Dave Mistich Published

Whitey Bulger, Boston Gangster, Killed in 'Apparent Homicide' at West Virginia Prison


Updated: October 20, 2018 at 7:45 p.m.

Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was found dead Tuesday morning in a federal prison in West Virginia. An official for a union representing prison guards said the death is being investigated as a homicide.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, Bulger was found unresponsive at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday. Live-saving measures were attempted before he was pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner, according to a news release. 

Bulger rose from the projects of South Boston, along with his brother William, who went on to become president of the Massachusetts Senate and later the University of Massachusetts.

Whitey, though, would spend his life being one of the most feared men in Boston. 

The mob boss-turned-FBI informant fled Boston in 1994, following a tip from his FBI handler, and then spent more than 16 years on the lam. With his escape being a subject of criticism for the FBI, police finally caught up with Bulger in 2011. He was tried and convicted in 2013. 

According to a news release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, he was serving a life sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, racketeering, extortion conspiracy, money laundering, possession of unregistered machine guns, transfer and possession of machine guns, possession of firearms with obliterated serial numbers, and possession of machine guns in furtherance of a violent crime.

Richard Heldreth, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420, called Bulger’s death an “apparent homicide” based on information from responding guards. He said two officers were assigned to the housing unit where Bulger was found. 

Specific information on injuries Bulger sustained was not immediately available, Heldreth said. The FBI was notified and has started an investigated.

“It is being investigated as a murder,” Heldreth told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 

The 89-year-old had been transferred to the Hazelton Penitentiary near Morgantown, West Virginia, the day before his death. He had been in a prison in Florida before a stopover at a transfer facility in Oklahoma City. Federal officials and his attorney declined to comment to the Associated Press as to why he was transferred.

Bulger’s death is the third at the Hazelton facility in the past seven months, which raises concerns about the safety of inmates and staff alike, according to union officials. 

“Today’s reported death at USP Hazelton, while concerning, is unsurprising,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a news release.

He and the AFGE have attributed the deaths at Hazelton to staffing issues.

“Federal prisons across the country are suffering from severe understaffing, and the situation is perhaps no more dire than at Hazelton,” Cox said.

One in five positions that were authorized two years ago are currently vacant, including correctional officers and medical staff, according to the union.  

“Our union’s call to fill these vacant positions unfortunately has fallen on deaf ears,” Heldreth said in the Tuesday news release from AFGE. “We weren’t even notified by the prison warden about today’s death for hours after it had occurred. This incident only exacerbates the tense work environment at the prison and highlights how neglectful management is readily putting all staff in danger.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.