BONUS EPISODE: SINS OF THE FATHER
MARC SMERLING: Um, tell me what prison was like for you.
JERRY TILLINGHAST: Well, I had ups, I had downs, and we’ll say all-arounds. It was just, every day...
MARC: You remember, Jerry Tillinghast, the notorious Patriarca crime family enforcer… convicted of killing a wiseguy friend in 1979, and sent to prison to life.
In 1987… Jerry was let out on a furlough…
...to see his 13-year-old son... play a game of football. Jerry had heard his son was a good athlete, but he didn’t know the half of it.
JERRY: I'm watching them play and he's passing. He's the quarterback.
Then he’s playing defense.
And all of a sudden he's got the ball. And he's making a run through, a big crowd of guys. Pew, I see him bounce out again. And he ran for about a 70 yard touchdown.
I'm saying, what the fuck man, is this kid the only kid on the team, he never comes off the field.
I was proud of him.
JARROD TILLINGHAST: I was just dominating the game. And uh...
MARC: This is Jarrod, Jerry’s son.
JARROD: It was like the first time I ever had a parent in the stands, the first time I ever had anybody that mattered to me watch me actually play football or display my talent.
MARC: And that talent was starting to piss off the opposing coach.
JARROD: One of the coaches said “break 27's legs!” And of course my number was number 27. I look across the whole field I see my dad, the first time he’s at one of my games I see him arguing.
JERRY: I said, what!? You take my kids legs out, I'll take your fucking head off. I said I'll punch the shit out of you...
I says I'll talk to him after the game.
JARROD: Everybody's gone. Concession booths are closed. There wasn't a pylon on the field, and dad's sitting at the gate, waiting.
And I'm like come on, dad, let's go. Come on. He's like, no shut up, shut up.
So I was like, what are we going to do, we going to fight these guys Dad?
JERRY: I wasn't thinking of hitting them or anything like that. I just want to tell him that's a bad way to coach a team. Wants people to break my kid’s legs. Is that how you teach kids how to play football? You know.
JARROD: The coach, he's like, “Mr. Tillinghast, I apologize. You know, I didn't realize it was you, and I'm sorry.”
MARC: And that was that. Two guards loaded Jerry into a van to take him back to prison. Jarrod watched as his father was driven away.
JARROD: I was like fuck, what the fuck. Why can't I have a normal fucking life.
MARC: I’m Marc Smerling. Today on the show we’ve got something special. We’re heading back to Providence, Rhode Island... for a story where crime intersects with sports.
So, we’ve teamed up with the magazine Victory Journal to tell this story. Meet veteran sportswriter, Tim Struby.
TIM STRUBY: Hey Crimetown listeners. For the past year I’ve been following Jarrod Tillinghast, and I learned how he’s used sports to try and step out of his father’s shadow. But when your father is Jerry Tillinghast, that’s not so easy.
I’m Tim Struby… Welcome to Crimetown.
BILLY SAMOS: I remember watching Jarrod run across the street in a diaper to my house and get yelled at by his mother. You know what I mean.
TIM: This is Billy Samos, Jarrod Tillinghast’s best friend. They grew up together.
BILLY: But I would be the only one to go to his house and hang with him.
No one else would go there.
TIM: See, Jarrod’s mother was struggling with addiction, and Jarrod’s father, Jerry, was in prison. And he knew he couldn’t be there to raise his son.
So Jerry called Billy’s father…
BILLY: He flat out told him "Would you mind if my son comes and lives with you? I know if he lives with you he's going to get an education, he's going to play sports and he's going to have a better life. So my father said, "Yes, of course." So that's how he ended up moving in with us.
TIM: Now Jarrod had nightly dinners, curfews; a reliable support system. But life was far from normal. Every weekend, he went to see his dad in prison.
JARROD: I always have these memories of the visiting room. The difficult part of the whole visits were the end, leaving. You know you can walk your family to the yellow line, on the floor.
TIM: Jerry couldn’t cross that yellow line. And Jarrod would stand there, watching his father head back to his cell.
JARROD: You know, I, I didn’t understand, when I was young. And uh, the thought. Of that moment coming at the end. You know it affected me. It affected me.
TIM: And according to Billy, by the time Jarrod was a teenager, he had found a way to express his feelings.
Like the time Billy and Jarrod were at the River Cafe… when a guy asked Jarrod for a light.
BILLY: He goes, yeah I got a light. He sticks his left hand in his pocket, comes out with a left hook. Hits the kid with a shot that would knock out Mike Tyson.
TIM: And that time at a pool hall…
BILLY: So I went, "Oh my god." Jarrod hammers him with the other half of the pool stick.
TIM: And that night at the dive bar.
BILLY: He goes to reach for the keys, lays him out cold. Then helps the guy up and buys him a drink and walks out.
TIM: And word got back to Jerry in prison.
JERRY: I said Jarrod, you know, if you're gonna fight, don't fight on the street. Fight for nothing. Why? I went through that, doesn't, didn't add up to much. You know. Go in the ring. Make money.
PETER MANFREDO: Most of the guys that came to me were from the tough areas of the town. But this is so different. Precision, condition, accuracy, thinking, direction. You know?
TIM: This is Peter Manfredo. He’s a well-known boxing trainer in Rhode Island. And when Jarrod walked through the doors of his gym... Peter saw potential.
MANFREDO: Jarrod's best punch was his left hook. I mean, he did it in the street. He put you to sleep with it.
JARROD: I started training right away. I was there five days a week. Every night. It was everything to me.
TIM: For a fighter like Jarrod, the first step was the Golden Gloves, a renowned amateur boxing tournament.
JARROD: I never trained so hard for something in my life.
TIM: He was just 16.
JARROD: I had a little Pepe LePew mustache. You know, the mustache, your first mustache that you don't want to shave [laughs].
TIM: And, although his dad couldn’t be there, Jarrod kept him close.
JARROD: I kind of, you know, cut one of the pictures out, of Dad, and I took it with me. And I would hang it up in the locker room. And he couldn't be there but he was there in spirit.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the PAL Hall in Fall River. An exciting night of boxing...
JARROD: So my first week I fought this Italian kid, and man was I tired. Holy shit.
TIM: Jarrod won a narrow decision. He cruised through his next fight… and then shocked everyone by making it to the 156-pound novice title bout.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT ANNOUNCER: [BELL] Welcome back to the PAL Hall in Fall River, fight number eight. John Kimborough of Grundy’s Gym in Central Falls. [SFX] He’s the guy taking the beating right now against the ropes. Throwing all the punches, Jarrod Tillinghast, of Manfredo’s Gym in Providence, Rhode Island...
JARROD: I just started winging bombs at him, and winging hooks. It was a all-out rumble.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT ANNOUNCER: Tillinghast with a solid left.
JARROD: I had him up against the back rope.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT ANNOUNCER: Tillinghast hits Kimborough with a hard left.
JARROD: I hit him with like six, seven left hooks in a row.
TIM: The final bell rang... and the decision went to the judges. The winner, in the red corner: Jarrod Tillinghast.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT ANNOUNCER: Tillinghast takes down John Kimborough in a shocker. Let’s go ringside with champion Tillinghast.
ARCHIVAL YOUNG JARROD: You know I was expecting a tough fight when I came in. I trained hard for him this week, you know. I expected. I knew he was going to be one of the toughest fighters to face. So. You know. Everything beside that worked out alright for me.
JARROD: Wow. Wow. It was, all the pain went away for a few minutes and that, to me, was the beginning of something great for me.
TIM: Over the next five years, Jarrod fought in more than 50 amateur bouts and earned 17 Golden Gloves titles.
And when word spread that he might turn pro... certain people in Providence wanted a piece of the action.
JERRY: Jarrod's doing this, Jarrod's doing that. And he was winning his fights and, and he was moving right along....
TIM: One day, Jerry was walking the prison yard when a high-ranking wiseguy approached him...
JERRY: He goes, well I wanted to talk to you about your son. I said what about him. He said, well, he's a good fighter. I said I'd like to get him into our stable. I said well, no. I said I'll beat your fucking brains in, you fuck with my kid. If I wanted my kid to be around wise guys, I'd be around me, you know. That's why I keep him away, let him do —. He knows what he's doing and he's with the right people.
TIM: One of the right people… was this guy:
BURCHFIELD: Listen, you know, you know Jerry Tillinghast, this is his son fighting.
TIM: This is Jimmy Burchfield Sr., one of Rhode Island’s most successful boxing promoters.
BURCHFIELD: There were people who wanted to see him get beat because of his name. They wanted to see him get beat. And then there were the people there that would die for him, to win. It was a…, and is…, a promoter's dream.
TIM: So Burchfield got Jarrod his first pro fight.
And Jarrod knocked out his opponent in 12 seconds.
JARROD: Started doing what I did in the amateurs, you know, started winning, and knocking guys out and looking pretty doing it.
TIM: And Jerry was a proud dad. He kept every news clip.
JERRY: I don't even think Jarrod knows I got them.
ROB SZYPKO: Could you maybe read this one for us?
JERRY: What are you, trying to test my reading skills or something?
ROB: No, no no.
JERRY: You know. Super middleweight Jarrod Tillinghast 5-0, Providence scored a unanimous decision over Ron Woodley 4-11-1 from Philadelphia…
TIM: It was official: Jarrod Tillinghast was a rising star. By the summer of 2000, he was a perfect 7-0. But then... everything changed.
JARROD: I was driving down on the highway with my stepfather, and I was in the passenger side. It was pouring, pouring rain out. I looked in the rear-view mirror and I seen a big truck come barrelling towards the back of the car.
TIM: Jarrod’s stepsister was in the backseat.
JARROD: So I stuck my hand in between the seats and I put my hand on her chest to brace her for the impact... and I broke my left elbow which was my left hand, my bread and butter.
So I had to get some major surgery on my arm, which put me on the shelf.
TIM: How long did you wind up being on the shelf?
JARROD: Eight years.
TIM: That's a long shelf.
TIM: Why didn't you go back... you were, you know. There were others, there were other activities and...
JARROD: I like. I like your analogy of it, um, activities.
TIM: Those “activities”... after the break.
TIM: Welcome back. Before the break, Jarrod Tillinghast was trying his best to step out of his father’s shadow by stepping into the boxing ring. But then, sidelined by a car accident, he took a page from his father’s playbook.
BRIAN ANDREWS: If you go shake down a drug dealer, what’s he going to do? He can’t go to the police.
TIM: This is retired Rhode Island state police detective commander, Brian Andrews.
In the late 70’s, drugs were everywhere, and there was a lot of cash to be had by robbing drug dealers.
BRIAN: And of course, along the way comes Jerry Tillinghast.
TIM: First, there was this one dealer...
BRIAN: He got thrown out the window of a hotel in New York City. And we both know who the primary suspect was.
TIM: And then... two other drug dealers... who disappeared, along with their hidden cash...
BRIAN: No charges were brought, but the suspect was...Jerry Tillinghast.
TIM: And twenty years later, when Jarrod had all that time on his hands…
JARROD: I did rob drug dealers. But I never used a weapon you know, I got two bombs, a left hook and a right hook. So if I get to put one on someone's chin, they're going to go to sleep anyway.
TIM: One night, Jarrod got a call about a big score.
JARROD: And they tell me you know there's a guy who's got 30, 40 pounds of some really killer weed. So I'm thinking, you know. I'll do it.
TIM: Jarrod and his partner Ronnie, pretending to be buyers, drove to the dealer’s house with a bag of fake money.
JARROD: Guy lived in a basement apartment. Kid's like, you have the money? I'm like yeah. I throw the bag on the table and it looks like, it's a stack of money. I say you got the stuff? So he points to his closet. I go over to his closet, open the door there's thirty green garbage bags full of some crazy killer weed.
So I grabbed him and I threw him on the bed and I'm holding him by his neck, you know, and I'm telling Ronnie, grab it grab it, get the bags.
As I'm saying that this kid reached underneath the bed and pulls a butcher knife out and sticks it into the side of my head.
All of a sudden I'm in my worst nightmare.
So I grabbed the kid’s hand. And I bent his arm all the way back into the back of his head and I bit the tip of his finger till my teeth touched. And he dropped the knife.
I was pissed he stabbed me so I hit this kid with two left hooks and um, just broke the whole kid's face. It was like a windshield that shattered and had a zillion cracks in it.
We start running up the stairs. And there's a guy coming down the stairs with a pizza. Pizza delivery guy.
The blood was squirting out of my head like a fountain. And I got a butcher knife in my hand with 15 green garbage bags over my shoulder. The guy drops the pizza, goes against the wall, we run right by him.
BILLY: They come in my house. He's got a gash in his head and he's holding like a steak knife and I'm like, what happened, Jarrod?
TIM: Again, Billy Samos, Jarrod’s childhood best friend.
BILLY: And it wouldn't stop bleeding, so much so that I thought something bad was going to happen because it was in the temple area. And now I'm crying. I'm like Jarrod. I can't believe you did that. Now look at you. You could have died you had this going for you had that going for you.
Jarrod crying back, saying I'm sorry I should have just been with you, I wouldn't have did it.
JARROD: I had like, uh, like, 15 stitches deep in my ear and another 25 on the outside of my ear…
You know, it scared me.
TIM: Jarrod had reached another crossroads in his life.
JARROD: I wanted to redefine myself. I wanted to change. So I made a decision there that I was going to come back.
TIM: After an eight year layoff, Jarrod Tillinghast was going to attempt to return to the one place he’d found purpose…the boxing ring.
BURCHFIELD: When we talked about boxing, I could see his face light up.
TIM: Jarrod’s old promoter, Jimmy Burchfield.
BURCHFIELD: He called me and he said, I'm thinking about it. I said Jarrod when you're in the gym for 30 days, you call me. And I'll come and look and I'll see how serious you are.
JARROD: Now I'm like, damn. Now I got to get up at 5:00 in the morning and do this whole thing all over again.
TIM: So he did.
JARROD: I mean I went hard. I was walking up hills on my hands. I had my friends holding my legs. I was doing pushups every 10 steps on my hands I would do 20 pushups. They would walk me up and down the hill on my hands. My friends are like, you're crazy. I'm like push me, push me. If I drop on my face, keep pushing me. Even if I'm on my chin, scrape me up the hill and make me work.
TIM: Jarrod was back. And so was another Tillinghast.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Late this afternoon, just shy of his 61st birthday, Jerry Tillinghast was released from prison on parole.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Mr. Tillinghast, can you tell us what you're thinking now? Fresh air.
JERRY ARCHIVAL: Right now, I was instructed not to make any comments and I just want to get in the car and go home.
TIM: And Jerry wanted something else — to see his son fight for the first time. But there was a problem.
JERRY: My parole officer at the time said no I couldn't go. And I said, why? Come with me. I don’t care, I said I want to see my kid fight. And uh... I didn't go.
TIM: Jarrod was disappointed… again.
JARROD: I wanted him to be there. But then, you know, I do what I do all the time. I went home I watch Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump is my go to. I mean the three movies I always watch is Forrest Gump, Rocky 3, and I watch The Secret. I got up after that I was ready. You know.
TIM: May 11, 2007. Jarrod Tillinghast vs. Jeffrey Osborne Jr. at The Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island.
JARROD: The place is packed. They shut all the lights off. They put the spotlight on me.
WELCOME BACK KOTTER: Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out.
JARROD: And uh, I came out to the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter.
Yeah, “to the same old place that we laughed about.”
“And the names all changed, since I been around, you know, but. The dreams still remain.”
WELCOME BACK KOTTER: And they turn around.
JARROD: I got so fired up I'm like, ahhh. [laughter]
ARCHIVAL FIGHT: Wow, listen to the crowd here. At Lincoln, Rhode Island. Providence's Jarrod Tillinghast back from that long layoff.
JARROD: And I, came out first punches of the fight.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT: Jarrod hit him pretty hard.
JARROD: I hit him with a left hook, a lead left hook, he hit me with an overhand right, and splat my nose went all over my face.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT: And Tillinghast, blood pouring from his nose.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT: And now, taste of his own blood, minutes into his return...
JARROD: I started questioning myself, like what's my name. Like, what do I do this for. Who am I.
I would think about the path that I walked and the life that I had to live and the pain that I had to go through.
Alcohol, and the drug abuse from mom, and dad not being there.
I had one chance to release all that pain.
ARCHIVAL FIGHT: OH! Big punch. Tillinghast, kills Osbourne with a right. Look at his legs, wobbly now, oh he walked right into a massive right hand from Tillinghast. Those are spaghetti legs, Nick. Amazing. Really is.
TIM: Jarrod had spent his whole life in his father’s shadow. It was the Tillinghast name that sold out his earlier fights; and Jerry’s legacy that paved the way for criminal activity. But this night?
ARCHIVAL ANNOUNCER: Boxing fans after four rounds, we have your decision. All to your winner by unanimous decision, and still undefeated, Jarrod Tillinghast!
JARROD: It was finally that I achieved something that was positive. And I did it myself. I finally had gotten my respect for being Jarrod Tillinghast and not Jerry's son.
TIM: In Jarrod’s next fight, he knocked out his opponent to go to 9-0. But that would be his last bout. He decided to settle down and start a family. His fighting days were over. For good.
ROB: Check, check
TIM: It’s been ten years since his comeback fight, and Jarrod, now 43, still stays close to the sport.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, a very good evening to you, and welcome to the Brick House here in Woonsocket RI, make some noise! [applause]
TIM: A ring’s been set up in a parking lot behind an Italian restaurant... and several hundred people have shown up to watch the action. There’s booze, cigars … even a DJ.
Welcome to Brawl for it All, an amateur boxing series that Jarrod founded.
JARROD: We settle street grudges. If you have a grudge, and something ugly is about to happen, you call us and you say, listen, I wanna fight my neighbor. Brawl For It All .
TIM: This may be the only place in the world where you can have your rigatoni with a side of two middle-aged men trying to take each other’s heads off.
JARROD: Oh, Brawl For It All Four, baby!! Woo hoo. That’s what it’s about.
JARROD: Hey dad.
JERRY: What’s up buddy.
JARROD: How you doin bud.
TIM: And someone else is here, too: Jerry. He finally gets to see his son in the ring...though not as a fighter.
JERRY: I gotta give it to Jarrod, he’s a good promoter. He’s uh, making a good name for himself.
TIM: The two smile and laugh. But it hasn’t been easy.
See, a long time ago, Jerry decided that his life as a wiseguy was more important than being a father to his children.
JERRY: There's a void and it can't be filled. Because there's nothing there to fill it. You’ve got that emptiness, and it’s tough.
JARROD: But the more we’re around, the more we grow together, the more we understand each other.
TIM: You’re starting to feel like a normal family?
JERRY: No, no it ain’t that fucking great yet. Ha ha. No it is. It’s not bad. We get along…
JARROD: Crimetown is in the house. Crimetown is in the house, people.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling, in partnership with Gimlet Media.
We were produced this week by Tim Struby, Rob Szypko, Austin Mitchell, and Christopher Isenberg.
Our senior producer is Drew Nelles.
Editing by John White and Soraya Shockley.
This episode of Crimetown was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
Our credit track this week is “I’m A Winner” by Smoked Sugar.
Original music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, Edwin and Bienart.
Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.
Archival footage courtesy of WPRI Channel 12 and Paul Morrissette.
Thanks to Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Tim White, our fantastic archival researcher Brennan Reese, Rita Samos, Dino Dennis, the Tillinghast Family and everybody who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, bonus content, and to sign up for our newsletter, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
We are hard at work on Season 2 and we are also going to have two more bonus episodes coming in December. So keep an eye on the feed.
Alex Blumberg is The Podfather… There are people who want to see him get beat because of his name. And then there are the people who would die for him.
Anyways, thanks for listening.
BURCHFIELD: Thank you for calling Classic Entertainment and Sports, how may we help you?
Can we sell out an arena? No, no. I'm talking legitimately sell out an arena.
Right now I'm sitting here with a reporter and we're doing a story on something else. But here's what I want you to think about. How many tickets did you sell?
Alright listen, I gotta finish up over here.
Have a great weekend. Bye.