HAVERHILL — Detective Carl Rogers and state police Sgt. Paul Zipper were looking for clues in a fire investigation, when hints of a totally different crime fell into their path.
They were canvassing an apartment building at 99 Emerson St., the scene of three Sunday morning fires, when they stumbled upon a case of sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy, Zipper said.
"It was the last thing we expected to find," he said. "The nature of police work is turning over stones.''
Zipper said he and Rogers went to the apartment of accused arsonist Patricia Mandigo on Monday night to talk to other occupants. Zipper said they met the boy and Jeffrey Perry, 39, in the apartment. The officers got inconsistent stories about where Perry and the boy were and what they saw early Sunday morning when Mandigo allegedly set three small fires in and around the building.
"During the course of the interview we realized these two, Perry and the victim, are sharing a bed," Zipper said. "It seemed clearly odd."
He said the inconsistencies in the stories were so stark that they brought Perry to the police station, where during an interview, he admitted to having sex with the boy several times.
Zipper said police called in Detective Andrea Fogarty, the department's sexual assault investigator, and brought the boy to the station for an interview. The boy confirmed Perry had been sexually abusing him, police said.
Perry was arrested and charged with rape of a child under 14, 10 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and disseminating pornographic material to a minor.
Zipper said if he and Rogers had not trusted their instincts and questioned Perry, the abuse could have continued for a long time.
Zipper said Perry and his elderly mother had been staying in Mandigo's apartment with Mandigo and her husband for several months, and the assaults had begun recently. Mandigo knows the boy, police said. The Eagle-Tribune is withholding other information about him because of his age.
Zipper and Rogers had gone to Mandigo's apartment to investigate her role in fires set in the building and an apartment building at 94 Emerson St., where she was living when it was destroyed by fire in December.
Mandigo was arrested early Sunday morning and is charged with eight counts of arson of a dwelling in connection with a series of fires at the two Emerson Street buildings dating back to 2006.
The sexual abuse investigation continues and police could not immediately say whether Mandigo was aware it was happening in her apartment.
"Perry is a classic sexual predator based on this relationship and the way he developed it," Zipper said.
He said Perry and the boy met about four years ago and Perry immediately began to offer the child gifts, trips to the movies and other things, until they built up a relationship of trust.
Perry is a convicted Level 1 sex offender based on a case in Middlesex Superior Court, and had registered as a sex offender with the Haverhill police as required by law, police said. Level 1 sex offenders are deemed least likely to re-offend.
Yesterday in Haverhill District Court, Judge Patricia Dowling ordered Perry, a delivery driver for a local cleaning firm, held without bail pending a hearing to determine whether he poses a danger to the community. That hearing, scheduled for Aug. 19, will determine whether he remains behind bars until his trial.
Mandigo has been ordered held without bail on the arson charges for a hearing Thursday in Haverhill District Court to determine if she poses a danger to the community and should continue to be held until her trial.