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'America's Most Wanted' tipster said he saw Whitey Bulger playing chess in Santa Monica in 2008

June 24, 2011 |  3:12 pm

Whiteybulger

The host of "America's Most Wanted" said Friday that one of the scores of tips that followed a 2008 broadcast about James "Whitey" Bulger included a claim that the notorious Boston mob boss was seen in Santa Monica -- three years before his arrest there.

John Walsh said in an interview that the tipster did not give specific information in the call to one of the show's operators other than to say a man who looked like Bulger was seen "playing chess on the beach," Walsh said. That information was passed on to the FBI.

PHOTOS: The hunt for James "Whitey" Bulger

Walsh stressed that the Santa Monica tip was one of more than 200 that came in from 20 cities around the country the night of the broadcast.

In all, 16 "America's Most Wanted" shows included segments on Bulger, generating some 2,000 possible leads during the time the crime boss was eluding authorities, Walsh said.

"There was no specific tip," Walsh said. "It wasn't where or how, other than somebody thought they saw Whitey Bulger playing chess on Santa Monica Beach. It's not like the FBI had specific information that he (Bulger) was in Santa Monica."

The FBI in Los Angeles declined comment on the 2008 tip. At a news conference, FBI Assistant Director Steven Martinez, who heads the bureau's Los Angeles operations, said the arrest culminated a "challenging" international manhunt that involved thousands of leads and took agents from Louisiana to London as well as locations around Southern California.

It turns out that Bulger, 81, and his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, 60, had been living for more than 14 years in their Santa Monica apartment, blocks from the beach and about five miles from the FBI's Westwood office.

After developing information from a tip to the FBI's Los Angeles bureau, Bulger and Greig were arrested Wednesday night.

Walsh said people should not underestimate the difficulty of the case or the ability of Bulger to elude authorities who "followed this guy to the ends of the Earth."

As for the fact that he was living out in the open, Walsh said many of the hundreds of fugitives who their show has helped bring to justice follow a similar pattern. "They don't go to exotic locations, they hide in plain sight," he said.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

twitter.com/anblanx

Photo: This 1953 Boston police booking photo shows James "Whitey" Bulger after an arrest.

Credit: Boston Police Department via the Associated Press

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