Monday, August 31, 1998

Story of missing boy nets promising developments

By Mark E. Vogler
Eagle-Tribune Writer

It may be months and even years before former South Lawrence resident Melanie Perkins gets to see her proposed documentary film, "Have you seen Andy?" broadcast on public television.

But a week after The Eagle-Tribune carried the story of her ambitious and noble project, the 31-year-old filmmaker has already achieved her major goals:

Lawrence police have reopened their investigation into the Aug. 21, 1976 disappearance of her childhood sweetheart, Angelo "Andy" Puglisi Jr.

The public is being educated about the plight of missing children.

Nagging, unanswered questions are being raised, giving Andy's parents, Faith Puglisi of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Angelo Puglisi Sr. of Haverhill, an opportunity to find out more about the status of the case.

There is renewed public interest in Andy's case throughout the Greater Lawrence area, as well as in Boston, where the major television stations have picked up on the story. That is good for the police who are trying to solve the 22-year-old mystery, or for family and friends who are still trying to come to terms with Andy's disappearance and perpetuate his memory.

It is also good for the young, potentially vulnerable children of Lawrence, whose parents have been influenced to take a deeper interest in their safety.

Just a few days ago, a mother in a condo complex where I live approached me and said, after reading the story, she now worries about her son going fishing alone in a remote area. The woman, who said she remembered Andy when she lived in Lawrence years ago, is just one of several people I have run into recently whose concerns about their child's welfare have been heightened.

I got a recent e-mail from a Lawrence resident who remembered the case.

"Reading the story has brought back many memories when I was a 12-year-old kid growing up in South Lawrence at the Beacon housing projects opposite the stadium," wrote one man.

"The day that happened all the kids at the projects got together and searched for Andy. We thought we would become heroes if we could find him. The helicopters overhead were a reminder that he still wasn't found," he recalled.

"Maybe something was missed. They should go back and research everything." Of course, the best kind of public awareness will come from a well-researched and well-circulated film documentary like the one Ms. Perkins proposes.

"Most importantly, it will educate families and friends of missing children. 'Have You Seen Andy?' will focus on law enforcement practices in missing children's cases, sex offenders and their rights and how families cope with the disappearance of a child," said Ms. Perkins, when she first approached the paper about reporting on her project.

She is interested in what Lawrence people who remember the case have to say. If you have any concerns, theories or other thoughts about what happened, send her a letter. She has set up a post office box where people can write if they have information they want to share: PO Box 156, Andover, Mass. 01810.

Ms. Perkins told me she was pleased, yet surprised, by the sweeping developments in the wake of our recent story.

Initially, she said, the police did not seem that interested in answering questions about the case. Andy's file -- or what the police let her read -- was not very detailed, she said. And there seemed to be gaps in the information that was available. It seemed incomplete, like reports were misplaced or never done.

But police seem to be treating the case more seriously now, she said.

"They told me there is more information in the file than what I first saw. And they won't let me look at it right now because they say it's an active investigation, which contains confidential information," she said.

For his part, Lawrence Police Capt. Michael S. Molchan conceded the files indicated that information was lost or misplaced -- or -- perhaps incomplete from previously unanswered questions. To resolve these issues, he planned to meet soon with the Providence, R.I., police department to compare notes on the case.

Capt. Molchan downplayed the magnitude of the investigation, calling it "a review," rather than "a full-scale investigation."

But he has put some of the most experienced and available detectives on it: himself, Lawrence Police Detective Sgt. Gene Hatem and State Police Detective Sgt. Jack Garvin, a special investigator assigned to the Essex County District Attorney's Office.

In separate interviews, Andy's parents each protested that they were virtually ignored by the Lawrence Police Department.

"Every time I go down there to find out what's happening, they give me the cold shoulder. They keep telling me it's an open case, and they can't give any information out," said Mr. Puglisi.

Mrs. Puglisi remains bitter about the response she gets when she calls long distance to get an update.

"There's so many police officers down there who don't know about the case when I call. I find that insulting and bizarre. That was a real eye-opener for me," she said.

"I think it's pathetic that they haven't kept the file up-to date and that I can't get anybody to answer my questions," she said.

If the latest investigation by Lawrence police answers most of the questions that have left the family in the dark all these years, Ms. Perkins said that would be about the best outcome from her sad, but soul-searching endeavor.

On The Beat is a weekly feature that offers readers a behind-the-scenes look by Eagle-Tribune crime reporter Mark E. Vogler at police in the Merrimack Valley and the people, interesting experiences and issues they face on the job. If you have any questions, comments or material to add on this subject, please feel free to contact him by phone at 685-1000, by mail at Box 100, Lawrence, MA 01842 or by e-mail at MVogler@eagletribune.com


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