CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - One of America's most notorious crime bosses has a very strong link to Clay County.
James "Whitey" Bulger, who was killed last year in prison, ran organized crime in Boston for years and was an informant for the FBI, which was criticized for largely overlooking many of his crimes.
That changed in the mid-1990s when the FBI began pursuing a criminal case against Bulger for his various crimes. Bulger went on the run and remained at large for 16 years, eventually making it up to No. 2 on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. At one point, he was right behind Osama bin Laden, the terrorist who masterminded the 9/11 attack.
Bulger and his girlfriend were eventually found hiding in California. He was brought back to Massachusetts for trial and sentenced to prison, where he remained until his death.
During the time Bulger was incarcerated, he trusted very few people.
One of the few people he learned to trust came from Green Cove Springs. His name is Charles Hopkins, an 87-year-old retired carpet installer. The two had a link because of Hopkins' past. He was involved in a lot of criminal activity as a young man in the 1940s and early 1950s. His gang was dubbed by the press of the time as "The Robin Hood" gang.
"We robbed a couple of loan companies. They had loan companies back then, like, $600 loans. We robbed two of them and robbed a grocery store," Hopkins said.
After a robbery and kidnapping spree, Hopkins said they were finally caught.
"They had us trapped in the mountains up in Tennessee," Hopkins said. "One of those piper cubs was flying around the police plane."
That arrest eventually led Hopkins to be transferred to Alcatraz prison in San Francisco. Hopkins spent a few years incarcerated there on C-Block. He was eventually released in the mid-1950s and said he's never returned to a life of crime.
"Yeah, I haven’t been in any trouble since that," Hopkins said.
In the years after Hopkins' release, Bulger, still a young criminal at the time, was transferred to Alcatraz.
"Whitey came there in '59, right after I left. And he became friends with Joe Carnes, just like I did," Hopkins said.
He said Bulger was also housed on C-Block. This was years before Bulger became a crime boss in Boston. That life really picked up in the 1970s and 1980s.
The two never met each other, but just a few years ago, Hopkins decided to write a letter to Bulger, who was housed at that point in Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida after his conviction in Boston.
Hopkins had read in some news articles that they had mutual friends from Alcatraz. Hopkins said Bulger knew he could trust him because of their shared friends and time in Alcatraz. As a result, the two became pen pals.
The two men, both in their 80s by this time, exchanged dozens of letters over the years prior to Bulger's death.
"Oh, we talked about our old friends and he told me a lot of things he did -- told me how he shot up the Boston Globe," Hopkins said. "Oh, he told me how he had corrupted some of the FBI agents. He told me (of) three different supervisors that he had on his payroll."
Hopkins was angered by Bulger's death. Bulger was transferred from Florida to a federal prison in West Virginia, where he was killed shortly after arriving. A hit man for the Boston mob has not denied involvement but the investigation is ongoing.
When asked why he thinks Bulger was transferred, Hopkins said, "Because they hated him ... the prison officials, the federal prosecutors, the Department of Justice."
Hopkins still has all the old letters, which he regularly reads, usually with the help of his daughter and a very large magnifying glass. Bulger had nice penmanship, but to make the most of all the prison-allowed pages, he wrote in the margins and some of the letters can be indecipherable.
And while Hopkins may be Bulger's closest friend, he wasn't his only pen pal. In recent weeks, other media outlets have covered the story of another pen pal -- a woman who had served on the jury during Bulger's trial.
In letters to her, Bulger wrote about liking President Donald Trump and not caring much for now-former Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.
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