Friday, May 28, 1999

Police dig for Andy's body

By Jim Patten
Eagle-Tribune Writer

LAWRENCE -- A team led by an anthropologist painstakingly excavated the earth and sifted debris along the Shawsheen River yesterday, as if on an archaeological dig for clues to an ancient civilization.

Dr. Ann Marie Miers, a forensic anthropologist who works for the medical examiner, directed an excavation of a pit where police hoped to find remains of a long missing Lawrence boy. State Police Lt. Jack Garvin (left) and Trooper Michael Lombard called out measurements.
But the team was hoping to solve a more recent mystery: What happened to Angelo "Andy" Puglisi.

They found no sign of the 10-year-old who disappeared without a trace 23 years ago. But they have not given up hope that the site will produce evidence about his fate.

The dig was conducted in woods behind South Lawrence East Elementary School, visible just off Interstate 495 at Route 114 near the Lawrence-North Andover line.

Police reopened the investigation into Andy's disappearance in August of 1998, 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. Miss Perkins was at the scene yesterday.

Two weeks ago, dogs trained to detect the scent of human remains searched the woods behind the new elementary school, which is near where Andy was last seen.

The dogs went on alert at two spots.

Police returned there yesterday with Dr. Ann Marie Miers, director of the Human Identification Unit at the state Medical Examiner's office in Boston.

"It was the next step in the investigation," Lawrence Detective Capt. Michael S. Molchan said. "We thought it would be a good place to come and dig."

Led by Dr. Miers, who is a trained forensic anthropologist, the officers worked painstakingly, digging a pit about 5 feet wide by 6 feet long, and 2 feet deep.

They dug down two inches at a time and threw the dirt into a sifter to separate debris.

Bits and pieces collected from the sifters and samples of the soil were placed in containers to be examined and tested.

A portion of the floor of the pit showed a darkened streak of earth, which Dr. Miers said indicated a pit was dug there at one time.

The officers uncovered an animal burrow stuffed with plastic bags, some spent .22 caliber shell casings, empty beer bottles and rusty pieces of metal.

"Essentially we followed the dark stain all the way down, and now we are getting out of that," Dr. Miers said.

"There doesn't appear to be any remains of a human or remains of an animal in this pit," she said.

She said the area of the dig had been depressed, indicating the soil had been disturbed at some point.

"As you can see, this is a needle-in-the-haystack kind of thing," Dr. Miers said.

State Police Detective Sgt. Jack Garvin was satisfied with the search.

"Now we don't have to worry about people coming out here and digging and finding something. We did a thorough job here today," Sgt. Garvin said.

The search is not over, however.

"We will sit down with the medical examiner and the state police and see what we do next," Capt. Molchan said.

Dr. Miers said investigators may next bring in some specialized equipment, possibly including ground-probing radar that can indicate subsurface irregularities that merit checking. They may also look in other areas of the city.

"We need to work on other possible locations," she said.

Capt. Molchan said Dr. Miers wants to examine possible ties between convicted child-killer Charles Pierce, and the disappearance of the young boy.

Mr. Pierce, who died of cancer in a prison hospital in February, was serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of 13-year-old Michelle Wilson of Boxford in 1969.

Before he died, Mr. Pierce summoned Capt. Molchan and Sgt. Garvin to his bedside, where he confessed to murdering a young boy and girl in Lawrence and burying them in a field off West Street. He told the officers he killed the children eight months apart and buried them close together.

Earlier this year, police took the dogs that can scent remains to the West Street location. That search was negative.

"Myself, I don't think he had anything to do with Andy," Capt. Molchan said of Mr. Pierce.

Sgt. Garvin said Mr. Pierce was questioned about Andy when they visited with him. He confessed to murdering a boy, but the time frame was not right for the Puglisi case.

And Mr. Pierce rambled, in and out of consciousness, and at times incoherent, casting further doubt on his deathbed confession, police said.

Andy disappeared Aug. 21, 1976 from the Higgins Memorial Pool, near the site of yesterday's dig and near the Stadium projects where he lived. His disappearance triggered an extensive search and drew attention nationwide.

In addition to Capt. Molchan and Sgt. Garvin, Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero, Lawrence Sgt. Michael Driscoll, State Trooper Michael Lombard from the Crime Scene Services Unit, and Andover Patrolman David Milne, who is receiving training from the state police, worked at the scene.

Copyright© 1999 Eagle-Tribune Publishing. All Rights Reserved. Contact Online editor