“Tuning Up” Whitey Bulger

“Tuning up” is the euphemism the Mob uses for beating someone to death.

Whitey Bulger, in case you’re not up to speed on the Irish Mafia in Boston’s  South Side, or didn’t see the 2015 film Black Mass starring Johnny Depp, was the boss of the notorious Winter Hill gang. The Irish Mafia did all the things their counterpart Italian Mob figures did, although there was a twist here: while running the gang Bulger was simultaneously an FBI informant.

His FBI handler tipped him in 1994 that he was going to be arrested, and Bulger fled with his longtime girlfriend, living on the lam until his capture in 2011. He was 81 years old. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two life terms in prison. He had just been moved to a U.S. penitentiary in Hazleton, PA, when he was killed in rather brutal fashion by another inmate — “tuned up” as they say. Bulger was 89 years old and in a wheelchair, so not much resistance there. The beating was so harsh and merciless his eyeballs were dislodged.

Normally we’d feel sorry for a defenseless old man beaten badly enough that his eyeballs jumped their sockets, but I don’t know that Bulger had any claim to mercy. Bulger in his day was brutal; he was personally convicted of 19 murders, not to mention what the Winter Hill gang did on his orders. Maybe, when Bulger saw his killer coming at him and knew there was nothing he could do, he  had moments to feel regret.

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