Last month, serial sex offender Wayne Chapman died at the age of 73. And he may well have taken to his grave the last hope of solving the mystery of Andy Puglisi’s disappearance.
The 10-year-old boy from Lawrence, Massachusetts, was last seen at a swimming pool on a warm August afternoon in 1976.
Two weeks after Andy's disappearance, Chapman was arrested in Waterloo, New York.
In his van, police found Polaroid pictures and movies of naked children, a fake police badge and a replica pistol, along with rope, duct tape and a bloodstained child’s sock.
Despite being considered a prime suspect in the Puglisi case, Chapman was never charged because police did not have sufficient evidence.
Four other suspects were briefly considered: they boy’s divorced parents Faith and Angelo Puglisi, Faith’s ex-boyfriend Jerome Phillips, and a local ne’er-do-well named Gary Thibedeau.
But, even with Chapman’s involvement considered highly likely by police, the trail quickly went cold.
Patrolman Mike Carelli said in a 1982 documentary about the case: ”I always felt for Andy's family.
”Was Andy dead? Did he suffer? No body ever was found. There never was an ending. No headstone where they could come and put a flower down. No funeral. No nothing."
Even after the case was abandoned, Carelli had continued to seek answers about Andy.
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He met psychic Andrew Barnhart after a lecture at Texas A&M University, and asked for his help: "We have a missing person back home," he said. "Do you see anything?"
Without asking for any further details Barnhart launched into a detailed prediction: "The boy's dead," he told a stunned Carelli. "The body's still there."
He told the cop to look in an area that was “sometimes wet, sometimes not,” such as in a river bed that is frequently dry. He added that the grave was "three feet down with three feet on top,” although at the time Carelli had no idea what that might mean.
Carelli asked for permission to follow the case up more fully with Barnhart.
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Barnhart later told him that "a middle-aged man, with salt and pepper hair, a paunch, and screwed-up front teeth" had walked over Andy’s grave, which had been covered with fallen branches and dead leaves.
He added that he kept thinking of some mysterious numbers in relation to the boy’s final resting place – M19, M20, M21, and M23.
Carelli went back to the area near the pool. At the time of Andy’s disappearance, it had been a municipal dump but in the intervening years a football pitch had been built there.
The contractor who built the pitch looked uncannily like Barnhart's description, and the land had been surveyed by a civil engineer had assigned the grid numbers M20, M21, and M23 to different parts of the plot.
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The psychic told Carelli that the boy had not been deliberately killed.
"He said the boy died as a result of a rape.” Carelli told filmmaker Melanie Perkins. “Something had been stuffed in his mouth, like to keep him quiet, and he choked".
Barnhart had added that Andy could have suffered a seizure during the attack. It was only later that Carelli learned that Andy had mild epilepsy.
And finally, the psychic told Carelli who to look for. According to Barnhart, the killer was slim, with dirty hair and a moustache, and walked with a limp.
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Corelli discussed the psychic’s predictions to the lead investigator on the case, Captain Joseph Fitzpatrick.
Chapman was "on the thin side and had a moustache, and greasy-looking hair," Carelli says, but what he didn’t know until he told Fitzpatrick about the meeting with Barnhart was that the convicted paedophile also had a slight limp, the legacy of a childhood case of polio.
Carelli says there’s no way Barnhart could have known that detail. "He didn't know who I was, or anything about Andy," he says. "I'd given him no names, no dates, nothing for him to look up."
The only thing left to do was to excavate the patch of land where Barnhart said Andy's body had been buried – at the edge of a wooded area a few yards from a river bank.
Coincidentally two potential witnesses, Alan Roy and his friend, Tony, told Melanie Perkins they had seen what they thought might have been a grave quite nearby when they were kids.
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In July 1982, almost six years after Andy’s disappearance, police decided to excavate the area.
It was covered by roughly three feet of additional soil dumped there when the football field was laid out – Barnhart's "three feet down with three feet on top” ? – Carelli felt sure they were close to a breakthrough.
But just as the digging equipment closed in on the potential gravesite, a crowd began to form. The media, sightseers and, most distressingly for Barnhart, members of Andy’s family, gathered to see what happened next.
Barnhart said he couldn’t hope to guide investigators under those conditions: "All those emotions in the air interfered with his abilities. He wanted the place as sterile and serene as possible," Carelli told Melanie Perkins.
But instead of the quiet, sombre atmosphere Barnhart needed, the situation turned into "a circus,” says Carelli. “The only thing lacking was vendors."
Barnhart decided to leave, and the investigation was left incomplete. Even more mysteriously, when Carelli tried to follow up on the investigation, Barnhart himself had disappeared. ”It was like the world just swallowed him up." Carelli says.
To this day, Andy’s disappearance remains unsolved. Who knows how close that that police team may have been?
With Chapman dead, and Barnhart on the missing list, that question may never be answered.
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