For those who came to believe over the years that notorious Boston crime boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger was dead, his arrest in a seaside California community came as a shock.
"I thought he was a goner," said Arthur DiMeo, Jr.
The 51-year-old resident of Saugus, north of Boston, said California was the last place he expected police to locate Bulger, hiding in plain sight with long-time girlfriend Catherine Greig. "I thought he'd be over in Europe someplace."
While the Federal Bureau of Investigations believed Bulger traveled extensively in Europe, Canada and Latin America after going on the run with Greig in 1995, a tip resulting from an aggressive new media campaign quickly led police to an apartment building blocks from the beach in Santa Monica.
"This is a big day for justice," said Dick Lehr, journalism professor at Boston University and a former reporter with the Boston Globe newspaper.
Lehr co-authored the 2001 book "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob," which chronicles the corrupt history between Bulger and a small group of agents in the Boston FBI.
"It's a huge development to see the legendary crime boss finally coming home to face his charges," Lehr said.
Bulger was the center of what Lehr called the biggest informant scandal in FBI history, when a corrupt agent tipped the crime boss about his impending arrest in late 1994.
Bulger and Greig were living in an apartment under the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko, officials said at a press conference in Boston. The pair had likely been there for some time, they added.
The arrest of the infamous gangster, one of Americas Most Wanted, reverberated across the nation but was even bigger news in the city where Bulger was born and long called home.
The arrest brought relief to agents dogged by the elusive criminal for nearly two decades.
"This is a great day for Boston's law enforcement community," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
Richard DesLauriers, who inherited the Bulger case when he was named Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston division in 2010, described his elation and pride when he learned that agents had arrested Bulger late on Wednesday.
"Although there are some who have doubted our resolve over time, it has never wavered," DesLauriers said.
Law enforcement officials underlined the significance of the arrest for the families of victims of Bulger's alleged crimes, which included 19 murders, many of them brutal. Ortiz called Bulger's capture "pivotal" for those families.
"Over the last 16 years the leaders of the FBI and the FBI Boston division have stood on this podium and promised to spare no effort to return James Bulger to Boston," DesLauriers said. "I am proud to say the FBI has fulfilled that promise."
Most residents of insular South Boston, where Bulger once lived and ran the Irish-American Winter Hill gang, remained silent on Thursday when asked for reaction to Bulger's arrest.
Outside a pub in the neighborhood, 76-year-old John Morrillo said Bulger was liked by some and hated by others, but no matter the opinion, he hasn't been forgotten.
Bulger and Greig were apprehended on Wednesday evening after federal agents lured Bulger from the apartment with what they termed a standard ruse.
Bulger had been wanted on 19 counts of murder committed in the 1970s and 1980s, drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.
On the run with Greig since 1995, the worldwide manhunt for the couple focused more recently on her, hoping for a tip from a plastic surgeon or dentist that may have treated her.
The media campaign launched this week that led to the arrests targeted women in the same age group as Greig. So far, the FBI has not named the agent or agents who came up with the idea that finally paid off with the biggest prize of all.