In a violent end to a long and murderous career, notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed Tuesday at a West Virginia prison, officials said.
“The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia and the FBI will be conducting an investigation into the death of James Bulger. No other information will be released at this time,” Stacy Bishop, a spokeswoman for William J. Powell, the US attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said in a statement.
Three people briefed on the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a fellow inmate with Mafia ties was being investigated for the slaying of the 89-year-old Bulger at the US Penitentiary Hazelton.
The US Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that Bulger, who had arrived at USP Hazelton on Monday, was found unresponsive at the prison at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday.
“Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff. Mr. Bulger was subsequently pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner,” the agency said, noting that “an investigation has been initiated” and no staff or other inmates were injured.
Bulger’s brother, John, said in a brief telephone interview Tuesday that the family had not been notified of his death.
Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents prison staff, said a man was found unresponsive Tuesday morning in the general population housing unit of the prison. He did not know the exact location. He also did not know the type or extent of the man’s injuries.
It was not the first death reported at USP Hazelton this year. According to The Associated Press, an inmate at the prison was killed in a fight in September, and another inmate was killed in a fight there in April.
Heldreth said the prison usually averages one murder a year, but problems have been getting worse due to lack of staffing.
“This facility is severely understaffed,” he said. “This is the third murder at the prison in the past seven months.”
Heldreth said a male inmate was found unresponsive Tuesday morning in the general population housing unit of the
Bulger, who had been serving a life sentence for 11 murders, had been sent to the West Virginia facility after a quick stop at an Oklahoma City transfer site. Before that, he had been incarcerated at a Florida prison.
USP Hazelton, located in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., is a high-security facility with an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
J.W. Carney Jr., Bulger’s defense attorney in his federal trial, declined to comment on the reports of his death.
Bulger’s appellate attorneys, James H. Budreau and Hank Brennan, said they had no information and declined to comment.
“We received word this morning about the death of James “Whitey” Bulger. Our thoughts are with his victims and their families,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement.
The former South Boston crime boss and longtime FBI informant was one of America’s most wanted criminals until his capture in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011 after more than 16 years on the run.
In 2013, a federal jury in Boston convicted him of participating in 11 murders in the 1970s and 1980s while running a sprawling criminal enterprise involved in gambling, extortion, and drug trafficking.
Bulger was transferred to US Penitentiary Coleman II in Sumterville, Fla., in 2014 from another high-security penitentiary in Arizona after his relationship with a female psychologist who was counseling him came under scrutiny.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, a former federal prosecutor who served on a task force searching for Bulger while the gangster was on the lam, said Tuesday that the public should be mindful of Bulger’s victims.
“I hope that on the occasion of #whiteybulger’s death, we think first of his victims and their families, and the immense suffering he caused,” Mitchell tweeted.
Conditions at USP Hazelton have come under scrutiny recently.
Earlier this month, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton called for US Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to open a formal investigation “into the alleged appalling conditions inmates are facing at” the Hazelton facility, citing the deaths of the two inmates earlier in the year “during violent altercations,” an Oct. 18 news release from Norton’s office said.
“Serious allegations have been raised concerning brutal treatment of inmates housed in the Special Housing Unit,” Norton wrote in a letter to Horowitz. “Based on the evidence presented to my office, I believe that the federal employees serving in this facility have likely received inadequate training, are under-supported, and are being compelled to perform duties outside the scope of their positions and their training, which is leading to these horrific and entirely unacceptable outcomes.”