Photo by Jack Brown
T.J. English in Tompkins Square Park.
BY JACK BROWN | “Whitey’s Payback and Other True Stories: Gangsterism, Murder, Corruption and Revenge” (Mysterious:Press.com) is crime journalist T.J English’s sixth book. It includes a collection of stories published in Playboy, Newsweek and the Village Voice and on Daily Beast Blog. It continues English’s exploration of the pursuit of the American Dream by devious and dangerous minds — the underbelly of capitalism — and the efforts of law enforcement to thwart them.
English hails from Tacoma, Washington. He has lived in either the East or West Village since 1981. There have been high-risk research road trips to such incubators of organized crime as Juarez, Mexico; Hong Kong; and Kingston, Jamaica.
Neither a criminal breaking the law nor an undercover conning a con, nonjudgmental — English inspires confidence and trust. People talk. He knows how to walk light and listen hard. He walks a line like a high wire strung between two skyscrapers with his feet on the ground.
“Up on the high wire. One side’s ice, the other’s fire.” — Leon Russell
“Whitey’s Payback” opens and closes with stories of two “traditional, post-Prohibition” Irish-American gangsters. Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan was a New York gangster and top hit man who worked for Murder Incorporated. He is currently serving a life sentence in Sullivan County in Upstate New York.
Sullivan is said to have between 20 and 30 “bodies.” “Mad Dog” reached out to English because, as he told him, “You’re one of the few who got it right” and “You treated me almost like a historical figure” (in English’s bestselling “Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster”).
English’s face time in prison with Sullivan inside “the a–hole of the universe” was so cordial that English had a flash of insight: “Nice guys make the best killers.”
James “Whitey” Bulger reigned at the top of the Boston underworld from 1975 to 1995. His effect on Boston is compared to that of Al Capone on Chicago — except that he was so well connected (his brother Billy Bulger was president of the Massachusetts state Senate) and so adept at manipulation, he became “Mr. Untouchable.”
Bulger was on the lam from 1995 to 2011. The 83-year-old and his longtime paramour, Catherine Greig, were living the quiet life two blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, California, when Greig was identified. Inside the wall of their apartment was $822,198 in cash and 30 guns, including automatic weapons and a machine gun. Bulger is charged with 19 counts of murder, including the strangulation by hand and dismemberment of two women.
The meat of this Irish sandwich covers the new breed of organized crime, including Jamaican posses, Asian triad gangs and Latin American cartels. English takes us inside the world of the Witness Protection Program, warts and all. We gain insight into the questionable use of confidential informants in Mansfield, Ohio, and Tulia, Texas.
In “Bullet in the Ass,” we see the mafia on the run. Omerta breakdown. A flock of stool pigeons.
“I’m not a gratuitous thrill seeker,” English said. “I am not attracted to the dark side. I am attracted to the light and what that light reveals about the true nature of the social universe.”
He was recently in Los Angeles with an A-list actor to pitch a miniseries. Then it was back to Boston for the start of the Bulger trial last month. People who know him think the coldblooded Boston mobster will seek courtroom revenge on former associates who turned on him and wrote books. Poor Boston, so soon after the marathon massacre. Those old bones and nightmares may dance again.