Sara Anne Wood was a 12-year-old girl
who disappeared on a quiet road near her Frankfort, New York, home in
August 1993. Lewis Lent, a janitor from Massachusetts, confessed to
kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and killing Sara, but he refused to say
where he buried her body.
Lent had also plead guilty to the 1990
kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Pittsfield, Massachusetts native
Jimmy Bernardo. Lent abducted Jimmy from the Pittsfield movie theater
where he worked as a janitor. He was sentenced to life without parole
for the Bernardo murder and sentenced to 25 years to life for the Wood
He is currently in prison in
Massachusetts. Lent is also suspected in a number of other child
kidnapping cases. Lent recanted his confession and refuses to disclose
the location of Sara's body. Lent has said that he can't say where her
body is because she is not buried alone. It has been speculated that
Lent did not act alone and that his accomplice(s) are still at large.
Lewis Lent Jr.
The event that brought accused
serial-child-killer Lewis Lent to the attention of authorities and the
world was a January 7, 1994, attack on then 12-year-old Rebecca Savarese.
It was early on a Friday morning in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when Lent
menaced the girl with a gun and tried to force her into his borrowed
pickup truck. She pretended to be suddenly out of breath, fooling him
for a crucial moment. She ran, shrugging out of her backpack when he
grabbed for her, leaving it and him behind. When another man appeared to
help her, Lent gave up the chase and drove away.
On Thursday, January 12, 1995,
Lewis Lent, Jr., was convicted of several charges in relation to that
attack. They were kidnapping, larceny, assault with a dangerous weapon
and assault and battery. Becky testified against him at the trial and
identified him in court.
Police arrested Lent after they
found the truck with the backpack and loaded gun inside. The truck's
owner was blind and told police he often loaned it to Lent. It was
during three days of interrogation after the arrest that the real
revelations came out: Lent confessed to murdering two children. He
claimed that he was subject to blackouts and memory lapses. (In one
Associated Press report he blamed this on a 1974 close encounter with
UFO occupants in Virginia.) Predictably, his lawyers used this to argue
that police coerced their mentally unbalanced client into confessing. A
judge ruled otherwise, however, and allowed most of his statements to be
admitted into evidence.
One of the alleged victims was
12-year-old James Bernardo, who disappeared at a Pittsfield,
Massachusetts movie theater on October 22, 1990. Lent worked at the
theater at the time but was not considered a suspect. According to
Lent's confession, he encountered Jimmy Bernardo outside the theater and
used a hunting knife and death threats to force him to come along. Back
at his apartment, he taped the boy to a bed, cut his clothes off and
assaulted him. The next morning, he killed him by hanging. He claimed it
was his intent to kill Jimmy Bernardo all along.
Jimmy's nude body was found in
Newfield, New York, far away from the place where he was abducted, but
only a short distance from Lewis Lent's childhood home. Lent's frequent
trips to visit his family in New York allegedly figured in the next
case: The August 18, 1993, disappearance of 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood
of Frankfort, New York. Sara vanished while riding her bicycle home from
church. The bike and some papers were found by the road less than a mile
from her home.
According to Lent's confession, he was driving his van
along back roads with the specific intent of finding a child to molest
and kill, when he came across Sara Wood. He used a hunting knife to
force her into the van, then used tape to bind her hands. He drove her
farther upstate, into the Adirondack mountains where he raped her and
clubbed her to death with a heavy tree branch. He buried her body using
tools brought along for that purpose. He told police, "I didn't
check to see if she was breathing because I don't like to touch dead
Reportedly, Lent drew police a
map to the area where Sara is buried, but despite two massive searches -
One in the dead of winter under brutal conditions, the other after the
spring thaw - her body has never been found.
Lent has been charged with
killing Sara, but with only the confession to use against him, there is
some doubt as to how effectively he can be prosecuted. His lawyers
barred any attempts to bring him to New York to improve on his map or
expand on his confession.
Attempts have been made to link
Lent to other cases. For a time, a fifty member task force, composed of
FBI agents and members of several New York and Massachusetts police
agencies, followed any and all possible leads to establish if Lent was
involved in other child disappearances or murders. They followed his
movements throughout his life and exchanged information with other
police agencies around the country. They were unable to develop any
links to the point where charges could be filed against him. After being
slowly reduced in size, the task force was disbanded in the summer of
1994, though some of the individual agencies involved have continued to
Despite police suspicions, Lent
has only been charged in two murders and has not been tried or convicted
in either of those. So, though he has been branded a serial killer, the
possibility exists that he is not one. Still, some observations about
his reported mental processes and alleged methods can be made.
First, the style of his attacks
compares interestingly with those of Westley Dodd. Dodd was executed at
Walla Walla prison in Washington on January 15, 1993, for the murders of
three little boys. Before his capture he recorded a diary of daily
searches for victims, an obsessive quest for vulnerable children. In
much the same way, it's said that, in his statement concerning Sara
Wood's death, Lent described driving around back roads, specifically
looking for a child to abduct. His alleged use of a weapon and
restraints showed somewhat greater forethought than Dodd and could,
possibly, be consistent with police suspicions that he could have killed
other children. Dodd also kept one of his victims alive over night and
hanged him in the morning.
An episode of 48 Hours that
profiled Lent indicated that in the months immediately prior to his
arrest he was acting oddly. He took to wearing dark sunglasses and the
quality of his work at the movie theater declined so far that he was
fired. Two days before the failed attempt to kidnap Becky Savarese he
built a false wall in his apartment, creating a space that was large
enough to keep a child prisoner. This is exactly what police claim he
intended, though Lent apparently told a friend he was going to put in an
Lent had a good reputation. He
had few friends, but there were some who believed they knew him well.
They thought of him as mild-mannered and goodhearted. He was helpful to
friends and to the blind and kind to children. Police reported that,
during interrogation, Lent wrote a letter of apology to Becky Savarese
and appeared disturbed or upset when he talked about killing Jimmy
Bernardo. This apparent contrition is extremely different from Westley
Dodd's unemotional, barely believable claims that he loved children, or
the obvious pleasure many convicted serial killers get from describing
Lent was described as being
friendly with local kids during the seven years he worked at the theater
in Pittsfield. It was said that he often brought them with him when he
went to the theater late at night to clean up. This friendly
relationship with kids is reminiscent of the approach of the classic
pedophile, who genuinely likes children and enjoys their company. Those
molesters tend not to be violent, however. They are more likely to use
persuasion or trickery to get what they want than a gun.
The story of Lewis Lent has at
least two trials to go and much still to learn. What kind of man will he
turn out to be?
Lent gets 25 to life for kidnapping,
South Coast Today
By William Kates, Associated Press
April 12, 1997
HERKIMER, N.Y. -- Robert and Frances Wood thought
they would feel some peace to finally see Lewis Lent Jr. sent to jail
for the kidnapping and murder of their daughter.
But the parents of Sara Anne Wood felt only pain
yesterday at Mr. Lent's sentencing in Herkimer County Court. Mr. Lent
walked out of court without telling where he buried Sara's body.
Judge Patrick Kirk sentenced the former janitor from
North Adams, Mass., to 25 years to life in state prison.
Before handing down the sentence, Judge Kirk said he
often wondered if he was capable of imposing the death penalty.
"You have answered that in the affirmative," Judge
Kirk told Mr. Lent, who is not eligible for capital punishment.
The judge offered Mr. Lent a second
chance to reveal Sara's whereabouts, but Mr. Lent's only words were yes
or no answers to the judge's questions.
Sara, 12, disappeared in August 1993 while riding her
bike to summer Bible school about a mile from her home in Norwich
Corners, a rural community about 15 miles south of Utica. Her body has
never been recovered, and prosecutors had hoped the 47-year-old Mr. Lent
would reveal its location in exchange for a transfer to federal prison,
which Mr. Lent had asked for.
The Woods tried a final time to persuade Mr. Lent to
change his mind, using stories about their daughter and verses from the
Bible to get him to repent.
"Whether you accept and repent or go to hell and
damnation with Satan, that's your choice," said Robert Wood. "What you
will do will have no effect on us, because we will be reunited with Sara
While the Woods spoke, Mr. Lent stared vacantly ahead,
nodding only when they repeated their belief that Sara was in heaven. He
also grimaced, as if near tears, as Sara's mother recounted part of Mr.
Lent's confession. Mrs. Wood detailed how Mr. Lent kidnapped Sara,
forced her into the woods, struck her with a tree limb, and buried her
in a shallow grave without ever checking to see if she was indeed dead.
Mrs. Wood then described her daughter, showing Mr.
Lent photos of her, describing her love of dancing and poetry, and her
faith in God.
She then told Mr. Lent: "This is probably a waste of
time trying to express to you that she was a person. You are her
Mr. Lent will never actually get the chance to serve
his New York sentence. He will be returned to Massachusetts, where he is
serving life without parole for the 1990 slaying of 12-year-old Jimmy
Bernardo in Pittsfield, Mass.
Mr. Lent was scheduled to be sentenced two months ago
after he admitted last October to kidnapping and killing Sara. But at
the insistence of Sara's parents, Judge Kirk agreed to a two-month delay
in the hope that Mr. Lent would disclose the whereabouts of Sara's body.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Lent's mother, Lois Wood,
who sat across from Sara's parents as her son was sentenced, continued
to claim her son was innocent, saying that he did not speak out because
he was terrorized and tortured in jail.
"They sentenced an innocent man," Mr. Lent's mother
The Trail Of A Serial Killer?
Crime: Another Town Mourns A Young Girl Lost
By Michele Ingrassia - Newsweek.com
January 24, 1994
AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, THE ADIRONdack Mountain
landscape is unforgiving, hardened under three feet of snow and near-zero
temperatures. Yet in one of the most brutal weeks of winter, 165 police,
National Guardsmen and volunteers scoured a remote field in Raquette
Lake, N.Y., sifting for any clue that might yield the grave of 12-year-old
Sara Anne Wood. In a startling turn, they were led to the spot by Lewis
S. Lent Jr., 43, a Massachusetts janitor who, police say, may be
involved in abductions from Florida to New England. Sara's body has not
turned up, but if there were any hope about her fate, her father dashed
it when he urged the army of volunteers who'd sent out 4 million posters
to turn off their fax machines. "I believe we're on the verge of being
blessed by God, getting an answer to a prayer my family has had not to
be kept in the dark about where Sara is," said Robert Wood, a
Once again a small town waits to mourn its daughter.
Last month, Petaluma, Calif., buried Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old
snatched from her home during a slumber party. Now, Litchfield, N.Y., a
rural community 70 miles southwest of the search site, must grieve for
Sara. And for itself. Like Polly, Sara stirred the nation's fears that,
in the '90s, no child is safe. Like Petaluma, Litchfield amassed a hefty
reward. And like their Petaluma counterparts, the people of Litchfield
turned out in force, flooding faxes and tying trees with pink and
turquoise ribbons. the colors Sara wore on Aug. 18, the day she
disappeared while riding her bike on a country road.
In the end, Sara's case turned on a chilling break:
the near abduction of another 12-year-old. There was fresh snow on the
ground Jan. 7 as Rebecca Savarese walked the 1 1/2 miles to Notre Dame
Middle School in Pittsfield, Mass., just over the New York border. The
seventh grader says she was listening to the Smashing Pumpkins on her
Discman when a man--"all dressed in grungy clothes"--approached and said,
"You see the gun I have?" He motioned her toward a blue pickup parked
outside a nearby bank.
Rebecca chose to risk her life rather than obey.
Every day, she had heard the same warning from her mother, a convenience-store
cashier: "If you get approached, do anything you can--kick, bite, punch."
The words resonated. "I knew if I got in that truck, everything would be
over," Rebecca told NEWSWEEK. When the stranger prodded, she feigned
dizziness. Before he could react, she slipped out of her purple backpack.
He grabbed for her, but got the bag instead. Rebecca ran to a
maintenance man in the bank lot.
Lewis Lent was eating a tuna sandwich at the home of
friends when Pittsfield police arrested him that afternoon and charged
him with attempted kidnapping; he has pleaded not guilty. But a cascade
of revelations followed. First, police charged Lent in connection with
the murder of a 12-year-old Pittsfield boy, Jimmy Bernardo, who was last
seen in October 1990 at the local strip mall where Lent works; the body
was found the next month.
Police say Lent also gave them a sketch of an area in
Raquette Lake, promising they'd find Sara's body there. Overnight, a
task force of police and FBI agents began retracing Lent's movements
over the last decade, searching for connections to a dozen missing
children. So far, Lent hasn't been charged even in Sara's abduction, but
Capt. Frank Pace of the New York Bureau of Criminal Investigation said
he would be "remiss" not to treat him as a serial killer.
Lent is described by his neighbors in North Adams,
Mass., as quiet, not sinister. "You know how some people are just kind
of there? He was one of those people," says Ralph Gould, who had known
Lent in high school. If there was anything remarkable, it was the
vulnerability of his friends--children, the handicapped. the elderly.
OneLime neighbor Bob Johnson remembers always seeing Lent with a broken-down
car and a youngster or a blind friend helping fix it. And though Johnson
describes Lent as "kind," he also recalls a gun bolstered to his side.
Where any of this takes police may have to wait. By
the weekend they had zeroed in on a corner of Raquette Lake, aided by a
Swiss mountain dog and ground-penetrating radar to help detect what's
buried under the frost. in New Hartford, N.Y., at the Sara Anne Wood
Rescue Center. volunteers waited for a body. "It hasn't been easy," said
Roseann Grotevant. "Our operation dealt every moment and second with the
belief that Sara Anne is alive." But at Robert Wood's request, they've
sent out a new batch of posters. These were for two other missing girls.
Volunteers search the field where Lent told them they
would find Sara's body. Police hope to link him to a string of other
missing or murdered kids throughout the region.
Sara Ann Wood
Age 12, missing since Aug. 1993
Age 21, missing since 1985
Age 15, missing since 1992
Age 12, found dead in 1990
Carry Lynn Nixon
Age 16, missing since 1987
Age 18, found dead in 1988
Age 15, found dead in 1983
Age 10, found dead in 1990
Police check if Lewis S. Lent Jr. was involved in
disappearance of 2 Capital Region youths
Names of 12 missing people surface upon his arrest
By Carol Demare - The Times Union
January 14, 1994
The investigation into possible victims of suspected
serial killer Lewis S. Lent Jr. widened Thursday to include two Capital
Region youngsters, but police said chances were remote that Lent was
involved in their disappearances.
Inquiries are being made about Monique "Pebbles"
Santiago, who disappeared in Albany in March 1990 when she was 12, and
Saratoga Springs resident Tammie McCormick, who was last seen in April
1986 when she was 13.
The local agencies join scores of others in the
Northeast that are filtering information on their missing persons' cases
to a task force in Pittsfield, Mass., delving into the widely traveled
Lent's activities during the last several years.
The names of at least 12 missing children or young
adults have surfaced in connection with the Lent arrest.
Task force investigators are "probably talking to 25
to 30 departments," Saratoga Springs Senior Investigator Neal Older said.
Both Older and Deputy Albany Police Chief Robert
Grebert said chances were slim the missing girls from their communities
were victims of Lent. Nevertheless they felt it necessary to give the
task force those cases.
Monique missed a bus on March 29, 1990, near what was
then her family's Washington Avenue home in Albany. She was not heard
from again. Her mother insisted that she was abducted and would not have
"I would guess that it's remote" that Lent can be
linked to her disappearnce, Grebert said. "He appears to be targeting
white kids from rural or suburban areas. Monique is Hispanic from an
inner-city neighborhood, but we cannot rule it out."
"The guy certainly spent a lot of time here in the
city, and we're looking into that," such as the pawn shops where he
might have left stuff behind," Grebert added. "We're checking them out
to see what might turn up."
In the Saratoga Springs case, Tammie "skipped school"
on April 29, 1986, "and told kids in the school she was going to a
friend's house and leaving with that friend for Florida."
She was last seen leaving Saratoga Springs Junior
High School for the friend's house by Saratoga Lake.
Older refused to identify the friend. Tammie's mother,
Nancy Hieber, reported her daughter missing two days later on May 1,
In the past eight years, Saratoga Springs police have
tracked leads of the girl in Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and
Regarding this case's connection to Lent, Older said,
"It's a remote possibility but we have to look into it. We have to look
into every lead we can come up with. I'm been doing this for eight years
and I'd like to solve it tomorrow, but I don't hold much hope."
He said there were "other suspects in this case who
to me are stronger leads than this man. But we can't prove anything
they've told us."
Another high-profile missing person case is that of
Karen Wilson, a University at Albany student who last was seen on March
27, 1985. Wilson, 22, had been at a tanning salon in Colonie that night
in preparation for a trip to Florida for spring break.
State Police Colonel Robert B. Lew was a lieutenant
in charge of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at Troop G in
Loudonville at that time.
On Thursday, he said, "She took her tan at 7 p.m.,
and we feel she left the tanning hut at 7:20 p.m. We feel she got a bus
down the street from the tanning hut near the Butcher Block restaurant (on
Central Avenue) and got off at Fuller Road and walked south on Fuller (toward
the campus). And, we feel that she was somehow accosted and grabbed
right in front of the Six-mile Waterworks," which is opposite the
entrance ramp to Interstate 90 westbound and the Northway.
There are investigators from Troop G with the task
force looking into a possible connection between Lent and Wilson's
disappearance, Lew said.
This past week, police connected Lent to the October
1990 abduction of 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo in Pittsfield, whose body
was found 30 days later in Tompkins County, and the August abduction of
12-year-old Sara Anne Wood of Frankfort, Herkimer County. Searchers are
looking for her body near Racquette Lake.
Other missing people whose names have surfaced since
Lent's arrest are:
Karolyn A. Lonczak, 18, of Brunswick, who was
apparently abducted in January 1988 at a Cohoes group home where she was
worked. Her body was discovered seven weeks later near the Tomhannock
Reservoir in Rensselaer County. She had been stabbed to death.
Bobby Gutkaiss, 15, of Stephentown, whose body was
found in July 1983 in a wooded area. He was last seen at a farm picking
Sean Googin, 15, whose body was found July 4, 1992,
in Cazenovia Lake, Madison County.
Kari Lynn Nixon of Au Sable Forks in Essex County,
who disappeared in 1987. Investigators have said they are no longer
focusing on Lent.
Holly Piirainen, 10, of Grafton, Mass., who was
abduced Aug. 5 near Sturbridge, Mass. Her body was found Oct. 23.
Sarah Pryor, 9, abducted in 1985 from Wayland, Mass.
Jimmy Lusher, 16, missing since Nov. 6, 1992, in
Meanwhile, police in Bennington, Vt., said that an
11-year-old Hudson Falls girl, who said she saw Lent's picture in the
news, told them that a man closely fitting his appearance tried to grab
her on Dec. 30 while she was shopping with her family.
According to police, the man turned and walked out of
the store when the girl's father realized what was happening. Her
parents searched the Bennington shopping plaza and adjacent stores, but
they found no trace of the man or a car.
Lent was picked out of a six-person photo lineup by
the girl and her father, Bennington police Officer Hank Haverkoch said.
M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE: Sex.
Lust killer of five females (age 10-21) and three males (age 12-15)
Life without parole in Mass., 1995; 25 years to life in N.Y., 1997.
Jimmy Bernardo, 12
Sara Ann Wood,