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Victoria area put on alert for book-loving ex-mobster

Vancouver Island bibliophiles beware: That unassuming elderly gentleman browsing through the bookshelves next to you could be one of America's most wanted criminals.

Several Greater Victoria booksellers confirmed Monday that FBI agents have visited their stores in the past week and asked staff to be on the lookout for 80-year-old James J. (Whitey) Bulger, a known book lover and former Boston mobster with a long list of brutal crimes on his rap sheet.

"They came into the store and dropped off a picture, which is in our staff room and not to be seen by the general public," said Jim Munro, owner of Munro's Books in downtown Victoria.

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"It's totally bizarre. The guy's 80 years old and the photographs that we have are at least 20 years old."

Described on the FBI website as the leader of Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang, Mr. Bulger is wanted for a variety of mob-related crimes including racketeering, money laundering, drug trafficking, extortion and as many as 19 murders.

He is also "an avid reader with an interest in history" and "is known to frequent libraries and historic sites," the FBI website says.

Mr. Bulger was a key figure during the most violent decades of Boston's underworld, an era that forms the basis for the 2006 Martin Scorcese film, The Departed, in which Mr. Bulger was played by Jack Nicholson.

He disappeared from the Boston area in January, 1995, after receiving a tip that FBI agents were about to arrest him. He has been on the bureau's Top 10 Most Wanted list ever since.

An FBI task force dedicated to capturing Mr. Bulger has scoured five continents in search of the aging fugitive, who is known to be adept at using disguises.

Mr. Munro, who was out of town for the FBI visit, said the agents didn't give his staff much information about why they were warning bookstores specifically in the Victoria area.

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"They may have had some idea of sighting or something, I don't know, but apparently he frequents bookstores," Mr. Munro said.

Staff at Bolen Books in Hillside mall also confirmed that FBI agents dropped off photos and asked them to be on the lookout for Mr. Bulger, but added that "the owner of the store doesn't want any of the staff talking to reporters about it."

Tanner's Books in Sidney also received a visit from the FBI, staff at the store said. Tanner's owner, Cliff McNeil-Smith, did not respond to a request for comment.

Victoria police Sergeant Grant Hamilton confirmed that members of the department's major crimes unit recently helped members of the Boston FBI with an investigation in Victoria, but said local police weren't provided with specific details about the case.

Mr. Bulger stands between 5 foot 7 and 5 foot 9, weighs 150 to 160 pounds, and has blue eyes and silver white hair. He loves animals and enjoys taking long walks on the beach with his long-time companion Catherine Elizabeth Greig, the FBI website notes.

A $2-million reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.

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