MARK PATTON takes a personal view of the sad trajectory of US race relations
I was five. It was 1957. My recently divorced father had custody of me for the weekend. What I can recall from such a distant time, is that we had been traveling down a rural state road outside of Toledo, Ohio. It was late, I was sleepy and I had no idea of where we were headed to. Suddenly a white station wagon veered into the road from out of a farmer’s driveway. I woke up quickly as I careened into the dashboard and on to the floor as my father slammed the brakes of his faded navy blue, 1952, Chevy. The station wagon passed across the front of our car, then crashed into the rear quarter of another car that had been heading towards us in the opposite lane — instantly ejecting the operator of this vehicle out onto the roadway.
My father jumped out of our car, as did several other motorists. The station wagon then backed off the roadway to the front of the driveway it had come from. Two young men came out of it and leaned against the hood of their car. My father, as well as other witnesses to the accident, went to the aid of a man who had been injured by being catapulted onto the highway. He was sitting in the middle of the roadway and they attempted to get him up onto his feet. But this didn’t work. He kept falling back onto the ground. I later learned that both of his knees had been broken. There he sat, as my father went about collecting papers blowing about from a snapped open briefcase. I could see, from all of the headlights illuminating the scene, that the man was wearing a suit and he was a negro. I had been recently taught to call black people negroes, though coloured people was also acceptable.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol were soon on the scene, and the accident scene was further illuminated by the twirling red bubblegum lights on top of their cruisers. At this point my father reentered our car and attended to me. He felt that this was all a teachable moment for his young son. I gathered from his instruction that the black man was a businessman and an ambulance was on its way to help him to a hospital. My father then pointed to the two teenage farm boys, “See them?” I nodded compliantly, “They are drunk. Watch, the police will soon arrest them.” I then attentively watched the farm boys as they catcalled to the man sitting on the highway, shouting words that I had been taught never to use. The ambulance arrived, but it did not come for the black man. Instead, the ambulance crew persuaded the drunken farm boys to lie upon some stretchers and be carried into the back of the ambulance. Flummoxed, my father assured me that there was another ambulance coming for the man in the street. The police, who had been questioning the black businessman, now pulled him to his feet. Placing handcuffs on him, they loaded him into the back of one of their cruisers to take him off to jail. Shocked, my father went out to argue with them but was soon sent back to our car. Later on, he testified on behalf of the injured black man at his trial, but this did little good. The man received 90 days for reckless driving. To a boy of five, who hero-worshipped his dad, the most astonishing thing that had happened that night was how wrong my father was.
By 1959 I was living in a newly constructed lower middleclass housing development south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It neighboured Wendel, a small mining town that had seen better days. From our small yellow brick house, you could see hilltop orchards, steep pasture for beef cattle and a mountainous slag dump that towered over all. Our slag dump view diminished over the years as it was excavated to make ‘red dog’ driveways. Everyone in our neighborhood had one of those driveways made from heated waste coal and shale tailings. Next to the repetitive brick homes, the orange, pink and metallic purple crushed stone made the neighbourhood more interesting, as did the people who were living in those homes. Most of the children with whom I played in the street had fathers who had been combat veterans in World War II. Mr. Fisher, who lived near us, was in two navy vessels that sank in the Pacific. Despite his ordeals of so frequently treading water, he was perhaps the nicest person in the neighbourhood. There were also several Jewish families on the road. Across from us was a Jewish engineer, his wife and four boys. He too had served in the navy and had seen combat. Next to his house was a Jewish family whose matriarch was a concentration camp survivor. She slept all the time due to depression, and her husband would come out and scold the local children for waking her as they played in the street. Oddly, next to their house lived a German family, the Graffins. The local story concerning Mr. Graffin was that he had deserted the German army by stealing a boat and rowing across a lake to Switzerland. Again, befitting the idiosyncratic nature of the mixing in this neighborhood, the Graffins were bookended on their other side by a pretty young Jewish woman. Her rather incomprehensible story was that at age three she was smuggled out of Germany in a wagon driven by her mother, disguised as a Gypsy. As she told it, they were stopped and interrogated by soldiers, but since they pretended to be Gypsies, they were allowed to cross. Somehow, they managed to squeak through the Germans, even though the Germans were in the habit of rounding up Romani as well as Jews.
Several houses up from her house was another Navy man. He was big, doughy and bald and always wore a white T-shirt, sleeve rolled up to house his Camel Cigarettes, and cutoffs. However, the main reason for this excessive display of flesh was not to be comfortable on a hot day. It was to proudly display all of his maritime sexual conquests. He was tattooed all over his legs and arms with Betty Boop-like women, each bearing a name under them. These women had been memorialized in an assembly line production on his skin, all very similar, more like stamps than tattoos. Perhaps during a bout of nostalgia, he had consumed enough beer to dump his savings on having the job done all at once? He was not shy. Once while I was playing outside with his son, stepped out of his house, and upon my request, he lifted up his shirt and showed me the continuation of his love life, which lay beneath his T-shirt, inked there on his back and his chest for the duration of his life.
Our neighbourhood seemed to coexist rather well. Of course, there were occasional spats between children and housewives. There was no antagonism between ethnic groups, and the men got on quite well — finding time after their mill work to play a movable game of pinochle — going from one front door stoop to the next, up and down the street. However, two things happened to disrupt the quietude. The first was the night when the man at the top of the hill chased his wife down to the bottom of the hill. The chasing came to an end right in front of our house. I was in bed at the time and heard my playmates shouting,” Daddy! Daddy! Don’t shoot Mommy!” Then there was a bang. Daddy had arrived home earlier than expected from his nightshift, and found Mommy in bed with another man. This was my second encounter with law enforcement. The Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Department arrived, and once again, everything was lit up with flashing lights, this time. However, unlike the black man in the accident, Daddy wasn’t seriously prosecuted, if at all. Domestic bliss soon returned between Daddy and Mommy after the shooting. A few months later, as I was walking up the hill, I met Mommy coming down. I was very excited to see her. For a young boy back then, a bullet wound was about as neat a thing that you could have. So, I asked her if I could see it. There must have been some strange compulsion to lift clothing in this family, for she sheepishly complied, raising her skirt to her knee to display the scar.
About a year after the shooting, the second major local event took place. A Jewish engineer, directly across the street, had put his house on the market and sold it quickly. I remember the day the details of this sale got out. You could see all of the street’s menfolk congregating on the hill to the east of our house and also the hill to the west of our house. They soon came marching down from both directions and were very angry. Puzzled, my stepfather went out to find out what was going on. He too became angry. Then there was shouting for our neighbour across the street to come out and join them. He was very brave, for he did come out. Things became highly animated with cursing and shoving, but the demonstration ended almost as quickly as it had erupted. When my stepfather returned, he announced that our neighbour had sold his house to a mixed-race couple, and that property values were going to plummet, which did turn out to be the case.
Mrs. Brown, our new neighbour, was a huge white woman. She towered over all the men in the neighborhood. Her husband was a tall black man who owned and operated an eighteen-wheeler. They had only one child, a son, who also towered over a normal boy his age. Not long after their moving van pulled up, the Ku Klux Klan was summoned to help do something about the street’s ‘predicament’. One night, while the Brown family was enjoying an outing at the local drive-in theatre, the Klan showed up. They painted their garage door “N—-g—- Go Home, KKK”, and then they set up the traditional blazing fiery cross on their front lawn. When Mr. and Mrs. Brown drove into their driveway in their new shiny black Cadillac, stuffed full of their numerous children, they were quite shaken to see what had happened to their home. The sheriff’s department was called and they were puzzled as to the motivation for this crime. Why would a white family from Kentucky, by the name of Brown, be the object of the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan? Apparently, the Klan had gotten it wrong. They had attacked another Brown family house two streets up. After that, things quieted down. The Browns lived in their house for many decades till they passed away from old age. Mrs. Brown became the Sunday school teacher at the local Presbyterian church, and soon began complaining to my mother about my irreligiosity. The neighbourhood remained quiet for the next eight years we lived in it – and we did have a hard time selling our house.
I was 15 in 1967 and visiting my grandfather back in Toledo. At the time, I had a crush on the girl next door to his house. One day I worked up enough nerve to ask her out. To my surprise she said yes. This was to be the first date for both of us. My grandfather volunteered to drive the two of us to a theatre in downtown Toledo to see the movie Doctor Zhivago. After the picture was over, he was out front in his station wagon waiting to return us home. Initially, it was an uneventful trip. However, as we passed through the black neighborhood on Dorr Street, traffic slowed to a crawl. We had no idea as to what the problem was and assumed that there was a bad accident up ahead. Through the smoke, we saw that there was some kind of road block. The date was July 24th, the evening when the black riots in Detroit spilled over into Toledo. The day before, the Detroit Police had arrested all of the patrons of an after-hours night club welcoming home some Vietnam War veterans. Eighty-four blacks were included in the arrests. The subsequent riot required Michigan’s governor to mobilize nine thousand National Guard. Over 10,000 people participated in this riot, which left 43 people dead.
At the road block on Dorr Street, a mob of black men was surrounding cars as they tried to pass. Each vehicle was inspected and white men were being pulled out for a beating, before being allowed to move on. I thought we were all goners. We were stuck in line inching our way forward to receive a beating. When we got to where the barricade had been set up, my grandfather was told to roll down his window. A black man then poked his head through. He took a quick look at an old man in his mid-70s and a pair of 15 year-olds in the back seat, and elected not to hand out any beatings. We drove on.
Later that year, my family moved to Cape Cod. After graduating from high school in 1971, I became a member of the Research Vessel Chain. After leaving the Chain in 1973, I was offered a job as a summer police officer. I spent the next year pounding a beat and directing traffic. The political climate was similar to what we have today. Cars slowed down, as they passed me standing in the middle of an intersection – making pig noises, grunting, squealing, oinking, saying pig slowly and occasionally spitting. I had never dreamt of being a cop, but suddenly here I was in a blue suit carrying a gun and with one week’s training. I stayed on at the end of the summer as a provisional police officer. The next year, I enrolled in a degree program at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice, graduating in 1979. I worked my way through school, not only as a cop, but also as a Federal fisheries enforcement officer.
Unfortunately, I was handed my degree during a recession when jobs were scarce. But fortunately, I had taken the Massachusetts Civil Service exam for patrolman back in 1978. The scores were slow to be announced. Consequently, I went to Texas and worked in the oil patch until of the results finally came out. What a strange exam. With police racism in mind, the Commonwealth sought to diversify the racial composition of the state’s police departments. To this end, it came up with an interesting multiple-choice exam. Many of the questions had two right answers. The questions were scored one way or another dependent upon which question the majority of minorities chose. However, this scheme didn’t work; not enough minorities had passed the exam, so the final score for passing was lowered to a 65.
By the late 1980s, the Falmouth Police Department was notified by the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission that it was out of compliance with their racial quotas for the composition of its staff. Officially, we had one black. He was my good friend, Percy Kennedy, who went to high school with me. Unofficially, and in reality, the department was close to one third black. The explanation for this was that when individual black officers took the civil service exam, they did not check the black ethnicity box but filled in a blank space entitled other. For them, the other was Cape Verdean. Cape Cod has a significant Cape Verdean population. They came as sailors or cranberry bog workers in the late 19th century. Being from African Islands off of Mauritania and Senegal, Massachusetts Civil Service had no category for them. So, they were not counted as being of African heritage. So, our black chief, of Cape Verdean ancestry, had to go out and recruit two official civil service blacks for our department to be in compliance. He sent the recruited cadets off to a Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council police academy. Upon graduating, they were assigned a training officer for three months of hands-on patrol training. Regrettably, one of the trainees was just not meant for the job. After two years of effort, she was still in training. Our chief became fed up, and fired her. This wasn’t an easy thing to do with both civil service protection and police union protection. But that was not the end of it; she turned around and sued our chief through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for discriminating against her due to the fact that she was black. We had a black officer suing a black chief for racial discrimination. She received a settlement. Law suits weren’t uncommon in the Falmouth Police Department, and the Town frequently gave plaintiffs $50,000 to go away. It was cheaper that way.
I was on duty the night Percy’s brother was shot to death by the Yarmouth Police Department. Percy was called out of his sector and sent to the nearby Cape town to identify his brother, Michael. Michael had been allegedly involved in a burglary. He was pursued by two units and lost control when his vehicle hit sand and skidded into a tree. He was attempting to back out when the two officers who had been pursuing him approached his car on foot. During the inquest, it was articulated that the two white officers felt their lives were threatened — so they unloaded their revolvers into the car, reloaded and fired again.
I went to the police academy with one of these officers. He was a nice personable kid, who knew an awful lot about guns (maybe too much) and had been out of the academy for about a year when this shooting took place. Oddly, of the fourteen cadets in my class, two of my classmates had shot and killed someone during their first year on the road. No one else from this class shot anyone during the remaining years of their careers. Younger and freshly minted officers are the most aggressive. They have frequently had the ambition of joining a police force from an early age and have had a steady diet of police procedural movies and television series to fire their enthusiasm.
Young officers begin to take notice of the long, layered rap sheets with multiple felony convictions and no significant prison time. That’s when going to court becomes a farce. It dawns on them that only the judges take the courtroom seriously. Police work becomes a job and ceases to be a calling. Most veteran cops have as a goal getting through their shift with the least amount of trouble. Confrontations, racial or otherwise, are the last thing they want during a patrol.
Police see the best people at their worst and the worst people at their worst. Everyday contact with the meanest of our species eventually leaves its mark. Memories become choked, not with the names and events of great people and noble deeds but with the rap sheets of local felons and their crimes. Officers soon can recite criminal histories the way David Starkey can discuss the life stories of the monarchs of Britain. When the station dispatcher keys his radio microphone, blood pressure rises through all the department’s patrolling units. No one knows who is going to get the next call or what it will be. For those whose number isn’t called, there is relief. For those who receive a serious call, their minds race through possible scenarios and how they have dealt with similar events in the past, in hopes they will be up to the task.
Two years after Officer Kennedy’s brother had been killed, I was on patrol in East Falmouth. The base station microphone was keyed and I got a radio call that kept my blood pressure up for some time. A Golden Gloves boxing champion, who happened to be a black man, was going door to door ringing doorbells and punching out whomever answered. The radio dispatcher said he had fled the scene in a car. He was to be regarded as highly dangerous. My colleagues began piping up on the radio about what a good boxer he was, and that I should be very careful.
I asked the dispatcher for the boxer’s home address and headed there to find him. His mother and sister greeted me at the door, stating he was not there. They asked if they could come with me to look for their relative. Today’s policy and procedures manuals would have forbidden taking civilians for a ride in pursuit of a criminal, but back then you had much more latitude for independent thought. I let the two women into the rear lockdown area of my cruiser. Only a few minutes had past when the station advised me that the man I was looking for was now attacking people at a local supermarket. As we pulled up, the boxer was punching out a tenacious store manager. I took the time to unlock the doors for my passengers, then ran towards him. At this time, an officer in a dispatched backup unit arrived. He did the same thing that I was doing, but then checked himself, and cheerily announced his name while extending his hand. He went down, one two, out cold, with a broken jaw.
I anticipated his throwing a punch. His eyes moved to the right and a right hook came my way. I moved just in time to receive a glancing blow to my head, but still managed to get behind him and place a sleeper hold on his neck. This was a version of what was recently applied to George Floyd – taught in police academies as a way of stopping blood flow to the brain and causing someone to pass out. It is not a choke hold. I had used that hold a lot, with blacks and whites, and it saved me from being the recipient of a beating on many an occasion. However, this time it wasn’t needed. His mother and sister had left my cruiser and were now staring at him in horror. Suddenly the boxer appeared somewhat sane: “My ladies are here. You got me”. Now subdued, I handcuffed him and then had his ladies transported to the station. He relapsed into delusions as I transported him to the station’s prisoner drive-thru. It was a memorable ride. He was shouting about the devil, and yelling “Michael Kennedy”! Michael Kennedy, my friend Percy Kennedy’s brother. Back then, we had only a cage screen shielding the front seat from the back. The boxer took advantage of this and began spitting through the cage as he kicked at the front driver seat. I still can feel his saliva going down my back.
The shift commander was there to meet us in the drive-thru. He opened my cruiser’s back door and began talking to the boxer. They knew each other, and I could see that now a black officer was there, the raving lunatic went away and the boxer seemingly became normal and complacent.
I was told not to bother to book him but to drive him straight to the Taunton State Mental Hospital, about an hour away. The raving began as soon as I left. When I arrived at admissions, it was nearing 2 AM. The receptionist was in a sour mood. I was incredulous when she told me that, though beds were available, Cape Cod was assigned only five beds, which were all filled. I then had to return to the station, book my devil- talking prisoner, and place him in a cell. By 10 A.M. the next morning, he had been arraigned in court and released on bail.
For over three decades the Falmouth Police Department and the Town of Falmouth was terrorized by a short, spindly, Cape Verdean garbage contractor with snaps embedded in his scalp for the attachment of his toupee. Melvin Reine, the owner of Five Star Enterprises Garbage Collection, was not physically imposing, but willing to do anything to maintain people’s fear of him. They knew he’d run the risks, commit whatever crime it took to maintain control over the town. They also knew that no one seemed to care. Melvin was from a large family living off a small strawberry farm. He did not come from money. But he did do a stint in prison, and when he came out he was loaded.
Shortly after I moved to Falmouth, there were a series of fires reported as being due to arson. Eventually, these fires were attributed to Melvin Reine. He was successfully prosecuted for them and did two years in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction. Not long after his release, he quarreled with his wife Wanda. She disappeared. No one has ever heard from her since then, including their two boys, which Reine raised. Around this time, Melvin had been frequenting the company of an 18-year-old girlfriend, Shirley Souza. Coincidentally, her boyfriend, 16-year old Jeffrey Flanagan, was found dead in a cranberry bog just across the street from Melvin’s house. Jeffrey had been executed while on his knees by someone using a twelve-gauge shotgun. Melvin was never charged with this murder. I have seen the initial police report; an auto accident investigation would have had more detail.
The fires started up again, but now mostly for insurance fraud. In 1977, a 17-year-old boy, Paul Alwardt, had been implicated in some of these arsons and was to testify against Melvin before the Barnstable County Grand Jury. Then, like Wanda, he went missing, and like Wanda was never heard from again.
In 1979, Patrolman John Busby was on his way to work when a station wagon operated by Melvin’s brother, John Reine, cut him off. Shirley was in the passenger seat, and Melvin in the back with the window rolled down. A shotgun was again the choice of weapon. Busby was hit in the face, and his jaw was shattered. None of his assailants were ever arrested for this shooting, but Patrolman Busby was given a new identity and went into hiding for the next seven years.
I was not working for the department at this time, but pursing my degree. By October of 1980, I was again working for the Falmouth Police Department. Though I had not been there for the shooting of Officer Busby, I did talk to a lot of officers who were. Most felt, as with the Flanagan murder, that there was no serious attempt to investigate the crime. One asserted that Melvin was never questioned, though he was considered a prime suspect for threatening John’s life during an altercation a few days before the ambush took place.
Emboldened by shooting a cop and getting away with it, Melvin got into the habit of lighting a match and saying, “I smell smoke”, whenever he was stopped by a cop for a motor vehicle violation. Though I never had the occasion to stop Melvin, I once stopped his son Todd for illegally driving a garbage truck with no plate or proper license. I hadn’t been out of my cruiser for more than five minutes when Melvin appeared out of the blue. Evidently his car had a police scanner, so he heard me radio the station that I was stopping his son. Now that he was conveniently on scene, I decided to cite him, as the owner of the company that had allowed these violations.
Oddly, as I cleared the scene, I couldn’t get the station on my radio. This wasn’t normal, especially for anyone who was in the process of citing Melvin Reine. Five-minute status checks were mandated for all motor vehicle stops. I kept calling in to say that I had cleared my stop, but there was absolute silence. I began to think that my cruiser radio had failed, when an officer in a neighboring unit responded to my radio traffic. He informed me that the desk officer had announced that he was going to the bathroom. I never had heard an officer make such a declaration on the air. Interestingly enough, this officer had recently volunteered to work the desk radio. His desire to get out of his cruiser and behind a desk was due to the fact that he had had a motor vehicle stop involving Melvin and felt his life might be in jeopardy.
That evening, I ignored regulations and did not file my report and citation concerning Melvin with our station’s court officer. Instead, I and two other officers who had recently written similar citations for Melvin had our citations hand-carried to the court house by a State Police Captain. This State Police Captain was no fan of the garbage magnate, so made sure our paperwork wasn’t thrown in a convenient court waste basket.
Apparently, Melvin laboured under the misapprehension that the fix was in. He ignored the court house paperwork coming to him through the mail. Three separate cases and he disregarded them all. Subsequently, the court issued an arrest warrant for him. This was the first time since his release from Cedar Junction that Melvin had been arrested. The flabbergasted Reine was arrested at his house, taken to the station and booked (snap-on toupee removed for photographic purposes) and then arraigned at the Barnstable County District Court.
By 1986, I was the head of a division of the department that was responsible for records, gun permit licensing and press releases. Since the statute of limitations was about to expire on the Busby shooting, I thought I might get the press to do a major story about it and the unsolved murders in hopes of getting some new information that might bring about a prosecution. The editor of the Cape Cod Times agreed to do the story and was taken to North Carolina, where John Busby was in hiding by the State Police. We did not have the chief of police’s consent to do this. We did it on the sly. Only a few people knew about it and they were all necessary to make it happen.
The Cape Cod Times did a full length front page Sunday exclusive. This was the first time that the paper had ever used a colour photo. A bearded John Busby (due to the destruction of his jaw) told the Times in detail about the day he was headed to work and shot in the face. However, the result of all of this effort was the silence of crickets. Nothing happened. No one came forward. However, I did get an angry call back from the editor of the paper. Before going down to North Carolina to interview John, he received a death threat concerning going forward with the upcoming interview. Then the tyres to his car were flattened while he was in his office. Someone had alerted Reine.
By July 1990, I was no longer working for the Falmouth Police Department. I had become the director of the Falmouth Department of Natural Resources. Now there wasn’t any reason for me to have contact with Melvin Reine and I was glad of this. For the next ten years, I heard little about him. Then, on the 27th of October 2000, Falmouth Police Department’s Detective Captain Roman Medeiros (younger brother of the missing Wanda Reine) called to discuss a landfill operation off of Old Barnstable Road. I had no idea that there was such a thing, so we went to the site. It was the old strawberry farm that Reine’s parents had willed to their children. It was now surrounded by a ten-foot-high earthen berm, which totally masked the mounds of garbage within. We approached the land through a neighboring cranberry bog. When we crested the berm, I was amazed. There were acres of trash, a compound built for Melvin’s garbage trucks, and numerous thirty and one hundred cubic yard waste containers. It was such a flagrant violation of state laws that I felt sure that it must have been recently permitted and I just didn’t know about it. So, I pulled out my cellphone and started calling up officials. First, I called the Board of Health. The Board of Health refused to comment but told me to contact the Town’s engineering department. The Engineering staff would not comment due to their boss being away on vacation. The Building Department did comment, stating that the buildings there were for agricultural purposes, like a strawberry farm.
Soon, I learned that Melvin had been in a fight with his neighbour over the use of this land. The neighbour had called a group of town officials to complain. On the 28th of September, 2000, a mysterious 75-gallon drum of oil was dumped on this neighbour’s property. Of course, this criminal act was witnessed by good citizen Reine, who had promptly reported the spill. The Falmouth Fire Department, the Falmouth Health Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection were alerted. Again, no one notified me. Officials assembled at the scene and received a vague description of the vehicle and perpetrator of this ecological disaster. However, there was no way around it; the assembled officials could plainly see the piles of trash on Reine’s property from the site of the oil spill. They decided to work with him. He could be polite and assuaging when he wanted to, and promised to clean it up…but didn’t. And no one did check back on him. As for the woman on whose land the oil was dumped, she was forced to hire an eco-cleanup firm at her own expense. In desperation, another neighbour called the police, who in turn got hold of me. A search warrant was obtained, which discovered a solid mass of garbage to a depth of fourteen feet. The Massachusetts State Police brought their corpse sniffing dogs to the site. No bodies were found.
I called the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, who permitted all of the state’s landfills. They had no permits for the landfill, so they opened an investigation. However, they soon became spooked and sent the hot potato off to the investigation off to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division. I then arranged for several interviews between the AG’s office and Melvin’s two estranged sons in my office. Melvin’s sons were happy to fill them in. They were upset with their father because of a recent argument. After the argument, one of their houses caught fire.
My department then began developing a second case against Reine. Somehow, an industrial scale town dock from Martha’s Vineyard had been transported across Vineyard Sound, and dumped on private property. Guess who collected the disposal fee?
By now, you can imagine that Melvin was getting a bit peeved with us. Yes, death threats began coming in. A detective called me at home one Sunday to say that Melvin Reine was heard boasting that he was going to hire some boys in Boston to come down to put a man in greensix feet under. Melvin was supposed to have strong connections with the Boston Winter Hill Gang.
It should be noted that Whitey Bulger, the head of the Winter Hill Gang, was the brother of Billy Bulger, the then President of the Massachusetts Senate, and also an active informant for the F.B.I. He too was literally getting away with murder as the F.B.I. protected him from prosecution. This threat seemed plausible. I did ask the detective to put it in writing but he never found the time to do it. I found out about a second threat when an officer working a road detail stopped me and inquired about the death threats that were coming in concerning myself and a reporter with whom I was working. Apparently someone had called the Barnstable District Attorney’s Office Crime Prevention and Control Unit and made another threat. I called up the reporter, who told me that she had been recently warned by the District Attorney’s Office. Naturally I called up the District Attorney’s Crime Prevention and Control Unit and asked the state trooper who received the call why he hadn’t bothered to contact me? He said he’d forgotten. He played stupid, but did promise to write a report, which took him six months.
In 2002, all of the drama finally came to a head. A Ryder rental truck had parked in front of a kickboxing club in East Falmouth. The operator had foolishly parked in front of one of Melvin Reine’s dumpsters. When Melvin drove up to empty his dumpster, he became enraged. He expressed his displeasure by lifting the parked rental truck up and down with the lift tines on his garbage truck — slamming it down with each repetition. After his anger had passed, Melvin realized he might be charged with the assault on the truck. He and his lawyer went to the front desk of the Falmouth Police Department to discuss the matter. The duty sergeant promptly placed him under arrest. The judge presiding over Melvin’s arraignment became alarmed over the defendant’s preoccupation with how hard the courtroom benches were and remanded to the Bridgewater State Mental Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, then off to the Taunton State Mental Hospital. This time they found a bed. Twelve years later, while being held as criminally insane, Melvin died of Pick’s Disease.
The saga continued. In 2005, Shirley was found shot to death, ambushed in her garage. Melvin’s two sons were under investigation for the crime. No one has yet been charged. Around the time of her murder there was this revelation in the Cape Cod Times:
In a 2003 police report, Reine family members say Falmouth police officer Arthur Monteiro, who died in 1990, provided Reine with information about Busby’s routine before the shooting. He also gave Reine updates about the department’s investigation into the shooting, according to the report, which consists of Falmouth and state police interviews with Melvin Reine’s sons, Todd and Melvin Reine Jr., and his brother, John Reine
Arthur Monteiro was called Monty. He was a large Cape Verdean officer, whose eyes had the puffiness of being in the ring. I was told that the reason he was initially hired was that officers were sick of fighting him and wanted him on their side. He was also a Golden Gloves champion and our Cape Verdean chief of police’s brother-in-law.
On May 17th, 2020, a commemorative service was held at a newly created memorial garden in front of the Falmouth Police Department. This garden features four monuments celebrating officers who have been singled out for their “Honor”, “Integrity”, “Commitment” and “Dedication”. You can see how things have changed since the night of that accident, when I was five years old and seated in my father’s faded navy blue,1952, Chevy.
MARK PATTON is a former US Fisheries enforcement officer, police officer, and Falmouth and Woods Hole Area’s Director of Natural Resources. He is also the author of the novel The Haunting of Westminster Abbey