Documentary is horrifying to watch, but crucial
The most terrifying part of "Have You Seen Andy?" the Emmy award-winning documentary produced by Boston's Melanie Perkins, happens midway through the film. A home movie discovered by police in the van of child molester Wayne Chapman begins to play, and though the images are out of focus and the children's faces intentionally blurred, Chapman's words are chillingly clear. They are pure evil - fantasies of what he would like to do to the boys he is stalking, 8-year-olds getting off a school bus.
Every minute of "Have You Seen Andy?" is riveting. But this segment is terrifying.
The feature-length documentary tells the story of Andy Puglisi, just 10 years old when he vanished from a public swimming pool in Lawrence, 32 summers ago. Melanie Perkins was 9 then, and she and Andy were best buddies. Both were from the Stadium Housing Project, where there were hundreds of children, but that summer they had a special bond. When Andy didn't return from the pool the night of Aug. 21, 1976, authorities searched for him for six days.
He was never found.
Perkins made two promises back then: She would never swim in the pool again and when she grew up, she would find Andy.
She hasn't found him. Not yet. But she has found what she believes is the reason he disappeared.
It took her nine years. It consumed her life. And it continues to keep her up at night. "I learned a lot [about sexual predators] I didn't want to know," she said in an interview.
But it was not knowing about sexual predators that may have cost Andy Puglisi his life.
Five known child molesters were at Higgins Memorial Pool the day Andy vanished. The man who worked at the store where they bought candy had been arrested on child pornography charges. And 20 miles down the road in Revere, there was a child porn ring that would be exposed a few months later.
And the children knew none of this.
Back in 1976 there was little awareness about missing children, no Molly Bish Foundation, no child identification kits, no mandatory registration for sex offenders, no Megan's Law, no National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"Andy was last seen at the same pool where Wayne Chapman, a year earlier, met two young boys, lured them to a nearby park, and raped them," Perkins says. Two weeks after Andy vanished, Chapman, who worked as a janitor in a Rhode Island hospital, was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in upstate New York. In his van, police found rope, tape, handcuffs, a fake police badge, a starter pistol, Polaroid pictures of naked children, a bloody sock, and videotapes of children he'd stalked.
Chapman admitted raping the two Lawrence boys in 1975 and at least 15 others, all ages 7 to 10. He told police that he got their trust by pretending to have lost his little white poodle then asking them for help.
The day Andy disappeared, there was a man at the pool asking boys to help him find his dog, witnesses say.
But Chapman wasn't the only predator hanging out in this poor mill town. Perkins discovered in police files that Charles Pierce, who was a necrophiliac serving time for the murder of a girl from Boxford, a town just 10 miles from Lawrence, had also confessed to murdering a Lawrence boy. The letter detailing the confession was dated April 4, 1989, and had sat in a file for 10 years.
Perkins's efforts to interview Pierce were stymied and Pierce died before she could question him.
Chapman, however, is alive, and in prison, classified as sexually dangerous. But to this day, police have never charged him with the disappearance of Andy Puglisi.
Perkins began her research by renting a post office box and taking out ads asking people to write to her if they knew anything about Andy. She read and reread files. She interviewed family and friends and police officers and psychics - everyone involved with the case. She says it was hope that drove her every day. That it outweighed the negativity and setbacks.
If everyone has a purpose in life, this was hers: to tell Andy's story in order to save other children.
"It could have been any of us," she says at the end of her film. Thousands of children "are abducted in the US each year; 115 are never found. There is still no protocol in place for finding missing kids."
"Have You Seen Andy?" is being released on DVD on Oct. 14.
It is a film all parents must see.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at email@example.com.