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Whitey Bulger's capture top Mass. story in 2011

By Mark Pratt

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 25 2011 12:56 p.m. MST

ADVANCE FOR DEC. 25 - FILE - In this June 2, 2011 file photo, Ron Weston, right, comforts his daughter Heather Dickinson as Devin Dickinson reaches out in Brimfield, Mass., in the aftermath of Wednesday's tornado. Residents of 19 communities in central and western Massachusetts woke to widespread damages day after at least two late-afternoon tornadoes struck.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Rick Cinclair, File, AP Photo

BOSTON — To law enforcement, he was a common thug and murderer. To some people in South Boston, he was a benevolent protector.

To everyone, however, James "Whitey" Bulger was a ghost for more than 16 years.

The California capture of the notorious Boston mob boss, who vanished in 1994, was the biggest story of the year in Massachusetts, but it was not the end of the Bulger saga.

Bulger, now a frail old man of 82, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he participated in 19 murders and other crimes ranging from drug trafficking to loan sharking dating to the 1970s.

"Although there are those who have doubted our resolve at times over the years, it has never wavered," Richard DesLauriers, agent in the charge of the FBI's Boston office, said after the capture.

The former prized FBI informant fled in late 1994 after receiving a tip from his FBI handler that he was about to be indicted.

The FBI over the years said he was likely moving from place to place, perhaps even to Europe and Mexico, but it turned out that he spent 15 of his 16 years on the lam living an obscure life in Southern California and stashing guns in the Santa Monica apartment he shared with his longtime girlfriend.

He was captured after a tipster saw a news story about a new FBI campaign focusing on the girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

Politics, weather and sports also dominated the state's headlines in 2011.

Massachusetts weather is known for being fickle, but 2011 proved to be trying for even the hardiest New Englanders.

The year began with a series of brutal snowstorms that threw school schedules into chaos, caused multiple roof collapses and blew municipal snow removal budgets.

Nature even played a cruel prank with one final winter blast on April Fool's Day.

It turns out the never-ending winter was just the beginning of the state's weather woes.

In scenes reminiscent of the Plains or the South, a series of powerful tornadoes rarely seen in Massachusetts ripped across Hampden and Worcester counties on June 1, leaving hundreds of homes in ruins and claiming three lives.

"All this was chaos," said Michael Valentin of Springfield, who witnessed the tornadoes. "It was like a mad wind twisting. It was destroying everything. Cars were being smashed against walls. Pieces of wood and trees were flying in the air."

Irene was a tropical storm by the time it reached New England in late August, but it was still powerful enough to cause widespread damage with high winds and torrential rains. One Massachusetts man died, and a section of Route 2 in the Berkshires washed out by the storm took months to repair.

The final blow was a snowstorm just before Halloween that left hundreds of thousands without power, some for days. The state's electric utilities drew harsh criticism for the time it took them to restore power.

On the political front, state leaders redrew Massachusetts congressional districts after losing one seat after the latest census, and two longtime Democratic congressmen representing a half century of experience in the U.S. House announced their retirements, reducing the state's clout in Washington.

Rep. John Olver, 75, announced in October that he would not seek re-election to help care for his ill wife.

The bigger bombshell came in November when Rep. Barney Frank announced he would not seek re-election after three decades in the House.

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