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The SOBs that have haunted me
By Zack Budryk
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
Like a lot of people from Boston, my grandmother has a story about notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger. Bulger, her story goes, was doing some shopping in a Somerville liquor store where her brother-in-law William worked. Bulger and William chatted for a bit, and the topic eventually turned to the pending indictment against Bulger. "They say you killed 27 guys," said William. "That's bullshit," Bulger responded. "I ain't killed any more than 18 guys."
Throughout my life, there have been three different people, one at a time, who I've considered the most evil, frightening, depraved SOB imaginable. From around the ages of five to 12, it was Adolf Hitler; from 12 to 16, it was Osama bin Laden; since then, it's been Whitey Bulger. There have been minor auxiliaries (Slobadan Milosevic, the Beltway Sniper, a couple of really mean girls from high school), but those guys were always the big three.
Obviously Hitler's position in the queue didn't derive from any relevance he had to my life. He's just a universal, enduring symbol of out-of-control evil (that's why everyone on the other side of the political spectrum from you is just like him, doncha know) who died nearly fifty years before I was born. Bin Laden and Bulger, on the other hand, are spiritual cousins in this for two reasons: One, they did what they did within my lifetime, and two, more disturbingly, both vanished without a trace. Both of their respective threats have been neutralized now. Bin Laden was of course killed in a military raid in 2011, and later that summer, Bulger was captured in Santa Monica by the FBI after 15 years in the wind. Last year, after a trial such as only Boston could produce, he was sentenced to two life terms in prison plus five years.
But for a while, both of them had a tight grip on my imagination and my fears simply by virtue of being unseen. When we read about the crimes of, say, a serial killer, it's usually after he's been found out and captured. But for years, there was no such closure when it came to these two men. They just killed a lot of people and then they disappeared, and wherever they'd gone, they were very likely planning to do it again. I knew they were real people and not melodrama villains, but it's more than a little unsettling when you realize the two guys you fear most have lives that parallel Voldemort's.
As irrational on their face as my fears of Bulger were, they reflected my changing outlook as well. Osama bin Laden was richer than God, had the loyalty of a bunch of heavily-armed zealots, and pulled off a plan that killed thousands of people and sent shock waves around the world. It was like nothing I'd ever seen, but it was hard to put in perspective on a personal level. Bulger, on the other hand, probably had a body count in the tens, and committed his crimes not out of any ideological sincerity but because it was profitable (and the awkward fact that the FBI had his back). That, combined with the fact that he was a native son of a city I visited every summer and considered a second home, just made Bulger seem like a more realistic monster in the closet. And like in the case of bin Laden, being a civilian wouldn't protect you from him. Just ask Oklahoma millionaire Roger Wheeler, who was gunned down in a parking lot, or Deborah Hussey, a 26-year-old woman who Bulger and his right hand Steve Flemmi violently strangled. Even in hiding, he seemed scarier. As my grandmother said, he was an old white guy who was losing his hair; how hard would it be for him to blend in?
It's kind of an odd feeling, knowing the people you've spent years viewing as evil incarnate aren't a threat anymore. But what's odder still is getting used to the idea of them having been found in the first place. One of the main reasons bin Laden and Bulger scared me was because I couldn't know where they were or what they were doing; a ruthless killer is scary, but a ruthless killer that you know is hiding somewhere in a dark room is terrifying.
#Real #Hitler #OsamaBinLaden #WhiteyBulger #Boston #BiggestFears #RuthlessKillers #BadGuys #LifeOfCrime #SoScary