Book Commentary: The Scam of Mobster Memoirs
Crime memoirs about Irish mobster Whitey Bulger have become a corrupt and pathetic cottage industry.
By Jay Atkinson
A large, jowly, humorless man of 49, Kevin Weeks, the one-time go-fer and strong arm for the notorious Boston crime boss, James Whitey Bulger, hurt and maimed people for a living. While his boss ran most of the loan sharking, drug dealing, gambling, prostitution and organized thievery in Boston, Weeks inflicted beatings on those unlucky souls who crossed Bulger, intimidated countless others, and, at the very least, stood by in dutiful silence while Whitey Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi murdered dozens of people, including 24-year-old Debbie Davis, Flemmi’s girlfriend, who was strangled.
Today Kevin Weeks is, inexplicably, a celebrated author; his crime memoir, Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob has been on several national bestsellers’ lists, including that of the “New York Times.”
I will never buy Weeks’ book. Nor will I ever read it. Why should I? Weeks didn’t even write the book — he told his sordid tale to a woman named Phyllis Karas, who wrote it down for him. Weeks’ account of the Bulger gang’s murderous deeds is highly suspect, at best. I mean, would a convicted felon lie? Protected by immunity from prosecution, would he make himself seem more honorable than he really is? If one is to believe the Weeks who has appeared on CBS’ news magazine 60 Minutes and across Boston media, he cleaned up a few crime scenes and dug some unmarked graves, but he didn’t murder anyone. This shameless liar’s version of the Bulger story isn’t worth 25 cents, let alone 25 bucks.
Writing from the inside about Whitey Bulger, who has been a fugitive since 1995 and remains on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, has become a pathetic sort of cottage industry. Kevin Weeks’ forgettable tome is one of four recent books, out from respected publishers, which were written by Bulger’s former criminal associates, joining Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston’s Most Honorable Irish Mobster by John Shea; A Criminal and an Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection by Patrick Nee; and Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob by Edward Mackenzie.
If each one is telling the truth, Jimmy Bulger must’ve been one strange-looking dude, because he had four right-hand men. Despite their conflicting boasts, these aspiring Shakespeares have at least one thing in common: they spent most of their time on earth ruining lives. Weeks, Shea, Nee and McKenzie are ruthless, violent individuals who made their bones preying on the weaker elements of society. Now, as a further insult, they are conning the media and the book-buying public — two demographic groups that should know better.
In their public commentary, these men have expressed very little remorse for the terror they have unleashed upon their fellow citizens. Much of what they’ve said is hogwash about walking the walk and the presence of honor among thieves. Apparently, they are too busy fleecing the public to concern themselves with something as abstract as guilt. The desired result of most organized criminal activity is ill-gotten gain, and the publication and sale of an admitted felon’s memoir is just another facet of that seedy enterprise.
A large segment of the mainstream press has been complicit in this scam. Legitimate journalists who were relentless in their pursuit of the truth about Whitey Bulger and his gang have sat across from these thugs, lobbing softball questions and treating them like celebrities. To even call them writers is an insult to writers everywhere. What is someone like Weeks going to write about next, the French Revolution? Despite the public’s insatiable hunger for gory, Sopranos-type yarns about organized crime, one must keep in mind that there were no do-overs on the streets of Boston. The pages of these books are soaked with the blood of real victims.
A lot of people believe there is an over-arching federal statute preventing convicted felons from profiting from their crimes. But constitutional rights of free speech have weakened or blocked the so-called Son of Sam laws in many states, and there are various ways to divert profits from books, lending a sense of propriety to this whole rotten business. Legal issues aside, it seems to me that moral outrage would prevent right-minded people from buying these books. In various interviews Weeks has said that he is sharing some of the profit from “Brutal” with the families of his victims. I’d have to wager that those broken-hearted people are taking very small comfort from Weeks’ gesture.
One last true crime story: in 1978, the novelist Norman Mailer discovered Jack Henry Abbott, who wrote a number of jailhouse letters that were collected into a book entitled In the Belly of the Beast while serving time for bank robbery and the murder of a fellow inmate. Thanks to Mailer’s vocal advocacy, Abbott won early release from prison in 1981, his book was published to great reviews, and he became the darling of New York’s literati. But just six weeks after being paroled, Abbott stabbed a waiter and aspiring actor named Richard Adan to death outside a Manhattan cafe called Binibon. On February 10, 2002, while serving time for this murder, Abbott hanged himself in his prison cell with a bed sheet and shoelaces. In Jack Henry Abbott’s twisted mind, the sword always remained mightier than the pen.
Jay Atkinson is author of Legends of Winter Hill: Cops, Con Men and Joe McCain, the Last Real Detective.