The mug shot hung on the police chief’s office wall for years: Gary Alan Irving at 18 years old, eyes half-lidded, a blank look on his face. The case file sat in the chief’s cabinet, and the details within it haunted him: a 16-year-old Cohasset girl pulled off her bicycle at knifepoint, forced into a car, and raped. Irving was convicted in 1979 of that rape and two others, but fled before he could be sentenced.
“We had to get the guy,” said former Cohasset police chief Brian W. Noonan, who vowed when he became chief in 1993 to find Irving. He reopened the file with one of his top detectives, Gregory Lennon, and they chased every lead, but their efforts stalled. When Noonan retired in 2002, he told Lennon, “Please, keep working.”
Massachusetts State Police finally tracked Irving to Gorham, Maine, where he was caught last week after 34 years at large.
“It was a feeling of relief,” Noonan said. “I made it a point in my tenure as chief to get this resolved, and I was unsuccessful doing it. I’m just thrilled he is back in custody, will do his time.”
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said last week that the capture could not have been made without help from Cohasset authorities.
Irving was convicted in June 1979, but the judge gave him time to get his affairs in order before sentencing. He ended up in Gorham, where he took his brother’s name, got married, registered to vote, and raised a family.
Noonan was just a patrolman when Irving committed three rapes between July 2 and July 29, 1978, in Cohasset, Weymouth, and Holbrook. He did not work the case, but it always stuck with him.
“To do that to somebody, particularly a teenager, it is a sickening thing to me,” said Noonan.
The 16-year-old had been riding her 10-speed bike in Cohasset, trying to get home for her 11 o’clock curfew, when Irving, standing next to a green Pontiac on the side of the road, tried to talk to her. She kept going. The car passed her shortly afterward, and she saw it again under a streetlight on Jerusalem Road. As the girl approached, Irving emerged and pulled out a knife, pressed it to the teen’s neck, and grabbed her with his other hand. He told her to get in his car, where he raped her, said Noonan.
At one point during the attack, said Noonan, the girl asked Irving who he was and why he was doing this to her. He told her his name was Bill, that he was from the Cape, and that he was being paid to attack her. People were watching him, he told her, and would be driving by to make sure he did it. He threatened her repeatedly with the knife.
Irving blocked her view of his license plate. On a later occasion, he said, Irving accosted two young women in Weymouth. The young women got away , and one grabbed a tassel hanging in the car. The colors, blue and white, implicated the rapist as a Rockland High School graduate, which led officers to Irving.
“The credit for the whole thing can be traced back to the individuals that did the work 34 years ago,” Lennon said. At least one of the lead detectives has died, he said, and other officers retired carrying the weight of Irving’s fugitive status.
“As a Cohasset police officer, someone that’s now carrying the flag for the guys that captured and had this guy convicted in the first place, it was almost like it was my job now to pick up where they left off,” he said.
Both Lennon and Noonan said it would be unusual for a rapist to suddenly stop committing assaults. Part of what made it impossible for him to give up on finding Irving, said Noonan, was the thought that Irving could be assaulting more women.
“In my view, serial rapists and pedophiles are right on the top of the repeat offender list,” he said. “Definitely that’s what was on the back of my mind for 25, 30 years. That’s why, when I became the chief, I resurrected the folder again, and I said to the detective, ‘Let’s solve this thing.’ ”
The tips that came in, he said, often came from individuals who thought they had spotted Irving, whose face had been publicized on television as one of the most wanted criminals in Massachusetts. Police departments across the country, all in possession of Irving’s widely distributed mug shot, called in sightings.
“Over the years, we had many calls and close calls, we thought,” Noonan said. “They all unfortunately turned out to be false leads and just didn’t go anywhere.”
Police have kept quiet about what ultimately tipped them off to Irving’s whereabouts.
Noonan said he was shocked to hear that the man he had chased for years was living just a 2½-hour drive away.
Irving, now a heavy-set 52-year-old with a bushy white beard and long, stringy hair, looks little like the mug shot that hung on Noonan’s board.
“Except for the eyes,” said Noonan. “They look exactly the same. Kind of a sleepy look. Kind of a cold stare.”Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.