Among the reasons Santa Monica is famous worldwide may be due to the many celebrities who live here. Or, at least who get arrested here.
Back in the 1920s, our fair city was at the center of the mysterious disappearance of famed radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (AKA “Sister Aimee”). On May 18, 1926, McPherson went to Ocean Park to swim in the ocean. (I wonder if the bathrooms were open then because ours won’t until late July!)
After frolicking in the water, suddenly McPherson disappeared. It was thought she had drowned. Her mother preached in the sermon that day that “Sister is with Jesus.” Actually “Sister” had snuck away with “Mister,” her boyfriend, Kenneth Ormiston.
Suspiciously, Aimee surfaced two months later across the border in Mexico. She claimed that she had been kidnapped, drugged, tortured, and held for ransom in a desert shack and yet she looked remarkably rested. (Then again, maybe being kidnapped just agrees with some people?)
Santa Monica was the favorite haunt of Fatty Arbuckle, Hollywood’s first movie star to pull in $1 million a year. Arbuckle’s fame plummeted, however, after standing trial three times and finally being found not guilty in the homicide of a 26-year-old aspiring actress who died at a party he arranged. When Fatty passed away on June 29, 1933, his ashes were scattered in Santa Monica Bay.
One of my favorite actors ever, Oscar- and Emmy-winner William Holden (“Sunset Boulevard,” “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “The Wild Bunch”) also had his ashes scattered in Santa Monica Bay. (I’m surprised the city doesn’t charge for permits.) Holden was living on Ocean Avenue at the time of his accidental death on Nov. 12, 1981. He was only 63.
Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame), also spent his last years here. He lived at the old Georgian Hotel on Ocean Avenue which, during prohibition, was home to one of Los Angeles’ first speakeasies. As a teenager, I remember seeing Laurel sitting serenely on the large Georgian porch with a blanket across his lap. He died in 1965 at the age of 74. He wrote his own epitaph, “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.”
I mention all of this because just eight days ago Santa Monica was once again thrust into the headlines with the arrest here of one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted, James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, 81. The former Boston mob boss is wanted on 19 counts of murder, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, conspiracy and narcotics distribution. (To quote from Lenny Bruce’s Father Flotsky routine, “That doesn’t make the boy all bad.”)
Curiously, Bulger also served as an FBI informant in a controversial arrangement that allowed his continued criminal activity. But, in 1994, after being tipped off to a pending indictment, Bulger fled Boston. Apparently, for the last 16 years, Whitey has seemingly been just a typical Santa Monica senior living less than a mile from the beach in a rent-controlled apartment on Third Street near Wilshire Boulevard. (That is, if it’s typical to pay rent in cash, have $800,000 stuffed in the wall and 30 guns in the apartment.)
The oddest aspect of the Bulger arrest is that the woman who alerted the FBI lives in Iceland. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.) She was watching CNN, which ran a public service announcement that featured Bulger and his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60. (What the FBI was doing advertising in Iceland is beyond me.)
The tipster, who wishes to remain anonymous (wouldn’t you?) had visited Santa Monica years ago and remembered seeing Bulger and Greig, which seems a bit strange. (What was so eventful about the pair that she would remember?) That said, she now stands to collect $2.1 million if and when Bulger is convicted.
Ironically, it wasn’t Bulger whom she recognized, (Whitey had aged a great deal from his photos) but rather Greig, who is very cosmetic conscious. Reportedly she made frequent visits to beauty salons and plastic surgeons. But how did the police and FBI find them? GPS in her Botox injections?
Inside the apartment the police also found a dog (breed unidentified) in a building which doesn’t allow pets. My guess is if the dog had tags, they were fake. If so, while Whitey may beat the murder and racketeering raps, I know from personal experience, Animal Control can be relentless. (If the poor pooch is put up for adoption, I wonder if the kennel will have to disclose its previous owner.)
To be serious for a moment, I doubt that ex-mobsters are ruining rent control. (Vacancy de-control pretty much did that years ago.) But all the same, considering a possible $2.1 million reward, I may be a little more curious when passing a senior citizen center.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.