Who Beat Whitey Bulger To Death At Hazelton Prison Last October? Update On The Grizzly Slaying

One of the most notorious gangster/snitches of the 20th century, James (Whitey) Bulger, who was found beaten to death inside a West Virginia prison last October, no longer wanted to live -- and that is what led to his doomed transfer from a Florida "safe haven."

And that's basically all there is to it, says Charles Lockett, the Florida penitentiary’s former warden, who retired in December. That's according to a recent interview with NBC News.

We can add tidbits from that interview to the vast repository of knowledge about Whitey Bulger's murder that's been accumulating since the October 30 event. We also can add Bulger's death certificate, which was recently made public -- and which disagrees with what the medical examiner reported. What else did we recently learn? At least one of the three key suspects remains in solitary confinement.

But six months into the murder, and much remains unknown. Federal officials still haven't charged anyone, even though one of the alleged suspects supposedly confessed to the murder -- and was reportedly caught, with another suspect, on surveillance footage entering Bulger’s cell about two-and-a-half hours before his body was found. (The Boston Globe and other major news organizations have reported this. TMZ, by reporting that the murder wasn't caught on surveillance, seems to be missing the forest for the trees.) And the two suspects taped entering Bulger’s cell at around 6 a.m. have separate links to crime families that once operated in proximity to Bulger’s old stomping grounds. Bulger also reportedly once put contracts on family members of one of those two suspects.

One almost can't help but wonder: what more do the Fed's need?

Bulger was allegedly killed in a Mafia-related hit. While it was not necessarily ordered by a higher power from outside the prison, the presence of at least two suspects (each with links to separate crime families) means there was a level of planning and coordination behind the slaying. (While we're on the topic, and for what it's worth, the involvement of two or more  individuals in a murder is, by definition, a conspiracy. Yours truly has always wanted to write those words. The Conspiracy statute enables federal investigators to get beyond the first layer of visible members to find and prosecute the “brains” behind a criminal scheme.)

“Quite frankly, I think he wanted to die,” Lockett said. “I think whatever issues he had, he had come to peace with them.” (He's talking about Whitey Bulger, right?)

He offered the following account: Bulger, 89, had been stricken with severe chest pains while at a Florida penitentiary. A nurse conducted a series of tests on him, then told the wheelchair-bound Bulger that he needed to see an outside heart specialist. Bulger refused. The nurse pressed — and raised his ire. (Or should we say “raised his Irish?”)

“(Bulger) told her point blank, ‘I know people. I still have connections back home,’” the former warden said.

That ultimately led to his doomed transfer to West Virginia.

“Whitey and my brother never personally interacted, but my uncle said there’s an issue, that at one point Bulger had a contract” on the uncle and his family, Munro said. “It still doesn’t make me think he had a motive to kill him.”

Despite being elderly and infirm, as per the related BOP statement, Bulger was “originally initiated for transfer from USP Coleman 2 due to a direct serious threat made by him against a staff member at that facility. “

“His designation to USP Hazelton was made in accordance with BOP policy, which includes a review of various factors related to transfer, including whether inmates known to be a threat are located at a proposed facility,” the statement said.

But, like other parts of the Bulger murder story, that doesn't make complete sense. Verbal threats alone generally aren't considered severe enough to justify a transfer, and Bulger’s case presented many additional complexities. (Some of our readers have informed insight into this question of threats and transfers, and we look forward to any comments they care to offer.)

After issuing the threat, Bulger, then 88, was placed  and kept in solitary confinement at Coleman for the next eight months. He never got treatment, the former warden said, despite what some prison records note, because Bulger had refused to submit to the recommended medical care.

“(Coleman officials) couldn’t make a decision whether he was sick or not,” Lockett said. “He didn’t want any medical care whatsoever, which is sad.”

“If he would have agreed to go see a specialist, he probably would have gone to another medical facility,” Lockett added. “But the fact that he refused to see a medical specialist is what created these issues.”

By then, the warden had already decided that Bulger would be transferred for threatening the prison nurse. The very notion of Bulger having the ability to order, say, Boston gangsters (or anyone) to kill a nurse (or anyone) in Florida (or anywhere) sounds patently absurd. (Incidentally, Bulger once made an intriguing comment about prison nurses. In 2016, Bulger was caught masturbating in his cell at 3 a.m., which was, technically, a violation, as Federal inmates are prohibited from all sexual activity. Bulger was punished for the wee infraction, getting 30 days in solitary confinement. ("How the mighty have fallen," as one Boston newspaper reported.) But not without putting up a fight: At a hearing over the incident, he argued that a correction's officer had “set (him) up." Bulger further claimed that his dry prison-issued pants had caused him to develop a yeast infection and that he'd been applying medication to his genitals. He wasn't masturbating! “I ended up with a (skin) condition and I’m embarrassed to go to medical because they have female nurses over there,” Bulger told the judge.)

After his arrival at Hazelton, Bulger had less than 11 hours before his head would be bashed in with a padlock stuffed in a sock in an attack so brutal, his eyes allegedly appeared to be gouged out and his tongue sliced off. The alleged killers were inmates — two have known mob ties — who were in his housing unit and had gone to the dining hall for breakfast after morning lockdown following the evening Bulger arrived.

Bulger had been placed in his cell at 9:53 p.m., after arriving from the Coleman penitentiary in Sumterville, Florida. At 8:21 a.m the next morning, he was pronounced dead, according to the recently released death certificate. That's  inconsistent with the Preston County medical examiner, which pronounced Bulger's time of death at 9:04 a.m.

Bulger's death certificate.

As per the death certificate, the cause of death was a homicide. The death certificate also noted that Bulger had been assaulted by others in his prison cell.

Law enforcement officials “with knowledge of the matter” specifically named Paul J. DeCologero and Fotios (Freddy) Geas as participants in the attack. Both were put in solitary confinement with a third suspect, Sean McKinnon, 33. Geas also supposedly confessed last November. And perhaps the most incriminating evidence reported in this case, that surveillance footage of Geas and DeCologero entering Bulger’s cell at around 6 a.m.

All this time later and all we know is that at least one of the three, McKinnon, remains in solitary confinement. (Though we presume Geas and  DeCologero also remain in solitary. And we forgot about the fourth person who was also initially investigated: Felix Wilson, 26, who had shared a cell with Bulger.)

NBC News reported today that McKinnon, who is from Vermont and has no known mob ties, has been locked up at Hazelton since 2016— and remains confined to a cell for roughly 23 hours a day since last October. His mother told NBC News that “she’s worried sick over the toll on his mental health.”

Fotios (Freddy) Geas

Prior to the murder, McKinnon shared a cell with Geas, a convicted associate of the Genovese crime family’s Springfield crew. Geas is serving a life sentence for murder. He, his brother Ty, and former Bronx-based Genovese boss Arthur (Artie) Nigro were tried and convicted for the 2003 gangland killing of Adolfo (Big Al) Bruno, who had been the boss of the Genovese crime family’s Springfield crew. Incidentally, Nigro very recently “cashed in his chips” while serving that sentence.

Gang Land News reported  that Nigro, "a Shakespeare-reading, short-statured native of East Harlem who made it big with the Genovese crime family,” died last week in prison at age  74.

Geas is still being held at Hazelton prison, NBC News reported, but could not confirm if he also remained in solitary.

DeCologero was a member of a violent New England Mafia-affiliated crew run by his uncle. Paul is serving a 25-year sentence for racketeering and conspiracy, and his family was eagerly anticipating his slated release date.

Bulger threatened Paul's uncle and other members of the DeCologero family.

Last November, the Boston Globe noted  that while DeCologero had never crossed paths with Bulger before the latter's arrival at the West Virginia prison, "there was bad blood between their families," DeCologero’s brother confirmed. In a telephone interview, Paul's brother, Derek Munro, said that his uncle, Paul A. DeCologero, had called him from the Kentucky prison where he is serving a life sentence for murder and "claimed that Bulger had once put contracts on members of the DeCologero family."

“Whitey and my brother never personally interacted, but my uncle said there’s an issue, that at one point Bulger had a contract” on the uncle and his family, Munro said. “It still doesn’t make me think he had a motive to kill him.”

Paul J. DeCologero 

The DeCologero Crew robbed and kidnapped drug dealers and sold drugs, and operated extensively in Boston.

In 1989, the crew reportedly threw in with Boston mobster Robert F. Carrozza, aka "Bobby Russo," who led an internal rebellion against the leadership of the Providence-based Patriarca crime family. Carrozza, his stepbrother (and consiglieri) Joseph (JR) Russo, and Vincent Ferrarra challenged boss Raymond Patriarca and Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme. The civil war lasted until 1996 and claimed more than a dozen lives.

Some news stories about the DeCologero crew describe it as an independent group. That's because Paul A. (Big Paul) DeCologero, boss of the crew, was acquitted in a big 1997 indictment for war crimes and continued running his crew.

The DeCologero crew was nailed years later for the grizzly 1996 murder of Aislin Silva, 19, the girlfriend of a crew member. She was strangled and dismembered because of concern that she knew enough to provide devastating testimony about the crew's criminal activities.

Bulger was a notorious South Boston mobster who was the inspiration for books and films, including two major Hollywood productions, The Departed and Black Mass. His story has drawn intense fascination for decades. Bulger was ruthless and charismatic in a John Gotti kind of way -- but also duplicitous and remorseless in a Greg Scarpa kind of way. (The long-time Colombo capo offers a Brooklyn-Italian version of the Bulger story). Like Scarpa, Bulger had intimate knowledge of local Mafia operations. Like Scarpa knew the five families, Bulger knew the Patriarcas. Each would talk or say anything to stay out of prison. Rivals who they couldn't simply kill, they'd rat out and let the FBI remove.

During his crime spree, Whitey allegedly murdered 19, including a 26-year-old girlfriend of Bulger's longtime partner, Stephen (The Riflemam) Flemmi. (Bulger and Flemmi allegedly killed two women.) 

Bulger's Boston years ended in the mid-1990s when a joint taskforce, operating independently of the FBI, targeted him.

Bulger still eluded arrest until 2011.

Bulger inspired long-lasting revulsion on both sides of the law -- and was one of the most high-profile federal prisoners in the system with no shortage of enemies, in and out of prison.

Prison staffers —current and former — have questioned why an elderly, marked man would be placed in general population in a prison that had staffing issues and a problem associated with violence.

Lockett, who obviously cannot be perceived as an objective source, said he doesn’t think any federal prison officials are to blame. "It’s a tragedy, but I don’t think anyone was deficient in their duty,” he said.

“He ratted out a lot of people,” said one prison staffer. “You cannot put that person in, not just Hazelton, but any open yard. It’s a death sentence.”

Bulger never admitted to being an informant.

USP Coleman 2 penitentiary (the penitentiary where Bulger was prior to the transfer) is a “so-called special-needs prison” for marked men like Bulger, according to former inmate
Nathaniel Lindell, who noted this in a 2016 story about time he'd spent in prison with Bulger.

Coleman, he wrote, was a “safe” facility “where informants, former cops, ex-gang members, check-ins (prisoners who intentionally put themselves in solitary confinement to be safe), and sex offenders can all, supposedly, walk the Yard freely. At regular BOP lockups, these types of men are in danger of being beaten, stabbed, or strangled to death.”

Lindell's story is interesting. “Whitey often had night-terrors and would wake up screaming. The gangster never told any of us what was haunting him and would have scowled at the suggestion he talk to the prison shrink... 

Whitey’s general attitude and demeanor reminded me of a kid I knew, Mikey Rhodes, the son of a poor, dysfunctional family. Mikey had been abused as a child, and all he did the rest of his life was scowl. ...That’s all Whitey was to me: a man with a past and a scowl.”

At Coleman, Bulger reportedly paid off a couple of younger inmates to bring him his meals and protect him.

Hazelton had seen two inmate killings in the previous six months prior to the arrival of Bulger. Prison workers were complaining of dangerous staffing shortages. The Department of Justice inspector general was already reviewing “conditions affecting safety and security,” Michael Horowitz said in a letter to a member of Congress.

The FBI and the The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of West Virginia are conducting an investigation into Bulger’s killing.

When the joint FBI probe is finished, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will investigate the federal Bureau of Prison staffers involved in the transfer.

“The public will soon know which inmates murdered Bulger, but may never understand why the prison system presented the opportunity,” one official has said. “The real story will be, how was the ball dropped.”

Turns out we still don’t know even know the “which inmates” part...

Following 16 years on the run, Bulger was sentenced to two life terms in 2013 after he was convicted for his role in 11 murders, plus drug dealing, money laundering, and extortion.

Read more of my Whitey Bulger stories....

Whitey Bulger: "One Less Scumbag On This Earth"

No! Whitey Bulger Was Not Caught J--king 
Off! ... Was He?

Gouge His Eyes Out: Organized Crime Figure Allegedly Behind Brutal Slaying Of Whitey Bulger

The Plot Thickens: Two More Suspects Now Ensnared In Whitey Bulger Slay Probe

Suspect #2: Member Of Patriarca "DeCologero Crew" Suspected Of Participating in Whitey Bulger Slaying