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As trial opens, Bulger's adopted neighborhood moves on

Damian Dovarganes / AP file

Pedestrians enjoy Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif. Alleged Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger spent nearly all of his 16 years as a fugitive in this quiet seaside city, passing himself off as just another elderly retiree, albeit one who kept a .357 Magnum and more than 100 rounds of ammunition in his modest apartment.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The orphaned cat that led to their demise is no longer around. The apartment they lived in for more than a dozen years has been revamped with fresh paint and new carpets.

The neighbors who most interacted with them in the seaside Los Angeles community they selected as their hiding place hardly want to speak of them anymore.

It’s as if South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and his companion-on-the-lam Catherine Greig never lived in this picturesque Santa Monica neighborhood, just two blocks from the ocean and the popular Three Street Promenade mall.

For 16 years, Bulger was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives until he was captured at the Princess Eugenia Apartments where he resided in 2011. Bulger, now 83, is alleged to have once headed the Irish Winter Hill Gang in Boston and a former FBI informant. His trial began this week on racketeering and murder charges for crimes allegedly committed from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Bulger fled Boston in 1994 after being tipped off by a childhood friend who was an FBI agent that he was about to be indicted. When he was arrested, police found evidence of 15 different aliases and more than $800,000 in cash stashed in a wall with an arsenal of about 30 weapons.

Damian Dovarganes/AP file

The apartment where fugitive crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger lived in Santa Monica, Calif.

But to the residents of the Princess Eugenia, he was “Charlie Gasko,” the somewhat cranky, quiet retiree who always donned some kind of hat and dark glasses and lived a simple life with his wife, “Carol.”

The “Gaskos” didn’t own a car so they walked to Whole Foods for groceries or nearby Palisades Park for exercise or the Promenade to shop or have dinner. Twice a day, “Carol Gasko” fed a stray cat named Tiger whose owner had died.

“I could never understand what a lovely woman like her was doing with a grumpy old man like him until I heard they had $800,000 in the wall,” Barbara Gluck said with a laugh. Gluck still lives on the third floor, down the hall from Bulger’s apartment.

“She was very kind and she was very pretty," Gluck said. "It was really shocking to hear all of the things he [allegedly] did. For 16 years, he was allowed this reprieve. He lived in this perfect neighborhood with this lovely woman two blocks from the beach.”

The Princess Eugenia complex sits in an apartment community of rent-controlled buildings on palm-lined streets, which draw a lot of students and young adults as well as retirees. Directly across the street is the luxury boutique Palihouse Hotel, where the property managers for the Princess Eugenia keep an office and Greig used to pay the rent in cash early every month.

John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig walk together in a photo from 1998.

As one of the managers and their next-door neighbor, Joshua Bond probably got to know Bulger better than any of the other residents. In a brief interview with NBC News, he described the “Gaskos” as a “friendly and a very nice retired couple.”

But after testifying before the grand jury and telling the story of his friendship with Bulger for the book, “Whitey The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss,” the 30-year-old musician told NBC News that he won’t follow the trial and does not want to discuss the mobster that lived next door anymore. He doesn’t believe he will be called to testify.

Bond is not alone in those sentiments. Other longtime residents of the Princess Eugenia said they don’t think about Bulger and don’t talk about the couple. They never had reason to believe they lived among America’s most wanted criminal. 

“When the FBI showed up here and arrested them, it made no sense,” Gluck said. “I certainly had never seen anything that made me suspicious. There’s a lot of cranky, old guys out there, you know? He wasn’t that unusual."

It was Greig’s relationship with Tiger the cat that ended the ruse. One of the other building managers had noticed how generous Greig was with the stray cat and she’d often chat with her when she went downstairs to feed Tiger in the mornings. That manager saw a CNN segment about the FBI’s most wanted criminals and she recognized the Princess Eugenia tenants.

For reporting them, she collected the $2 million reward.

“Oh, if I had known,” Gluck said. “I would have reported him so fast. I’m so pissed off! I don’t have a television so I don’t watch any TV.”

Soon after Bulger and Greig were behind bars 3,000 miles away, Tiger the cat vanished. The residents of Princess Eugenia say they never saw the tabby again.

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