This story appeared in The Boston Globe on Jan. 20, 1994.
In the basement of the Pittsfield police station, a bank of phones lit up yesterday as detectives fielded leads that have poured in at the rate of more than 35 a day since the arrest of Lewis S. Lent Jr., suspected of being a serial child killer.
Any solid information was then placed in a wire basket marked “pending leads,” which would be followed up by detectives.
In a larger room, FBI and State Police crime analysts sat in front of six computer screens logging the key evidence gathered on Lent so far.
The information was processed through complex computer software to search for patterns that could match the “signatures” left by Lent to child abduction cases.
Combining old-fashioned police work with high technology, the task force of 30 federal, state and local investigators continued its exhaustive effort to piece together the puzzling pathology of the 43-year-old North Adams man who they fear may have stalked and killed young victims from Maine to western Massachusetts and as far south as Florida.
“We have to go after every lead we can in any way we can,” said FBI Special Agent William McMullin, a spokesman for the task force. “It’s a process that is going to take a long time.”
There were crime analysis and behavioral experts from the FBI, investigators from the missing persons unit and Crime Prevention Control Unit of the State Police, veteran homicide detectives from Pittsfield, and nearly a dozen investigators from the New York State Police all working together in cramped quarters.
In one room, forensic experts were neatly labeling plastic evidence bags that held knives, a handgun, duct tape, rope, maps and a clown’s mask - tools that police believe Lent used in his alleged crimes.
There also were toy dolls, puzzles, crayons, coloring books and children’s clothing taken from his home. There were the blue plastic seat covers from the van they believe Lent used to abduct victims. All of that will be analyzed for any forensic evidence that could link Lent to other cases.
Police fear that a set of photos of children taken from Lent’s home could be a catalog of potential victims. Three photos of girls between the ages of 10 and 13 were taped to the wall in one office with a sign that read, “Who are they? Where are they?”
“Now we get into the tedious and cumbersome process. We have to establish a time line of every detail we can gather in his life and begin from there,” said Detective Lt. Robert G. Scott of the State Police Investigative Services.
The time line is critical, Scott said, because it will be the basis for a “process of elimination” as they attempt to link Lent to unsolved cases of missing children.
A pretrial hearing is set for today in the Jan. 7 attempted abduction of a 12-year-old Pittsfield girl. A partial license registration taken down at the scene led to Lent’s arrest the same day. Subsequent statements by Lent led to a murder charge against him in the 1990 strangling of 12-year-old James Bernardo of Pittsfield.
Lent also drew a crude map that sent investigators to the snow-covered mountains of the Adirondacks, where they believe he buried 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood’s body last August.
A frustrating and fruitless search in a heavily wooded three-acre site continued yesterday.
FBI special agent Clint Van Zandt, from the Behavioral Science Unit at the agency’s headquarters in Quantico, Va., would not comment on the specifics of the Lent case, but described in general the dark psychological terrain that is covered in tracking a serial child killler.
“The more we know about a serial offender and his background, the more you can know about what makes them work,” Van Zandt said. “We have to get all the details of their life to see where it could lead us.”