James (Whitey) Bulger, the South Boston mobster and F.B.I. informer who was captured after 16 years on the run and finally brought to justice in 2013 for a murderous reign of terror that inspired books, films and a saga of Irish-American brotherhood and brutality, was found beaten to death on Tuesday in a West Virginia prison. He was 89.
Two Federal Bureau of Prisons employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public, said Mr. Bulger had been beaten unrecognizable by inmates. No other details were immediately available.
Mr. Bulger had been transferred to the prison, the Hazelton federal penitentiary in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., on Monday.
Mr. Bulger, who had been serving two life sentences for 11 murders, was found unresponsive at 8:20 Tuesday morning, according to a statement from the federal Bureau of Prisons. The bureau said that lifesaving measures had been initiated and that he was pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner. The statement did not indicate a cause of death.
Mr. Bulger’s move to Hazelton, which has been plagued by violence, was the latest in a series of prison transfers for him. He had been incarcerated in Tucson, Oklahoma City and, most recently, Florida, prison officials have said, without giving reasons for the moves.
To the families of those he executed gangland-style and to a neighborhood held in thrall long after he vanished, in 1994, Mr. Bulger’s arrest in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011 and his conviction and life sentence for gruesome crimes brought a final reckoning of sorts, and an end to the career of one of America’s most notorious underworld figures, the heir to a nation’s fascinations with Dillinger, Capone and Gotti.
In an all-but-lost era before glassy condos and a showcase harbor replaced mean streets and a decrepit waterfront in South Boston, Mr. Bulger dominated the rackets and folklore in that Irish-American working-class enclave. Tales of his exploits were learned from childhood there: how he shot men between the eyes, stabbed rivals in the heart with ice picks, strangled women who might betray him and buried victims in secret graveyards after yanking their teeth to thwart identification.
Enriching the Bulger legend, his brother William became president of the Massachusetts State Senate and president of the University of Massachusetts. William Bulger always denied firsthand knowledge of his brother’s crimes and whereabouts, but said he loved him and could never give him up to the law.
For years before details of Whitey Bulger’s criminal history became known through trials, books, newspapers and congressional hearings, popular myths in South Boston portrayed him as an Irish Robin Hood, giving out turkeys on Thanksgiving and protecting his own from the hated police and outsiders.
His code of the streets was touted: Never sell angel dust to children or heroin in the neighborhood, trust only the Irish, never lie to a friend or partner, and above all never squeal to the authorities. He was an inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s Irish mob boss in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, “The Departed,” set in Boston.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Robert D. McFadden