The Final Installment

average-size-jail-cell_6e821c6fbe267eb4This week former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick goes before a federal judge to be sentenced for the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice, stemming from his testimony at the trial of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. He’s facing a sentence that could, at his age, put him away for life. He has pleaded guilty to crimes, I believe, that he didn’t commit. The expense of defending himself in federal court, and his declining health, led him to throw himself on the mercy of the court. If you’ve read the first two installments of this series, you know the details of the case. In this final installment, I’m posting a letter that I’ve written to the judge in hopes that Fitzpatrick will not be sentenced to time in prison for what has been, clearly, a vendetta on the part of the U.S Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts.


Honorable F. Dennis Saylor IV                                                                                                                   United States District Court Judge                                                                                                            One Courthouse Way                                                                                                                            Boston, MA   02210

Dear Judge Saylor:

I have known Bob Fitzpatrick now for almost a decade. It was the Whitey Bulger scandal that brought us together, me as a journalist/author and Bob as a potential source of information, someone who was there in the Boston FBI office during some of the years that Bulger was on the street committing horrific crimes.

As you know, the Bulger story has been an incredibly complicated, multi-layered saga that involved not only the brutal crimes of a degenerate gangster, but also the official corruption within the criminal justice system that allowed the man to flourish as a criminal for so long.

Very few people who served in the criminal justice system during ‘the Bulger Years’ and were in the orbit of the Bulger story come out of it looking good. During those years, many looked the other way or stuck their head in the sand while Bulger was being protected by SA John Connolly, SA John Morris and many others all the way up to OC Strike Force Chief Jeremiah O’Sullivan.

While attempting to write about this, to make sense of what happened, there were very few people willing to talk openly or frankly about what took place. Bob Fitzpatrick was the exception. He was as shocked and disgusted as anyone about what had happened in Boston and, I think, felt great remorse that any of this had taken place on his watch. He was conflicted and maybe even haunted by those years and had a strong desire to set the record straight, as he knew it. I never heard Bob use the word ‘whistleblower’ or anything like that in the many years we discussed the case. If anything, he felt guilty for not having done more to stop it while he was in Boston, and he now felt a moral obligation to help tell the true story to the extent that he could.

I’ve gotten to know Bob well over the last seven or eight years. We’ve had many late night discussions about the Bulger years and, in some cases, life in general. We both share having had a Catholic upbringing, both schooled by the Jesuits. We share an Irish Catholic ancestry. I’ve traveled to Bob’s home in Rhode Island, slept overnight in his basement, and met his wife Jane and his two daughters. Occasionally, I’ve met them all where I live in New York City. Over time, my relationship with Bob moved beyond that of a ‘source’ to being a true friend.

Bob Fitzpatrick is one of the finest and most moral and ethical people I know. Since he was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, I’ve seen the stress and anguish it has brought into his world, particularly with his family. Personally, I think the vendetta against Fitzpatrick has been a travesty. I wrote about the situation in a book I published – Where the Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him (William Morrow: 2015), how Bob was excoriated on the witness stand at the Bulger trial. The reasons for his treatment by the prosecutors strike deep at the core of Bulger scandal. I won’t go into that here, except to say that the story Bob has been telling about the Bulger years is a rebuke to many in the system, and the system, for some time now, has had a vested interest in attempting to discredit Bob Fitzpatrick.

Bob Fitzpatrick is not a criminal. He is a good man and does not deserve this. I hope that in sentencing this man you will take into account the totality of his life as a long-time public servant with an exemplary record, a father, an ethical human being who had to navigate his way through one of the most treacherous moral quagmires in the recent history of the Boston FBI and criminal justice system in New England. That Bob Fitzpatrick would be the one going off to prison at the end of all this would be a further stain on the system. Please, Judge Saylor, do not let that happen.

Most Respectfully,

T.J. English



Walidah Imarisha


Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption


A few years ago, a friend of mine informed me that a young activist and writer had struck up a relationship with James McElroy, a feared hit man for the Westies. Having devoted a number of years to researching and writing a book about the Westies, I wasangels_with_dirty_faces_new curious.

McElroy was one of the most notorious members of that violent crew. He was not known for his brains; he was the gang’s muscle. Jimmy Mac, as he was known to his friends and criminal associates, probably had administered more beatings and killed more people than he could remember. In the universe of would-be, could-be and wanna-be gangsters, McElroy was OG through and through.

For those who might not know, the Westies were a hyper-violent Irish American gang that existed in Hell’s Kitchen, on the West Side of Manhattan, from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s, until they were put out of business in a big federal racketeering trial. While writing the book The Westies, which was published in 1990, I had attempted to interview Jimmy Mac. I knew it was highly unlikely that he or his lawyer would give their consent. McElroy was incarcerated at the time and in the midst of the Westies trial, which lasted six months from September 1988 and into 1989. Eventually, McElroy, along with eight other defendants, was convicted. He was given a sentence of 75 years to life in prison, with no opportunity of parole.

Much of what I knew about Jimmy Mac came from courtroom testimony (gang member Billy Beattie, in particular, had a lot to say about McElroy on the witness stand, as did an old-time neighborhood loanshark turned witness named Tony Lucich). But most of what I knew came from extensive interviews with Mickey Featherstone, the No. 2 man in the gang, who admired Jimmy Mac but also realized that he was a very dangerous and capable killer.

Most of what I knew about McElroy was second hand, which is why I was so intrigued to hear that a writer had spent time visiting him in prison and was planning to write about it. And there were a couple other things that added to the intrigue – the writer in question was a woman, and she was African American.

From what I knew of McElroy, he was likely an old school misogynist and possibly a racist as well.

Walidah Imarisha is the writer’s name, and the project she was working on is now a book called Angels With Dirty Faces, published last month by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies (the title of the book comes from the iconic Jimmy Cagney movie, first released in 1938).

I met Walidah about a year and a half before the book was officially published. In October 2014, we were both invited to speak at the Howard Zinn Book Fair held in San Francisco and organized by the esteemed activist and author James Tracy.


Meeting of the minds: Walidah Imarisha and T.J. English at the Howard Zinn Book Fair 2014, in San Francisco.

When Walidah first walked into the bookstore where the Zinn event organizers were holding an opening-day reception, I did a double take. She had a prodigious Angela Davis-style Afro and a big warm smile, and she was wearing a dress patterned with Star Wars characters. The idea of this woman sitting down with McElroy of the Westies was causing the synapses in the brain to snap, crackle and pop.

That night, Walidah gave me a copy of her collected poems, published as a book entitled Scars/Stars. I read the poems. They were very good, filled with pain, passion and insight.

A few months later, Walidah sent me a rough copy of her unfinished manuscript for Angels With Dirty Faces. I read about her relationship with McElroy, someone I thought I knew a fair amount about. But there was so much more about the man that Walidah was able to get not only by spending time with Jimmy Mac, but also by placing his life of crime in a larger context of incarceration, the street, and the vicious cycle at the heart of criminal justice in the U.S.A.

Over numerous prison visits, Walidah was able to get things out of this hardened criminal that I likely never would have. Her being a woman and African American no doubt cast their encounters in a particular light. I’m not saying this gave Walidah any particular advantage or disadvantage, but it would have altered McElroy’s need to size up his inquisitor according to the dictates of male competitiveness, or male insecurity, and perhaps let down his guard. Walidah was able to get beneath the hitman’s misogyny and racial tribalism. After all, it was Sundiata Acoli, a former member of The Black Liberation Army, who first introduced Walidah to Jimmy Mac in the prison visiting room. While incarcerated, the veteran black liberationist and the Irish American gangster had become close friends.

Anyone who has read The Westies, or taken an interest in the crazy, self-destructive trajectory of the gang’s legend needs to pick up a copy of Angels With Dirty Faces. Walidah’s portrait of McElroy fills in a lot of blanks and fleshes out aspects of the gang’s psychosis in ways that will deepen your general understanding of crime and punishment in America.


Activist, poet, educator and author.

The sections of Walidah’s book that deal with Jimmy Mac are fascinating, but I would be doing the book a disservice if I left it there. Angels With Dirty Faces actually intertwines three separate narratives that all relate to the subject of incarceration and criminal justice. There is the story of Walidah’s own adopted brother, Kakamia, who is serving an extended sentence on murder charges. And then there’s Walidah’s own highly personal story of her experiences with sexual assault by someone she knew and trusted. In various ways, all three of these narratives reflect aspects of compulsive criminality, personal responsibility, societal accountability, and the concept of redemption.






The Persecution of Robert Fitzpatrick

In Beantown, the indictment and upcoming trial of retired FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick on perjury charges is a vindictive prosecution designed to intimidate potential whistleblowers and rewrite history.

By T.J. English

The case of the notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger is not yet over. It is not over because a federal prosecutor in the District of Massachusetts does not want it to be over.

Earlier this week, Assistant U.S. attorney Fred M. Wyshak Jr. filed papers in the case against Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired FBI agent who, in the summer of 2013, testified on behalf of the defense at the trial of Whitey Bulger. In April 2015, nearly two years after the trial was over, the U.S. Attorney’s office arrested Robert Fitzpatrick and charged him with six counts of perjury and six counts of obstruction of justice based on his testimony.

The charges have little to do with Fitzpatrick’s testimony regarding Bulger’s crimes. Rather, prosecutors are claiming that Fitzpatrick committed perjury by exaggerating certain aspects of his career as an FBI agent.

Fitzpatrick is 76 years old and in failing health. If convicted on federal perjury and obstruction charges, he faces fifteen years in prison – which for him would be a virtual life sentence.

Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick arriving at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston with his wife Jane. To charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Fitzpatrick pleaded not guilty. (Photo: Elise Amendola/AP)

I know Bob Fitzpatrick. I met and interviewed him numerous times for a book I wrote on the Bulger case entitled Where the Bodies Were Buried. He is a good man. He was raised in the church-run Mount Loretto orphanage in Staten Island, New York. He served with distinction in the U.S. Army. He’s been married for thirty years to a woman who works in hospital administration and has two daughters, recent college graduates, of whom any father would be proud.

Back in 1981, Fitzpatrick, a sixteen-year veteran of the FBI, was transferred to Boston and walked into a hornet’s nest. The corruption Fitzpatrick encountered was astounding, not only within his own FBI division but also within the halls of justice. Among those who would later be exposed as playing a crucial role in the Bulger conspiracy was Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, chief of the state’s Organized Crime Strike Force and later U.S. Attorney. O’Sullivan protected Bulger and his criminal partner Steve Flemmi, who, unbeknownst to the public, were serving as informants for the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the same time they were killing people with impunity.

At the Bulger trial, prosecutors Wyshak, Brian Kelly and Zachary Hafer – working for the same U.S. Attorney’s office that once had a duplicitous relationship with Bulger and Flemmi – found themselves in a difficult position. Prosecuting Bulger for his voluminous crimes was the easy part; the evidence was overwhelming. Far more challenging was to control the narrative of the Bulger prosecution so that it did not reveal the historical continuity of corruption that helped to make Bulger possible.

Bob Fitzpatrick was not the only retired lawman that took the stand and detailed corruption that spread beyond the FBI into the U.S. Attorney’s office and all the way to DOJ headquarters in Washington D.C. In many ways, the testimony of retired special agents Joe Crawford, Fred Davis and Matt Cronin was even more devastating in its detailing of what happened to agents who smelled a rat in the Boston criminal justice system and attempted to do anything about it. But Fitzpatrick, it seems, is being punished because he had the “audacity” to write a book about it.

In Betrayal (Forge Books: 2011), a book about Fitzpatrick’s FBI career, written by Fitzpatrick and Jon Land, the ex-agent vented his frustrations over his years as Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the bureau’s Boston division. The internal law enforcement corruption that Fitzpatrick lays out in his book has been corroborated many times over by others who published books and testified at the Bulger trial. But by testifying at the trial on behalf of the defense, Fitzpatrick – in the eyes of the prosecutors – stepped over to the other side and must now be punished.

In motion papers filed in federal court this week in Boston, prosecutors Wyshak and Hafer cite that in his testimony Fitzpatrick mentioned that early in his career, while stationed in Memphis, he was among the first agents on the scene of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Fitzpatrick noted that he, among other agents, discovered the gun that was used by James Earl Ray to kill King. The prosecutors are seeking to submit as evidence a transcript of an interview Fitzpatrick did for a CNN documentary in which he says, “Then I was transferred back to Memphis. Martin Luther King came to Memphis and I was told that King had just been shot. We found the gun and through the fingerprints we identified James Earl Ray, and we arrested him in London.”

The prosecutors note that nowhere in the official record of the King assassination is Robert Fitzpatrick’s name mentioned as having been among those who found the gun.

And that is it: that is a primary count in the government’s perjury case, that Fitzpatrick may have exaggerated this detail from his 22-year-long law enforcement career about something that occurred nearly a half century ago.

Among other counts in the Fitzpatrick indictment is whether or not he accurately stated his managerial mandate when he was first transferred to the Boston FBI office, and whether or not he was present at the physical arrest of Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo, boss of the Boston mafia, as he alleged in his book and on the witness stand.

Clearly, the reason Bob Fitzpatrick has been indicted has nothing to do with these picayune acts for which he has been charged. His prosecution has to do with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston shoring up its legacy and attempting to rewrite the public record. By seeking to discredit Fitzpatrick, to bury him under the full weight of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, they are attempting to reconfigure the narrative of institutional corruption that helped to make the long-running Bulger fiasco such a depraved and murderous reality.

Wyshak and Hafer got the conviction they wanted in the Bulger case, and they are to be congratulated for that. They helped to put away one of the most vile mob bosses in U.S. history. But the prosecution of Whitey Bulger also involved one of the most egregious whitewashes in the history of the criminal justice system.

The latest act in this ongoing whitewash is the attempt to destroy Bob Fitzpatrick, a man who served the FBI admirably for more than twenty years and now faces a prison sentence on charges that are beneath the dignity of federal prosecutors throughout the United States.

Consider this: the city of Boston is now going to have an expensive federal trial to determine who first found the gun at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, and whether or not an aging, long-ago-retired FBI agent will be made to serve time in prison for allegedly misstating his involvement in that.

Is this for real? Doesn’t the criminal justice system in Boston have better things to do with its time and energy? Haven’t the people of Boston had enough of prosecutors using the system to settle personal beefs, to sometimes convict innocent people, or to exact revenge on those who they feel have defied their wishes?

It’s hard to believe, but the case against Fitzpatrick is actually going to trial on June 17. In the upcoming weeks and months I will be posting dispatches on this case as events develop. Please tune in to this blog page – Skull Fragments – for the latest updates.



Edgar Awards 2016

Where the Bodies Were Buried nominated in the category of Best Fact Crime 2016

edgarFor the fourth time in his career, author T.J. English has been nominated for an Edgar Award in the category of Best Fact Crime. Where the Bodies Were Buried, the latest of English’s non-fiction books to be nominated, joins previous nods for:

The Savage City — 2011

Havana Nocturne — 2009

Born to Kill – 1996

The Edgar Awards are given out each year by the Mystery Writers of America, an organization first established in 1945. Over the years, through the Edgar Awards, the MWA has honored writers such as Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, John le Carre, Mary Higgins Clark, Elmore Leonard, Joseph Wambaugh, and many others. In the field of mystery and crime writing, the Edgar Award is considered the gold standard. The winners for 2016 will be announced at a banquet and award ceremony on the night of April 16th in Manhattan.