Sunday, September 27, 1998

Puglisi file: Thicker, but not closed

By Mark E. Vogler
Eagle-Tribune Writers

LAWRENCE -- After reopening the Andy Puglisi case, Lawrence police say they have laid to rest some questions, though not the central one: What happened to the 10-year-old Lawrence boy who disappeared one summer afternoon 22 years ago?

Detective Capt. Michael S. Molchan reopened the Puglisi case last month, citing questions raised in an Eagle-Tribune story about the case and the efforts of Melanie Perkins, a childhood friend of Andy, to make a film documentary about the mystery.

He said an extensive review of files, interviews with officers involved in the original investigation and the emergence of material that was never entered into the original case file has settled some of the key concerns he had about the case. Here are some of the questions and Capt. Molchan's findings:

Q Was a thorough search conducted after Andy disappeared?

A Critics of the police investigation in Andy's disappearance have previously questioned whether police did a thorough enough search of the area surrounding Higgins Memorial Pool in South Lawrence -- where Andy was last seen on Aug. 21, 1976 -- and other parts of the city.

Capt. Molchan is now convinced that police searched every location that should have been searched. The emergence of new maps, which were not put in the master file, shows police checked areas that some believed were never checked. The massive search -- which involved the Green Berets -- lasted six days and was the most extensive and well-publicized search for a missing child over the last two decades, according to Capt. Molchan.

Q Is evidence missing from the files?

A Yes, but Capt. Molchan said it may not be key.

He said he was most concerned about Ms. Perkins' discovery that a pair of blood-stained socks found in the van of Wayne W. Chapman, the chief suspect in the case, could no longer be found.

Could the socks -- and the blood -- have been Andy's? DNA tests, not available in 1976, could determine that today.

But Capt. Molchan said he learned from interviews with retired Lawrence detectives and old reports that the socks were "a shot in the dark" rather than a key piece of evidence.

"The crime lab in Providence, R.I., can't find them. But we don't belive they figure in the case," said Capt. Molchan.

Andy probably was not wearing socks, he said.

"All the witnesses we had access to said the last time they saw him, all he had on was a bathing suit, towel and sneakers. That would make perfect sense because he lived right across the street from the pool. You could throw a rock from his house. He didn't need to dress up," he said.

Q Why wasn't the prime suspect charged?

A Wayne Chapman is locked up at the Bridgewater Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous for raping two Lawrence boys in 1975 after luring them from the same swimming pool where Andy disappeared a year later.

Mr. Chapman never confessed to abducting Andy but agreed to be questioned while under a truth serum, according to one police report.

Capt. Molchan, like others who worked on the case, doubts Mr. Chapman snatched and killed Andy.

"In my opinion, I don't think he had anything to do with it. Providence cops have a letter that says he was working in Rhode Island on the day of the disappearance," said Capt. Molchan.

"I think he was here in the area at one time. But all the identification made of him came after the fact of his arrest in Providence. But he's still somebody you've got to look at," he said.

Q What about other suspects?

A Though their names were never released during the investigation, Capt. Molchan said several other suspects were tied to Andy's disappearance. One was a reputed sexual predator who lived in the area. He died about five years ago, Capt. Molchan said.

"I would probably give more credibility to some of them than Chapman," said Capt. Molchan, who said he planned to take another look at some of the other suspects.

"We've looked at various suspects over the years. In 1991-92, somebody was going to 'fess up to killing Andy. He was in prison in Concord. It turned out to be nothing. The guy was just popping off," he said.

Q Could Andy be still alive?

A There have been reports of Andy sightings over the years, and his family remains unconvinced that he is dead. One of them had the boy attending Salem, N.H., schools several years ago. Another person reported seeing Andy at an area shopping mall. Police also investigated a report that Andy was in Ohio.

None of these reports, however, could be substantiated.

Police are almost certain Andy was killed, though, officially, the investigation remains open as a missing person's case.

"He could be alive. He could have run away. Though the chances of that are remote, it's still a possibility. You just don't know," said Capt. Molchan.

"My personal opinion, I don't think he's alive. He was probably abducted and probably killed. And his body may have been disposed of in a landfill or dump. And that could be any place," he said.

Previous investigation

Capt. Molchan, who was joined in the review by Lawrence Police Detective Sgt. Gene Hatem and State Police Detective Sgt. Jack Garvin, said he is satisfied that previous investigators did everything they could to find Andy and his suspected killer.

"If you gave this case to the LAPD," he said, referring to the Los Angeles Police Department, "I don't think they could have done a better job. But that's a statement from a homer," said Capt. Molchan.

He said one reason for the lingering questions about the case was that "everything wasn't written down. And some things that were written down never found their way into the master case file."

Capt. Molchan now is preparing a case summary, which will be added to the file along with other reports and information that turned up in the latest review -- "just in case this thing is opened up 10 or 15 years from now," he said.

"There are still things I'm going to look into. Though, at this point, I don't think we can add anything new," Capt. Molchan said.

"Short of a confession we can use in court, it's going to remain a very difficult case to solve. Maybe somebody comes forward with a dying declaration or just finds Jesus and decides to come clean. That would help."

Mark E. Vogler covers crime at the Eagle Tribune. 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

Capt. Molchan said incomplete files begged questions about important aspects of the case.


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