Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger was wrapped in a blanket and put in bed with his head on the pillow to make it look like he was sleeping after being choked and fatally beaten with a "lock-in-the-sock" inside his cell, multiple law enforcement officials briefed on the case tell NBC News.
NBC Investigations reported Wednesday about the apparent use of the "lock-in-the-sock," which involves placing a prison lock inside an inmate's sock and hitting the victim repeatedly. Several sources familiar with the investigation say that Bulger was hit repeatedly.
Investigators are working to build an exact timeline of events leading up to his death, how and why he was placed in the West Virginia lock-up and who is responsible for the killing.
Fotios "Freddy" Geas, a reputed New England mafia hitman has been named as a potential suspect, but law enforcement sources tell NBC News he is one of several potential actors they are looking at in the Bulger killing.
Geas was friendly with a South Boston man who was convicted of murder in 1981. Fred Weichel had long blamed Bulger for framing him for the crime, for which he served nearly 40 years until it was overturned. Weichel and Geas both served time together in Massachusetts.
Weichel's attorney, however, disputed any claim that his client could have motivated Geas to kill Bulger at all. Attorney Christopher Nasson said while there was certainly "no love lost" between his client and Bulger, Weichel was not dwelling on the past.
Bulger was found dead the morning after being transferred to United States Penitentiary, Hazelton in Bruceton, West Virginia. He had previously been in a prison in Florida, with a stopover at a transfer facility in Oklahoma City. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials and his attorney declined to comment on why he was being moved.
Sources say Bulger was processed at USP Hazelton starting at 8 p.m. Monday. Processing took about two hours and included background checks and medical assessments.
The prison was locked down for the night sometime around 10 p.m. Monday and Bulger likely got to his cell around that time. The prison lockdown is lifted after the 5 a.m. prisoner count ends, typically around 6:15 a.m. Authorities believe Bulger was killed sometime between then and 8:20 a.m., when correction officers discovered him unresponsive in his cell after he failed to show up for breakfast.
One key issue being examined is Bulger's medical classification when he was transferred to West Virginia. There are four Bureau of Prisons medical care levels. Documents obtained by NBC News show Bulger was classified as 2 in West Virginia, a lower level than when he was in other medical facilities in the BOP system. They also show a code indicating his medical treatment had been completed, allowing for referral to general population.
That reclassification came months after he allegedly threatened a nursing supervisor in Florida, saying "your day of reckoning is coming." It is not immediately clear what role, if any, this played shipping him to a different prison. Documents show that on the day he was killed, he was scheduled to for some kind of medical exam in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Bulger led the Irish mob in South Boston for decades and became an FBI informant who supplied information on the New England Mafia, his gang's main rival, in an era when bringing down the Italian mob was a top national priority for the bureau.
Tipped off that he was about to be indicted, Bulger became a fugitive and eluded authorities for 16 years before being captured in 2011. He was convicted in 2013 in 11 underworld slayings and a long list of other crimes and was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Bulger's attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., blamed his death on prison officials, saying Bulger "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."
The investigation is ongoing.