FLORIDA — One of Leonard Paradiso's favorite pastimes was hunting deer in the northern forests of Berkshire County. Another was kidnapping and killing young women.
And former prosecutor Timothy M. Burke, the man who sent Paradiso to jail for life for the murder of an East Boston girl, believes the two hobbies may have merged.
The author of "The Paradiso Files: Boston's Unknown Serial Killer," Burke can paint a timeline that puts Paradiso in Florida close to Nov. 16, 1974, the day 18-year-old Kim Benoit, of North Adams, was found dead at the bottom of a wooded embankment along Route 2.
Burke, 59, also believes Paradiso dumped his Oldsmobile in Boston Harbor just days after the disappearance of Florida's own Lynn Burdick, the 18-year-old McCann Technical High School senior who vanished from the Barefoot Peddler general store in Florida on April 17, 1982.
The Needham attorney presented this information Thursday night to 65 residents at the Florida Senior Center, including members of Burdick's family.
Paradiso liked to hunt
While there is no evidence linking Paradiso to either case, Burke said the fact that the Boston native visited the Northern Berkshires multiple times should make law enforcement officials curious.
"You had this individual in your midst, starting in 1967," Burke told the crowd. "And anyone who he could get in his car was at risk. Paradiso was driven by an obsession."
A fishmonger who went by the nickname "The Quahog," Paradiso had been involved in a number of assault cases leading up to his conviction of strangling and raping Marie Iannuzzi, 20, and dumping her body in a Saugus marsh in 1979.
Paradiso, 65, died of cancer at a prison hospital this past Feb. 27, just two weeks after the release of Burke's book, which implicates him in a number of unsolved slayings in the Boston area.
A veteran prosecutor
Burke prosecuted 25 murder cases in his time as an assistant district attorney in Eastern Massachusetts, but the details around the Paradiso case stuck with him. He said he wrote the book to help the families whose daughters, he believes, were killed by Paradiso, families who were left with nothing but memories and a lifetime of unanswered questions.
"I understand what it is like for a family to go through this kind of loss, the feeling that there are no answers," he said.
The Berkshire County connection first popped up when Burke was investigating the Iannuzzi murder in the early 1980s. A search of Paradiso's apartment turned up multiple photos of the portly, curly haired man dressed in orange hunting gear and wielding a rifle in the hills around Florida, including one taken near the Summit Motel, now called Giovanni's.
The pictures span from November 1967 to November 1974, the latter of which coincides with the time Benoit went missing and was found dead roughly 3 miles from the Summit Motel.
"We sent a trooper out to Florida to investigate during the (Iannuzzi) trial, but nothing turned up," Burke said.
Locally, police were stymied by the Benoit case, which still remains open. She was unemployed and living with friends in a housing project when she attended a dance at the local Sons of Italy in North Adams on Nov. 1.
The next time someone saw her, she was in the Florida embankment. Soon, leads dried up.
Burke mentioned both Benoit and Florida in his book, and those references were noticed recently by Shelburne Falls resident Lance Gauthier, a construction surveyor who has always had an interest in the two girls' disappearances.
Gauthier contacted Burke six weeks ago to ask if he knew about the Burdick case. "I had no idea this was on the radar," Burke said.
Burke began to compile facts about Paradiso during the time frame Burdick went missing.
It was a Saturday night, April 17, 1982, and Burdick was the lone clerk at a secluded convenience store in Florida that has since been torn down.
At around 8:30 p.m., as her shift was ending, Burdick's parents, Rufus and Dorothy, called the store to see if she wanted a ride. When there was no answer, they sent their son, Brian, to check on her.
Burdick was gone, as was $187 from the register.
To her family, the shy high school senior was not the type to run off. She did not date or drive, and she spent her free time raising money for the disabled. She was scheduled to roller-skate in a cerebral palsy benefit in Pittsfield three days later.
Hundreds searched the woods for days, but she hasn't been heard from since.
It was a story that shook all of Berkshire County and sent people into a panic in Florida, this mountain town of barely 700.
Haunting investigators at the time was the near-abduction and attack of a student in Williamstown less than an hour before Burdick's disappearance.
A dark Ford sedan fitting the description of the vehicle used in the attack was later spotted by a North Adams police officer speeding east on Route 2, toward Florida Mountain and in the direction of the Barefoot Peddler, according to police records. The sedan was never spotted again.
Burke can put Paradiso in Revere on April 15, 1982, when "The Quahog" had a meeting with a parole officer who warned him that if he left the state, he'd be sent back to prison for a previous assault on a female.
On April 22, a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Paradiso during this time was reported stolen from his girlfriend's house. It was one of eight cars and two boats that were reported stolen by Paradiso during a four-year period.
Most were later found torched or submerged in Boston Harbor, including the Oldsmobile and a boat he named Malafemmena — Italian for "evil woman."
"That's how he destroyed his evidence, he sank it," Burke said. "I have no evidence linking him to these crimes, but I know his mindset. If you follow his pattern, Lynn becomes another potential victim. I wanted the Burdicks to be aware of the info I have."
Several members of the Burdick family weren't pleased to hear Burke's link, though.
Roy Burdick, 75, a pastor at the local Baptist church and a cousin of Burdick's, said the timeline was nothing more than vague speculation.
"I think it's wrong to create a scenario for these people who lost Lynn all these years ago," he said, raising his voice at the meeting. "Now they have to sit there and think, 'Did this happen to my daughter?' the same thing that happened to (Iannuzzi)? Theoretically, it could have been a number of people."
Sue Oleson, another cousin, said the Paradiso info "brings no closure. There are a host of possibilities out there more solid than this one."
In Burke's defense, Rufus, Burdick's father, spoke up at the meeting and said he appreciated Burke making the trip from Needham. "It's more information for us," said Rufus, whose wife, Dorothy, died in 1990. "And I guess anything helps."
Rufus said he thinks about his daughter and her disappearance every day. Family members say they still find themselves scanning wooded areas on occasion, looking for clues.
After the meeting, hugs and tears were shared — the story still hits close to home for many in this tight knit community.
Lt. Dave Sacco of the North Adams Police Department was one of several police officers who attended Burke's speech Thursday night. He said police never forget about an abduction that happens in their vicinity.
"Is it possible that Paradiso did this? Anything is possible," he said. "There are coincidences, but they're just that. From a police prospective, you can never discount any new information."
Paradiso was arrested for Iannuzzi's murder on July 6, 1982, five months after Burdick went missing. He was convicted in 1984.
Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless said both the Benoit and Burdick cases, as well as a handful of other local unsolved abductions and killings, remain open and are assigned to detectives.
He said a detective made contact with Burke several months ago about the information he had on Paradiso. Capeless declined to talk about the cases in detail.
"We were aware of Burke's book for some time and took the opportunity to speak with him about what info he has and what opinions he has," Capeless said. "We're always interested in information on any case."
In 1995, Burdick's father received an anonymous note claiming his daughter had been abducted and killed. Burdick said he turned the letter over to police as soon as he received it, but "it didn't amount to anything."
To reach Benning W. De La Mater: email@example.com, (413) 496-6243.