Lewis S. Lent Jr.


Lewis S. Lent Jr.

Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - The body of Sara Ann was never found
Number of victims: 2 - 8 +
Date of murders: 1983 - 1994
Date of arrest: January 1995
Date of birth: 1950
Victims profile: Jimmy Bernardo, 12 / Sara Anne Wood, 12
Method of murder: Hanging - Beating with a tree limb
Location: Massachusetts/New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole in Massachusetts, 1995. Sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in New York, 1997

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 murder.

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 bodies."

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 investigate.

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 aquarium.

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 their crimes.

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, murder

South Coast Today

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 in heaven."

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 murderer."

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 said.

The Trail Of A Serial Killer?

Crime: Another Town Mourns A Young Girl Lost

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 Presbyterian minister.

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

Karen Wilson

Age 21, missing since 1985

Sean Googin

Age 15, missing since 1992

Jimmy Bernardo

Age 12, found dead in 1990

Carry Lynn Nixon

Age 16, missing since 1987

Karolyn Lonczak

Age 18, found dead in 1988

Bobby Gutkaiss

Age 15, found dead in 1983

Holly Piirainen

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

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 run away.

"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, Older said.

In the past eight years, Saratoga Springs police have tracked leads of the girl in Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and California.

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 strawberries.

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 Westfield, Mass.

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.


VENUE: Eastern U.S.

MO: Lust killer of five females (age 10-21) and three males (age 12-15)

DISPOSITION: Life without parole in Mass., 1995; 25 years to life in N.Y., 1997.

Jimmy Bernardo, 12

Sara Ann Wood, 12