Jerry Tillinghast, mafia enforcer and Bonded Vault robber, dead at 75

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – When Jerry Tillinghast walked into 101 Cranston St. in Providence on a muggy day in August 1975, he knew his role and the mission before him, but probably had no idea he was going to be part of any of the missions the most daring heists in US history.

Tillinghast, a member of the ruthless Ouimette faction of the Patriarca crime family, died of natural causes on Monday at the age of 75 – an unlikely end for a man who walked a tightrope across a world of violence.

In 1975, Tillinghast was one of eight robbers who emptied nearly 200 oversized lockers used primarily by snoopers and their associates. His muscles and oversized physique helped unhinge the stainless steel doors and empty the ill-gotten gains into giant duffel bags – designed for hockey players – containing cash, raw gems, gold Krugerrands and silver bullion.

Altogether, Tillinghast and the crew got the loot of a lifetime, an estimated $38 million in loot. Tillinghast and other members of the gang would receive an initial reward of $64,000 in cash, neatly stacked in brown paper bags. The really valuable things were stowed away never to be found again.

Over the years, other members of the crew have admitted their roles in the infamous Bonded Vault heist, including the lead gunman who became the state’s star witness in Rhode Island’s longest and costliest trial.

But Tillinghast – who was acquitted at the trial – never cracked.

He was later snared by another charge and served 29 years in prison for a 1978 gangland murder. But those investigating the notorious Mafia associate said he got away with far more.

Tillinghast and his brother Harold were found guilty of murdering mob loan shark George Basmajian in Warwick. Prosecutors said in November 1978 that Tillinghast fired nine shots at the victim, then reloaded the gun and fired three more.

Tillinghast later wrote a book called Choices: You Make ’em You Own ’em, in which he said the state was half wrong: his now-deceased brother wasn’t there.

Joe Broadmeadow, a retired East Providence police captain who co-authored the book with Tillinghast, called him “the last of the true wise men.”

“Jerry Tillinghast was an enigma,” Broadmeadow said. “He could be charming and funny, but he always had an edge. He is certainly one of the most memorable people I have ever met.”

Paul DiMaio was Tillinghast’s attorney for nearly 50 years, including Bonded Vault’s acquittal. He described Tillinghast as his most memorable client and estimated that he represented him on 19 cases.

“He had a lot of integrity, he just got misguided early on,” DiMaio said. “He had an innate intelligence and was concerned about other people, believe it or not.”

“He tried to make himself a citizen and do something worthwhile when he got out of prison and I think he did,” he added.

Tillinghast grew up on Broad Street in Providence, enlisted in the US Marine Corps and fought in the Vietnam War. He spoke about his ministry on the podcast”Crimetown.”

Tillinghast suffered from heart failure and died early Monday morning.

Tim White ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Target 12 and senior investigative reporter at 12 News and the anchor of Newsmakers. connect with him Twitter and Facebook.

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