US organized crime has long had a tight grip on the American popular imagination, supporting entire industries of Hollywood books, television series and films, as well as countless blown headlines in the tabloid newspapers.
But few names have been as famous as southern Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who for decades presented himself as a benevolent gangster who protected his community and was treated in Hollywood by Johnny Depp in “Black Mass” and Jack Nicholson in “The Partì”.
But the real truth behind Bulger’s violent death in prison – where he ultimately languished after years of escaping successfully evading law enforcement – has not yet been written and recent revelations have only fueled speculation that some form of conspiracy is behind the brutal disappearance of the gangster.
Last week, a court heard that the infamous Irish-American leader of the Winter Hill gang was beaten to death minutes after his cell door opened at 6am on October 30, 2018, less than 12 hours. since he was transferred to a penitentiary in Bruceton Mills in West Virginia.
Prosecutors said the tool used to end Bulger’s criminal life – which made him one of the most famous underworld figures of the 20th century and, for a time, second only to Osama bin Laden on the list of “Most Wanted” by the FBI – it was a padlock attached to a belt.
It took less than five minutes to kill him and his attackers may have tried to gouge out his eyes.
Now, the circumstances of Bulger’s murder are raising more questions than have been resolved so far. It certainly was Mafia justice inflicted for Bulger’s role as a prospective FBI informant who had been protected from prosecution while running a notoriously violent criminal enterprise. But was it just bureaucratic incompetence that made Bulger so vulnerable to attack or something more sinister?
Bulger, 89, was serving two consecutive life sentences after being convicted of 31 counts, including racketeering charges and involvement in 11 murders in 2013. He was arrested two years earlier in Santa Monica, California after 16 years. escape after a tip from his FBI manager of a pending federal indictment.
Sean McKinnon, who is accused by the government of standing guard during the beating, had told his mother the day before that everyone in the prison unit had been warned that Bulger was about to be transferred there.
“You should know the name … Whitey Bulger,” he said during the call. “Oh Jesus,” McKinnon’s mother said. “Stay away from him, please.” The 36-year-old inmate said he couldn’t: his cellmate was “a henchman for a Mafia family in New York and Boston.”
One of those accused of beating Bulger to death in his bed, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, was a Mafia hitman serving a life sentence for the 2003 Mafia murders of Mafia boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno and a partner. A third accused inmate, Paul J “Pauly” DeCologero, 48, was a member of an organized crime group on Boston’s North Shore that robbed rival drug dealers and killed a teenage girl they thought might be giving up on them.
“It all goes back to an element of corruption, using him as an informant and protecting him so he could commit crimes,” said Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe columnist and co-author of a bestselling biography of Bulger. “It doesn’t make any sense that the Bureau of Prisons puts him at close range from people like Freddy Geas or Pauly DeCologero.”
“Any organized criminal or mafia would have quarreled with Whitey because he was a rat,” Cullen said. “But there are a large number of prisons where there are no gangsters in the Boston area. It was like, ‘Whitey is coming and we’re going to kill him.’ “
Bulger had previously been detained in units designated for inmates, such as whistleblowers or pedophiles, who needed protection from other inmates. He was known to be a difficult prisoner and Cullen theorized that the Florida prison he was being held in simply wanted him out of the books.
The Bulger family said they hold the Bureau of Prisons accountable. A manslaughter lawsuit, which described Bulger as “perhaps the most infamous and famous inmate” in federal prison since Al Capone, alleged that Bulger had been “deliberately sent to death” in a prison nicknamed “Misery Mountain”.
But the appeal was dismissed in January. US District Judge John Preston Bailey said in his decision that the Bureau of Prisons “must provide for the protection, custody and care of detainees, but this does not guarantee a risk-free environment.”
Hank Brennan, Bulger’s attorney, told the Boston Globe that “the mechanism used to kill him was really irrelevant. It is the people who have allowed this to happen who are most in need of responsibility ”.
But some family members of Bulger’s victims said they were unhappy that someone was also charged in connection with Bulger’s death. Steve Davis, brother of Debra Davis, who was allegedly strangled to death by Bulger and his partner in 1981, told the Globe that, given the opportunity, he would kiss Geas’s hand “as if he were the godfather. of him”.
In a statement last week, US attorney Rachael Rollins, who won Bulger’s sentence in 2013, welcomed the charges against the three men. “In the truest of ironies, Bulger’s family has experienced the pain and excruciating trauma that their relatives have inflicted on too many, and the justice system is now coming to their aid,” Rollins said.
The problem, Cullen points out, is that the same system that tries to hold Bulger’s alleged killers accountable is the same system that has allowed Bulger to extort, intimidate and kill in the two decades of underworld rule since becoming an informant of the ‘ FBI in 1975.
“Whitey was able to thrive as a leader of a criminal underworld because the FBI informed him of potential witnesses. He killed people the FBI told him they could report him. So the government got his hands on him in all this shit. They were deciding who would live or die. It is a horrible and corrupt system and it still is today. They always make deals with whistleblowers, ”Cullen said.