Offaly man describes shock of receiving call from Whitey Bulger to investigate possible family links

Offaly man describes shock of receiving call from Whitey Bulger to investigate possible family links
John Deeley. Photo: Press 22

David Raleigh

A Co Offaly man who was contacted by Boston killer James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, believing they were related, has spoken of his shock at the elderly gangster’s murder in prison.

John Deeley, 75, who now lives in Limerick, said he was always tempted to return correspondence with Bulger, who was convicted and jailed for life in 2013 for at least 11 murders.

Bulger made contact with Deeley in 1992 after learning the Offaly man was in Boston making a documentary.

Bulger telephoned Deeley’s room at the Boston Harbour Hotel, telling him he “had a grá for Ireland” and that he believed they were related.

Bulger said he believed he had family connections to an “Evelyn Deeley”.

However, it wasn’t until a few years later, when Deeley heard news reports of Bulger appearing on an FBI Most Wanted List, that he realised who he had been speaking to.

"I couldn't believe it. I suddenly thought, Oh Sh**! That's the guy who's been on the run from the FBI,” he said.

Deeley, a former public relations executive and media copywriter, is still hoping to discover if he is in fact related to Bulger.

Deeley, recalling his telephone conversation with the killer, said: "He said he was trying to track down his Irish ancestry. He went into a very complex litany of names and Irish connections and he mentioned he had a brother, a formidable man, who was President of an American University and a Massachusetts Senator.”

I told him I couldn't rule out the possibility that there could be a family link.

Bulger reportedly had links with the IRA was believed to have been somewhat fixated with having an Irish ancestry.

Reacting to the news of Bulger’s murder in a West Virginian prison Tuesday, Deeley said: “I think it's remarkable that an 89-year-old man in a very poor state of health would be murdered in a maximum security prison, one of the toughest prisons, apparently, in America.”

“I was amazed the authorities would see fit to move him to such a dangerous environment, or, was it just an answer to their prayers that they just wanted to be shot of him, and that was effectively an unofficial way of carrying out the death sentence?” he added.

Deeley, 75, agreed he has felt a connection with Bulger, “ever since that fateful phonecall in the Boston Harbour hotel”.

“Deeley is an uncommon name, it’s not like O’Brien or a Kelly. There are not too many around,” he said.

While acknowledging Bulger’s crimes, Deeley said he was aware of reports “of his sentimental side”.

Even though he was a notorious murderer and did a lot of scary and nasty things, and yet, in terms of Irish feelings and sentimentality towards the old country, he obviously had that, an old romantic feeling that a lot of Irish Americans have.

“I suppose he just wanted to discover his roots, but that would not excoriate him in anyone’s book.”

He said it was “always there in the back of my mind” to contact Bulger in prison.

John Deeley’s handwritten notes of his 1992 conversation with Whitey Bulger. Photo: Press 22
John Deeley’s handwritten notes of his 1992 conversation with Whitey Bulger. Photo: Press 22

However, in the end, he had convinced himself Bulger may not have been as receptive as he was when made contact 26 years ago.

“I thought, where am I going to get with this, as he was in a very poor state of health (in prison), and the reports suggested at the time of his arrest that he was suffering from the early stages of dementia.”

“I don’t know if that was true but I’d been led to believe that was the case.”

“He probably wouldn’t have even recalled having telephoned me at my hotel.”

Deeley added he would “like to pursue” the possible family link to Bulger and that the killer’s death “has triggered off a new desire to try and get in touch with his (family) and see if I can make any headway.”

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