LOWELL (CBS) – On a fall morning in 1969, the body of a Tewksbury teenager was found in a vacant field in neighboring Lowell.

John Joseph McCabe, 15, had last been seen alive at a dance. When his body was discovered, he was bound with rope; his eyes and mouth were taped shut.

WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager reports

For 41 years, his murder remained a mystery. “It’s good to have closure. I’ve waited 41 years for it,” said John’s mom Evelyn McCabe.

Friday morning, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone announced that investigators had cracked the decades-old cold case.

Three men – ages 57, 59 and 60 – are now in custody. At the time of the crime they were 16, 17, and 18-years-old.

john joseph mccabe Police Arrest 3, Say 1969 Killing Of Tewksbury Teen Was Over A Girl

John Joseph McCabe

Walter Shelley, 60 of Tewksbury, is charged with murder. Edward Alan Brown, 59 of Londonderry, is charged with manslaughter. Michael Ferreira, 57 of Salem, N.H., is facing murder charges in juvenile court, because he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.

Authorities recently reopened the case and Brown confessed.

Brown’s wife Carolyn told WBZ-TV Friday night that he confessed, “because I believe he is an honorable man.”

“I’m just glad his (McCabe’s) parents have found resolution,” said Carolyn Brown.

John’s sister, Deborah McCabe Atamanchuk has mixed feelings.

“He should have done it a long time ago,” said Atamanchuk. “When you’re truly sorry you do it right away.”

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karen Twomey reports

Brown told police, at the time, he and his friends were trying to rough up john over a girl. 

According to prosecutors, the three set out on September 27, 1969 to teach John McCabe a lesson; they thought he was paying too much attention to Walter Shelley’s then-girlfriend.

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports

They allegedly grabbed McCabe after a dance, brought him to an abandoned lot off Maple Street in Lowell, roughed him up, tied him up, and left him. When they returned two hours later, John McCabe was dead. Investigators say he died of strangulation while trying to escape the ropes that bound him.

The three teenaged friends vowed never to talk about what happened, prosecutors said in court Friday.

All these years later, people in Brown’s community of Londonderry, New Hampshire said they never would have guessed. “Shocking,” said neighbor Bill Dolan. “Everybody’s got something in their past I guess. Too bad, nice guy.”

Walter Shelley has kept a clean record all of these years; then in 2008 he was informed the case of John McCabe’s death was being revived, and that he was a suspect.

Shelley pleaded not guilty to murder on Friday and was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail. Brown also pleaded not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. Ferreira faces a fugitive warrant in New Hampshire before he can appear in a Massachusetts courtroom.

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.

Comments (20)
  1. Jerry says:

    Finally…. We still miss you John and we hope justice will be done after all these years

  2. Carol Maggie Coffey says:

    Justice Prevails! It was JOHN’s friends who refused to let this case lie unsolved for 41 years. We never forgot him, never will. Carol “Maggie” Coffey, with special thanks to Bobby Poulin and Paul Antonelli for always having the grease for my squeaky wheel. I love you guys!

    1. thump says:

      What was wrong with the police when the kids found john .Thay saw the boys leaving the scene and the police never asked the kids to look at any pictures back then so the case could of been solved back in 1969.

      1. Maggie Coffey says:

        The problem, through the years, and the very reason this crime stuck in the minds of so many of us kids back then, was that we all felt everyone knew a little, here and there, but the whole story was never pulled together. Kids clammed up out of inate distrust of the cops, and the cops were quick to point a finger at the local kids at every opportunity. Many kids, including the ones eventually arrested, were questioned; many were not. What HELPED change things was this: when the police gave up, let the case go cold, even after efforts of a few valiant officers… when all their roads seemed closed, John’s FAMILY, who had never given up, and some of John’s FRIENDS, who did all they could to keep the pressure on the police and the community to come forth with new information, or to press for reevaluation of the old information, PREVAILED. No matter what you say, no matter what anyone says, it was the impression John made on us that provided the impetus to keep that light on and to insist that the police try, try, try again. Mom used to say, “Never take NO for an answer, and the answer will never be NO.” That’s the truth, and no amount of armchair quarterbacking, or slamming of those who kept trying, will change the truth. The truth will set you free. If you did not witness the many phone calls to and FROM the Lowell Police; if you did not bother to write, or even read, the many queries and emails to TV shows, Classmates, the Governor, the State Police and local police, Topix; if you did not network at any time when others were trying to get something done to solve this crime, then you really do not have the right to criticize anyone who did. Try to find it in your soul now to help in any way you can by either supporting the McCabe Family in their efforts, or by at least not causing anyone any further stress. Maybe if you actually do something to help, you will feel better and will not need to strike out at anyone else. Get on the Peace Train, brother… we’re saving you a seat by the window.

  3. jon says:

    How could these men lived with themselvs all this time. Lock them up for the rest of there life and do hard labor. Cleaning sewers!

  4. macmum says:

    Well, this group has skated for 41yrs while the family suffered. I hope the jury believes in tough love!

  5. Caroussel says:

    I wonder if any of these guys have criminal records? Are their families shocked about this turn of events?

  6. Bucky says:

    These three Murderers have been living the Adult Life 42, 41 and 40 years. There should be no standards of conduct implied or imposed. They caused the end of a life for a Child. This was not self-defense…This was an act that took great effort to create. This was not bulling, this was not teaching him a lesson. This was not meeting outside the school to settle a jealous situation. Face to face fist to fist this was the act of cowards that needed restraints to prove how tough they were. I knew the family in the early 1070’s spent time with Mr. and Mrs. McCabe, Debbie and Roberta. Those three MURDERERS put a whole lot of hurting on that family. Jail really is to serine and environment for Shelley, Brown and Ferreira ..

  7. T says:

    there is no justice for a family who loses a love one! the only fair thing to do is make these cowards suffer the same way john did. and his family i 2 lost a family member to murder and it puts a whole new light on the justice system and what is fair. please imply the maximum on these murderers let them suffer the way the family has. i do feel for there families unless they knew and never said anything then they deserve the same fate as the murderers!

  8. Monique says:

    My heart and prayers go out to the McCabe family. They have suffered a very long time. The 3 animals should rot in prison!!!!!!!!!!!! Justice would be the death penalty!!!!

  9. Sam says:

    They should receive the same death sentence. Bring all three of them to an abandoned lot, rough them up, tie them up, and leave them there till they die.

  10. Paul says:

    kudos to the all the members of law enforcement involved in solving this horrible crime. glad to see this doesn’t just happen on tv or in the movies!!

  11. jaygee says:

    The re-opening of cold case files has resulted in the arrest of many people who truly believed that they got away with murder. DNA and a fresh look at long forgotten murders & rapes has given those who committed heinous acts a wee bit to worry about.

  12. Marissa says:

    I feel for all the families involved. What has happened is a horrible thing that was among three stupid kids. Yes they should have said sorry earlier, BUT they didn’t. It is a great thing that this family has some sort of justice and can hopefuly rest a bit easier. Sadly this will not bring thier boy back. I’m not sure what should happen to these men who did an awful thng when they were children. Do I believe they are cold blooded killers? No I don’t. Should they however be punished? Yes. But remember now these men also have families, do we want the pain and suffering to continue? what will this bring? It wont bring him back. so many families go without ever finding out the who, what, where and why? My family alone has felt this chill, if anyone remembers a small boy Andy Puglisi? Just knowing would be a miracle. My heart goes out to all of the families invloved in this tragedy.I myslef would like to meet these men and see just how sorry they really are…

    1. jaygee says:

      Marissa, very good point. These kids (at the time) did not mean to kill Johnny but their actions resulted in his death. What do you do 40 years later, execute them.
      It’s a tragedy all around and far be it from me to decide adeqate punishment.

  13. Jim Haines says:

    They are going to tri Ferreira as a juvenile because he was 16 at the time of the murder? No way, he committed an adult crime, he’s now way past adult age, he should be tried as an adult.

  14. linnea nelson says:

    This is beyond belief that these men could live with themselves all these years.I have no sympathy or mercy for them

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