Whitey Bulger movie hits close to Clearwater

Posted at 7:15 PM, Sep 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 19:15:02-04

In the new movie Black Mass, which opens Friday, Johnny Depp plays James Whitey Bulger, the notorious gangster from South Boston. 

The real Bulger is serving a double life sentence in a Florida prison after being convicted of participating in 11 murders.  He was also working with disgraced and corrupt FBI Agent John Connolly, who's also serving a second-degree murder sentence in Florida. 

Bulger may have ruled the streets of Boston, but he also had ties in Clearwater. 

"He was just a nice person I thought. I couldn't believe he was a gangster!"  88-year-old Pat Winston was a real estate agent when she was approached by Bulger in 1993. 

He wanted to buy a condo in her Clearwater complex, Bayside Gardens. She was struck by his handsome looks and charm. "He was quite a character he kidded back and forth,"  Winston said.

She tried helping him. But when he saw unit 216 for sale by owner, he bought it.  Pat said he felt bad so he bought her some champagne for her troubles. 

"He's the only man I know who ever bought me Dom Perneon or how do you pronounce it?"  Bulger was known for buying Dom Perignon for people.  "I thought holy cow! These things don't happen to me," Winston said.

People now living here still talk about him.

John Hinko just bought the place.  At first he didn't know it ever belonged to Bulger. 

"We thought it was kind of neat actually it added some history to the place," Hinko said.  He said he was a little nervous while tearing down walls and ripping up floors.  He thought maybe there's something still here.  "Well, fortunately no body parts but certainly unfortunately, no money," he said.

Shelley Murphy, a reporter with the Boston Globe, has been writing about Bulger for several years.  She even co-wrote a book about him.  "So he had a contingency plan. Plan A was I'm gonna retire in Florida. Plan B was I'm stashing some fake ID's down there." 

Part of his back-up plan was at what used to be the First National Bank of Clearwater. 

Bulger had a safe deposit box there. When he found out he may have to go on the run, he took out his cash and a fake ID.  "And suddenly he becomes Thomas Baxter. They hit the road and he disappears for more than 16 years." said Murphy.

After later learning his true colors, Pat Winston couldn't believe it. "I thought my lord! He killed people?! Ya know for this old girl that was quite a shock."

Bulger has a pending murder charge in Miami for his alleged role in John Callahan's murder in 1982. 

We asked prosecutors in Miami if they're pursuing the charge and if they'll seek the death penalty. They told us they're waiting to see how his appeals case in Boston goes first.

It's a movie many in Clearwater are anxious to see.  But it's also important to remember that this was real life with real victims. As victims families will tell you James Whitey Bulger was no Saint.