Tuesday, August 23, 2011

They Always Get Their Man

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When I heard the news, I literally, literally could not believe it. It was about 7 am, and I raced downstairs in my sweatpants and tank top. I banged on the door of Jonathan’s bathroom even though I knew he was in the midst of taking a shower.

This had NEVER happened before. I didn’t want to scare him because I knew that it was such an unusual and unheard of thing to do that his first reaction might be fear. But I had to risk it.

I banged again, and again. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the water. He finally opened the door, dripping and soapy and worried.

"What?" he said. "Wh
at on earth happened?"

"They caught Whitey Bulger," I said.

It took a minut
e...of dripping…for it to sink in.

“You’re kidding,” he finally said. Wet hair forgotten. “You. Are. Kidding.”

"Nope," I replied. I still smile when I think about this. “Nope, they really did.

I’m not sure, unless y
ou live around Boston, that you can grasp what a big deal this is. The elusive—and, allegedly, pretty horrible—Whitey Bulger, mob king pin, I mean, the most-feared, most-legendarily-hated man in Boston, and soon, one of the most wanted men in America. Accused of extortion, racketeering, gambling, and also of murdering 19 people, one, at least, a woman he strangled with his bare hands. If you believe the government’s case.

(The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed was based on him.)

They got him.
After 16 years on the run with his girlfriend. He’d been working for years as an FBI informant! Gasp. And he’d been tipped off, see, by an FBI crony, once a childhood friend, who’d warned him the feds were after him.He left town, and hid for 16 years. Sixteen years! On the lam, as they say. All true!

After countless theories, and sightings, and speculation by nearly everyone that the FBI wasn’t really l
ooking for him—had even done him in!—because of all the secrets he might reveal. But I’d interviewed several FBI agents about him—and I doubted they weren't looking. They really wanted to find him, that was my opinion.

And then, after a tip, t
hey did. And he was back in custody. (They found $800,000 and an arsenal of weapons in the Santa Monica apartment. My step-daughter, who lives around there, is sure she’d seen him walking his dog. Had she realized that a bit sooner, she might have gotten the two million dollar reward. Sigh.)

And a weird twist, my husband and his law partner were appointed as his lawyers—can you imagine? How interesting that would have been? But then one of the two cases were dropped, and so he wasn't needed.

Anyway. All this is introduction—so you know how very fascinating Jon Land’s next few months will be. He’s writing the Whitey Bulger story with the guy who…well. Let him tell you. Here's Jon Land. And he's telling all in his brand new book:


“So you wanna a bullet in the head?”

So begins
BETRAYAL (Forge, January 3, 2012), my first non-fiction book after thirty novels. The speaker is Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, addressing his soon-to-be victim John McIntyre, an informant capable of bringing him down once and for all, in 1984.

The hero of BETRAYAL is Robert Fitzpatrick, one of the most celebrated FBI agents of his time who was sent to Boston in late 1980 to “kick ass and take names.” Simply stated, the office had spiraled out of control in large part because of the degree to which agents and officials stretching all the way to Washington were beholden to Whitey Bulger.

Bulger, you see, was an informant the Bureau was relying on to give them what they wanted most : the Italian mob. Of course, since he was the titular head of the rival Irish Winter Hill gang and promised to prosper from the takedown of the mafia, he was all too happy to cooperate.

Only he didn’t. In all his years as an informant, Whitey Bulger gave the FBI nothing that helped them take down the mafia. Nothing. That’s what Bob Fitzpatrick uncovered when he got to Boston and what was pretty much confirmed during his first and only meeting with Bulger himself. Check out the following excerpt, one of my favorite scenes in the book:

“I never got your name.”

’s ‘cause you didn’t shake my hand. It’s Fitzpatrick.”

“You don’t understand,” he boasted. “I was in Alcatraz; I was in the toughest penitentiaries. I’m a bad guy, not somebody you wanna come out here and mess with.”

“Is that what I’m doing, Whitey, messing with you?”

“You tell me.”

“I just asked you.”

“You got any idea of t
he stuff I’ve done?”

“That’s why I’m here, to find out what you’ve done and what you’re doing for us. See, you wanna tell me ab
out all the stuff you’ve done when I want to hear what you’re doing for me. Because you’re the informant.”

My last remark, a caustic taunt. “Whitey,
what are you doing for the FBI?” I finally asked when he lapsed into silence, even though the answer was already written on the parts of his face I could see through the dim lighting. “What are you doing for me?”

The answer, of course, was nothing, and Fitzpatrick embarked on a twenty-year quest, b
oth in and out of the FBI, to prove that to the world in general and Bureau in particular. Three times he developed informants prepared to give up Bulger and force the FBI to give the gangster up as an alleged informant. All three times information leaked out from within the Bureau, and all three times the informants were murdered, the last one being John McIntyre whose body was not recovered until 2000.

What attracted me to Fitzpatrick’s story, which became BETRAYAL, was that it was one of those rare nonfiction “thrillers” that had a third act. Even before Whitey Bulger was finally captured in Santa Monica in California last June, a series of trials over the past few years had already validated all of Fitzpatrick’s claims and fully vindicated his efforts. Bulger’s apprehension was just the icing on the cake.

And here’s the thing. My fictional thrillers also feature heroes defined by their ability to overcome incredible odds and survive, if not thrive, on their own. They are men and women unafraid to buck the system, to do the right thing regardless of what they must sacrifice along the way. Well, that describes Bob Fitzpatrick perfectly.

I took on plenty of guys like you,” Bulger taunted during that now famous meeting with Fitzpatrick. “Turned out they weren’t so tough either.”

Turned out he couldn’t have been more wrong.
HANK: Whoa. Jon is writing as fast as he can, and the book will be out from FORGE Books in January! He'll be around today to answer our questions about the FBI, mobsters, and informants--and what it's like to write a non-fiction book this quickly!

(And continuing win-a-book-every-day week on Jungle Red, one lucky commenter will get Jon's book the moment it comes out! PLUS! Because we are all about instant gratification, you'll also win a signed copy of the Jungle Red book of your choice!)


  1. Hi Jon. Sorry if I'm nosy.

    Do you base your novels on true cases?
    Were you a journalist before you became a novelist?
    I assume Fitzpatrick is no longer with the bureau. True?
    Are you writing the story "with" Fitzpatrick?
    How do you develop contacts to research?

    I'll stop.

  2. I am looking forward to reading this one. Dee

  3. I confess, I'd never heard of this Whitey guy until he was arrested. Soon, however, NOLA (formerly New Orleans Times Picayune) reported he and a female companion had spent some months in the mid-90s hiding out in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Grand Isle is the beach of my childhood, and where President Obama picked up tar balls during the BP oil spill.

    So I followed the story via the south Louisiana newspapers. My favorite line was this, reported in one of those papers, about the companion:

    "...Greig was known to frequent beauty salons and have her teeth cleaned once a month."

  4. Hey Jon,
    What a great story! I worked one summer at a mob disco in New Jersey and forever after, can't get enough of this mob stuff. Congrats.

    My question is this: After the Rossetti revelation, do you think the FBI in Boston ever learns?

  5. The title of this blog was meant to be ironic, yes? I mean, the FBI knew where he was all this time? Bizarre squared.

    How interesting, and thank you for shedding light on yet another cockamamie scheme our government has concocted. The FBI, in particular, seems to have done some mighty peculiar things in our lifetimes, in the name of justice, freedom, and obedience to what they perceive as the law.

  6. Hey all! Yes, you make me realize if totally left out the fascinating Catherine Grieg, who stayed with Bulger all hose years. They found him, allegedly, by focusing on her. She was a dental hygienist, and they knew she was obsessed with her teeth, and wondered if dentists would know her. She was also, reportedly, very vain, and they also targeted plastic surgeons.

    Her story is amazing, and wonderful fodder.

    But Karen, do you think the FBI really knew where he was all this time?

    Jon, what do you think?

  7. Yesterday;'s winners: The(randomly drawn) the winner of BURIED SECRETS is: NANCY! Please contact me via my website http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com and we'll get it to you instantly!

    Second prize..a surprise! Goes to Thelittlefluffycat! Again, let me know where to send it! And --congratulations!

    For the winner of today's books...see you tomorrow!

  8. Jon, I can't wait to read this book. And I would like to know more about the FBI agent Fitzpatrick too.

  9. Fascinating! Looking forward to the book.

  10. Looks like a fascinating book! the whole case sounds like a novel.

  11. What a story! And who better to tell it than the great Jon Land.

    (Another character for the tale: Whitey's brother, Billy, was president of the State Senate and then president of UMass. He was forced to resign from the latter position when it turned out he'd communicated with his fugitive brother.)

  12. What a great story.

  13. Still limping along on partial internet access at the kid's computer, but I had to comment and say that I'll be first in line to read this when Jon gets it out.

    Really, the whole Whitey Bulger story is the sort of true crime you simply wouldn't believe if it were written as straight fiction!

  14. I cannot WAIT for this one! Being a long time Jon Land fan, plus one of the biggest Bad Guys of the decade? You know it's gonna be good!

  15. E.B.--Thanks for the interest and the questions! I hesitate to say I'm a journalist but I did begin my career writing for PEOPLE, the SATURDAY EVENING POST and other periodicals. My novels are big-scale thrillers that draw inspiration from real-life events and issues without being based upon them. I did indeed write BETRAYAL "with" Bob Fitzpatrick. The book is presented in first person in his voice. Bob left the bureau in 1987 after the situation had become understandably untenable for him. He's a true hero and everything he said then is being proven true today. Come January 3, let me know what you think of the book! on

  16. Dee: Thanks much and I promise you're going to love it! Best, Jon

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. Jan raises a great question! It's truly mind-boggling that after everything they should've learned with Bulger, it remains business as usual in Boston. What we can't lose sight of, and Fitzpatrick himself says this all the time, is that the FBI remains perhaps the greatest crime-fighting organization in the world. It seems so pointless to tarnish its reputation by continuing to associate with known gangsters out only to further their own interests.

  19. SO, Jon, how did you a Fitzpatrick first meet? (if you can reveal it...)

    And how did you work together...? If that's not secret, too :-)

  20. Karen: Many people far smarter and more in than the know than I believe the FBI never wanted to find Bulger. The story we tell in BETRAYAL is one the Bureau never wanted told and when you read the book you'll see why. The culture of corruption, and enabling, in Boston wasn't limited to one or two agents. It extended all the way to Washington right up to the office of the Director. If I hadn't written the book, I wouldn't believe it myself.

  21. Dixie, Paul and Carol: You will not be disappointed! The great thing about this book that I haven't talked about a lot is Fitzpatrick himself. He was raised in an orphanage, a boys home on Staten Island called Mount Loretto. On nights he couldn't sleep, and there were many, he'd listen to the sounds of an old time radio shows drifting down the corridor from a nun's room. One of these was THIS IS YOUR FBI. That's where his dream was born and even after it became a nightmare he never gave up. And the great thing about BETRAYAL, to me anyway, is the vindication he receives in the end. This is one of those rare true stories with a beginning, middle and an end, and Fitz is a true hero!

  22. Julia: I couldn't have said it any better myself! The book publishes on January 3. Amazing that after 30 novels, I may have written my greatest story ever and it's real. Go figure!

  23. Bill and Keith: Always nice when friends drop by to chime in. As fellow fiction writers, I think you guys will appreciate BETRAYAL more than anyone!

  24. Thanks for the query, Hank. My brother plays golf with a few ex-FBI agents who are friends with Fitz. They mentioned to him he wanted to write a book, or was trying to write a book, and the next week we were having lunch. I knew from the get-go that there was a great story here. A clash of the titans, if you will: the most notorious gangster of his era versus one of the most celebrated FBI agents of all time. Fitzpatrick was a primary agent in the famed "MIssissippi Burning" case that nabbed the nefarious Sam Bowers. He found the gun that killed Martin Luther King, Jr. and led James Earl Ray's arrest. He ran the ABSCAM investigation down in Miami. And then he came north to take on both Bulger and his own beloved FBI. What a story!

  25. Ever since J. Edgar Hoover was exposed as a paranoic hypocrite of the highest order I've been reluctant to give the FBI much credence. Personal agendas have taken over a lot of common sense in too many arenas in this country, including in the FBI. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is absolutely true.

  26. Wow, Jon, that's amazing.

    Did he give you lots of wonderful documents?

    Did he say the Mississippi Burning movie was realistic? My husband was therw at that time as a civil rights lawyer..he has some thoughts...:-)

  27. Whitey Bulger--a thug. So why should we care? But we do... Sounds like a terrific book.

  28. Hank: Fitz gave me loads of incredible documents, including confidential memos referenced frequently in the text. The MISSISSIPPI BURNING film, while wonderful at capturing that era, has very little basis in truth. Fitz was the agent who turned Kathy Ainsworth which allowed the FBI to catch Thomas Tarrants in the midst of planting a bomb at the Meyer Davidson Synagogue which led directly to the arrest of Sam Bowers himself. We cover this in BETRAYAL, along with the frantic aftermath of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and Fitz's coordination of the ABSCAM investigation. All great stuff! Jon

  29. Hallie: Great comment! I think we should care because of how the FBI became Bulger's willing and able accessory. Think about it. Capone never co-opted the government. Neither did Gotti or any other gangster in history. But the FBI was Whitey's accomplice in all manner of crime, including murder, ever since signing him as a Top Echelon informant around 1976. So can you make the argument that Bulger is actually the most notorious gangster of them all? Just maybe. Jon

  30. Hank, I was like you. When I heard the news, I came straight out of my morning doze and ran to the bathroom to yell at Lawyer Guy. While we're in Oklahoma, there's a famous (for us) case of a murder for hire at a country club in Tulsa. The alleged murderer? Yup, Whitey.

  31. Hank and jon,
    It's James, it's James! Sheesh, ya wanna get on his list?

  32. Thanks, Billy! We'll refer to him in the future as James!

    (Hmm.Wonder if we're on the list already ,anyway?)

  33. Thanks so much, Jon! Come back and visit when the book comes out.

    ANd the winner of Jon's book--and your choice of any one Jungle Red books!--is Dixie50!

    Email me via my website Http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com and send me your address and you choice!

    See you tomorrow--when we're talking about Green. NO, nope money. Not the environment. ANd we're giving away a must-read new book!