Doris Dickson was in bed, half asleep, watching Thursday’s 10 p.m. news, when she found out.

Gary Irving, her childhood friend and next-door neighbor in Rockland, Mass., in the 1970s, who disappeared after being convicted of raping three women, had been caught in Maine.

“I started screaming like I would if the Yankees had won the World Series,” Dickson said in a phone interview Friday. “I thought, ‘He’s finally going where he belongs.’

Dickson, who still lives in Massachusetts, said she and Irving were close friends as teenagers, even though she is four years younger. They attended Rockland High School together.

“I still have Christmas stockings his mother crocheted for me,” she said.

They parted ways, she said, after Irving’s behavior started to change.

“He snapped,” Dickson said. “I don’t know what happened, but he wasn’t like that. He was quiet. He was in a jazz band. He was a good student.”

Dickson said she cut ties with Irving after she learned that he had tried to attack his mother with a knife. She was afraid of him.

When he was arrested and later convicted of rape, Dickson felt lucky that he had never come after her.

But when he fled instead of appearing in court for sentencing, she started looking over her shoulder, even into adulthood, afraid that he might show up, after all.

She said she was tormented by that fear for 34 years, until she learned of his arrest in Maine.

“I thought I would round a corner and he would be there,” she said. “That was my visual.”

Dickson followed his case closely, including when police put him on their most-wanted list.

When the famed Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was caught in 2011 after 16 years on the run, Dickson thought, “If police can catch him, why not Gary Irving?”

She met with state police and an FBI profiler and told them what she knew about Irving as a teenager. She gave them names of others who would do the same.

Dickson said she doesn’t know if her information helped, but she’s glad that Irving has finally been caught.

“Those three women, those victims, can rest easily,” she said.

Dickson said Irving’s arrest provides some closure but she still wants to face him. As soon as she finds out where he will be sent to prison, she plans to visit.

“I’m not sure what will come out of my mouth,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll scream or just ask questions.”

Dickson said she wonders about his wife and family and how he could have kept his secret for so long. She wonders whether Irving continued his violent streak or whether he “snapped back” and committed no more crimes.

But mostly, she wonders how he remained free for 34 years.

“His family, I just could never imagine they allowed him to run away,” she said. “They lost their home because of it. They essentially disappeared.

“However, I realize mothers will do anything to protect their children,” she said, “especially if they are potentially facing life in prison.” 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com