What to Know
- Notorious Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger was found dead at a West Virginia prison on Tuesday, federal sources told NBC News.
- Bulger, the head of Boston's Irish mob and an FBI informant, was serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2013 of 11 murders.
- His case was the basis for the 2015 Johnny Depp film "Black Mass," based on the book by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill.
The family of former mob boss James 'Whitey' Bulger, as well as the family of his alleged victims, are reacting to his death.
The 89-year-old was found unresponsive Tuesday morning at USP Hazelton in West Virginia where he'd just been transferred, and a medical examiner declared him dead shortly afterward, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Authorities did not immediately release a cause of death and said the FBI was notified and is investigating. Later in the day, a federal law enforcement official said Bulger was killed but declined to offer any details.
Bulger was accused of strangling Debra Davis, the 26-year-old girlfriend of his partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, and Deborah Hussey, also 26, the daughter of Flemmi's common-law wife. In both cases, Bulger insisted on pulling out the women's teeth so they would be difficult to identify, Flemmi testified.
Steve Davis, Debra's brother, told NBC10 Boston Tuesday his phone has not stopped ringing since the news of Bulger's death. He said Bulger's death is the closest he and his family have ever been to justice, although the relief doesn't erase the pain for any of the victims.
"There's never going to be closure to the heart of the victims and the families. It's never going to be closure for them," said Davis. "We lost something we can't get back. We lost a life."
Among the 11 victims Bulger was convicted of killing in the 1970s and 1980s at his trial in 2013, was Michael Donahue. Patricia Donahue, Michael's widow, said her husband was killed 36 years ago giving a friend a ride home. She said she doesn’t believe in the death penalty so she was content to have Bulger rot in prison.
"I believe that you die the way you live," Patricia Donahue said. "He killed a lot of people and he was killed, so that says a lot to me."
Neither Patricia Donahue nor her son Tommy, who was just 8 at the time of his father's death, were sad to hear that Bulger was killed in prison.
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"A guy like him and so many lives that he's absolutely destroyed—he destroyed tons of families—he doesn't deserve a good, quiet, happy death," Tommy Donahue said. "He deserves a horrible death. If I could, I'd give that guy canteen money for killing Whitey Bulger."
Boston radio host Howie Carr, who has written several books on Bulger over the years, said he has no love lost for the notorious gangster.
"This is one of those days I hope there's an afterlife cause I think I know where he is," Carr told NBC10 Boston. "He was a bad, bad guy. He was a serial killer, he was a cocaine dealer, he was a bank robber. He was in all likelihood a pedophile. It's no great loss that he’s gone."
At one point, Carr said he heard Bulger wanted him dead. Now that Bulger has died, Carr said he still has questions like why he was moved to the prison in West Virginia and if there will be a funeral in South Boston.
"I don’t think it's a surprise that he's dead. I wonder what he was doing in West Virginia," Carr said. "We thought if he was on his last legs they'd move him to a medical facility in Springfield, Missouri. But he's had a bum ticker for 30 years. It's really amazing he lasted as long as he did."
Members of Boston media caught up with John 'Jackie' Bulger, outside his South Boston home. He said it was the first time he was hearing news of his brother's death.
"I have no idea. It's the first I've heard of it," Jackie Bulger said. "I heard he wasn't feeling good a while back, that's all I heard. I don't have anything to say right now."
Jackie Bulger had been a constant presence at his brother's 2013 trial and even served time in jail for lying to investigators. When his brother disappeared and was on the run for years, court documents show Jackie Bulger lied about a safety deposit box in Florida and telling investigators he had not talked to his brother Whitey, but he had.
Bulger, the head of Boston's Irish mob and an FBI informant, was serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2013 of a litany of gangland crimes in the 1970s and '80s, including participating in 11 murders. He was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives for 16 years until his 2011 arrest in Santa Monica, California.
His case became an embarrassment for the FBI as corrupt agents accepted bribes and protected him. The story was the basis for the 2015 Johnny Depp film "Black Mass."
Bulger had just been moved to USP Hazelton, a high-security prison with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. He had been in a prison in Florida before a stopover at a transfer facility in Oklahoma City. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials and his attorney had declined to comment on why he was being moved.