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I Lived Next Door to a Mob Boss for Years and Didn’t Know It

For four years, this hotel manager knew legendary mob boss Whitey Bulger only as the friendly old man who lived next door. Then the FBI came knocking.

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FBI AgentPhoto: Shutterstock

The FBI Knocks On My Door

I managed a hotel in Santa Monica for about six years in the 2000s, as well as the apartment building where I lived, which was across the street. It was a super-easy commute, which is particularly great when you live in Los Angeles.

You meet a lot of interesting people when you manage a building. For example, there was a retired couple living in the unit next to mine—the Gaskos. The first time I met the husband, in 2007, I was playing guitar in my apartment.

There was a knock on the door, and I opened it to find a man in his 70s holding a black case. He told me that he heard me playing music, and he liked it. He thought I could use a black stetson cowboy hat.

I thanked him for the really nice gesture, and he said his name was Charlie.

Fast-forward four years, and I’m taking a nap on my couch. I’d been working for two weeks straight, on call every night. But this particular Wednesday, I was taking off early to see a band in Hollywood. I was meeting a friend. It had been all planned out.

At 2 p.m., the phone wakes me, and it’s my co-worker calling from the office—with the FBI. Before I know it, I’m speaking with an agent, and he says, “I need to talk to you about a tenant in your apartment building.”

I’m on my couch, so I ask, “Can we do this tomorrow?”

He says no. “Where are you? Come here now.”

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FBI agent photography Whitey BulgerPhoto: Shutterstock

Charlie Gasko Is Whitey Bulger

I get to my office, where I’m greeted by a large man wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans. I take a seat. He closes the door and throws a manila folder onto the desk. He opens it and points to a sheet of paper. Across the top is “WANTED” and underneath is a photo of a man and a woman, with the names James J. “Whitey” Bulger and Catherine Greig.

The officer asks if these people live in the apartment next to mine. At first glance, I know the woman is my neighbour, Carol Gasko. “Yes, I know these guys,” I say. “These are my neighbours.”

And while I’ve never heard the name Catherine Greig, the name Whitey Bulger is familiar. I’d heard it many times when I was at Boston University. But I didn’t really know anything about him. He was a Jimmy Hoffa–type guy to me, like, “Oh, this guy’s missing. He’s never gonna be found.”

So I’m standing there, and the FBI agent says, “What do you think?”

I say, “What does my face tell you?”

He says, “I need percentages.”

I say, “Ninety-nine point five, 100 per cent.”

So he gets on his cellphone, and while this is happening, it feels like I’m in a movie in which there’s an explosion and then the sound just dis­appears and you’re trying to process what just occurred.

My neighbour is an old man who bought me a bike light because he was worried about me riding at night without one. And now I’m discovering he’s a notorious fugitive.

Another agent, this one in a Hawaiian shirt, appears. The first agent says, “We need the spare keys to his apartment. I don’t want to have to bust the door down.”

“Okay, here are the keys,” I reply.

The agent in the Hawaiian shirt leaves, then the other agent says, “Look, Whitey Bulger is pretty high on the most-wanted list. We could use your help apprehending him.”

My first response is, “I just gave you the keys to his apartment and told you he lives there. So I’m not really sure what else I can do.”

He says, “Well, we can’t just go to his apartment. We have to make sure he’s home. If it’s just her, it doesn’t really work for us. So why don’t you go knock on the door and see if he’s there?”

In the previous months, Carol had been telling people in the building that Charlie has dementia and heart problems. They’d put notes on their door during the day saying not to knock. I knew from talking to Charlie over the years that he slept during the day.

I explain this to the agent, and without skipping a beat, he says, “Well, what are you doing tonight?”

“I’m going to a concert,” I answer.

He says, “You might want to cancel those plans.”

So I call my buddy: “Look, I don’t think I’m going to make the show tonight, and I can’t tell you why.”

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FBI agents in parking garagePhoto: David Zentz/AP Photo/CP Images

The Plan Is Hatched

I begin to realize that I’m going to be with these guys until they have Charlie in cuffs. Then things really kick in. One agent places himself at a window across the street that has a good view of the Gaskos’ balcony. The other agent wants to go over to my apartment. I tell him to take an alley so he doesn’t walk in front of the apartment building in clear view. I enter through the front and let him in from the back.

The FBI agent says, “They just closed their blinds. Did you tip ’em off?”

“I’ve been with you the whole time,” I reply. “No, of course not.”

At my place, the agent starts throwing ideas around about how to get this guy out of his apartment. My living room happens to share a wall with Charlie’s bedroom, so I say, “Uh, you know, this guy can hear everything we’re saying. Like, he’s repeated conversations I’ve had at night with my friends, asking me why we don’t curse or fight as much as he and his friends did in their younger days.”

We go into my bedroom and he comes up with an idea, one that involves breaking into the Gaskos’ storage locker in the garage.

The FBI agent goes to his car; he has some bolt cutters in there.

I’m pumped up. I’m involved in something. I’m having fun, almost, at this point. The adrenalin is helping me forget about my relationship with my neighbours. I mean, this is the same man who, every year, bought me a Christmas present.

Once the lock is broken, we go back to my apartment, and the agent’s telling me, “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. I’ll go down, we’ll get everything set, I’ll call you and then you knock on his door and bring him down.”

And I say, “No. I’m going to go across to my office to call him, and I’m going to tell him to meet me there. Then you guys take care of your business.”

I’m in my office and I’m thinking about this guy, my neighbour, who looked after an old woman on the first floor—who, when I didn’t write a thank-you note for a present one year, gave me a box of stationery. I’m thinking, What did this guy actually do?

So I head to Wikipedia’s Whitey Bulger page and read about murders and extortion and gambling. I get to the bottom and see that in one of his last public sightings with a Mafia buddy, he’s quoted as saying, “When I go down, I’m going out with guns blazing.”

I start to rethink my involvement in the day’s events.

Conveniently, my phone rings, and it’s one of the FBI guys. “Make the call,” he says.

I start to waver: “Look, man, I just read something about this guy…and I don’t know about this.”

He says, “No, no, no—he’ll never know. He’ll never know.” Which is obviously not true. But I am this close to getting to my concert, so I say, “All right, I’ll make the call.”

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Wire fence of prison facilityPhoto: Shutterstock

The Capture of Whitey Bulger

I phone the Gaskos and there’s no answer. I’m relieved. I call the agent back and I say, “Hey, man, sorry. They didn’t answer.”

He says, “Are you sure you don’t want to knock on the door?”

And I’m like, “What if he comes to the door with a gun?”

He says, “Just be like, ‘Hey, man, what’s going on?’”

I’m thinking to myself, He will shoot me before I finish that sentence.

I tell him I’m not going to do that. But while we’re talking, Carol calls back. I explain to her that the storage unit’s been broken into. Either I can call the police or Charlie can meet me there and we’ll look at it.

She discusses this with him and says, “He’ll be down in five minutes.”

“All right, great.” I hang up the phone and call the FBI. “He’s on his way. Do your thing.”

Then I walk outside, and Carol is on her balcony directly across the street. She sees me, then quickly looks down to the garage, then back at me. I can’t tell if she knows, but she seems worried.

She walks back in, then I get a call from the FBI. “We got him,” they say. “Go to your concert.”

So I go back to my apartment, change clothes and head downstairs. As soon as I open the door to the garage, it’s like a slow-motion shot—two SUVs and a half-dozen FBI agents. My neighbour, Charlie Gasko, is in cuffs, surrounded by agents, laughing and telling stories. He almost looks relieved.

Carol is standing a few metres away, also in cuffs. She looks at me and says, “Hi, Josh,” and I can’t speak. I just meekly wave, walk to my car and get on the highway. I call my brother and say, “You’ll never guess what happened to me today.”

“What?”

“I helped the FBI arrest the most wanted man in the country.”

A couple months later, my family is worried about me, and my friends are taking bets on how much longer I have to live. One day, I get a letter in the mail from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts. I open it and see familiar cursive writing and the same “shoot the breeze” tone I had come to associate with Charlie Gasko. But in this letter, he’s reintroducing himself as Jim Bulger.

I write him back and say, “Look, you’re aware I had something to do with the day of the arrest, and my family’s a little worried. So, you know, just a little note of ‘everything’s good’ would be nice.”

He writes back and says, “They had me with or without your help. No worries.”

And that definitely made my mom feel better.

New neighbours eventually moved in, and they seemed like nice people. But what do I know?

After his capture in 2011, Whitey Bulger was tried in Boston and convicted on charges related to 11 murders and other crimes. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms and is currently in federal prison in Florida.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada