JAMES ‘WHITEY’ Bulger’s name lives on in infamy thanks to a lifetime spent playing both sides against each other as both an FBI informant and Boston crime lord.
That may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Irish-American gangster’s exploits, however, if the claims of one former IRA member are to be believed.
New York-born John Crawley left the US marines to link up with the IRA in 1979.
According a BBC documentary Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History, Crawley was tasked with setting up a new arms network in America.
“I wasn’t given any advice on anything, you know, just get weapons,” Crawley says.
“I was given a five dollar note that’s cut in an erratic way, and I was to meet somebody in Boston who had the other half of this note.”
Crawley didn’t know it at the time but that torn five-dollar note would lead to a meeting with IRA arms supplier Patrick Nee, who also happened to be a leading member of the south Boston mob and a known associate of ‘Whitey ‘Bulger.
Even then, Bulger’s reputation preceded him.
“The joke around here was when ‘Whitey’ walked into a bar all the beer went flat,” Crawley recalls.
“He had that type of effect on things. There was no joy in the man.”
In the autumn of 1984, seven tonnes of weapons were delivered to the north east region of Boston, bound for Ireland on a fishing boat commandeered by the south Boston mob which cost around $400,000 and was renamed Valhalla ahead of the long journey.
Bulger allegedly watched on from a nearby parked car as the boat was loaded, utilising a police scanner to ensure there was no outside interference.
Crawley was on board the boat as it departed for Ireland in the middle of the night.
He tells the BBC: “I remember when we left the harbour and just hit the swell of the Atlantic, and I remember thinking, ‘This will be interesting’.”
What Bulger and the IRA didn’t realise though was that Garda were lying in wait, listening in on radio transmissions.
Someone had informed the Irish police about the plans and after the weapons were transferred to the Irish trawler, the Marita Ann, the Navy swooped in.
The seizure of the weapons and ammunition found on the Marita Ann made national headlines when the trawler was intercepted off the Co Kerry coast on September 29 1984.
Once one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals, Bulger spent 16 years on the run before he was caught in 2011.
Two years later he was convicted of 11 murders.
He was found dead in a US federal prison in West Virginia last year in a crime police are investigating as a homicide.
Bulger’s family has launched a $200m lawsuit against the US Department of Justice as part of a wrongful death claim.
The third episode of Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History is to be broadcast this Tuesday, September 23, at 9pm on BBC One NI and BBC Four.