Chapter 2: The Wiseguys

November 20, 2016

How does a kid from Providence become a mob enforcer? Two men share their personal stories of joining Raymond Patriarca’s crime family. As they move from their formative years on the street to maximum security, they come up against murder charges, jailhouse feuds…and even the occasional farm animal.

For credits and more information about this episode, visit crimetownshow.com.

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Show transcript

BOBBY WALASON: Good morning.

ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Morning.

BOBBY: What’s going on?

ZAC: How you doing?

BOBBY: Terrible.

ZAC: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

ZAC: This is Bobby Walason. He’s built like a pit bull: short, wide, and muscular. Bobby runs a moving company. And today, he’s “terrible” because one of his employees just called in to say he’s not showing up for work.

BOBBY: He claimed that his girlfriend’s aunt died. And he had to go to the funeral this morning. So when he gets back from the funeral, he has to go to fucking unemployment line.

ZAC: Bobby’s company has been in business for 24 years. As he’ll tell you, it’s won a lot of customer service and loyalty awards.   

BOBBY: I’m proud of that, too.

ZAC: You should be.

MARC SMERLING: You should be.

BOBBY: I’m proud that I have a business that went that long. It’s hard. And believe me, I am sure that people are saying, Why would you want to use him? He was involved in all this stuff…

ZAC: Stuff he doesn’t like to talk about. See, Bobby has a secret past. We’ll get into that past in a second. But first we’re going to meet another guy. He spends a lot of time on his favorite hobby.  

ZAC: Can you tell us about one of your characters?

JERRY TILLINGHAST: Yeah, I have a character, it’s called the Hunter. And he’s a mix between a ranger and a druid. And he casts spells as well as hunt. And I have a companion that’s a tiger that’s almost at full grown.

ZAC: This is Jerry Tillinghast. In case you’re not familiar with fantasy role-playing games, he’s talking about Dungeons and Dragons. Jerry—he’s a dungeon master.

JERRY: Like, say if I want to check out an area, now I’m linked to the cat, I send the cat out, and the cat can see things and I can see what the cat sees, within a mile. And I can communicate with the cat, psychologically. We’re linked. It’s all in your head! As long as you can think, the game’ll never end.

ZAC: Where Bobby is short and muscular, Jerry is tall and heavyset, with dark eyes and grey hair and a beard that still has a few wisps of red in it. But like Bobby, Jerry has a past very different than the life he leads today.

See, for many, many years, Bobby and Jerry were both enforcers in Raymond Patriarca’s vast empire of crime.

BOBBY: In that day, being a wiseguy was the coolest fucking thing on the planet. There was nothing cooler. Movie stars wanted to be around them.

JERRY: Our crew were mongrels. We were all mutts. We not only had the most stand-up crew, we the toughest fucking crew, and we had the best crew. And we were all innocent.

MARC: In the last episode, we introduced you to Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, and told you about his battle with Providence mob boss Raymond Patriarca.

ZAC: Now, we’re going to take you deep inside in the inner workings of the Patriarca crime family. And we’re going to do it through the eyes of these two men: Bobby Walason and Jerry Tillinghast. Today’s episode: Climbing the ladder of organized crime. I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.

MARC: I’m Marc Smerling. Welcome…to Crimetown.

[Title sequence]

ZAC: For a lot of guys, their journey into the mob started longer ago than you might think. And to understand how they got there, you have to go way, way back.  

MARC: Let’s go back to the beginning. This is going to be the tough part for you, I think, is talking about your family and how you grew up. Want to talk about that a little bit?

BOBBY: Yeah, yeah. I guess we could. I’ll tell you what I knew well, in the beginning: I knew hate, and I knew it well.

ZAC: Bobby Walason’s journey starts long before he had a moving company. Long before he even had a driver’s license. It starts all the way back when Bobby was a little kid growing up in Oakland Beach, a seedy shore town just south of Providence.

MARC: What was your first memory of your dad?

BOBBY: First memory? When he picked me up and threw me into the air and I landed on a mattressless—remember them iron springs back in the day? And it broke my nose. And I was two. I remember the blood. I remember the blood dripping. That was my first real memory of my father.

ZAC: So, when he was old enough, Bobby ran away from home.  

BOBBY: And then at about 12, I left. I ended up sleeping on the fucking—the hill at Merino Park, having to steal clothes off the clotheslines. Okay I’ll take this sweater, let’s grab that blanket so we can sleep in a box, a cardboard box. It was tough, it was tough. And I got a little bit harder every day. I got harder and harder. And that’s it. At 12 years old, man, I felt like I was 40.

ZAC: By the time he was a teenager, Bobby had been arrested many times. And then, at just 16 years old, he was sent to maximum security at the Adult Correctional Institution, or ACI.  

The ACI is a notorious Rhode Island prison. It’s like a castle—it’s huge and dark, with slits for windows. There are guard towers and high walls, spirals of barbed wire. It’s a scary place.

BOBBY: Man, when I walked in there. First of all, I heard the talking and screaming and the music, ‘cause you had guys screaming at other guys, people getting drunk, getting high.

Right there it hit me. It’s like, whew. You’re there, this is it. I always knew as a kid I was gonna end up there, I knew. This is my only avenue. There’s nowhere else to go, you know?

ZAC: The ACI turns out to be a key stop in Bobby’s journey from troubled teen to mob enforcer.  But for now we’re going to leave him there, and go back to the other guy we’re following: Jerry Tillinghast, the dungeon master.

His path to the mob also started with violence in his youth, but a different kind of violence: in the Vietnam war.

MARC: Think about why you went to Vietnam, why you volunteered.

JERRY: I’m gonna tell you why, because—you’re gonna laugh at this but when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, that affected me so bad, I wanted to get even with somebody. To me, he was a hell of a man.

ZAC: And so Jerry enlisted, and he soon found himself far from Providence, in a jungle on the other side of the planet, fighting a war he didn’t understand.

JERRY: All I knew is we were put in someone else’s home and we had to destroy it. You feel bad for the people at first, but after a while, you don’t.

We used to get the Stars and Stripes paper, and see about different things that were taking place, and how they found our guys on patrol, mutilated and shit. And the more we read the more angry we got. Like the captain used to say, Look it, make sure you bring back prisoners. Yeah, yes sir. Go fuck himself, we ain’t bringing back no prisoners. After a while you don’t care, you just don’t give a fuck. I don’t know. They don’t turn you off.

ZAC: When Jerry came home from Vietnam, he reunited with his brothers. There were four of them—the Tillinghasts. They grew up in a rough part of town, South Providence, and they’d always dabbled in petty crime. They used to steal bikes, lift bread from bakery trucks, pry cobblestones off the streets. Everybody in the neighborhood knew about the Tillinghast boys.

Jerry was especially close with his older brother Harold. They even sort of looked alike—people used to mix them up.  But while Jerry was in Vietnam, they had grown apart. Now, Harold was moving up in the ranks of organized crime. And things were getting serious.   

One evening, Jerry and Harold were out with a few friends at the Peter Pan Diner. It was late on a Monday night. November 11, 1968. At one point, Jerry looked up and noticed that Harold was gone.

JERRY: I’m looking all over, I said, Where the fuck is my brother?—Harold. So I go out back. He’s got a shotgun and in his fucking eyes are as big as yoyos and his fucking face is pale. And I said, What are you doing? I said, Give me that fucking thing. I said, get the fuck out of here.

ZAC: Jerry reached out and took the shotgun from Harold’s hands.  

Jerry waited alone in the parking lot of the diner, cradling the shotgun. Eventually a car pulled up. The man behind the wheel rolled down the window…and was surprised to see Jerry standing there, instead of Harold.

JERRY: He says, Where’s Harold? I said, I sent him home, don’t worry about it. You got the best of the deal. Whatever he was going to do, you got me, not him.

ZAC: Why’d you do that?

JERRY: It was my brother. ‘Cause he woulda got hurt. ‘Cause I know, whatever it was they were gonna do, and I’m not gonna go into it, he wasn’t made up like that. Me, I’d just come back from fucking combat and everything else. That’s all I knew, was fucking destruction and shit like that, from what we did in the service. I had no idea what it was, but I didn’t give a fuck, I just was looking out for my older brother.

Worst decision I ever made in my life. What’re ya gonna do?

ZAC: Jerry got into the car and drove off into the night.

He won’t say what happened next. But as the sun broke over Federal Hill, word travelled fast that someone had been murdered: a bookie named Mousie Rotondo.

ALBERT BERARDUCCI: It was shock, I remember it to this day.  

ZAC: This is Albert Berarducci. As a kid he knew Mousie, the guy who got killed. He liked to hang around Mousie’s crap game, and watch the older guys shoot dice.  But that day, when young Albert showed up, it was a crime scene.

ALBERT: I looked in, the cops were there, and there’s Mousie in two pieces. His legs are one side of the room and his torso is on the other side. It was like, what the fuck? I mean the fucking guy is in half. He didn’t get shot once, I’ll tell you that.

Did I throw up or run away? No, I stood there, I looked at it, I absorbed it. And I said what the fuck. And I went home. I went home.

ZAC: According to police, that hit on Mousie? That was the mission Jerry signed up for when he decided to take the gun from his brother Harold.

MARC: So what happened next?

JERRY: We got arrested.

MARC: For that.

JERRY: Well, actually, that was our first murder case. We got charged with Mousie Rotondo.

ZAC: While Jerry was awaiting trial, he was sent to the ACI—the same huge, terrifying prison where Bobby got sent when he was just 16.  But, unlike Bobby, Jerry fit right in.

JERRY: If you go to jail, if somebody fucks with you, you got to make an example so nobody will fuck with you again. So I’m in the gym working out, and I’m in pretty good shape as it was. I go over to this black guy, he’s about 6’ 4”. He’s strong, he’s pumping up 250 like it’s water. I said listen, can I use them 25s? He said when I’m done with them. I said you’re not using them. He said, did you hear what I said? When I’m done with them. Now get the fuck away from me. People listening. I said all right. So I reached down, bopped him off the fucking head with it, and bopped him again. The weight was on his throat, almost killing him. I said, well, alright if I borrow ‘em now? You’re not gonna need ‘em, right?

ZAC: Can you tell me how that felt?

JERRY: Uh…Good. I don’t know why it did, but. Listen, if you’re gonna be bad, be good at it. If you’re gonna be good, be good. If you’re gonna be bad you have to be good at it, because there’s no in between.

ZAC: Two up-and-coming criminals, Jerry Tillinghast and Bobby Walason, both at the ACI. And it’s here that they meet the man who will change their lives forever.

That’s coming up after the break.

[Break]

ZAC: Welcome back to Crimetown. This episode, we’re following two men, Bobby Walason and Jerry Tillinghast, as they work their way up from petty crime to organized crime.

Let’s pick back up with Bobby, the kid who ran away from home and landed at the ACI at just 16 years old. When he arrived at the ACI, he quickly learned how things worked. Maximum security was split in two: North State and South State. Bobby was put in South State, the unit for regular prisoners. North State? That was for the wiseguys.  

In between the two was the prison yard.  And it’s here in the yard that Bobby took his next step to becoming a wiseguy. It all started with one of Bobby’s friends: a guy named Eddie.

BOBBY: Eddie was walking around the yard recruiting all of his boys, because he had a problem in North State.

ZAC: Eddie was looking to settle a beef he had with another inmate. And Bobby agreed to back him up. So, together, they walked across the yard, toward a bench, where a group of distinguished older gentlemen were sitting.

BOBBY: So we walk over, and as we walk toward the bench near the basketball court, there’s Raymond Patriarca, Gerard Ouimette to his right.

ZAC: Raymond Patriarca, the boss of the new england mob. And Gerard Ouimette, his lieutenant. Patriarca was in and out of prison pretty often over the years, and Gerard Ouimette was his number two at ACI.

BOBBY: I knew that this whole bench was powerful because I had seen Patriarca before, I know who that is. And Gerard, I had a sense of who he was, you know, he was a powerful guy.

ZAC: Turns out that Gerard Ouimette was the guy Eddie had a beef with. And before Bobby realized what was happening, Eddie pulled out a shank and threatened Ouimette, right there in front of Patriarca. This was a bad idea. Even teenage Bobby knew that.

BOBBY: I don’t know what came over me, I just reached over, grabbed his arm. I said, come on, you can’t do this Eddie, you can’t do this to these people. He said, Are you fucking nuts? And he went like this with his arm. But the guards caught it, what was going on. They blew the horn. So everybody cleared away and Eddie finally turned and walked away. I said, You can’t fucking do that, that was Patriarca.

ZAC: They’d been saved by the bell. But they weren’t in the clear yet. As Bobby was walking away, someone ran over with a message. Gerard Ouimette wanted Bobby to come North State for a face-to-face meeting.

This could be a death sentence. But it wasn’t something Bobby could refuse.

BOBBY: So I come to the North State door and he already knew my name, he knew everything. He said, Walason, huh? That was really something that you did. You had a lot of balls, kid. How old are you? And I told him. He said, Wow, you’re young. He said, Come on in. Come on in here. We’re gonna move you over to this side. Put you over here with us.

ZAC: Bobby’s bravery had caught Ouimette’s eye. And hanging out with the wiseguys came with some perks.

BOBBY: Gerard says, Can I get you a drink? I said, Yeah sure. He goes, What do you want? I said, I’ll take anything. I knew what he was talking about, ‘cause, you know, I’m with the boys. And he comes over with Scotch.

MARC: Can you describe that? You knew something is different with these guys, obviously, you know Patriarca, but nobody has glasses.

BOBBY: What do you mean glasses? You don’t even get cups. You get a paper cup when you eat. But this was a glass, ice, the whole thing, Scotch, beautiful. You wanna use the phone?

ZAC: That’s right. Ouimette was so powerful he had his own phone—inside his cell, inside maximum security. And it didn’t stop there.

BOBBY: Sure, thank you. I used the phone, I called Doreen, the girl I was with.

They snuck in girls. They snuck in Gerard’s son. Freddy Bishop had a freaking goat. He was doing time with his goat. What was he doing with that goat?

MARC: They ran the prison.

BOBBY: Ran it like you wouldn’t believe. The warden did whatever they told him.

MARC: So they were just trying to keep the peace.

BOBBY: What, the warden? Yeah. Well, keep the peace and keep his family. I’m telling you. I mean, that’s the way it was.

ZAC: This—Bobby winding up in Gerard Ouimette’s cell, drinking Scotch—it was all part of a strategy. The ACI was like a recruiting office for the Patriarca crime family. After all, where better to spot young criminal talent…than in a prison?

And one of the hottest recruits there was the other guy we’re following. The Vietnam veteran who’s good at being bad: Jerry Tillinghast.

When Jerry arrived at the ACI, he was given a work assignment in North State. And it wasn’t long before he met the boss himself: Raymond Patriarca.

JERRY: I was a porter in his area. He used to be in his room a lot. Just out of sheer respect on who he was, even officers would say, Do you need anything? Anything you want? Because he was a gentleman. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice all the time he was there. So I’d go there, see if he needed a paper or something like that, and we’d talk about different things. Not about crime or anything of that nature. We talked about life in general. There was just something about him. It was like a magnet.

ZAC: Jerry and Bobby were in. Now they had a purpose: a new boss, a new life, and a blossoming career in a massive criminal organization. Here’s Bobby again.

BOBBY: That was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Because what am I now? I’m not only a little wild crazy hoodlum, but now I’m one with power. Which is terrible. Because now I’m capable of anything. I think I got Raymond Patriarca behind me.

ZAC: And soon both men were out. Bobby finished his short sentence. And the murder charges against Jerry were dismissed for lack of evidence.

JERRY: They didn’t have any evidence, and I tell them because we didn’t do it, that’s why you got no fucking evidence. And there’s no lands and grooves on a shotgun, so they can’t trace it.

ZAC: Common knowledge, right?

Anyway, once they were back on the street, both Bobby and Jerry were put to work.  Bobby met Patriarca’s underboss and was set up with his own franchise.

BOBBY: I mainly loan sharked. The loan sharking was the best business. Here, here’s a hundred, I’ll see you Friday. Give me 20 bucks, you still owe me a hundred. I’ll see you next Friday. Give me 20 bucks, you still owe me a hundred. And it goes on and on with everybody forever. Because you don’t lend 100. You lend 5,000, you lend 10,000. That loan shark money was fucking unbelievable.

ZAC: Bobby also ran protection rackets. He would stand at the door to a club and collect a cover charge, which went directly to the mob. He did this in clubs all over Providence.

BOBBY: The Gallery, the Bushwacker, the Peppermint Lounge. Fun places. They were actually fun. And we had a great time.

MARC: You guys were kings.

BOBBY: Yeah, we were like the kings down there. But when somebody stepped out of line you had to do your thing, beat them up or throw them in a dumpster. Whatever it was.

ZAC: For Bobby, what was so impressive about the crime family was Patriarca’s sheer power. His ability to manage a sprawling empire of gambling rings and protection rackets, to keep the faucet of money flowing, to have an army of foot soldiers at his beck and call. From Bobby’s place at the bottom of the organization, he looked up and saw something he admired: a man in total control.

BOBBY: I respected him then for the boss that he was. But as the years went on and I started to understand, and I was sat down and told what the territories are and all this stuff here and what goes where and all that, now I had a lot of respect for him because of the way he operated.

DAN BARRY: Here’s a chart. But look at the names. So this is when Raymond Sr. was alive. The underboss, Bianco. Ouimette. Rudy Sciarra.

ZAC: Dan Barry, a former reporter from the Providence Journal, is showing us a mob organizational chart. It’s a who’s who of Patriarca’s crime family, made by the Rhode Island state police.  

Raymond Patriarca, obviously, is at the top. A line connects him to the underboss. Below the underboss, the line splits to connect six capos, or captains. Each capo runs his own crew or faction, which contains between 30 and 50 soldiers. Next to each soldier’s name is a cluster of numbers.

DAN BARRY: Then it’s all numbered in terms of what their areas of expertise are. We have pornography, prostitution, counterfeiting, gambling, assault…

ZAC: There’s a name on the chart you might recognize: Jerry Tillinghast. And he’s got a few numbers next to his name.

DAN BARRY: Here are the numbers for Gerald, shall we? Let’s see…1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12.

ZAC: Protection racket, counterfeiting, receiving stolen goods, extortion, burglary, robbery/larceny, assault. And number one on the chart? Murder.

Patriarca made his men do terrible things, brutal things—sometimes even deadly things. But for Jerry Tillinghast, that was all worth it, just for the opportunity to walk into the Coin-O-Matic on Federal Hill and talk to Raymond Patriarca.

JERRY: A couple times I stopped and I went in the Coin-O-Matic and he gave me a hug. I can’t explain how that felt. Just being around him. And he was so good hearted. He did more for that fucking area than them dirty pieces of shit will give him credit for. And he tried to help everybody in that damn neighborhood, good or bad. He tried to help everybody. I loved him. He was this great guy. Great guy. And he talked to you like a son. I wish he was my father. I wish he could have been.

ZAC: Once, on a wiretap, Patriarca was overheard talking to an associate, saying, quote, “In this thing of ours, your love for your mother and father is one thing…your love for ‘the family’ is a different kind of love.” Of course, the “family” he meant was the crime family. But you get the feeling that for guys like Bobby Walason, it was their only family.

BOBBY: My father was like a violent alcoholic.

MARC: Did you ever reconcile with him?

Yeah, one day a year before he died, he caught me in the driveway coming out of the car. And he said, Stop, stop, I just want to talk to you. And he said, I just want you to know, I really didn’t mean being the person I was, I just couldn’t help who I was. But I love you, I want you to know that I love you. I said, Dad, don’t worry about it. He took a step back and dried his eyes and that was it. But that was enough because he never gave me nothing. Even when he died he took my last dollar, to bury him. And he never gave me nothing as far as love, man. None.

ZAC: With Patriarca, these guys found a different kind of love. And it wasn’t an accident. Patriarca recognized their vulnerability. He understood it. He had once been like them: a lonely, troubled kid, without a father, desperate for some control over his life.

Patriarca testified in front of Congress a couple times, and during one of those hearings, he was asked about his childhood. He recalled that his father had died when he was just 17. Then he was asked, why had he fallen into his life of crime in the first place? And Patriarca responded, “Why do a lot of young fellas do a lot of things when they haven’t a father?”

MARC: We haven’t heard the last of Bobby Walason and Jerry Tillinghast. They’ll be back in future episodes. But next week, we’ll descend from Federal Hill to city hall, as Buddy Cianci begins his run for mayor. Little does he know, he’s in for the fight of his life. And he’ll get a little help from an unlikely source.

JERRY: He said we’re gonna start a movement, Democrats for Cianci. I said what? I said, I ain’t fucking voting for that fucking piece of shit.

MARC: That’s next time…on Crimetown.

ZAC: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier, and Marc Smerling.

We are produced by Mike Plunkett and Drew Nelles.

Additional producing by Austin Mitchell.

We are edited by Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney.

Fact checking by Mick Rouse.

This episode of Crimetown was mixed by Matthew Boll.

Sound design and scoring also by Matthew Boll.  

Our theme song is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.

Original music by John Kusiak and Kenny Kusiac, Jon Ivans, Edwin and Bienart.

Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.

Additional sound design by Ted Robinson at Silver Sound.  

Additional mixing by Enoch Kim.  

Ale Lariu is our design director.

Kate Parkinson-Morgan is our digital editor.

Alex Blumberg is The Podfather. Thanks for your patience and guidance. You’re really good at being bad. I mean, good at being good.

This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Zachary Malinowski.  We miss you, Bill.

Special thanks to Bobby Walason and Jerry Tillinghast.

Thanks to the Providence Journal, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Dr. Marian Stuart, Dan Barry, Mike Stanton, Paul Dimaio, Mary Murphy and everyone who shared their stories with us. Providence is a special place and we’re honored to tell a part of its story.

Go to our website at crimetownshow.com for a complete list of credits.

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