FLOWERY BRANCH — Ken Widner gets mail from Whitey Bulger.
Just a couple weeks back, the 54-year-old Flowery Branch resident received an envelope with the Coleman U.S. Penitentiary return address.
Inside it, perfect cursive inked across a single piece of paper, the precise penmanship of Boston’s former organized crime boss, who’s now Inmate 02182-748 at the federal correctional facility in Sumter County, Fla.
Why is Bulger sending Widner personal correspondence?
“He’s the one that taught my uncles to disappear,” Widner said.
Appearing on a History Channel special earlier this week, Widner and brother, David, spoke about their uncles, John and Clarence Anglin, two of the three men in 1962 who famously escaped Alcatraz federal prison in San Francisco Bay.
While their bodies were never found and officials seem to believe the trio drowned in surrounding waters, some — including the Widners — maintain the Anglin brothers survived.
The program, “Alcatraz: Search for the Truth,” first aired Oct. 12. During the show, David and Ken provided photographic and audio evidence they’ve collected over the years pointing to what Ken calls “definitive proof” their uncles not only didn’t drown, but survived for a long time, eluding the FBI and U.S. Marshals.
During the special, the men visited Alcatraz — now a tourist attraction — where their uncles escaped more than 50 years ago.
Ken said History Channel filmed the special from June to August, during which time he and his brother got to visit Alcatraz for about a week.
While the TV special has brought recent notoriety to the brothers, Ken said that the story of his uncles “has always been a part of my life ... I was just a year and a half old when the escape occurred. As far back as I can remember, this has been a topic.”
It was an often-taboo topic amongst acquaintances, he said.
“Some of our friends believed it. Some didn’t,” Ken said. “Some thought it was cool, and some would make fun of us. It was something that’s always been a part of us.”
When he and his brother took their mother to Alcatraz for a tour in 2012 — the place where her brothers escaped — “the press got wind that we were coming.”
He said the producers of the show had heard interviews from the 2012 visit, and “decided to reach out to us.”
The program had 1.8 million viewers the first time it aired. The show, he added, was an opportunity to “set the record straight” on many matters.
One of which was the portrayal of his uncles from various reports — including the 1979 film “Escape from Alcatraz,” starring Clint Eastwood — in which his uncles were seen as “a couple of dumb farm hicks with a third-grade education who were just tagging along for an escape masterminded by Frank Morris [the other escapee].”
Added Ken: “Our uncles were smart people, and these other reports were not the case.”
He’s not the only one who thinks so. Whitey Bulger apparently thinks John and Clarence Anglin were stand-up guys.
Bulger was in Alcatraz at the same time when his uncles escaped, Ken said, “and he not only knew them, he gave them info on how to [break out].”
“In the letter I received from [Bulger] a couple weeks ago, he said ‘the first time I ever saw John walk across the prison courtyard, he reminded me of Steve McQueen.’”
Above all else, Ken said, Bulger’s impression of his uncles was that “they were good people, and he respected them a lot.”
Added Ken: “The truth is, there’s a lot more to this story, beyond what was shown [on TV]. If they had put everything on that special, it would have taken four hours to show it. There’s more to this story than many people realize.”