Who Killed Whitey Bulger? 3 Years After Gangster's Death, Federal Officials Remain Mum

Three years have passed since Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger was killed at a West Virginia prison, but federal officials investigating his death have yet to charge anyone, the Associated Press reported.

The 89-year-old, who was serving a life sentence for his role in 11 killings, was found dead in October of 2018 hours after being transferred to USP Hazelton from the Coleman prison in Florida.

Bulger's death certificate identifies his cause of death as blunt-force injuries to the head, but many questions remain regarding why the FBI informant was placed in Hazelton's general inmate population rather than a place with better protection. Federal officials are mostly staying mum on the case, saying only that his death is under investigation, AP reported.

"This was really a dereliction of duty," said Joe Rojas, a union representative for the correctional staff at Coleman prison. "There's no way he should have been put in that institution."

Bulger evaded police for 16 years before being captured in 2011. The mysterious circumstances of his death have spurred rumors, fueled by his family, that he was "deliberately sent to his death," according to AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Whitey Bulger Mugshot
Three years have passed since Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger was killed within hours of arriving at a West Virginia prison, but federal officials investigating his death have yet to charge anyone. Above, Bulger in 2011. Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images

Steven Davis said holding someone accountable in the killing of the man accused of strangling to death his 26-year-old sister, Debra Davis, in 1981 doesn't change anything for him and other families.

"He had what was coming to him and it didn't come soon enough," the 64-year-old Boston-area resident said. "He's where he should have been a long time ago—in the dirt."

Federal officials have never officially publicly identified any suspects and have said only that they are investigating his death as a homicide.

But shortly after the killing, a former federal investigator and a law enforcement official who insisted on anonymity because of the ongoing probe identified two Massachusetts organized crime figures as suspects: Fotios "Freddy" Geas and Paul J. DeCologero.

Geas, a Mafia hitman serving life behind bars for his role in the killing of a Genovese crime family boss and other violent crimes, has been in a restricted unit at the West Virginia prison since Bulger's killing, even though no charges have been filed, said his lawyer, Daniel Kelly.

Kelly says Geas hasn't been provided regular reviews to see if he can be released from the unit but has petitioned to be returned to the general prison population, where he'd enjoy more freedoms, including the ability to call his family more often.

"He's remaining positive and upbeat, but it's a punitive measure," Kelly said. "It's a prison within a prison."

DeCologero, meanwhile, was moved earlier this year to another high-security penitentiary in Virginia. A member of a Massachusetts gang led by his uncle, DeCologero was convicted in 2006 of racketeering and witness tampering for a number of crimes and is scheduled to be released in 2026.

Brian Kelly, one of the federal prosecutors in Bulger's 2013 murder trial in Boston, said the delays may indicate prison officials don't have any witnesses or video evidence to support charges.

"In a prison environment they are going to have a tough time finding any witnesses to testify as to who did it," said Kelly, now a defense attorney.

A spokesperson for the federal prosecutors' office in West Virginia that's investigating Bulger's killing along with the FBI confirmed this month that the investigation remains open. The spokesperson, Stacy Bishop, refused to answer further questions, saying doing so could jeopardize the probe.

Bulger's transfer to Hazelton—where workers had already been sounding the alarm about violence and understaffing—and placement within the general population despite his notoriety was widely criticized by observers after his killing.

A federal law enforcement official told AP in 2018 that Bulger had been transferred to Hazelton because of disciplinary issues. Months before he was moved, Bulger threatened an assistant supervisor at Coleman, telling her "your day of reckoning is coming," and received 30 days in disciplinary detention.

Some answers may come in a federal lawsuit filed in West Virginia by Bulger's family. A trial has been set for February in the case, where prison system officials are accused of failing to protect Bulger from other inmates.

The lawsuit—filed on the two-year anniversary of his killing against the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the former Hazelton warden and others—says prison system officials were well aware that Bulger had been labeled a "snitch" and that his life was at heightened risk behind bars. Bulger strongly denied ever being an informant.

"USP Hazelton by all accounts was not an appropriate placement of James Bulger and was, in fact, recognized as so inappropriate, the appearance is that he was deliberately sent to his death" by the defendants, the lawsuit says.

The family is seeking damages for Bulger's physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as for wrongful death. Lawyers representing the family declined to comment and calls to William Bulger, a former Massachusetts Senate president and president of the University of Massachusetts who administers his late brother's estate, went unreturned this week.

Justice Department lawyers urged the judge in court documents filed this month to dismiss the claim, saying Bulger's family "cannot allege that BOP skipped some mandatory, procedural directive" in transferring him to Hazelton or putting him in the general population.

Attorneys for the individual defendants said in another legal filing that the lawsuit "makes no mention of Bulger objecting to his transfer" or "ever requesting protective custody or expressing concern for his safety" upon arriving at Hazelton.

Justice Department lawyers pointed to a declaration from an executive assistant at Hazelton that says staff interviewed Bulger the night of his arrival and reviewed other records to determine if there were non-medical reasons for keeping Bulger out of the general population.

An intake screening form signed by Bulger that was filed in court says that he was asked such questions as: "Do you know of any reason that you should not be placed in general population?" and "have you assisted law enforcement agents in any way?" Both questions were marked "NO."

Bulger Death Investigation
Three years after he was bludgeoned to death in a West Virginia prison, no one has been charged in the death of murderous Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger. Bulger was 89 when he was fatally beaten in October of 2018. Above, Bulger (right) is escorted from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to a waiting vehicle at an airport in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after attending hearings in federal court in Boston on June 30, 2011. Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP