With the release of Black Mass starring Johnny Depp out on DVD on the 21st of March, we had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with real life Winter Hill Gang mobster Mark Silverman to talk about the accuracy of the film and discuss Whitey Bulger.
Mark, whose picture does not appear for obvious reasons, not only had ties with the Winter Hill Gang, the gang which Whitey Bulger was the Don of but also the New England Mafia in the South Boston area at the time Black Mass was set. Mark gave us some fascinating insights into Bulger, the FBI and the Irish mob scene at the time.
Whitey Bulger branded Black Mass as Pure Fiction, What’s your take on the film? Is he right?
I think it’s more fact than fiction, but I don’t think there is any proof that Whitey Bulger was an informant. A regular typical informant file for 25 years worth of service is about 800,000 pages. Whitey’s file for 25 years supposedly was only 700 pages. So what could he have been giving them? Nothing! I think that the film makes the government look good. The film portrays that rogue FBI theory very well.
Is there anything of importance that should have been in the film but wasn’t?
I do, I think there should have been some other characters. They really didn’t show Whitey’s rise to power and how he got there. They more or less just put him there and had him as the most fearsome, most crazy gangster out there when it really wasn’t like that. I don’t think he was the bold character that they portrayed him to be.
If you put 15 to 25 minutes of Bulger’s rise to power in there, showing that he wasn’t the man when he came back to South Boston from Prison. A lot of people would say he was just a two-bit hustler. Whitey Bulger was nothing for a while until a guy named Howie Winter let him into the Winter Hill Gang. Prior to that, the other gangs were chasing him out of South Boston which is why he went to the Winter Hill Gang to ask for protection. That should have been in the movie. That’s what makes Whitey Bulger, he doesn’t shoot his way to the top by any means. He comes along during an Irish Gang war, towards the end when over 60 members were killed, that’s a pretty good time to show your face around town when most of the guys had been wiped out. You don’t have to fight for anything. A guy named Patrick Nee was actually in a gang called the Mullens and they were an Irish Gang in South Boston, and Bulger was with a gang called the
That’s what makes Whitey Bulger, he doesn’t shoot his way to the top by any means. He comes along during an Irish Gang war, towards the end when over 60 members were killed, that’s a pretty good time to show your face around town when most of the guys had been wiped out. You don’t have to fight for anything. A guy named Patrick Nee was actually in a gang called the Mullens and they were an Irish Gang in South Boston, and Bulger was with a gang called the Killeens and they were taking shots at each other in broad daylight. Whitey was running scared, that started his rise to power. He went right to the top of the Winter Hill gang and had a sit down between Patrick Nee, Howie Winter.
Now a sit down means that a gripe is brought to the table, the person who hears the sit down you have to abide by their decision. For some reason when Bulger and Nee went to the sit down with Winter at Chandlers Restaurant… I think Winter was charmed by Whitey. He said he conducted himself gentlemanly, he seemed very intelligent, he seemed pretty well spoken and rather than get rid of him his decision was let’s bring him with us. Let’s let him into the gang and that’s how it starts to happen. After that the gang suddenly goes to jail, all of them from Somerville apart from Bulger and his name has actually been removed from the indictment. It was erased from the indictment in 1979 when the entire Winter Hill Gang was charged and they all went away apart from Whitey and Stevie Flemmi. That’s very strange. That was the first time we had heard of unindicted co-conspirators (laughs). So the 6 million dollars you were making a year bribing jockeys at the race track and using brutal tactics what! means you are an unindicted co-conspirator? That’s when we had started to realise we had created a monster.
It touched on losing his son but not as much as you would have thought. How did that affect him?
Well, I can tell you one thing, Their headquarters used to be the Marshall Street Motors on Winter Hill in Somerville. That’s where Winter Hill is. When he lost his son he was devastated because he went down to the garage to see some of the guys and the gang and he had tears in his eyes. He was extremely affected by the loss of his child. I think that changed him. I think that hardened him; he saw the world for what it was, a world that could take an innocent life like that. I really think it made him a little crazier. In the 50’s, early 60’s he did time in Alcatraz, The toughest US penitentiary of all. I think that can harden a man real quick. It can turn a boy into a man very quickly. He saw the way that the inmates handled themselves and saw that how you survive in there is similar to how you survive on the street and that’s by being brutal. I know people who come from the slums, people who come from nothing and I think that that makes them harder than someone who has everything, somebody that gets spoon-fed.
What do you think of Depp’s portrayal of Bulger?
It was phenomenal, that was the best part of the movie. I think he had Jimmy Bulger’s walk down to a tee, the eyes… He did pretty good with the Boston Accent. I really think both him and Joel Edgerton were wonderful. Edgerton played FBI agent Connolly, I thought the movie focused too much on the FBI in my opinion and not enough on Jimmy Bulger.
So it was the people around him that created who he was because he was allowed to get away with whatever he wanted?
The people on that indictment were the who’s who of the Irish Mafia, the killers, the sickos, the people who made Whitey Bulger look like a child OK. They got sent off to prison, so while the cats away the mouse will play. If I’m on the street and I don’t have to worry about 6 or 7 heavy hitting Irish guys I’m going to do pretty well with the rackets correct? That’s why the FBI made the move. I don’t think it was Whitey but the FBI, that’s the move that they knew they could make this whole thing possible. They put Whitey in power to become the Irish Don. People have this version where he goes around shooting everyone, that’s not it. He never killed anybody I ever knew the name of. He never killed anybody of note. It just frustrates me when people get things wrong.
Edgerton played Connolly in the FBI. Where you guys aware of his relationship with Whitey?
We knew that he had some friends but nobody knew….In other words, people just thought he was getting information nobody really put it together that wow he was giving information as well. That’s what we were faced with. Being in the Winter Hill Gang myself I was around legends… I was actually under Whitey’s arch enemy who was much crazier, much more of a killer than Whitey Bulger was, and when Whitey did talk to the FBI he always mentioned the name Joel McDonald and that was my boss. That just goes to show the point to this not everyone feared Whitey (laughs). If you came across two people who had murdered before and put them up against one another, one is going to walk away and one isn’t. That’s how I look at Whitey, If you want to go up against the Italian Mafia without the FBI you’ll get slaughtered. If you want to make all these moves and get rid of the Winter Hill Gang, without the FBI, you’ll get slaughtered. That’s what the FBI were doing for him, they were making the moves behind the scenes so he didn’t run into any problems.
So he was actually a really intelligent man to get the FBI to get all this done for him?
Exactly oh and very charming believe me. He was a very charming guy. He gave every member of his crew a claddagh ring too. All the members had to have a claddagh ring; he went to all the South Boston Irish parades. St Patrick’s Day is his favourite day of the year.
One more thing I want to say to you too. If my Brother was the most powerful politician in the state of Massachusetts and I had the FBI making moves for me getting rid of my enemies how well do you think I’m going to do? Probably just as well as Whitey correct? It takes help in this business. Nobody gets far in this business without help, but that help doesn’t come for free.
You had ties with both the New England Mafia and the Winter Hill Gang! Wasn’t that a dangerous thing to do?
It was extremely dangerous, very dangerous. If people would have ever found out my identity I would have been a dead man. Towards the end of my book they did find out but during that time it was extremely dangerous. I was working both sides, for the Irish and I can tell you I wouldn’t want to do it again.
Mark Silverman has written two books about the Mafia – Marked Card and Rogue Mobster.
Black Mass is out on Blu-ray and DVD March 21st