JAMES 'WHITEY' BULGER ARREST: Grand Forks man sure Bulger was here a decade ago
Chuck Crummy is pretty sure he saw and worked with the notorious Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger for a couple days 10 years ago in Grand Forks.
Bulger is the accused murderer arrested Wednesday in California after 16 years on the lam from the FBI.
It was late April -- "probably the 26th and 27th" -- in 2001, said Crummy, project planner and media specialist for UND's Office of Professional Services.
He was a lead volunteer in the Dakota Science Center and children's museum then housed in the former First Presbyterian Church building downtown, now the home of Cottonwood Community Church.
A man showed up, willing to work for free to see the center.
"He said he was staying at the Plainsman Motel and said he was a biker," Crummy said. "He said his name was Jack Shipp. He was wearing this calico-colored suede leather jacket -- it was pretty different -- and white painter pants and a biker skull cap.
Shipp apparently was taking his meals at the rescue mission nearby and said he had recently lived in Sturgis, S.D., and was on his way into Canada.
"He said, 'I guess I got too many felonies,' to get across the border," Crummy said.
Crummy asked him how he got along.
"He said, 'I have money wired to me all the time.' It sounded like some kind of military pension. My red flags went up. He said he grew up in Indiana."
After two days, Shipp left.
About two weeks later, Crummy saw the FBI's Most Wanted List that included Bulger.
"It was the guy," Crummy said. "And it said this guy likes to visit museums and historic places."
Crummy is a photographer and he and a friend "photo-shopped" the FBI mug of Bulger to add a skull cap, like a welder's cap, and remove the glasses to mirror Shipp's look.
He showed it around to other volunteers at Dakota Science Center who had met or seen Shipp. "Almost everyone recognized him."
Crummy then contacted the FBI; first the national 800-CALL-FBI number, then the Grand Forks FBI office and talked to an agent.
The agent listened to Crummy's account, but never got back to him.
Bulger was 71 in 2001.
The FBI's official account includes a confirmed sighting of Bulger in London in 2002. Crummy thinks Shipp/Bulger left Grand Forks for Canada as a way of flying to England.
Shipp, however, "looked younger than that to me," Crummy said. But Shipp's balding head resembled photos of Bulger, he said. Shipp was about 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and slight, which would fit Bulger's general description, Crummy said. The faces matched, he said.
"I photograph a lot of people and I recognize faces easily," Crummy said. "So when you study that type of thing, you don't forget things. That guy definitely looked like (Bulger.)"
Jerry Feltis, funeral director at Norman Funeral Home in Grand Forks, volunteered at the center 10 years ago and remembers Shipp, as well as Crummy later showing around the photo of Bulger.
Feltis had never heard of Bulger before, but found Crummy's comparison persuasive.
However, he remembers it slightly differently: Shipp wore a bandana, or a "doo-rag," ala biker style, and wore sunglasses, but he doesn't remember him claiming to be a biker.
"Chuck showed me this photo of (Bulger) that he had photo-shopped in a bandana and sunglasses. I thought it looked like (Shipp) a lot."
In his memory, which he admits is a little vague on the matter, Shipp did appear to be in his late 60s or early 70s, Feltis said.
FBI doubts Bulger was here
A few things about "Jack Shipp" -- a name Crummy took as a bad joke, "as in 'you don't know Jack'" -- seem at odds with published accounts of Bulger.
Crummy doesn't remember Shipp having any Boston accent.
But Bulger reportedly still has one and reporters said it was evident Thursday in court in California.
Bulger tended to wear baseball caps and dress casually like a retired duffer, not a biker. Bulger has been with girlfriend Catherine Greig for the past 16 years, the FBI figures, nearly all that time in the California town where he was arrested Wednesday.
Shipp never indicated he was traveling with a woman, Crummy said.
According to Boston newspapers, the closest to Grand Forks Bulger got during his time on the lam was Wyoming and Iowa, back in the mid-1990s.
Bulger didn't have the reputation for staying in low-rent motels and eating at rescue missions. He reportedly had lots of money stashed away in several locations years before he went on the lam.
Bulger was, however, considered a master of disguise, Crummy points out.
The FBI isn't warm to the idea of Bulger being in Grand Forks even for two days.
"We had all kinds of sightings of Bulger, from all over the world," said Steve Warfield, spokesman for the FBI's Minneapolis district that includes North Dakota, on Thursday when asked about Crummy's account. "We followed up on all of them because he was a Top 10 fugitive."
"We never had any credible sightings of him in Minnesota or the Dakotas," Warfield said. "But that is not to disregard what (Crummy) says. Obviously people called in many tips over the years and most of them washed out - until last night."