Re-Examining Whitey Bulger: The Early Years: Whitey’s Change Of Heart: Part Eight

South Boston
In Olden Days
(click to enlarge)

I noted yesterday the so-called war between the Killeen and Mullen gangs started in July, 1969. Using the word war to describe this conflict seems to be greatly exaggerating what occurred. It was more what we’d call a small gang fight with a few guns thrown in. It seems there were less than a dozen active participants on each side. One newspaper article stated the Boston police said the Mullen gang had 60 members but if true, which seems unlikely. I’d suggest it had less active participants in the shootings than the number of days in a week.

Another strange aspect of this fight is the territory in which it took place, South Boston. Southie is divided into three small sections: City Point, the area  generally to the east of Dorchester Street which is about 1/2 mile wide and one mile in length and includes the beaches and water front; the Lower End, to the west of Dorchester Street an area of 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile bordering the railroad tracks and the South End; and the third is around Andrew Square including the Old Colony and Old Harbor Village projects which is even of a less area than the Lower End.  These are densely populated postage stamp-size areas and it is hard to see how the combatants were not constantly bumping into each other. It seems clear that they all knew each other, at least by sight.

Sometime between July and November 1969, Billy O’Sullivan and Whitey ran into Buddy Roache, a Mullen, in a Southie bar room or had a sit down meeting with him at a lounge, depending on whose version is believed. O’ Sullivan and Roache got into a heated argument which resulted in O’Sullivan taking out his .22 caliber and shooting Roache in the shoulder. The bullet came out through Roache’s spine and he ended up being paralyzed for life.

On Tuesday, November 18, 1969, Donald McGonagle, who had nothing to do with the Mullen gang, was driving his brother Paulie’s car on Broadway. Being mistaken for Paulie, the Mullens’ leader, he was murdered. The fanciful Kevin Weeks who was 13-years-old at the time said Whitey was the hit man. But then again Kevin has to have Whitey doing lots of evil deeds. That is how he got his wonderful deal with the feds.

Little credence can be accorded to Weeks’s story. It is unlikely Whitey was packing a gun at this point. Further, the killer was probably Billy O’Sullivan. Paulie McGonagle and the rest of the Mullens believed O’Sullivan killed Donald. O’Sullivan is the person they planned to retaliate against.

It would take over a year for Paulie to gain his revenge.  On March 28, 1971, Paulie and two others Mullens confronted O’Sullivan as he entered his home at 300 Savin Hill Avenue around midnight. He fled down the street in the direction of the Woods. They chased after him. He tripped and fell. They caught up to him as he lay on the ground. Homicide detectives said he died from bullets in the head and chest fired at point blank range.

It was a little over a month later when FBI agent Condon directed his memo to Hoover suggesting Whitey was in fear of his life. He well should have been since O’Sullivan’s murder left him as the only one in the Killeen gang who the Mullens held in high respect because of his reputation.

Twelve days after the first memo to Hoover, Agent Condon wrote a follow up. He said Whitey would be “a very valuable source of information relative to the organized criminal activities in South Boston.” On June 6, 1971 Condon said Whitey told him that the murder of Billy O’Sullivan was a problem for him and “feels he will be murdered if he lets his guard down.”

Then around July 10, 1971, he writes Whitey told him, “there has been no change in the South Boston gang war situation since his last contact. . . . the young group under the direction of Paul McGonagle and Pat Nee are still attempting to “eliminate” Donald Killeen and his associate James Whitey Bulger.”  Condon emphasized that Whitey felt if he did not make a move (actively defend himself) he and Donald would be killed.

Condon, who was experienced with handling informants felt that Whitey was being less than forthright and putting distance between them. He concluded: “Contact with this informant on this occasion was not overly productive and it is felt that he stills has some inhibitions about providing information . . . if his productivity does not increase, consideration will be given to closing him out.”  Whitey had a change of heart.

The murder of O’Sullivan had caused Whitey to panic. He went to the FBI seeking help. Meanwhile he must have figured that with his life under such direct threat there was no succor with the FBI. Only by stepping up his game could he survive. He decided to fight fire with fire, literally.

He was now going to fight back and that meant moving away from the FBI.  On September 10, 1971, two months after noting Whitey was backing off, less than four months after opening him, Condon closed him out saying, “Contacts with captioned individual have been unproductive.  Accordingly, this matter is being closed.”  

If Nee is correct, Whitey actively moved against the Mullens. He had lined up some gunmen to help him. Nee went in hiding in a Charlestown project. Whitey tracked him down. He had a bead on him but backed down because a young girl was there. Two other times Whitey and his cohorts came shooting at him and the other Mullens according to Nee.

Considering the limited space in which these combatants roamed and the hiatus between episodes it seems no one’s heart was really in the fight. The best I can figure is the total dead in this battle that has been ongoing for two and a half years was one combatant, Billy O’Sullivan of the Killeens, and one innocent victim (or if you consider this dust-up a war, one piece of collateral damage), Donald McGonagle, the brother of a Mullen. Less than a half-dozen had been wounded, some badly.

The one notable change that came from it happened to Whitey. Prior to these episodes there is no showing he carried a weapon. He was probably still in fear of having his parole violated. Now having felt his life was in danger, he has begun to carry to protect himself. Not only carry, he is now actively shooting at other people. At age 42 Whitey has yet to kill anyone but that is not for lack of trying.  


  1. Boyle owned an estate at 685 Brush Hill Road in Milton, was apparently king pin of the numbers way back when, his son-in-law who was a korean war veteran got involved with him. Boyle died when his car went off the side of the road a number of years ago. I’m sure that’s enough info. and you can check with Whitey who knew the expansive Boyle family. Odd that you don’t know the Boyle name.

  2. Is there a date on that map that you pictured with this post? I see there is a house of correction in South Boston, I didn’t know that there was one there.

    • Pam:
      Happy New Year. There is a date on the map. I don’t have access to it now but my recollection is it was in the mid-1800s. I’ll get it for you. According to “Guide to the House of Corrections Records” (Google) a house of corrections was built in South Boston in 1825, occupied in 1833 and remained in use for the rest of the 19th Century. It’s seems odd seeing Castle Island as an actual island.

      • Yes, it is strange seeing Castle Island as an island. And it seems farther from the mainland than I’d expect, but I guess there was a lot of land added when it was joined to the mainland.

        Happy New Year! I look forward to reading your blog in 2013. You have a fascinating subject and a truly fresh perspective on this case.

        • Pam:
          Thanks for the nice words. I was equally surprised to see how far off shore Castle Island appeared to be. I have a fond memory of being on Castle Island as a kid. We used to be able to get into the interior of the fort by squeezing through the gun slits on the side. One day I was doing it and got my head stuck. I eventually got it out but that little incident comes back to me whenever I think of Castle Island. I don’t think I tried to get into the fort again by that means.

  3. the early whitey years always remind me of the book and film the friends of eddie coyle gritty dark streets not all that much money. i read the first part of red sheas book again recently. it does reflect reds junior high school also just like howie carr does not seem to know what a footnote is or means. i often wonder what a highly educated judge must think of the millions of dollars made by these street smart goons who show no hesitation to rat each other out as they live their lives? best of luck in the new year regards

    • Norwood Born:
      Happy New Year! I knew George Higgins as a friend before he became famous. When I was in private practice and he was in the AG’s office he referred me some cases to handle. I see he died in 1999. I’d have guessed it was before that. My recollection is he lived a fast life. He acquired a facility for dialogue by listening to the intercepted tapes of the gangsters.
      Red Shea and McKenzie’s claim to fame is they were not too learned, were pretty good fighters who became drug dealers and cut Whitey into their profits. A lot of their stories you have to take with a grain of salt. Thanks for you well wishes. Same to you.

  4. How come John Boyle’s name is never noted in any of these accounts? He was on the lam and only returned after witnesses “came forward” to say he shot and killed in “self defense”.

    • Jan,
      Happy New Year! The only John Boyle I am familiar with is “John Boyle” O’Reilly which was a school on Dorcester Street where I took some classes at some point when attending the Michael J. Perkins and the John S. Andrews schools. Is he part of the Killeen-Mullen dust-up? Who was it he killed? I you can tell me more I might have missed him. Thanks.