On Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported that Bulger had been moved to USP Hazelton, a maximum-security prison in West Virginia, after being recently transferred from a prison in Florida to one in Oklahoma. It was unclear why he’d been moved.
They also reported that an inmate, whose identity was not immediately clear, was found dead that morning, apparently slain. The inmate has since been identified as Bulger. The Boston Globe reports that a fellow inmate with Mafia ties is being investigated for the murder.
The 89-year-old was serving life in prison after being convicted in 2013 of participating in 11 murders and a litany of other crimes connected with organized crime in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the FBI’s most wanted fugitive for 16 years before being arrested in 2011 in Santa Monica, California. He was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film The Departed, and the more explicit subject of the 2015 film Black Mass, which starred Johnny Depp as Bulger.
Born in 1929 and raised in a housing project in South Boston, Bulger was first arrested for delinquency at the age of 13. In 1956, he was arrested for a string of bank robberies and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He served nine. After prison, he returned to South Boston and got involved with the Winter Hill Gang, partnering with Stephen “the Rifle” Flemmi to form their own criminal organization.
During his reign, Bulger was admired in his community as well as feared, insisting that he was an honorable criminal, protecting his neighborhood by keeping drugs away and fighting against school integration, which many residents of South Boston were vehemently opposed to at the time.
Bulger became an FBI informant in the mid-1970s, and when his handler John J. Connolly warned him of an impending arrest in 1995, he went on the run. Connolly was later convicted of corruption and murder, and is currently in prison.
In the years the FBI searched for Bulger, they offered a record $2.1 million reward for information leading to his capture, which was eventually paid. Before he was finally located in California in 2011, the last credible sighting was from 2002. Once apprehended, Bulger pleaded not guilty to 19 murder charges, as well as extortion, money laundering and possession of weapons, including machine guns. His long-term girlfriend, Catherine Greig, was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping Bulger evade arrest.
After a dramatic trial including the recusal of a judge; testimony from Bulger’s former partner, Flemmi, and former protégé, Kevin Weeks, who had been groomed to succeed Bulger; and descriptions of Bulger’s brutality including allegations that he chained and interrogated men before shooting them, and had a regular habit of taking a nap immediately after committing murder — Bulger was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years, of which he served five years before dying in prison.