Live To Tell: The Year We Disappeared

A Little Girl Is Terrorized When A Killer Wants Her Entire Family Dead

The Year We Disappeared
This story previously aired on July 16, 2010.

Imagine being 9 years old and learning that someone wants to kill your family. That's what happened to Cylin Busby when she was growing up in Falmouth, Mass.

Cylin's father, John, was a cop who refused to be intimidated - even by a thug suspected of one murder and two disappearances. But one summer night in 1979, John Busby was ambushed and gunned down.

With the shooter at large, his young family had to run for their lives. Cylin, now grown up, tells a story of revenge and the long-awaited justice that no one could predict.

CYLIN BUSBY: Imagine being nine years old and learning that someone wanted to kill you... your dad... your brothers... and your mom. That's what I found out when I was nine years old.

It all began on a perfect summer day. It was the end of summer, August. It was hot, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. And we spent all day at the beach.

And everything was ideal until that night, when everything changed.
Photos: The Busby Family's Harrowing Ordeal KELLIE COLLIER-DRISCOLL: My uncle was a police officer, and he worked the midnight shift.

CYLIN: My dad left for work just like normal. He hadn't gone probably half a mile from our house when a car pulled up behind him, pulled out alongside him and he was shot through the driver's side window of his car with a shotgun.

The shotgun blast tore through his face and ripped off his lower jaw.

KELLIE : Before he lost consciousness he wrote: Not an accident. He realized that they were trying to kill him and he feared for his family's life.

CYLIN: On that summer night, my childhood ended. I was never alone again. We were guarded 24 hours a day. Everybody had a gun.

KELLIE : We were fenced in.

CYLIN: We had an attack dog. We had a sniper on the roof with a long-range rifle.

KELLIE: You couldn't go out.

CYLIN: I had hidden a steak knife under my mattress and I would just lay there and listen. I just knew that the people who shot my father were not going to stop until we were all dead.

Next door to our house there was an old graveyard. It sounds morbid, but it was actually this beautiful place to go and play. There were these old trees that were perfect for climbing, and a grassy lawn to play tag and hide and seek. We spent a lot of time over there.

Falmouth, Mass., was the ideal place to grow up. Every summer day, we'd get up in the morning. My mom would pack a lunch. And we would head out to Old Silver Beach. By the end of the summer we'd all be brown as berries and just relaxed and happy.

That summer it was me, my two older brothers, Eric and Sean. My dad. My mom. My mom was studying to be a nurse. And then my cousin Kellie who was helping out my parents to take care of us kids. She was there to have fun, but babysitting was how she earned her rent.

My father was a police officer. In his uniform, my dad looked incredibly handsome, I thought. He looked like a movie star to me. He seemed invincible.

August 31, 1979

KELLIE COLLIER-DRISCOLL : My uncle John was a guy that you didn't mess with. He took his job and his position very seriously.

POLLY BUSBY: The John Busby I fell in love with was an athlete. He was handsome. He was very self-confident. He was one of the nicest fathers. He was a wrestler-on-the-ground kind of dad, and a hold-my-little-girl-close kind of dad. John always gave us the sense of safety and that nothing would happen to us as long as he was around. August 31, 1979, was what changed our lives forever. Nothing was ever the same.

CYLIN: August 31, 1979. This was the Friday, the start of Labor Day weekend. We were out in the driveway painting my dad's car. This was my mom's way of getting us out of the house that night so that my dad could sleep because he worked the midnight shift. And this is a photo that my mom took of me that night.

Photos: The Busby Family's Harrowing Ordeal 
When I was growing up it was really hard for me to look at. Because I would look at this girl and I would study her face and I would think: "What is that girl thinking about, what is her life like?" Because it felt like after that night, that childhood ended.

So that night my dad got up to get ready for work. My brothers and I would have been in bed.

POLLY: When I heard the knock on the door I was watching Benny Hill. And in fact I was laughing, I can remember.

CYLIN: I heard someone screaming or crying... and um, at first I thought it was the TV. And, um, I woke up and I came out of my room and I saw my dad's friend Rick Smith was there. And he was in uniform. And he was talking to my Mom and she was crying and screaming and she kept saying "No, no, no, no." And she kept trying to push him away from her.

RICK SMITH: I said, "Polly, there's been an incident involving John." And she goes, "What happened, what happened?" And I said he'd been shot.

POLLY: I made a noise. I remember making a noise and falling back against the wall and sinking down.

CYLIN: I was saying," What's wrong? What's going on?" And she didn't even acknowledge that I had come out of my room.

KELLIE: There was a great deal of confusion. We knew something bad had happened to him…

POLLY: And I told Kellie, "I'll call you as soon as I know what's happening." And the next thing I knew I was in a cruiser.

I could see lights everywhere and I could see John's Volkswagen, riddled with holes. And I thought to myself, "This is bad. This is really bad."

RICK SMITH: By the time we got to the hospital there was a doctor and the nurses and he was in the triage unit.

POLLY: The doctors were all over him and he kept beckoning that he wanted to write, wanted to write.

CYLIN: My dad managed to write a note. He said: Polly and the kids not safe.

POLLY: When he wrote that note, I knew there was one person in town that was capable of trying to kill John and that person was capable of killing his whole family.

It felt like I was in a storm and I didn't know how bad that storm was gonna get... or if any of us were going to be safe again ever.

The Aftermath

KELLIE: My aunt Polly had just left with the police officer. Instructions were to stay away from the windows and keep the house unlit and keep the door locked.

I closed all the shutters and locked all the doors and turned out the lights. I don't know how much time had passed, but I saw the lights of a car pull into the driveway. I was expecting a police cruiser to pull in to the yard and it was not. There was a guy in a red car and he had a rifle. I didn't recognize him.

I can remember that the children, at least Shawn, was very panicked, saying "Who's that guy. He's got a gun, is he coming to kill us?"

I was scared. I was in great fear that that individual was gonna come in and kill whoever was in the house.

CYLIN: "Get in the back of the house. Get in the back of the house."

KELLIE: There was a lot of things going through my mind; to flee was not an option. There was no way out.

All I could think of is we need to hide and make it look like there's nobody still at the house. Everything was whispers. I said "We need to be quiet until they go away."

CYLIN: And then we heard someone knock at the door. Knocking louder. Knock. Knock. Knock. Kellie just said, "Stay quiet, stay quiet."

KELLIE: And I'm just talking to myself saying, "He's gonna go away. It's gonna be OK. We're gonna be OK. Please stop knocking at the door. Please go away."

CYLIN: And then it stopped.

KELLIE: I took a deep breath thinking, "Thank God it's over." He's going away. And suddenly I heard knocks at the back door. It was then that I realized they weren't going away.

CYLIN: That's when Kelly said "This is the plan. I want you guys to go into the attic and hide in there. Do not come out of the attic until I come and get you or until your mom comes home. Don't come out for anybody else."

All I could think was that we're going to go up in the attic and this guy's gonna come looking for us and we have to be so quiet and not move.

It was hard to balance on the rafters and I was in a nightgown and I didn't want to fall into the insulation, which was very prickly. So I was just trying to stay still really hard and not move or make a sound. And we just waited for whoever was gonna come up there.

KELLIE: The kids are in the attic. Guy's still knocking at the back door, not going away and I remember thinking, "What am I going to do?"

The first thing I had to do was protect those children and make it look as though they weren't home. And if there was entry into the house, that I was the only one in the residence.

I walked over to the window, which is right beside the door. And at that moment, the guy pulled out a police badge. He said he was a Falmouth Police officer and that he was here to watch over John Busby's family.

CYLIN: We heard Kelli say, "He's a cop. It's OK. You can come down." And then once we heard that, we were like, "OK. It's safe."

KELLIE: Throughout the evening, more police officers showed up to watch the home. And at that point, I realized that it just wasn't gonna be OK the next day.

POLLY: They were trying to get an airway down; they couldn't get it down so they started to give him morphine and then I heard somebody say "He won't go down - we can't get him to relax and get the airway in."

One of the officers behind me - and I think it was Rick Smith - he said, we have somebody at the house with the kids, we've got somebody there and others en route and you could just see John just relax. He relaxed, he laid back and they slipped an airway in.

I really believe that John overwhelmed the doctors at the Falmouth Hospital. They had never seen anything like that. They didn't know quite what to do.

John looked like a monster… There was no jaw. I wondered how are we going to repair this? How are we going to put this back together?

From the Falmouth Hospital, they took him by ambulance to Mass General Hospital. They reassured me that they had gotten him there in enough time to keep him from bleeding out, but it would depend on how strong he was to come through the surgery.

CYLIN: The morning after the shooting, we left to go stay with my uncle near the hospital where my dad was staying in Boston. No one was told where we were going. And when we got there, we were told not to tell anyone where we were staying or who we were staying with.

This was the beginning of the year that we disappeared.

Who would want to kill John Busby?

POLLY BUSBY: When John became aware in the recovery room, his eyes fluttered some and then he started going from tube to tube. And then he realized he couldn't talk. And I saw a look in his eyes, almost of, you know, "I -- I can't talk."

And then he saw me sitting there. And he wrote, Don't leave me like this.

He didn't want to be on a respirator or be an invalid like that and if the choice came I needed to let him go. I needed to let him die. I said, "You can't leave me here. You can't leave me with these three kids. I can't be left alone. You have to stay. You have to come back. We'll make it."

CYLIN BUSBY: He couldn't speak, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't eat, he couldn't even drink water. I mean, he couldn't do anything because they had wired shut what was left of his face.

Once I saw him, I thought, "Wow, they really meant to kill him." And I remember going to bed some nights and I would just lay in bed and think, "My dad? Everybody likes my dad. Who could wanna kill my dad?"

My father knew the instant that he was shot who was trying to kill him. And he was able to communicate that to the officers who were on the scene.

RICK SMITH: When I first saw him, he was shaking, shaking like a -- a dog and he was holding the towels up to his face and I asked him, "Who did this, John?"

CYLIN: And he got out a pen and a notebook that he always carried with him and he wrote: not an accident. Mel Reine.

POLLY: John did not see who shot him. But he knew exactly who would want him dead.

RICK SMITH: Melvin Reine was in the trash-hauling business.

POLLY: He had contracts all over Cape Cod and it was very lucrative.

RICK SMITH: He was a convicted arsonist. He had a reputation of getting even with individuals by sneaking in the night and burning properties. His favorite saying was "I smell smoke."

CYLIN: "I smell smoke." Which meant, you know -- without directly threatening -- it meant "there's going to be a fire in your future. Your house, your car, whatever. I'm going to burn something of yours."

Melvin Reine was also suspected of murder. He was suspected of killing three people and in two of those cases the bodies have never been recovered. Melvin Reine was married to a woman named Wanda Medeiros Reine and in 1971, she went missing. He claims that he dropped her off at the bus station and she was never seen again.

About a year later, a teenage boy in Falmouth, named Jeff Flanagan, went missing. He was dating a 17-year-old girl who had been babysitting for the Reine family who Melvin was also interested in.

RICK SMITH: Jeff Flanagan was found shot to death. His body was recovered in a cranberry bog directly across the street from Melvin Reine's home.

CYLIN: And then, a former employee of Melvin Reine's, a 17-year-old boy named Paul Alwardt, was set to testify against Melvin in a grand jury arson investigation. The police promised that he would be protected. They escorted him to the Martha's Vineyard Ferry where he had some family and stay there until the trial. He got on the ferry. He didn't get off.

RICK SMITH: Melvin Reine basically walked free on all of those accounts I think, because people were afraid to prosecute him. And I'm talking about policemen afraid of him because they had families, and they'd go to bed at night and you don't know if he's gonna burn the house down with your kids in the house.

POLLY: I knew that the police chief's car had burned in his yard and everybody assumed that it was, you know, Melvin but nobody could prove it.

CYLIN: I think Melvin Reine considered himself untouchable and that extended to his immediate family. So if the police tried to give a ticket to anyone in his family he would march into the police station and have the ticket torn up and have it erased from the log book.

My dad was either brave enough to take on Melvin Reine or he was foolhardy enough to take him on. If you broke the law, he didn't care who you were, who you were connected to, you were going to get a ticket, you were going to go to court. So he definitely had run-ins with them.

My dad was conducting traffic at a road block at a fatal accident and Melvin Reine's brother, John Reine was there in his semi and instead of waiting for the scene to be cleared he just decided to drive straight through the accident scene and he actually hit my father with his truck. He went to his house and arrested him and charged him with assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

RICK SMITH: And just prior to that court hearing, John Busby was shot. I thought instantly that Melvin Reine had shot him. And that we were gonna start after Melvin.

CYLIN: I think there were a lot of cops on the force who wanted to go straight to Reine's house and just drag him out. But there were a lot of other people, people who were in positions of power who were really too scared to -- to do anything about it.

RICK SMITH: I would challenge anyone to go to any police department, and ask the question, "If one of their officers was shot in the line of duty, what would they do?" And I can tell ya the response will be they're not gonna stop investigating that crime until an arrest is made.

This did not happen in the town of Falmouth when John Busby was shot.

CYLIN: [In] the police log from that night, you know the local paper does the log of accidents -- fight in progress, disorderly group, noisy house. At the hour of my dad's shooting there was nothing. They didn't put it in. They took it out of the police log. I mean, they've got everything else in here: "dog barking, two drunks near Russell and Falmouth Heights." Every single teeny thing in town is here and for some reason the police log doesn't state, for that night, that a police officer was shot.

RICK SMITH: To my knowledge, the Falmouth Police Department never interviewed Melvin Reine regarding the John Busby shooting.

POLLY: I've often wondered just exactly how this little guy could get away with the stuff that he got away with without even being questioned.

RICK SMITH: It was clear to a lot of us that there was something behind the scenes that was much more powerful than Melvin Reine. Melvin Reine had something on someone. Whether he was paying people in envelopes, or whether he had pictures from some sort of sexual act, he had something on somebody. He clearly had so much control that the police didn't go after him.

Nobody was going to do anything about a crime involving Melvin Reine.

KELLIE COLLIER-DRISCOLL: My uncle John did not want to die. My Uncle John wanted to live and live to take care of what happened to him. Their biggest mistake was they didn't kill him. That was their biggest mistake.


JOHN BUSBY:My name's John Busby. They didn't think I'd live. But I did. These are my words, and this is my story.

I was on my way in to work the midnight shift. A vehicle pulled up behind me. Pulled out as if to pass. It didn't pass. It matched my speed.

I got word while I was in the hospital that the investigation had been totally botched.

I determined there was only one way that justice was going to be done.
And I was gonna have to supply it. I was gonna have to get healthy, get out of the hospital and kill this guy.

CYLIN BUSBY: [Three weeks after the shooting] we came back from Boston. We drove to our house and when we pulled into the driveway, there were police cars in the driveway.

POLLY BUSBY: The police made it clear that we needed to be protected. We had at least two guards at our property 24 hours a day. And they were well armed.

CYLIN: Everywhere I went there was a cop. I had a police officer follow me to school, wait outside my classroom all day, in the lunchroom -- everywhere I went.

My first day back to school, we went down to the lunchroom. A boy who had been in my class the previous year came over the table and leaned over to me and said, "You know why that cop's here, don't you?" and I just kind of shook my head and he said, "Because somebody wanted to kill your dad. And somebody's going to come and kill you."


KELLIE COLLIER-DRISCOLL: They were thought of as being different at that time and not in a special way, but in a way of almost like a virus.

CYLIN: Kids had been told, "Don't sit by her." They were transferred out of my classroom, because what parent wants their kid next to, you know, a ticking time bomb, basically?

KELLIE: Life was spent speculating who somebody was, who was traveling too close to you. It didn't matter where you were. You thought about who's beside me and what could they do to you?

CYLIN: We had police protection for the first few months when we were home.

POLLY: When it started costing the town so much money that it was busting the bank, I guess, they decided to protect us in a different way: an eight-foot fence, an alarm system and a guard dog.

CYLIN: His name was Max. I did not like Max. If I was in the yard without my dad, that dog had to be chained up. If he thought somebody was gonna hurt my dad, even if it was me, he would just bite your throat out.

Getting him meant that our family dog, Tigger, had to be given away because she was terrified of him.

We had gone from a really regular family where my parents were really loving, to things being very serious all the time. We used to go to the beach and do things as a family and now we just really didn't leave our house as a group anymore.

KELLIE: My uncle was very quiet and you could almost see the turmoil in his thought process. You could just see that he was thinking, thinking all the time. There was a simmering anger that was building.

CYLIN: All physicality between us and him ended because he was injured. You felt like you couldn't get close to him physically or emotionally anymore. His personality was just so different. He just seemed like he was in a different world.

JOHN BUSBY: Two or three days would go by and I would just stay in my room. It felt like my head was going to explode.

I started pushing my family away from me -- pushing my wife and children away from me. We were livin' in our own prison and the people who had done that to me were livin' their normal lives.

The only way out of this mess was leaving town -- moving my family somewhere safe. By then I would be healthy and strong and able to arm myself with an untraceable weapon.

I was gonna cut through the woods across from the dump and I was gonna wait for Melvin to empty his truck. There was no way I could miss him. He'd be a sitting duck and that was my plan. Put a hole in his head right through the windshield and finish him off.

Moving On

CYLIN BUSBY: I would come home from school. Sometimes I would just go into my room and sit on my bunk bed. And I would just stare out the window and wait for it to get dark. I just wanted the day to be over. I just wanted the days to go by. I wanted the waiting to end for whatever was gonna happen.

POLLY BUSBY: The only place we could think of that no one would ever think we would live is in the middle of the country. And when we put the names of places that had accepted me as a nurse in a hat and drew out Tennessee, we gave it a go.

CYLIN: Once we knew where we were moving, my parents made it very clear to us that we couldn't tell anyone anything about where we were being relocated.

JOHN BUSBY: Max, our killer dog, was sold back to the training center and the town of Falmouth was kind enough to let us keep the money. And we would need every cent of it. My compensation for getting shot in the line of duty was $200 a week.

RICK SMITH: He was shot twice. He was shot once physically by a shotgun, and he was shot the second time by the town when they gave him the boot. They said, "It's easier for you to just go live someplace else than live here. And we'll save money, and you'll be on your way."

JOHN BUSBY: The town ordered a police escort for us as far as the Bourne Bridge - good-bye and good riddance. We weren't their problem anymore. I assumed the so-called "investigation" into my shooting would end as soon as we cleared the bridge that morning. And I was right.

CYLIN: As we were driving south -- it was August when we moved -- and it just got hotter and hotter. Every day that we were driving, it felt like we were driving into Hell. And I do remember thinking, "You know, after this year of everything that we've been through and how crappy our lives had become, and now this is what we get? This is our escape? Our new life was to go here, to move to this place, which was in the middle of nowhere?" It just felt like, you know, adding insult to injury. It was, like, "And then after this, here's your prize. Here's what you get." You know?

We had to assume disguises almost to fit in and to not stand out and make ourselves too obvious. I became like the girls at school. I pretended I had a Southern accent. I got a perm, I started wearing lip gloss and I lied -- I lied about our past, why we had moved there, what had happened to my father, what was wrong with his face. You know when you tell a lie for long enough and it sort of becomes your reality.

Those people that lived in Cape Cod, that little girl and my dad and all of us, they really did disappear. I mean we relocated to Tennessee, but the people that we were are gone forever.

POLLY: The first couple of years that we lived in Tennessee, we watched very carefully. We lived in a very isolated area John watched cars that went by the house to see if they slowed down. And that finally wore away. It went away.

He kind of looked like the old John except for the fact that he had this huge, mountain-man beard. I believe that John needed that type of place for a healing process. We lived on a large farm, he did a lot of work on that farm when he was physically able. He split wood we would never need, just for the physical smashing of an axe through a piece of something.

JOHN BUSBY: From time to time, I had to return to Boston for surgery and that meant shaving my beard off. And every time I shaved my beard off, I would see what they had done to me and the anger would just come flooding back.

While I was up in Boston, I visited my uncle. He always called me "nephew." He said, "Nephew, come down in the cellar. I got something I want to show you." We went down the cellar. He opened up a gun case and there was a .22 caliber rifle. It had a scope on it and on the end of it was a silencer. It was everything I needed.

I looked at the gun my uncle had put together. I wrote a few words in my notebook and showed it to him: Thank you for all your effort. I won't need it.

POLLY: When John returned from that surgery, he came through the door and before he said hello or anything else, he looked me straight in the eye and he said, "I'm done. I'm done with surgery. I'm done with going back there. I'm really done." And I said, "I'm done, too."

I really felt we had turned a corner; that he was leaving the revenge and his hatred behind. And that he was going to embrace his family and his life. We were heading forward with the person that John grew into to be the man he is today.

CYLIN: In 2003, there was actually a break in my dad's case. There was a confession. The Reines had started turning on each other, fighting over money and they'd gone into the police and started spilling family secrets. Twenty four years after my dad's shooting, John Reine finally came clean. He placed the entire blame for my dad's shooting on his brother, Melvin Reine.

POLLY: Melvin's brother told the whole story of the night of John's shooting. Melvin sat in the backseat. He had a ski mask on. According to his brother, he had a shotgun, which he put out the back window. As they slowly passed John's Volkswagen, he shot a round from the shotgun, which went through John's face.

In a sense, it was vindication. John was right. All those years he had been right. It was Melvin Reine who wanted him dead.

The sad part of this vindication was the fact that it came to light after the statute of limitations so no legal process would happen.

In some ways Melvin did get punished.

RICK SMITH: Melvin is in a state institution. He has what is reported to be Picks Disease, which is a disease that affects the brain. I'm told that he's in a state of dementia. You know, what goes around, comes around. He's getting what's rightly his, I guess.

CYLIN: This is the only childhood I had. To have lived through it and be here today, I just feel like it's made me who I am. It's touched every part of my life. I write books for kids. I am a mom and I'm a wife. I can't think of anything else that I would… Yeah, I have it all.

JOHN BUSBY: Quite frequently, I compare what has happened to Melvin and what I'm going through now. And there's no doubt in my mind that I won. No question.

POLLY: We now live in paradise, and we are so content with one another. We've come through the storm and now we're at peace

John and Cylin wrote a memoir together, "The Year We Disappeared." (Read an excerpt).

Melvin Reine died in November 2013.

Created by Judy Tygard
Produced by Chuck Stevenson, Liza Finley, Richard Barber, Gary Winter and Elena DiFiore