Notorious Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger was found dead in prison. He eluded authorities for 16 years before being captured. USA TODAY
This June 23, 2011 booking file photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.(Photo: AP)
When James “Whitey” Bulger arrived at a West Virginia federal prison Monday evening, he had little resemblance to Boston’s ruthless one-time leader Winter Hill Gang whose rule of terror included gun trafficking and murder.
The 89-year-old inmate, once celebrated as a fugitive who managed to evade federal authorities for 16 years before his capture seven years ago, had to be helped off The prisoner bus and loaded into a wheelchair to cross the threshold at the US Penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia.
Wearing an inmate uniform, prisoner No. 02182-748 said nothing as he was pushed to the entry.
“He just looked like an old-ass man,” said an employee who witnessed his arrival. “I did not even know who he was until somebody told me that he was ‘that gangster Bulger.'”
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Shortly after he was found dead in his bunk, two fellow inmates – one former mafia enforcer – were directed to solitary confinement, pending an investigation into a murder that only punctuated Bulger’s long criminal legacy.
Federal prosecutors, in a brief written statement Wednesday, acknowledged they were investigating Bulger’s death as a homicide. 19659008] Authorities declined to elaborate on possible suspects, but two prison staffers said that one of the suspects who was abruptly moved to segregation Tuesday, in anticipation of the outcome of the inquiry, is Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a known mafia operative who – l Ike Bulger – is serving a life sentence for a spate of violent crimes, including murder.
Geas and his brother were implicated in the 2003 murder of then-Springfield, Massachusetts, crime boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno. Geas’ conviction was largely won on the testimony of informants, a role that Bulger had once embraced for federal authorities to avoid prosecution for his own violent crimes.
It was unclear whether Bulger’s reputation as a federal informant was the reason he was murdered early Tuesday.
Bulger was found in his cell about 8:20 am Eastern time Tuesday by two officers after it was noted that the elderly inmate had not arrived for breakfast.
Finding Bulger in his bunk wrapped in covers, the officers initially believed the inmate to be sleeping. When Bulger did not respond to their presence, the officers removed his bed wrap to reveal a bloodied and severely beaten face and upper body.
“It was a beat-down,” said one of the staffers who viewed the body. “Det kunne ha vært gjort med fist eller det kunne have været gjort med en lås i en sok.”
The staffer referred to a popular makeshift weapon in prison in which ordinary padlocks are placed in socks and swung with force to strike designated targets.
Video surveillance showed at least two inmates going in and later exiting the cell before the body was discovered by the officers, the staffers said.
The unit was accessible, the staff said, because cell doors are opened early
Prior to his transfer to West Virginia, Bulger had been housed in the nation’s largest federal prison complex in Coleman, Florida, where he was in charge of breakfast, and remained open until late afternoon.
In March, however, he was sanctioned for threatening a health services worker, according to prison records. A staffer familiar with the incident said that Bulger referred to a “day of reckoning.”
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Bulger was then moved to more secure housing until his transfer to West Virginia.
The aging gangster was widely known to staffers there, though his 1953 file Boston police booking photos provided by The Boston Globe shows James “Whitey” Bulger after an arrest.” width=”540″ data-mycapture-src=”” data-mycapture-sm-src=””/>
These 1953 files Boston police booking photos provided by The Boston Globe shows James “Whitey” Bulger after an arrest. (Photo: AP)
Known as one of the nation’s most notorious criminals, Bulger – nicknamed “Whitey” for his bright platinum hair – ran the Winter Hill crime ring from the 1970s into the 1990s.
In December 1994, Bulger was tipped to his imminent indictment by an FBI agent and escaped. He remained on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List until he was apprehended in 2011 in Santa Monica, California.
His life of crime inspired several movies, including “Black Mass” and “The Departed,” which won an Oscar for best picture of 2006.
Adding intrigue to his story: Bulger’s younger brother, William “Billy ” Bulger, became one of Massachusetts’ most powerful politicians as president of the state senate for 18 years.
Beyond the end of a chapter in America’s rich criminal lore, Bulger’s death is casting a spotlight on the Hazelton prison and within the country’s sprawling federal system.
Richard Heldreth, the local prison union chief at Hazelton, said Bulger’s murder was the third homicide at the high-security prison in the past seven months.
“I’ve been here since 2004, and usually we have maybe one (killing) a year, “Heldreth said.” We’re really getting up there now. “
The Bulger’s death is confirmed less than a month after the Bureau of Prisons. Demario Porter , 27, was killed in an altercation with another inmate.
Heldreth also said that Hazelton is grappling with a officer-staffing decline like other federal prisons across the country. Hazelton is about 40 officer positions and is tapping non-officers, including counselors and teachers, to fill the void.
More: Exclusive: As federal prisons run low on guards, nurses and cooks are filling in
Earlier this year, USA TODAY reported that hundreds of secretaries, teachers, counselors, cooks and medical staff were assigned in 2017 to fill guard posts across the Bureau of Prisons because of acute officer shortages and overtime limits, according to prison records.
The moves were made despite repeated warnings that the assignments placed unprepared employees at risk. The practice has continued for years, although the agency has been rebuked by Congress and federal labor arbitrators.
Just days before Bulger’s murder Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote two express “deep concerns” about the government’s over-reliance on the substitute prison staffing practice known as “augmentation.”
He specifically cited the two previous murders at Hazelton, including Porter’s, as examples as “how dangerous continual under-staffing can be to both BOP staff and the inmates they supervise.”
“This is unacceptable,” Manchin said.
Former Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his murderous reign in the 1970s and 80s. (Nov. 14, 2013) AP
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