WEST ORANGE, N.J. —On Aug. 20, 1978, five teenagers in Newark left their homes after supper; they were reported to have been seen last with Mr. Evans, a 25-year-old mason and handyman who needed help moving boxes. They were never heard from again. Years of tip lines and new DNA tests produced no leads.
Lee Evans sat with his broad back to the wall of a mostly empty diner and picked at his Spanish omelet and grits on a December afternoon, his face only once breaking into a grin, to greet an acquaintance in worker’s overalls. The man smiled back, something Mr. Evans can no longer take for granted, despite having lived most of his 57 years in and around Newark, a plumber on call day and night.
A year ago, there was a good chance Mr. Evans would be hauling the heavy tools of his trade. But now, he is more likely to be seen carrying, in their place, a black duffel bag filled with dog-eared police reports that he says prove that he did not burn five teenagers to death 32 years ago.
Long suspected in the slayings, Mr. Evans was arrested in March and charged with five counts each of arson and murder, an arrest that authorities said was the remarkable resolution of a cold case.