The convicted rapist arrested last week in Gorham, Maine, after 34 years on the lam was a quiet, laid-back, hardworking, sweet young man whose lurch into violent behavior in his last year of high school remains a puzzle, according to a childhood friend.
In the winter of 1976, when Doris Dickson was nearly 12 years old, her family moved into a modest two-story house on Myrtle Street in Rockland, Massachusetts, a half hour south of Boston, she told CNN.
The next spring, the Irving family bought the house next door, she said. Her new neighbors were Gary, who was then 16, his 11-year-old brother, Gregg, and their parents, Carl and Margaret.
Soon thereafter, Gary befriended his younger neighbor, a slim redhead with bangs, braces and glasses.
The blond, 6-foot Irving enrolled in Rockland High School, where he got good grades even as he held a part-time job at a supermarket, played trombone in the school band, listened to disco on a sound system he set up -- complete with strobe lights -- in his attic and made plans to go to college, said Dickson.
That promising high school student became the 52-year-old fugitive arrested last week in southern Maine, accused of skipping bail after his conviction in the rapes of three women in Massachusetts in 1978.
Despite the four-year age difference, "we were very close friends -- too young to be boyfriend and girlfriend, but spent that amount of time together," Dickson recalled in a telephone interview.
They listened to K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way I Like It" and became close, she said. Although the relationship did not include sex, it did include "probably more than should have gone on between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old."
But the friendship ended abruptly in the spring of 1978. "He all of a sudden got a very violent thing going," Dickson said. "Gregg told me Gary had gone after his mother with a knife."
Dickson said she confronted Irving, who did not deny the account. "He was angry," she said. "All of a sudden he was one angry teenager."
That was enough for Dickson to end the friendship. "I told him, 'Get away from me, I don't want to talk to you any more.'"
Gregg Irving did not return a call from CNN, nor did his mother, Margaret Irving.
That night or the next morning, Gary Irving drove his mother's car through his family's garage door, Dickson said. "Whether he was mad at me or her, I don't know. I didn't talk to him again."
That summer, Dickson's mother showed her an article in the local newspaper about Irving. "Do you know what rape is?" she asked her daughter.
Irving was being tried on three separate counts of rape with force, unnatural acts and kidnapping. In one case, he was accused of knocking a victim from her bike and taking her to a secluded area, where he raped her repeatedly. In another, he was accused of raping a woman after threatening her with a knife.
During the trial, Dickson saw him one last time. "I was with my sister; he was with Gregg," she recalled. "We were walking in opposite directions, and my sister and I crossed the street to avoid him." No one said anything.
Soon after, a 12-member jury in Norfolk Superior Court found Irving guilty on the counts. The judge -- new to the job -- offered him a weekend to put his affairs in order before reporting to jail.
Instead, Irving, facing a possible sentence of life in prison, fled and landed on Massachusetts' most-wanted list.
His parents, whose family now included a younger son with Down syndrome, were struggling, Dickson said. They moved out of the house on Myrtle Street, and it was left vacant for months, then sold.
In the years since, Dickson said, she has never figured out what caused Irving to change. "Some time in there, he lost it. Something happened. He was not like that."
Now 48 and working as a technical writer, a reporter for a local paper and the owner of a pet supply shop, Dickson said she has never forgotten her former neighbor.
"I've expected him to jump out around a corner," she said.
In February 2012, after the arrest of alleged mobster James "Whitey" Bulger after 16 years on the run, members of the Massachusetts state police's fugitive task force and the FBI met with Dickson to see whether Irving, too, could be located.
"They were trying to develop a picture of who this was back then in order to figure out where he would have been drawn."
It turns out he had been drawn just 129 miles north, to Gorham, Maine.