The Whitey Bulger legend dims in South Boston

One day after being charged in court with a laundry list of crimes, accused Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger was in jail today and out of sight.

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reports that even now that he's out of sight, probably for good, he's definitely not out of the minds of his old hometown neighbors.

A lot has changed since the days when James "Whitey" Bulger's gang ruled South Boston. But even now, asking about him in the neighborhood known as "Southie" makes some uncomfortable.

"I know a couple of them. I don't want to say anything bad about the family," says one resident, who declined to be interviewed.

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen has covered Whitey Bulger for 30 years, and calls South Boston a very clannish place.

"He ruled by fear and he ruled by intimidation. His intimidation was almost ephemeral. It was part of the air you breathed in this town. It was a fact of life and it was something that wasn't really talked about openly," Cullen says.

Some residents says they admired him for the power he yielded over the town.

John Shea grew up in this public housing project not far from Bulger's own childhood home. He met Whitey Bulger when he was just 15, and went on to sell drugs for him, eventually rising to become a top lieutenant.

"(As a boss, he was) very disciplined. He wanted everyone to be healthy, conduct themselves properly. And he also was kind of like a father to me in ways. Because I had no father," Shea says.

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But that admiration ended once Shea - who spent 12 years in prison - learned Bulger gave him up to authorities.

"I would have given my life to him. Actually, I did give my life to him. He betrayed me. But I lived the code that was honored in that underworld," Shea says.

Now as Bulger faces justice for his crimes, including 19 murders, his folk hero status is falling away.

"Some people can cling to this Whitey benevolent gangster myth. I never bought it," Cullen says.

Shea says his legacy should be that of "A fraud. And a coward. And a rat. And king rat at that."

Boston's most notorious gangster is no longer larger-than-life.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.