James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster whose violent life of crime was portrayed in books and Hollywood films, was found dead in a federal prison in West Virginia early Tuesday.
That means he’ll never stand trial for the 1982 Miami murder of gambling executive John Callahan.
Although Bulger was convicted in Boston and was serving a federal life sentence for 11 murders, he was still technically facing an open murder charge in Miami-Dade state criminal court. State authorities would likely not have sought to try him in South Florida — a trial would have been costly to the taxpayers, and Bulger’s federal sentence was secure after he lost his appeals.
Bugler’s death Tuesday dredged up tough memories for Callahan’s widow and now-adult son and daughter. His widow, 78-year-old Mary Jane Callahan, said “there is no closure” with Bulger’s death.
“But he is facing a judge now that he can’t fool,” she told the Miami Herald.
Bulger, 89, had been serving his time at the Coleman federal prison in Sumterville. According to the Boston Globe, he had just been transferred to Hazelton federal prison in Bruceton Mills, and authorities are investigating another inmate with Mafia ties in the death.
“James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s criminal activities were marked by the many corpses he and his associates left behind in car trunks, alleyways and empty fields. Apparently, a jury in Miami will never be determining his fate,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement Tuesday.
”His federal life sentence has been ended by someone he was with in prison. Although we never condone the taking of a life, his demise does close a dark chapter in Miami’s recent history.”
In Miami, state prosecutors say Bulger and his henchmen ordered the assassination of John Callahan, an executive at World Jai-Alai who had partnered with the gang to skim money from the operation in 1982. The gangsters were tipped off by Boston FBI Agent John Connolly, who told them Callahan might cooperate with authorities in the probe of an earlier mob murder.
The mobsters dispatched notorious hit man John Martorano to kill Callahan, leaving his corpse in a Cadillac trunk at Miami International Airport. During a riveting trial in Miami in 2008, a host of underworld figures testified against Connolly. That included Martorano — who has long since been released from prison.
Bulger had been Connolly’s informant but corrupted the FBI agent. Their twisted relationship became crime lore in Boston, and served as the loose basis for the 2006 movie “The Departed.” Johnny Depp played Bulger in “Black Mass,” a 2015 film about the gangster.
At the time of the Miami trial against Connolly, Bulger was still a fugitive. However, his presence loomed large throughout weeks of riveting testimony, said retired Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake, who tried the case.
Still, the Callahan family might have wanted to see him held accountable. “A trial would have been some solace to the families,” Blake said.
After 17 years on the lam, Bulger was captured outside Los Angeles in 2011 and sent to prison.
Miami jurors convicted Connolly of second-degree murder with a firearm, and he is serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida. He has a possible parole release date of 2039.
With the Callahan probe officially over, his widow hopes FBI agents will finally return his personal belongings seized over three decades ago from his offices as part of the investigation. That includes a gold Rolex watch and his clothes.
Said Mary Jane Callahan: “He would have worn certain things at certain times and that brings back memories.”