EAST FALMOUTH – As a light snow fell, the first of the season, six family members of Melvin J. Reine Sr. stood around his gravesite at St. Anthony’s Parish cemetery last Tuesday morning.
The gravestone had been pre-carved with his name and 1939, the year of his birth.
Space had been left for the date of his death.
Visitors to the cemetery said the gravesite and stone had been waiting for more than a year.
Some in Falmouth have been waiting much longer.
For decades, Melvin Reine was a much-feared figure in town, a convicted arsonist and suspect in numerous crimes including the murder of teenager Charles “Jeff” Flanagan, two disappearances—Wanda (Medeiros) Reine, who was Melvin Reine’s first wife, and teenager Paul Alwardt—and the attempted murder of Falmouth police officer John Busby.
At the private burial November 12 were Melvin Reine Sr.’s sons, Melvin Reine Jr. with his wife; and Todd Reine with his two children; as well as Melvin Sr.’s brother, John Reine, according to Loretta Gilfoy who was watching from the church parking lot.
Gilfoy is the sister of Melvin Sr.’s second wife, Shirley (Souza) Reine. She said she went to the graveyard to pay her respects.
While knowing of Melvin Reine’s reputation as a suspect in high-profile crimes, Gilfoy said in person, he was “totally different.”
“He was a sweetheart. He was also a psychopath, how he started fires and enjoyed watching them. We were all naïve. We never brought up the subject,” Gilfoy said.
Melvin Reine Sr. died at age 74 after being incarcerated for 12 years at facilities for the criminally insane, first Bridgewater State Hospital then Taunton State Hospital. Shortly before he died, he was moved to Emeritus at Tewksbury, a senior care facility that includes an Alzheimer’s unit.
He had been diagnosed in 2002 with Pick’s disease, a form of dementia.
Gilfoy said, watching the family grieve, she realized for the first time that Melvin Jr. and Todd were also victims.
“Their mom disappeared. . . . They had it rough,” she said.
Gilfoy left a small ceramic fox among the flowers propped up against Reine’s gravestone this week, an homage to his nickname.
Gilfoy said the name “The Falmouth Fox” was given to Melvin Reine by a judge “back in the day” when he was convicted of arsons, “because he was so sneaky, sly like a fox.”
According to Gilfoy, Reine was proud of the nickname and liked it so much that he put a fox weathervane on the roof of his house.
But despite his reputation, to some in the close-knit community of East Falmouth, Melvin Reine was a benevolent figure, who would lend money or bring groceries to neighbors in need. He would fix a flat tire or plow out a driveway.
“There was a good side and a bad side,” Kevin Andrade, his nephew said. “He helped a lot of people. He’d show up and help someone out of a jam.”
Andrade said he attended St. Anthony’s Parish mass Thursday morning when Melvin Reine’s name was announced. Other family members were there too but Andrade said he didn’t know how many. “I didn’t count heads,” he said.
Melvin Reine was owner of the disposal business Five Star Enterprises, which once held the town’s trash contract.
Melvin Reine’s sons, Melvin Jr. and Todd, filed suit against Shirley (Souza) Reine in 2003, over a trust that their father had set up before being incarcerated.
Shirley Reine was murdered in May 2005 at the age of 51, just days before the court case on the lawsuit was to begin.
In 2007, Todd Reine was convicted of arranging the theft of a will from Shirley Reine. Todd Reine and two accomplices were sent to jail for the crime. One of those accomplices, John Rams Jr. of Wareham is scheduled to go on trial for Shirley Reine’s murder this spring.
During the family’s graveside service for Melvin Reine, Todd Reine spotted Gilfoy in the parking lot and, according to Gilfoy, he asked her to leave. She refused.
Gilfoy said the two had the following heated exchange:
“They’re going to get you some day, Todd,” Gilfoy said.
“Well, I’m not guilty,” he responded.
“But you’re not ‘The Fox’ either,” Gilfoy said.
Melvin Reine Jr. said this week he did not want to comment on his father’s death. “Enough has been written,” he said.
And yet there are unanswered questions.
Former Falmouth police officer Richard Smith said those unanswered questions are Melvin Reine’s legacy.
“The sad thing is there are so many secrets that are gone with him,” Smith said.
While Melvin Reine was convicted of arson back in 1968, there were fires he was suspected of but never charged with, both before and after he was incarcerated.
“He was very good as an arsonist, probably the best arsonist in the world,” Smith said.
He prided himself on knowing everything and everybody in town, according to Smith.
“It was his business to know everyone else’s business,” Smith said. “Melvin wanted to be everybody’s friend. He wanted to know everything about everybody.”
He could be friendly and charming. He bragged about being a ladies man and the rumor was that he had fathered 35 illegitimate children in Falmouth, Smith said. The real figure may be closer to a dozen, Gilfoy estimated.
Because he was the town trash man, people suspected that he was looking through the trash of his enemies in order to get information from bills and phone records, Smith said.
Police Officer Shot
John Busby said his family celebrated with an apple pie when they heard the news of Melvin Reine’s death.
“It was a great day for America and a great day for me and everyone involved that this man is gone,” he said.
In 1979, after he was ambushed by a shotgun attack on the way to his job as a Falmouth police officer, Busby and his family were worried that Melvin Reine or one of his associates would come back and finish the job.
In the days leading up to the shooting, Busby had run-ins with two of Melvin Reine’s family members and he immediately suspected Melvin Reine of the shooting. So did police, but there was never an arrest in the case.
Years later, in 2003, a police investigation led to a confession by John Reine, Melvin’s brother. He said he drove the car and Shirley sat in the passenger seat while Melvin Reine fired the shots at Busby’s head.
By the time of the confession, the statute of limitations had passed on the crime. Meanwhile, Busby and his family had moved several times, keeping their location a secret.
Busby’s wife, Polly Busby, said this week that it is hard to feel closure.
“He died without us knowing where the bodies are. He got away with it,” Polly Busby said.
Reine’s death brought back memories.
“It’s just like it was yesterday. I can forgive just about anything, but you just can’t forget it,” she said.
Her husband endured a shattered jaw and multiple surgeries. His speech is still difficult to understand and he cannot chew solid food. But despite that, she said, their lives turned out okay.
“It set us on a different road and it all turned out beautiful for us. . . . I’m very grateful our family pulled together,” Polly Busby said.
Melvin Reine was born in 1939, the fourth of five children to Manuel and Adeline Reine of East Falmouth.
His siblings are Nancy Andrade of East Falmouth, Manuel F. (“Honey”) Reine Jr. of East Falmouth, John Reine of East Falmouth, and Marion (“Cookie”) Sharpe of Florida. All survive him.
He married Wanda Medeiros in 1964 and they had two children, Melvin Jr. and Todd.
In 1968, he was convicted of a slew of arsons in town. He was sentenced to five to eight years in Walpole State Prison, but he was released in 1971.
In March 1971, shortly after being released from prison, Melvin Reine reported to police that his 25-year-old wife Wanda had gone missing. Her body was never found.
In 1972, Jeff Flanagan, 16, an employee of Melvin Reine’s, was found dead floating in a pond north of the cranberry bog that is across the street from Reine’s home. Flanagan’s sister, Donna, said her brother was interested in Shirley Souza, who was 18. Shirley was also seeing Melvin Reine, who was 33 at the time.
Melvin Reine and Shirley Souza began living together in 1976, according to Gilfoy. They married years later, in 1999.
Paul Alwardt, 17, also an employee of Reine’s, disappeared in 1977 just days before he was to testify to a grand jury in an arson case.
Two years later, in 1979, Officer Busby was shot in the face.
Melvin was the prime suspect in all four cases–Wanda Reine, Jeff Flanagan, Paul Alwardt and John Busby–according to Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings, who was a state police investigator at the time.
Melvin Reine’s reputation as a firebug was cemented by his conviction for arson. In subsequent years, if he didn’t like someone, he would simply light a match in their presence, according to the late Raleigh Costa, who was a fireman in town for 40 years. That lit match meant he might torch your house when you were sleeping.
Costa said, when it happened to him, he confronted Reine rather than let himself be bullied.
“I told him if I see you near my property, I won’t call the police, I’ll take care of it myself,” Costa told this reporter in an interview in 2003. After that, Reine never bothered him, Costa said.
Melvin Reine’s company, Five Star Enterprises, held the Town of Falmouth’s trash contract from 1977 to 1984. He was accused of a bid-rigging scheme regarding the contract but was found not guilty in the case.
In July 2001, the Town of Falmouth filed suit against Melvin Reine for an illegal dump site at a ten-acre property he owned on Old Barnstable Road.
Mark Patton, former director of the Falmouth Department of Natural Resources, brought the dump site to the attention of town and state officials and for that, he said, his life was threatened by Melvin Reine twice.
When Patton tried to get Falmouth police officers to write up the threats, they refused and even town hall officials were nervous about pursuing the illegal dump on Old Barnstable Road, Patton said.
“That attitude at town hall was people were trying to avoid the situation as much as possible,” he said.
Of Reine’s death this week, Patton said, “It was anti-climatic. He disappeared and just became an inconvenient legend for this town back in 2002. When he was alive and active, there were many people in the community that had never heard of him but to others he was the boogey man. Now it’s passed and it’s like it never happened.”
- Laura M. Reckford