James “Whitey” Bulger, one of America’s most notorious crime bosses, managed to evade FBI agents for more than 16 years. Then he met Anna Bjornsdottir, a former Miss Iceland turned yoga instructor.
That’s according to the Boston Globe which published a sweeping account of Bulger’s life in exile — and the tip-off that led to his arrest — on October 9.
Bulger, who faces charges for his alleged role in 19 murders carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, fled Boston at the end of 1994 after a corrupt FBI agent tipped him off that authorities were poised to indict him. His girlfriend Catherine Greig joined him on the run a short time later. The two ultimately settled in Santa Monica, California, adopting the aliases Charlie and Carol Gasko.
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Speaking to the Globe, neighbors inside the Princess Eugenia apartment complex described the “Gaskos” as friendly, but private, retirees. They said Greig would frequently send thank you notes addressed “kind neighbor,” and that she made much of her husband’s Alzheimer’s (a lie to distract people from asking questions). No one suspected that Bulger had stockpiled 30 weapons and more than $800,000 in cash inside the walls of their apartment.
Anna Bjornsdottir, who the newspaper describes as an “actress perhaps most famous for starring as one of the blondes in Noxzema’s iconic ‘Take It Off’ TV commercials,” lived next door. The 57-year old yoga instructor befriended the reclusive couple after she saw Greig taking care of a stray cat with Bulger watching over her.
On June 20, 2011, the FBI stepped up its campaign to find Bulger and Greig, who faces charges of harboring a fugitive. They aired 30-second television spots in 14 cities including San Francisco and San Diego, but not Los Angeles. The hype generated by those segments led CNN to cover the manhunt, and Bjornsdottir, at home in Iceland, saw the network’s report. She immediately recognized her former neighbors.
In September the FBI said it had paid $2.1 million to “more than one individual” for information that led to the arrests of Bulger and Greig. According to the Globe, Bjornsdottir received $2 million of the reward money.
Bjornsdottir, who won the Miss Iceland pageant in 1974 and later starred in a Vidal Sassoon commercial, is accustomed to the spotlight. But surely she could do without the attention generated by her tipoff to the FBI. “They can’t guarantee her 100% safety going forward. It’s unnecessary publicity and unnecessary harassment,” former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan told the Boston Herald. “There is a huge risk to the [tipster] program, generally, to be able to cultivate informants if their identification is at risk.”
William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.