A longtime companion of reputed mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger will be buried Tuesday.
Teresa Stanley was the woman who started out, in the mid 1990s, on Bulger’s run as a fugitive, but soon returned home. In her place, Bulger picked up a younger companion, the now-jailed Catherine Greig.
Stanley’s sense of betrayal might have brought Bulger down in the very first year of his life on the lam — if only the FBI had gone to see her.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Stanley and Hillary Clinton could have had an interesting conversation in the late 1990s about the infidelities of their famous husbands. From Stanley’s standpoint, Bulger had been her husband, and she had been his homemaker.
“She felt really foolish that she was apparently the only one who didn’t know,” said The Boston Globe’s Shelley Murphy, a longtime reporter on the Bulger beat who’s now writing his life story.
“And later she asked friends, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ” Murphy said. “But because of who he was and his reputation, nobody was going to be the one to tell Teresa Stanley that ‘Whitey’ was cheating on her.”
“He humiliated me in the eyes of the town,” Stanley would later say.
As beautiful as she was meek, Stanley had both motive and means to extract revenge from the philandering fugitive in 1995. That’s where the FBI failed miserably.
When Stanley first met Bulger, he seemed a fabulous catch. Stanley was a single, 26-year-old mother of four. Bulger turned out to be nothing if not a good provider.
“She sort of knew he was involved in gambling and loan sharking,” Murphy said.
Like the Pentagon at the time, Stanley followed a strict policy: don’t ask, don’t tell. And she learned quickly the subjects she should avoid: who, what, where.
“She did testify that early on she would say, ‘Where are going? What are you doing?’ ” Murphy said. “And he would say, ‘None of your eff-ing business.’ ”
Stanley had been living with Bulger for 30 years when she discovered he’d also been living with Greig for the last 20 years. She found out when Greig came looking for her, confronted her, and brought her to the home that Greig shared with Bulger. Then Bulger showed up.
“He was livid. And he got very physical with Cathy,” Murphy said. Kevin Weeks, a Bulger associate, has said he was strangling Grieg.
Years later, when she was called to testify at a trial, Stanley had to relive the story of her humiliation by Bulger. It never went away.
Question to Stanley: “What kind of things did he lie to you about?”
Answer: “Probably just about everything.”
Murphy says Stanley was 54 years old when Bulger took off.
“She had no income, she had never worked, she had no pension, no savings.”
Initially, Stanley had stayed with Bulger. In late 1994, Bulger received a tip from the FBI that he was going to be indicted. He took off on a cross-country trip with Stanley. While on their way home in early 1995, they heard a radio report that there were warrants for his arrest. Bulger turned the car around, thereby initiating his run as a fugitive. But with the sting of his betrayal still resonating, the usually submissive Stanley opted for home and family instead of loyalty on the lam.
“She no longer felt that she owed him that,” Murphy said.
It wasn’t Shakespeare who observed, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But it has still been a classic operating principle among detectives for some 300 years.
Thomas Baxter, Of Selden, N.Y.
Stanley had been dropped off at a Chili’s restaurant in Hingham with no more than a “see ya” from Bulger, who, she soon found out, then drove north to pick up Greig to take on the road. Stanley was in a fury and she knew something that could bring him tumbling back to earth.
“The alias is huge because it’s one that he had carefully crafted going back to 1979,” Murphy said.
That alias was Thomas Baxter, of Selden, N.Y. Bulger had stolen his identity and gotten a New York driver’s license and registration for a new car.
“That was what he had in his back pocket all along — that he immediately became Tom Baxter when the warrant was issued for his arrest,” Murphy said. So that was huge.”
Huge. If only the FBI had it. But getting it required that the FBI visit Stanley. She was no more than three miles as the crow flies from the Boston office of the FBI. Yet agents did not visit her for 15 months.
“One would think you would be at that door immediately,” Murphy said, “and that’s part of what fuels this public perception that they didn’t really want to catch him.”
Did it ever dawn on John Gamel, the head of the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad, or anybody else in the office, to knock on Stanley’s door in South Boston? Gamel eventually wrote a letter. Stanley met with him in April 1996. And she quickly gave up the information about Thomas Baxter.
“Look, there were lots of mistakes earlier on, we now know that,” Murphy said.
But this “mistake” was outrageous. Here’s what the FBI had lost: In June 1995 in Sheridan, Wyo., a security guard at a VA hospital ran the plates of a Grand Marquis from New York that was in the parking lot. It was two in the morning. Bulger was probably inside, maybe in bed. But the car was registered to Tom Baxter of Selden, N.Y., and that name and car came back clean when it was run through a national crime database.
Then, September 1995, Long Beach, Miss.: A patrolman spots a car with New York plates at a traffic light. When the light turns green, the car doesn’t move. Instead, as Officer Rudy Ladner later told me, the driver is looking in his rearview mirror at the police car. Ladner runs this plate. It too comes back to Thomas Baxter, Selden, N.Y. And he has no criminal record or warrants. The officer doesn’t stop the car, whose driver turns his face away as the police car passes.
“She sort of regretted what she had done,” Murphy said.
So Stanley told Bulger’s lieutenant, Weeks, who was still here in Boston, to tell Bulger she had given up his alias. It was July 1996 when Bulger got the word: The FBI knows about Thomas Baxter. He got 15 more years before his arrest.
“I would never have known him,” Stanley said when she saw Bulger’s mugshot last summer. She was 70 years old and working as a waitress. But she was free from his shadow.