What to Know
The United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI announced they are investigating the death of James 'Whitey' Bulger as a homicide.
Senior law enforcement officials tell NBC News authorities are investigating whether Bulger was beaten to death by an inmate or inmates.
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.
A Mafia hit man who is said to hate "rats" is under suspicion in the slaying of former Boston crime boss and longtime FBI informant James "Whitey" Bulger, who was found dead just hours after he was transferred to a West Virginia prison, a former investigator briefed on the matter said Wednesday.
The official said that Fotios "Freddy" Geas and at least one other inmate are believed to have been involved in Bulger's killing. The longtime investigator was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities have not disclosed the cause of death for the 89-year-old Bulger. He was found dead Tuesday.
Geas, 51, and his brother were sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for their roles in several violent crimes, including the 2003 killing of Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno, a Genovese crime family boss who was gunned down in a Springfield, Massachusetts, parking lot.
Former Prosecutor Speaks Out on Bulgers Death
Dan Kelly, the Springfield attorney for Geas, spoke to NBC10 Boston after hearing the reports that his client was a suspect in the slaying. He said he had spoken to Geas a week earlier about the weather and sports but has not since heard from him or federal investigators about the killing of Bulger.
"He is in there for murder so I wasn't completely surprised that he would be alleged to be involved in another murder, but I don't have any first-hand knowledge that he was involved," he said.
Kelly said Geas had spoken to him about Bulger in the past, but would not elaborate on the conversation.
"Just that he knew who Whitey Bulger was and his reputation for being an informant," Kelly said.
His hatred for informants is why former western Massachusetts investigative reporter, now radio host, Jim Polito said he is not surprised to learn Geas may be connected. Polito covered Springfield’s underworld extensively and speculated about the motive, noting Geas is only behind bars after his friends gave him up to the feds.
"He killed for someone who became a rat and ultimately landed him in jail for the rest of his life," Polito said. "He hates rats and Whitey is the king of all rats. Freddy would want to kill him."
Fallout from Death of Whitey Bulger
Private investigator Ted McDonough, who knew Geas, told The Boston Globe: "Freddy hated rats".
"Freddy hated guys who abused women. Whitey was a rat who killed women. It's probably that simple," McDonough told the newspaper, which first reported that Geas was under suspicion.
An FBI spokeswoman in Pittsburgh declined to comment on Geas. Federal officials said only that they are investigating the death as a homicide.
Bulger led South Boston's Irish mob for decades and became an FBI informant who supplied information on the New England Mafia, his gang's main rival, in an era when bringing down the Italian mob was a top national priority for the bureau.
Tipped off that he was about to be indicted, Bulger became a fugitive and eluded authorities for nearly two decades before being captured in 2011. He was convicted in 2013 in 11 underworld slayings and a host of other crimes and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He had just arrived Monday at USP Hazelton, a high-security prison in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. He had previously been in a prison in Florida, with a stopover at a transfer facility in Oklahoma City. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials and his attorney declined to comment on why he was being moved.
Whitey Bulger Killed in West Virginia Prison
Bulger's attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., blamed his death on prison officials, saying Bulger "was sentenced to life in prison, but as a result of decisions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that sentence has been changed to the death penalty."
Bureau of Prison officials had no comment on Carney's remarks.
The Geas brothers were not made members of the Mafia because they were Greek, not Italian. But they were close associates of the mob and acted as enforcers.
While the killing of Bulger is being investigated, Kelly, a former prosecutor, says he's not surprised by the death.
"I think it's a relief the long saga of his criminal life is over," Kelly said Wednesday.
Kelly worked on Bulger's case for the U.S. Attorney's office in the 1990s.
"It was good when he was caught and it was even better when he was convicted," Kelly said. "His death is what it is. He was a violent man and he met a violent end."