A former mafia hit man is a suspect in Tuesday’s prison slaying of 89-year-old James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious New England mob boss turned informant, according to multiple news reports.
Bulger, who spent years on the lam and was the subject of the Johnny Depp-starring Black Mass, was killed Tuesday at a federal prison in West Virginia.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of West Virginia said their office and the FBI were investigating Bulger’s death as a homicide. He was beaten to death, according to the Boston Globe.
Fotios “Freddy” Geas — a mafia killer who “hated rats,” a private investigator who knew him told the Globe — is suspected in the slaying, the Associated Press, the Globe and the New York Times report.
Geas along with one other inmate are believed responsible in the killing, which occurred just hours after Bulger arrived at Hazelton Penitentiary, according to the AP.
The Globe reports that, according to their sources, Geas did not deny involvement.
The Times described Bulger’s killing as carefully planned, out of view of security cameras, and committed with a padlock stuffed into a sock.
“They apparently tuned him up to the point where he was unrecognizable,” one law enforcement official told the paper.
Two inmates, including Geas, were put in solitary confinement after Bulger’s death, the Times reports, citing prison documents and prison employees.
Bulger’s former attorney Hank Brennan told the AP that Bulger was in a wheelchair recovering from a hip injury when he was attacked.
Geas, 51, is serving a life sentence for two murders — including the 2003 killing of mafia head Adolpho “Big Al” Bruno in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Globe reports.
Private investigator Ted McDonough, who knew Geas, told the paper that “Freddy hated guys who abused women.”
“Whitey was a rat who killed women,” he said. “It’s probably that simple.”
Geas’ former attorney David Hoose told the Globe that Geas “wouldn’t rat on anybody. And he had no respect for anyone who would.”
Speaking with the Times, Hoose said he did not know if Geas could have been involved. He echoed his comments to the Globe, noting Geas “has a particular distaste for cooperators.”
Bulger served for nearly three decades as the head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. His work as an informant for law enforcement gave him cover to commit violence.
He fled from federal authorities in 1994 and was finally arrested in 2011, in Santa Monica, California, and then convicted in 2013 in connection with nearly a dozen murders, among other crimes.
Bulger was serving two life sentences at the time of his death this week. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his bid to have his convictions overturned.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment because of the ongoing investigation.
In an earlier statement, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling for the District of Massachusetts, which prosecuted Bulger, said: “We received word this morning about the death of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Our thoughts are with his victims and their families.”
Bulger was found “unresponsive” on Tuesday at approximately 8:20 a.m. at Hazelton Penitentiary in Bruceton Mills, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“Life-saving measures were initiated immediately by responding staff,” the statement read. “Mr. Bulger was subsequently pronounced dead by the Preston County Medical Examiner.”
Patricia Donahue, whose husband’s shooting death was linked to Bulger, reportedly celebrated his demise.
“It’s been a long time waiting,” she told the Times. “Now my family can relax a little bit, now that we don’t have to worry about hearing his name all the time.”