Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was found dead on Tuesday at a prison in West Virginia, one day after he was transferred to the high-security facility to serve the remainder of two life sentences for a string of brutal crimes, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said.
According to press reports, Bulger, 89, who spent years on the run as one of America’s most-wanted fugitives, was murdered but there was no immediate confirmation from the authorities.
The Boston Globe, citing three people who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a “fellow inmate with Mafia ties” was being investigated in connection with Bulger’s death.
The former head of south Boston’s “Winter Hill Gang” was found “unresponsive” Tuesday morning at the Hazelton penitentiary in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, the prisons bureau said.
“Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff,” the bureau said in a statement, but “Mr. Bulger was subsequently pronounced dead.”
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation was notified and an investigation has been initiated,” it said.
The prisons bureau said Bulger, who had previously been incarcerated in Oklahoma and Florida, had been in custody at the Hazelton facility since Monday.
Bulger was serving two life sentences for 11 murders, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, possession of firearms and other crimes.
Arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run, Bulger’s life of crime has been the subject of several books and movies including “Black Mass,” a biopic featuring Johnny Depp as the Irish-American mobster.
Bulger also provided the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s Irish-American mob boss character in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning 2006 gangster film “The Departed.”
– Ruled Boston underworld –
The subject of a years-long manhunt, Bulger was finally arrested in Santa Monica, California, where he had been living quietly under an assumed name with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig.
She was sentenced separately to eight years for aiding and abetting him.
Police found some $800,000 in cash and an arsenal of weapons in the modest apartment where Bulger and Greig had lived for years as Charles and Carol Gasko.
A $2 million reward for Bulger’s capture was doled out to a former Icelandic beauty queen who tipped off the police to their whereabouts.
A 12-person jury found Bulger guilty in Boston in 2013 of 31 separate charges.
“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes, is almost unfathomable,” Judge Denise Casper said at his sentencing.
Bulger ruled the Boston underworld with an iron fist for nearly 30 years while also working as an informant for the FBI.
His trial, which featured 72 witnesses and 840 exhibits, produced chilling testimony worthy of a pulp novel.
It heard harrowing tales of teeth being pulled from the mouths of murder victims to foil identification and the strangulation of a mobster’s girlfriend who “knew too much.”
Bulger refused to testify at his trial claiming he had been given immunity from prosecution by federal agents.
He steadfastly denied being an FBI informant, but close links between some FBI agents in Boston and Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang in the 1970s and 1980s have been well documented.
Former FBI agent John Connolly was sentenced to prison after being convicted in 2002 of effectively becoming a member of the gang.