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George Reissfelder

George Reissfelder waves to photographers as he arrives at Suffolk Superior Court on Aug. 30, 1982. (Courtesy Joe Runci/Boston Globe)
George Reissfelder waves to photographers as he arrives at Suffolk Superior Court on Aug. 30, 1982. (Courtesy Joe Runci/Boston Globe)

George Reissfelder was already seen as a celebrity when he started hanging out at Carmello Merlino’s auto repair shop in Dorchester in the late 1980s. More than a decade before, he had drawn front-page headlines and network TV interviews when he was freed from prison after serving 16 years on the wrongful conviction of a murder charge. The publicity was mostly because of the legal defense work of John F. Kerry, and Kerry’s law partner. Although Kerry would use the case to promote his then-budding political career, Reissfelder did not use it to his advantage, returning to his bad habits of using cocaine and hanging out with criminal contacts, both of which were in full supply at Merlino’s garage.

Robert Beauchamp, one of those contacts, has stated that Reissfelder and David Turner, another devotee of Merlino’s garage, visited him often in Massachusetts state prison during this term and in the vaguest of terms told him they were planning a major robbery and asked how they might hide the valuables in the immediate aftermath. Reissfelder, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the sketch drawn of one of the thieves, died of a cocaine overdose in July 1991. While nothing directly tying him in the Gardner theft was found in his apartment, Reissfelder’s brother later told investigators later that he had seen what he thought to be Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” one of the 13 artworks stolen from the Gardner, as having hung for a time over his brother’s bed.

-- Written by Stephen Kurkjian


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