WEST VIRGINIA (NBC) – Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed Tuesday inside a federal prison in West Virginia — and investigators are probing whether he was beaten to death by another inmate or inmates, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials.
Bulger, 89, was found unresponsive about 8:20 a.m. at the high-security penitentiary USP Hazelton in West Virginia, according to a Justice Department statement.
“Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff,” the statement said.
But those efforts were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner, the Justice Department said.
Bulger had arrived at the prison on Monday after being transferred from a Florida correctional facility.
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia have opened an investigation into the killing. No other staff or inmates were injured, officials said.
Tommy Donahue, whose father Michael was shot dead by Bulger in 1982, was celebrating the news of the mobster’s killing.
“If I could, I’d put money in the guy’s canteen whoever killed him,” Donahue told NBC News.
“It’s going to bring me a lot of pleasure knowing that for eternity he’s going to get a pitchfork in the ass from the devil himself.”
J.W. Carney Jr., Bulger’s federal defense lawyer, said, “He was sentenced to life in prison, but as a result of decisions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that sentence has been changed to the death penalty.”
Even before Bulger’s killing, the West Virginia federal prison was the subject of controversy. Two inmates were killed during separate altercations in the past year.
Two weeks ago, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, calling for an investigation into the facility in the town of Bruceton Mills.
“Based on the evidence presented to my office, I believe that 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,” Norton said in the letter.
Prior to his death, Bulger had quite a criminal history. His life of crime began as a teenager, robbing banks. He served sentences in multiple prisons including Alcatraz.
Bulger was once the former leader of South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang from the 1970’s until he went on the run in 1995. From then he was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List until his capture in 2011.
In 2013 he was convicted of charges of racketeering and 11 confirmed murders stretching from Massachusetts to Florida.
During his leadership, he also established an alliance with the FBI where served as a confidential informant. His handler, former FBI agent John Connolly, collaborated with him to take down rival mob families and keep him from incarceration.
Connolly was convicted in 2008 for his connection in a murder orchestrated by Bulger.