U.S. authorities recently arrested one of their most-wanted fugitives in California–an alleged mobster-murderer from Boston who had been in hiding or on the run for 16 years.
For two businessmen in La Antigua Guatemala, the June 22 arrest of James “Whitey” Bulger, 81, dashed hopes of ever claiming a million-dollar reward (later upped to $2 million) to turn in the white-haired fellow who they are sure frequented their bar 11 years ago.
“Our retirement plan just went out the window,” lamented Billy Burns.
“We should have clocked him–I’m convinced it was him. He looked too much like him,” added Jean-Louis Trombetta.
Co-owners of the Monoloco Restaurant in Antigua, Burns and Trombetta were alerted to Bulger’s potential presence in Guatemala by a newspaper article sometime in 2000.
“People allegedly saw him in the Lake Atitlan area and at Cafe Condesa, that’s when the tip got hot,” Trombetta recalled. “After looking at pictures where the FBI added glasses and a mustache, we realized we had a customer at Monoloco who had the same mustache and glasses. He came to have drinks in the afternoon. That’s where we saw Whitey.”
Knowing of Antigua’s appeal among other top fugitives, including a pedophile who once frequented their first internet cafe, the men did a risk assessment of sorts.
“We conferred whether it would be worth $1 million to bonk someone on the head. In the risk-reward analysis, we concluded the big reward was definitely worth the risk,” Burns said.
“At the risk,” Trombetta continued, “of assaulting an older gentleman, an AARP member, worth maybe a $500 pension check.”
Next, Burns did his homework on the FBI website. He learned that Bulger liked to read, had an interest in history, used disguises and many aliases, had a violent temper and was thought to carry a knife at all times. “Considered armed and extremely dangerous,” according to the FBI.
Instead of calling the U.S. Embassy as the FBI posting urged, the men decided to take matters into their own hands.
In classic Wile E. Coyote style, the plan was for Burns, working as bartender, to randomly shout Bulger’s aliases while Trombetta stood by nonchalantly–armed with a potentially lethal, Teflon-coated frying pan.
“If he had the slightest reaction, I was going to whack him in the head with the frying pan,” Trombetta said.
“The choice of weapon came from the fact that a frying pan in a restaurant would be as inconspicuous as a bat at a Red Sox game, but put in the hands of a bounty hunter, it could prove a very effective weapon,” he elaborated. “The element of surprise was our only hope when dealing with a professional hit man like Whitey, so the right choice of weapon was essential.”
So Burns worked the bar, pouring drinks, making small talk with customers and occasionally shouting aliases: Thomas Baxter … Mark Shapeton … Jimmy Bulger … Tom Harris … Tom Marshall … Ernest Beaudreau … Harold Evers … Whitey … .
Riveted on the suspect, Trombetta was ready to strike–but nothing happened. No reaction. Not the slightest flinch.
“We just pretended it never happened and carried on,” Burns said.
With Bulger’s arrest, Burns sighed: “We have to re-evaluate our business plan.”
“But we’ll be keeping an eye on the most-wanted list,” Trombetta said. “Antigua is such a magnet.”