits were altered by WJA headquarters in Miami to show losses.” is sourced to footnote 24 which is back to Ranalli at 186. Ranalli says an unnamed “former catering manager” made that statement to unnamed the Connecticut investigators.

You see how rumor is passed on. Lies become the truth by repetition. Authors cite sources that are not supported. Unfortunately, the bamboozlement goes on full force.

16 thoughts on “Whitey Fabrications: Following Footnotes

  1. Matt: final advice on the book: Make it like an ESSAY, not like a research paper. Unlike Carr, Weeks, Martorano, and most Globe writers, you’re integrity like Carl Sandburg’s is not in doubt. People, experts and general public, will accept what you write as as nearly factual and truthful as a writer can make his material. Remember, two fans seeing the same play even on video-replay can come to entirely different conclusions. Whose opinion is factual or true? Our books today are merely our opinions. Stuff them with all the facts, primary and secondary sources you want: It comes down to this: Have you told a good story. It’s the good story we learn from; it’s the good story a father tells his son, an elder tells his juniors,, a sage tells people, a preacher tells his flock, a historian (Herodotus) tells us all. On no idea will we get universal applause or agreement. Like Holmes and Brandeis wrote, “every idea is an incitement, calling some to assent, others to disagree.” So, through out the ideas and let the dice fall where they may. Run up the flag and see who salutes or who spits, and see how many just don’t care to look or see. I heard a guy say he thought hate was the strongest emotion until he came across indifference. Remember, it was only 10% who took up arms and actually fought against Imperial Britain during the American Revolution of 1775-1781. It was good to see the folks at Market Basket rebel, revolt and usurp the Corporate Big Wigs and GURU Public RElations, Lobbyists, Wall Street Financiers, Harvard Business School, Money-is-God, Golden-Calf-Worshipers in Corporate America. The rabble in arms, the man on the street, the little guys won. Good! Keep punching!!

    1. William:

      Appreciate your advice on how to write the book and that Carl Sandburg had no footnotes in writing about Lincoln but I’ve read Carl Sandburg and I’m no Carl Sandburg. By the way he was born on East Third Street which fits in with the Whitey story. H. L. Mencken called Sandburg “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat” which I feel describes me and that is the only similarity I have with him.
      I need to have mine documented in order to tell the story the way I want to do it. Anyone can write about this story without having an idea of what is really involved as I’ve seen in the book that I just read by authors with many more creds than I have. So writing without footnotes and documentations puts me in the corrall with all the frauds, ignoramuses, Carrs, and make-up artists interested in spinning a story for a buck.
      As for Brandies and Holmes, their ideas were followed so they could talk about how good they are. But the farmer in the field might have some good ideas and brilliant thoughts and might shout them out every day as he’s milking the cows or speading the manure but if no one hears them what use are they.
      Yelling or complaining in the attic of a house adds nothing to a debate. If you want people to listen to you then you must give them a reason to believe you. You must have logic and make them emotionally involved. But you have to also show you have integrity which can only be shown to strangers by producing a well documented story.
      Yes, the Market Basket folks are my heroes. Ordinary blokes willing to risk all for a belief.

  2. Pablo Escobar, Carlo Gambino , the recently arrested Drug Kingpin in Mexico these are people who come to my mind when someone uses the word top criminal. The many true aspects about Whitey Bulger seem like fiction. What I find comical is people like Red Shea and Kevin Weeks writing so called books that the public is supposed to accept as fact. The bottom line on all of this is that the saga of Whitey in a word, sells. The public wants to know more. The shame of it is that his life tainted the Boston area in my view, in that some people think of him when they think of Boston. The release of the movie Black Mass in 2015 will again hype the legend, but I for one think it is to bad Whitey never an accident in Alcatraz way back when and the city of Boston would have been the better for it.

    1. NorwoodBorn that is brillliant: Pablo Escobar, Carlo Gambino, other drug lords and organized crime kingpins make Whitey look like small potatoes, which he was, although killers and strong-arm bully boy gun men do take their toll on a neighborhood. I estimated over 30 years that Martorano, Whitey, Flemmi and their crew (excluding Mafia people they sometime worked for and worked with) killed 50 people and assaulted (stabbed, beat, battered) another 1,000. (most of those were gangster, barroom, bookie related, the usual local thug stuff brutalizing, bullying, beating those involved in barrooms, crimes, drugs, call girls and gambling.) Those numbers work out to about 2 people killed a year 30 people badly beaten or assaulted, clubbed or stabbed. Not exactly a Terror Wave. Some major crime families over the same 20 years killed hundreds or thousands, especially those drug cartels and major Mafia operations. We’d be better off it all the killers stayed in Alcatraz and all the major drug dealers/organized crime leadership (whether Mexican, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Porto-Rican or French Canadian (the latter are the largest ethnic group in Massachusetts) spent more time in prison. But we crucify the little guys, put the mid level guys in TEI Fed programs, and let the Big Guys off the hook. I blame the FEDs.

      1. William:

        You estimate of the time of Whitey is much too long. He did his killing in about a 12 year span and his strong arm stuff lasted from 1972 or 1974 with Somerville to the late 1980s when he was living off the tribute and staying out of the lime light. Keep in mind Whitey had nothing to do with the Irish Gang War – he was in prison. Whitey’s time was a period of relative calm when it came to murders; it was nothing like what happened in the 1960s.

        1. Matt- Long time since i commented, I can still see your doing the good work!! William Bulger and the hatred for him by his naysayers is a large reason for this overblown character of James Bulger.

    2. Norwood:

      Good post. Whitey is more a saga than the truth. His effect on Boston was minimal. Most people who weren’t involved in my work – the ordinary guy or gal who went about his daily life earning a legitimate living and raising a family – never heard about him. The building him up into someone who terrorized Boston does give us all a bad reputation. It is far from deserved. As for the people writing their books they just add to the idea Whitey was more than he was. Always keep in mind the target was really Billy who was hated by some in the media. By making Whitey more than he was then it was easy to slam Billy. Also, keep in mind no except those who helped him knew Whitey had murdered anyone until after he fled Boston in 1994. It was not until Benji Flemmi testified in 1998 and Murderman followed up and then Weeks that it became common knowledge. Then it was put out there as if we all knew about it from the late 1970s. Enjoy that good weather.

  3. If you want to back up everything you write with “sources” insert the sources in the flowing text. For example say, “Carr in Hitman says such and such” or “Justice Souter in his XXX decision said such and such.” 99% of readers don’t read footnotes anyway, and beyond that as I’ve said a biography of Lincoln with one million footnotes is no more reliable than Sandburg’s with no footnotes.

  4. Matt, recall the law of Infinite Regressions: when you go to the footnote it doesn’t have another footnote footnoting the footnote so there’s no way you can back it up. Most footnotes go to newspaper stories, magazines or wholly unreliable academic articles, or revisionistic histories. Carl Sandurg’s multi-volume biography of Lincoln has no footnotes. Footnotes are for students, academic researchers, and people who are trying to plaster over their dubious assertions with footnotes. If we footnoted everything we wrote we’d kill communication, literature and art. The law is not a science, neither is politics, neither is much of what passes as “history” or “sociology” or “psychology”. A dubious assertion remains so regardless of how many “authorities” it cites. Leave the footnotes for the classrooms, and just write on, put your ideas down on paper without footnotes which merely clutter.

  5. Remember the claim continually repeated by the media that the FBI framed four innocent men for the Deegan murder. It turns out that three of the four were high ranking Mafia guys who authorized the killing. The wildcat tap by the Feds proves it. Salvate may have been an innocent but he was closely connected to the racket guys, may have robbed Barbosa and got pushed into the affair for spite. But the common refrain was a thoroughly bogus story. No apologies from the press for trafficking in LCN propaganda. Connolly as of today has been found not guilty of murder nine different times. He is 9-0. A perfect score. The media never reports that. Connolly as corrupt is as valid as WMD in Iraq. 2. Connors was killed on orders from Winter. He was in the same boat as Halloran. They were both part of Winter Hill, involved in murders, knew too much and could implicate others in those killings. They both had recently been arrested and had incentives to co operate. So the bosses concluded as was portrayed in a film ” why take a chance” he’ll keep quiet thus the hit. 3. Cable tv did a show on Ray Demeo and his crew . The cops claim they killed 150 people in NYC. How can Whitey be this top 20 century criminal if he only has eleven. Whitey looks like small change compared to Demeo.

    1. more evidence exonerating Whitey?

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    2. NC:

      1. The acquittal of the Deegan four was what is referred to as revisionist history. I would love to get a transcript of Joe Barboza’s testimony. He was cross-examined quite intensively. There was no doubt he was given the OK for the murder by the Mafia for whom he worked. He may have lied about who was in the car when he took Jimmy Flemmi out and put Salvati in there but the others he didn’t put at the scene but as accessories before the fact, which as you know are punishable as the principles. You are right on point with the comment.

      2. True Connors was another hoodlum – they ran with Winter Hill and were considered as not trustworthy. With Halloran as has often been repeated everyone knew he was cooperating; as with Connors, I’m not sure what was known but they knew he set up Spike to be hit and that made him a danger to them. So at a minimum Connor’s was involved in Spike’s murder if he did the set up.

      3. Whitey is a small timer when it comes to the guys in the bigger cities. But don’t forget we’re very parochial here and think what we have is the most important or most dangerous. We even think we’re on the level of New York City which makes everyone outside of the area grin at the audacity.

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