SM PIER — Although some have described fugitive Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger as a recluse, he apparently did enjoy hanging out at the historic Santa Monica Pier, where one man says he recognized Bulger in 2008 and contacted the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
Keith Messina of Las Vegas was on vacation with his family in the spring of that year when he says he saw Bulger, shirtless and reading a book. He was sitting on a bench near a table where people were playing chess, Messina recalled, and he struck up a conversation with a young man he saw wearing a Boston t-shirt.
“He goes, ‘Hey, where you from in Boston?’” Messina said, adding the two went on to talk about their old neighborhoods.
Authorities say Bulger, who was linked to 19 murders, was head of South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang when he disappeared 16 years ago as he was about to be indicted. He became No. 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted List after Osama Bin Laden’s death.
He was arrested no more than a mile from the Santa Monica Pier on Wednesday, at a modest, two-bedroom apartment where he had lived for 15 years under the name Charles Gasko.
Messina said Thursday he recognized him immediately because he’d just seen Bulger featured on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
Steve Katz, the show’s co-executive producer, confirmed that the show did receive a tip in 2008 that Bulger was in Santa Monica. Katz, who didn’t say who provided the tip, added that it was turned over to authorities. The FBI couldn’t immediately confirm Thursday if the agency had received it.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica resident Ron Day said he often saw Bulger at the pier, although he didn’t know who he was until photos appeared on the news after his arrest.
“He came down to the pier and talked to the fishermen, asked them how their catch was, that kind of stuff,” Day said.
A $2 million reward had been offered for Bulger’s arrest, and although Messina said he wouldn’t mind receiving some of it he doesn’t expect to.
“It would be nice. But you know what? They caught him. That’s what’s important,” he said.