US organized crime has long held a tight grip on America’s popular imagination, supporting entire industries of Hollywood books, TV series and movies, as well as countless breath-taking headlines in tabloid newspapers.
But few names were as famous as South Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who for decades was portrayed as a benevolent gangster who protected his community and was given the Hollywood treatment by Johnny Depp in “Black Mass” and Jack Nicholson in “The Past”.
But the real truth behind Bulger’s violent death in prison – where he eventually languished after years on the run successfully evading law enforcement – has yet to be written, and recent revelations have only fueled speculation that some form of plot was behind the brutal death. the gangster.
Last week, a court heard the notorious Irish-American leader of the Winter Hill gang was beaten to death within minutes of his cell door being opened at 6am. on October 30, 2018 – less than 12 hours after he had been transferred to a correctional facility in Bruceton Mills in West Virginia.
Prosecutors said the tool ended Bulger’s life of crime — which established him as one of the most notorious gang figures of the 20th century and, for a time, second only to Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list — 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 killing raise more questions than have been answered so far. Certainly, mob justice was imposed for Bulger’s role as a would-be FBI informant who had been shielded from prosecution while running a notoriously violent criminal enterprise. But was it just bureaucratic incompetence that left Bulger so vulnerable to attack, or something more sinister?
Bulger, 89, was serving two consecutive life sentences after being convicted of 31 charges, including racketeering charges and involvement in 11 murders in 2013. He had been captured two years earlier in Santa Monica, California, after 16 years on the run. a tip from the FBI handler about a pending federal charge.
Sean McKinnon, who the government accuses of acting as a lookout during the beating, had told his mother a day earlier that everyone in the prison unit had been notified that Bulger was going to be transferred there.
“You should know the name … Whitey Bulger,” he said on 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 “an employee of a mafia family from New York and Boston”.
One of those accused of beating Bulger to death in his bed, Photios “Freddy” Geas, 55, was a mob cop serving a life sentence for the gangland murders of mob boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno and a his partner in 2003. A third inmate defendant, Paul J “Pauly” DeCologero, 48, was part of an organized crime group on Boston’s North Shore that robbed rival drug dealers and killed a teenage girl they thought they could give up.
“It all goes back to an element of corruption, using him as an informant and protecting him so he can commit crimes,” said Kevin Cullen, a columnist for the Boston Globe and co-author of a best-selling biography of Bulger. “It makes no sense that the Bureau of Prisons would put him anywhere near people like Freddy Geass or Pauly DeCologero.”
“Any organized crime or mob guy would have a beef with Whitey because he was a rat,” Cullen said. “But there are a number of prisons where there are no Boston gangsters. It was like, “Here comes White and we’re going to kill him.”
Bulger was previously held in units reserved for inmates, such as whistleblowers or pedophiles, who needed protection from other inmates. He was known as a difficult inmate, and Cullen has theorized that the Florida prison where he was being held just wanted him out of their books.
The Bulger family said they hold the Bureau of Prisons responsible. A wrongful-death lawsuit, which described Bulger as “perhaps the most notorious and well-known inmate” in a federal prison since Al Capone, alleged that Bulger was “deliberately sent to his death” at a prison nicknamed “Misery Mountain.”
But the lawsuit was dismissed in January. U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey said in his ruling that the Bureau of Prisons “must provide the protection, custody and care of inmates, but that 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’s the people who allowed it to happen who need the most accountability.”
But some family members of Bulger’s victims said they are unhappy that anyone was even charged in connection with Bulger’s death. Steve Davis, brother of Debra Davis, who was allegedly strangled to death by Bulger and an associate in 1981, told the Globe that given the chance, he would kiss Geas’ hand “like he was the godfather.”
In a statement last week, U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins, who won Bulger’s conviction in 2013, welcomed the indictments against the three men. “In the truest irony, Bulger’s family has experienced the excruciating pain and trauma he caused so many of their relatives, and the justice system is now coming to their aid,” Rollins said.
The thing about this, Cullen suggests, is that the very system that seeks to hold Bulger’s alleged killers accountable is the same one that allowed Bulger to extort, intimidate and murder in two decades of gang rule since becoming his informant. FBI in 1975.
“Whitey was able to thrive as a gang leader because the FBI tipped him off to potential witnesses. He killed people the FBI told him he could take out. So the government had a hand in all this shit. They decided who would live or who would die. It’s a horrible, corrupt system and it still is to this day. They keep making deals with informants all the time,” Cullen said.