I was on Cape Cod this past weekend — specifically, the town of Eastham, which is way up by the wrist and fairly desolate in winter. What I didn't know at the time was that Janet Uhlar, one of the juror's from Whitey Bulger's trial, was right around the corner from me the whole time. Along with the collection of handwritten letters she'd received from him between 2014 and his totally suspicious prison death in 2018.
Uhlar started writing Bulger, she said, because she was troubled by the fact that much of the evidence against him came through testimony by former criminal associates who were also killers and had received reduced sentences in exchange for testifying against their former partner in crime.
"When I left the trial, I had more questions," she said.
After Bulger started returning her letters, Uhlar noticed he often dated them with the time he had started writing in his tight cursive style. "He always seemed to be writing at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning, and when I asked him why, he said it was because of the hallucinations," Uhlar said.
Uhlar knew, of course, about Whitey's reputation as a notoriously brutal mobster. And she knew that the FBI had enabled his behavior. Her uncertainty and regret had nothing to do with whether Bulger had actually killed people, either — that's a universally accepted fact at this point.
But it wasn't until Uhlar struck up her pen pal friendship with the famed criminal that she learned about Project MK-Ultra, the twisted, inhumane, and fully government-sanctioned mind-control experiments that the CIA ran between 1953 and 1973. During Bulger's first federal prison term, he agreed to participate in some LSD experiments for MK-Ultra, in exchange for a reduced sentence. While Bulger had engaged in plenty of larceny and armed robbery up to that point in his life, he had never actually murdered anyone until after the CIA used him as a guinea pig.
And apparently, this never came up at Bulger's trial.
The NBC article does quote Anthony Cardinale, a Boston lawyer who's represented other organized crime affiliates, who said, "I would have had [Bulger] come into court like Harvey Weinstein, all disheveled and in a wheelchair." At the same time, Cardinale acknowledges that an insanity plea would have been difficult, since Bulger was clearly clever enough to not only elaborate with the FBI, but also continue to outsmart the authorities for the 16 years he spent on the run.
Maybe it's the Bostonian in me, or the sci-fi fan that's always been captivated by the fucked-up-ed-ness of MK-Ultra. But I found this relationship between Uhlar and Bulger to be utterly fascinating, and you might, too. It certainly doesn't justify Bulger's actions. But it does offer a unique perspective on just how complicit the FBI and CIA may have been in those actions.
Image: White Bulger's Alcatraz mugshot (Public Domain)