A decision to alert Victoria-area booksellers about literature-loving former mobster James J. "Whitey" Bulger was merely a routine part of a wide-ranging manhunt that has spanned five continents over 15 years, FBI officials in Boston say.
But a long-time Vancouver Island private investigator said it would be out of character for the bureau to dispatch agents to Vancouver Island without having a verifiable tip related to the investigation.
"From what I know, the FBI's not going to waste a lot of resources on a wild goose chase," David Malinski of Sterling Pacific Investigations said on Tuesday.
"My guess is there's a known associate in the area that's done something, maybe made a book purchase, and they've done it with some kind of recordable media, like a credit card or a debit card. That's the only reason I could see them putting resources into this."
Half a dozen Greater Victoria booksellers contacted by The Globe and Mail confirmed that FBI agents and/or Victoria police have stopped by in the past week to hand out "wanted" posters and warn bookstore staff to keep an eye out for Mr. Bulger.
Described as "an avid reader with an interest in history" who is "known to frequent libraries and historic sites," the 80-year-old fugitive served as leader of Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang during the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr. Bulger went into hiding in January of 1995, shortly before his arraignment on a host of mob-related charges, including racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking, extortion and at least 19 murders.
He has been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list ever since, alongside the likes of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and various Mexican drug cartel kingpins.
The FBI posters given to Victoria booksellers also include pictures of Mr. Bulger's long-time companion, 59-year-old Catherine Elizabeth Greig.
Boston FBI special agent Gail Marcinkiewicz said, despite his age, Mr. Bulger is considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached.
"If anyone sees him or his travelling companion Catherine Greig, we're not asking them to do anything except get as much information as they can to help us find this person… and forward it to the authorities," she said.
Ms. Marcinkiewicz said the FBI has "no specific information" that Mr. Bulger is in the Victoria area," adding that he "could be anywhere in the world."
She refused to say whether FBI agents have visited bookstores in Vancouver or any other part of Canada.
Bookstore owners in Duncan, Nanaimo and Courtenay told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday they have not been contacted by the FBI.
The story of Mr. Bulger's two decades as Boston's most powerful crime boss has been documented in several books, as well as the 2006 Martin Scorcese film, The Departed.
Among the most famous crimes Mr. Bulger has been charged with is the 1982 murder of World Jai-Alai president John Callahan, allegedly for threatening to implicate the Winter Hill Gang in other slayings.
At the time of the killing, Mr. Bulger was a paid informant to former FBI agent John Connolly. In 2008, Mr. Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in Mr. Callahan's death.
Megan Scott, owner of Ivy's Bookshop, said a Victoria police officer accompanied by two "normal guys" who didn't identify themselves arrived at her Oak Bay store last week and asked her to keep an eye out for Mr. Bulger and Ms. Greig.
"They just asked us if they recognized these people and we didn't," she said. "There's lots of bookstores [in Victoria]and lots of elderly people, so they would blend right in."
Police also canvassed bookstores in the retirement enclave of Sidney, including Tanner's Books and Beacon Books.
Special to The Globe and Mail