Prison Warden: Boston Mob Boss Whitey Bulger ‘Wanted to Die’

Eva Fu
By Eva Fu
April 30, 2019US News
Prison Warden: Boston Mob Boss Whitey Bulger ‘Wanted to Die’
James "Whitey" Bulger. (U.S. Marshals Service/The Associated Press)

The infamous Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, who was found dead following injuries to his head, may have wanted to die, according to his former prison warden.

The death certificate says that the 89-year-old Bulger died of “blunt force injuries of the head”—a result of brutal beating of other inmates just hours after he was transferred to a West Virginia prison on Oct. 30 last year.

“He 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,” attorney J.W. Carney Jr., who represented Bulger, said in a statement.

But Charles Lockett, the former warden of the high-security Florida penitentiary where Bulger once lived, suggested that death might have been just what Bulger wished for.

“Quite frankly, I think he wanted to die,” said Lockett in an interview with NBC News. “I think whatever issues he had, he had come to peace with them.”

No one has been charged for the homicide, but officials have suspected two Massachusetts mobsters to be responsible for Bulger’s death.

James "Whitey" Bulger, Boston mob boss
James “Whitey” Bulger, right, is escorted from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to a waiting vehicle at an airport in Plymouth, Mass., after attending hearings in federal court in Boston, on June 30, 2011.(Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP, File)

Failing Health

In the letters that Bulger wrote behind the bars, auctioned on Feb. 24, Bulger mentioned about the rough treatment by other prisoners.

“Almost every time I’m going anywhere, guys ask ‘hey old timer, want a push’ … or just grab handles and start pushing,” Bulger wrote in a letter stamped February 2015.

In a letter obtained by The Boston Globe, written months before his death, Bulger also expressed hope to “get a peaceful death.”

Boston gang leader James Whitey Bulger mugshot and letter
A hand-written letter by the late mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and his 1959 Alcatraz mugshot. The items were auctioned on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Darin Rone/Urban Culture Auctions via The Associated Press)

At the age of 89, Bulger was confined to a wheelchair, and suffering from chest pains and heart problems. He was transferred from the federal prison in Coleman, Florida, to the general prison facility in West Virginia with a lower level of security, where he was attacked by a lock stuffed inside a sock.

Lockett told the NBC News that Bulger declined receiving outside medical treatment despite the suggestions from the prison nurse, and even threatened the nurse that her “day of reckoning is coming.” He was subsequently placed under solitary confinement for eight months before the prison transfer.

The document obtained by NBC Boston says the 89-year-old Bulger was “assaulted by other(s)” and was found in his cell, critically wounded and wrapped in a bloodied blanket at 8:21 a.m, just the time when the inmates were on their way for breakfast.

Once one of FBI’s most wanted fugitives, Bulger headed the largely Irish mob in Boston for two decades, from 1970s to 1990s, thanks partly to the protection as an FBI informant. He earned the nickname “Whitey,” for his white-blonde hair in his youth.

Early Life

Born in 1929, Bulger was a tough street fighter in South Boston since young, according to The Mob Museum. He was involved in street gangs and got his first arrest at 14 for larceny. He joined the United Air Force in 1948, and despite several assault charges and absence, received an honorable discharge after four years.

Bulger’s brother William Bulger would go into a different direction, serving the Massachusetts Senate for a quarter of a century.

In the auctioned letters, Bulger wrote nostalgically about the “good old days” at the Alcatras Island federal prison in San Francisco, where there was “great view” and rules were “plain and understood.”

Boston Mob leader James "Whitey" Bulger 1953
File photos from 1953 of Boston gang leader James “Whitey” Bulger after an arrest. Bulger died Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in a West Virginia prison after being sentenced to life in 2013 in Boston. (Boston Police/The Boston Globe via The Associated Press)

For over 16 years, Bulger’s name remained one of top on the list of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives since fleeing Boston in late 1994.

He and his girlfriend Catherine Greig lived in a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California before he was captured in 2011. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for 11 murders and other crimes, including Racketeering Conspiracy, Extortion Conspiracy, Money Laundering, and Possession of Unregistered Machine Guns.

Boston Mob leader James "Whitey" Bulger 1980s FBI file
FBI handout file photos from 1980s of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who died Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in a West Virginia prison while serving a life sentence. (FBI via AP, File)
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