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By Pete Williams, Tom Winter, Rich Schapiro and Andrew Blankstein
Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed Tuesday inside a federal prison in West Virginia — and investigators are probing whether he was beaten to death by another inmate or inmates, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials.
Bulger, 89, was found unresponsive about 8:20 a.m. at the high-security penitentiary USP Hazelton in West Virginia, according to a Justice Department statement.
“Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff,” the statement said.
But Bulger was subsequently pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner, the Justice Department said.
Bulger had arrived at the prison on Monday after being transferred from a Florida correctional facility.
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia have opened an investigation into the killing. No other staff or inmates were injured, officials said.
Tommy Donahue, whose father Michael was shot dead by Bulger in 1982, was celebrating the news of the mobster’s killing.
“If I could, I’d put money in the guy’s canteen whoever killed him,” Donahue told NBC News.
“It’s going to bring me a lot of pleasure knowing that for eternity he’s going to get a pitchfork in the ass from the devil himself.”
J.W. Carney Jr., Bulger’s federal defense lawyer, said, “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.”
Reached outside his home, Bulger’s brother John told NBC10 Boston that he had yet to hear from any prison or federal officials about his sibling’s death. “I heard he wasn’t feeling good a while back. That’s all I heard,” John Bulger said.
The feared former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, Bulger was convicted in 2013 of participating in 11 murders stretching from Massachusetts to Florida to Oklahoma.
Bulger, who was also an FBI informant, was sentenced to life in prison.
On his way to Florida, Bulger was briefly held at transfer facility in Oklahoma. Though Bulger is known to have medical ailments, it’s not clear why he was on the move, the Boston Herald reported.
Bulger had spent 16 years as as one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives before he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011. Authorities found inside the apartment more than $800,000 in cash and an arsenal of weapons.
Bulger was arrested with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Greig, now 67, pleaded guilty in 2012 to identity fraud and harboring Bulger. She remains locked up at a federal women’s prison in Minnesota.
In 2014, Bulger was transferred out of a high-security prison in Arizona over concerns about his relationship with a female psychologist who was counseling him, according to the Boston Globe. Bulger was taken to U.S. Penitentiary Coleman II in Sumterville, Fla.