News your connection to The Boston Globe

Have You Seen Andy?

and the main
in his case

Andy Puglisi
Andy Puglisi,
a 10-year-old Lawrence boy who vanished without a trace in 1976.

Melanie Perkins
Melanie Perkins,
Andy's childhood playmate, now a filmmaker working on a documentary about his disappearance.

His eyes stare out from the faded photo, a sweet smile lighting his face. He disappeared nearly 23 years ago, but the search for Andy Puglisi has never really ended.
A childhood playmate, haunted by the loss of her friend, began her own search for him last year for a documentary film.
This is the story of the search for Andy. It is a tale of promising leads and intriguing suspects, hopes raised and hopes dashed.
It is also the story of one woman's journey into her past.

By Judith Gaines, Globe Staff, 07/04/99

aturday, Aug. 21, 1976, was an unusually sultry day in Massachusetts. As the sun blazed hot and hazy, children from the Stadium Housing Project in south Lawrence gathered as they often did at the public swimming pool across the street.

The pool was their oasis, a safe haven, parents thought, where their children could swim and play water games. Anybody could stay all day for 15 cents, and sometimes lifeguards would look the other way and let their favorites in for free.

Among the throng that day were Andy Puglisi, 10, and Melanie Perkins, his 9-year-old neighbor.

Filmmaker Melanie Perkins at the south Lawrence pool where her childhood friend, Andy Puglisi, was last seen. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

Andy was a slim, soft-spoken boy with brown, tousled hair, big brown eyes, large cheeks, pouty lips and, says Melanie, ''a smile that was bigger than he was.'' Melanie was a precocious, curious, freckle-faced girl with long brown hair that she wore in braids. Her mother describes her as ''a why? person,'' always wanting to know the reasons for things.

Like many children in the Stadium Housing Project (named for the Lawrence High School stadium nearby), both came from broken homes and lived with their mothers. Andy was the oldest of five children, always looking out for the others; Melanie had three older brothers, whom she manipulated as best she could.

Melanie knew she and Andy were sweethearts when he insisted that some neighborhood boys include her in their touch football games. ''If she doesn't play, I don't play'' is how he put it. Andy sealed the romance in her eyes by giving her extra chocolate chip cookies one afternoon when he handed them out to friends.

But on this August day, their innocent romance ended abruptly.

Andy just vanished.

Unofficially, police say they believe he was abducted, raped, and murdered. But no body has been found. No one has confessed. For nearly 23 years, investigators have been confounded.

The case, they say, is stone cold.

Today Melanie, who lives in the Boston area, is a documentary filmmaker who has helped produce films for ''Nova,'' ''The American Experience,'' and the History and Discovery channels. She's 32 years old and making her own independent documentary, which she hopes will at last unearth the truth about her childhood playmate. She will call this film, ''Have You Seen Andy?''

The summer of '76 comes back to her in contrasts: thoughts of friends laughing and splashing at the pool, and the fear of what may have happened to Andy; the joy and wonder of childhood, darkened by a horror she never fully wants to contemplate. Now she can hardly stand to go near the pool she once loved so much.

On Aug. 21, Melanie and Andy met at the pool late in the morning. As usual, they spent the entire day playing there. ''It was the place to hang out if you lived in the projects,'' Melanie says.

About 4:30, she was hungry and decided to go home. Usually she walked alone to her mother's apartment, which was less than 200 yards away. But on this day, something she still can't explain made her feel afraid.

Melanie Perkins revisits the Stadium Housing Project in Lawrence where she and Andy Puglisi lived as children. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

She asked Andy to accompany her, but he wasn't ready to leave. So her 11-year-old brother, Jeff, walked her home. The last time Melanie saw Andy, he was sitting by the pool in his green bathing trunks, talking with friends.

Early the next morning, about 3, two police officers knocked on the Perkins' door. ''Have you seen Andy?'' one of them asked.

While she lay awake in her bed, police questioned Jeff at the kitchen table. Melanie worried that Andy had gone off exploring somewhere, maybe hiking or fishing, and had stayed out too late. Now he was going to get in trouble.

Soon she realized that the truth might be far worse.

She remembers the next few days as a cacophony of sounds and swirling images in the search for Andy: helicopters whirring overhead; police, National Guard troops, and Green Berets scouring the neighborhood; truckers with CB radios rallying 'round; neighbors helping out. Dogs were brought in to sniff an abandoned dump and woods adjacent to the pool. Scuba divers dragged the nearby Shawsheen River. More than 2,000 volunteers pitched in.

Jeff led some detectives into the woods to show them where local boys built forts, tunnels, and special hiding places. Her brother Bill took other officers to a nearby swamp, a bowling alley, Den Rock Park, and other places where the kids hung out.

After six days, the search was called off. At a press conference, Lawrence Detective Sergeant Patrick Schiavone announced: ''It is our true belief that [Andy] is still alive. From the evidence we have, we feel he is being helped and given refuge by somebody, and that this somebody will bring him back to his parents.''

It was a ploy. In fact, what police considered an exhaustive search had yielded nothing more unusual than a cannonball in the woods - a relic with no apparent connection to the case. But investigators hoped the announcement would cause the perpetrator to relax and make an incriminating mistake.

The plan backfired.

The culprit, if there was one, made no revealing move. But the volunteers, believing Andy was safe, largely discontinued their efforts. Public pressure ebbed, and Andy's case began a long, slow slide into obscurity.

In subsequent years, a few detectives made valiant personal attempts to solve the case, but with no success.

Melanie was, and still is, infuriated. ''Police have mismanaged this case right from the start,'' she says. ''It's unbelievable that a 10-year-old boy could just vanish like that, without a trace. Someone must know something!''

Responding largely to Melanie's prodding and media inquiries, police reopened the case last summer, and three detectives were assigned to it: Captain Michael Molchan and Sergeant Gene Hatem, both with the Lawrence police, and Sergeant Jack Garvin, a State Police investigator. But they doubt they can do much.

''We're just kind of like pulling out the old file and dusting it off,'' Molchan says at police headquarters in Lawrence. ''We're too busy to take a look at something that shows so little promise. I don't have the bodies available just to go fishing.''

But Melanie is determined to find answers. Did Andy run away, or have some freak accident? Was he abducted? Murdered? Could he still be alive, somewhere?

''If it were me, if I was missing, I'd hope someone would still be looking for me, even if it was more than 22 years later,'' she explains.

So in August 1998, she opens Post Office Box 156 in Andover, Mass., 01810. Through television and newspaper interviews, she urges anyone with pertinent information to contact her. Before long, she receives some unnerving tips.

Chapter 2: The Shallow Grave

Copyright 2004, The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Globe Archives
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months