10 Things We Know About The Johnny McCabe Murder Case
With Grand Jury indictments against three suspects expected soon, we look back on what we know about the case to this point.
Though no one in the office of District Attorney Gerry Leone's office will go on the record to confirm, all indications are that a Middlesex County Grand Jury will hand down indictments shortly against Walter Shelley, Michael Ferreira and Edward Brown in connection with the 1969 murder of Johnny McCabe, a 15-year-old Tewksbury High student.
At that point, the case will shift from District Court to Middlesex County Superior Court, either in Lowell or Woburn.
In the meantime, here are 10 facts we know about the case to this point.
Brown finally cracks
A tip broke open the McCabe murder case in March. According to court documents, that tip led police to haul in Brown for questioning. During that interview, he finally cracked and admitted his involvement, as well as the involvement of Shelley and Ferreira, in Johnny McCabe's murder.
Jealousy at least one motive
In his statement to police, Brown said Shelley had been jealous because he believed McCabe had been flirting with his girlfriend, Marla Shiner. Brown said that on Sept. 26, 1969, the night of the murder, the three of them drove around in Shelley's car, drinking alcohol. They then went looking for McCabe and found him hitchhiking with Kevin Belevaqua (who later died of a drug overdose). According to Brown, Ferreira grabbed McCabe and forced him into the backseat of the car. Brown and Ferreira beat him, while Shelley drove and McCabe, "begged to be let out of the car." After McCabe brought to a vacant lot off Maple Street in Lowell, bound and gagged, Brown said they yelled at McCabe, "This is what you get for messing with Marla!"
Brown fingers Ferreira as actual killer
In his statement to Lowell and State Police, Brown said he and Shelley (then 17 and 18 years old, respectively) held McCabe down, while Ferreira (then 15 years old) went to get rope and tape from the car. Brown claims Ferreira then taped McCabe's eyes and mouth because "he was screaming." Brown said Ferreira then tied McCabe's hands behind his back and tied his ankles together. And then, according to Brown, Ferreira took the added step of looping a rope around McCabe's neck and tying it to his ankles. It was this step that resulted in McCabe's death. As McCabe struggled to free himself, his legs grew tired and he could no longer keep then bent. As they fell back, they pulled on the rope around his neck and he was strangled.
Different charges for each suspect
Shelley is being charged with murder. Ferreira, 15 at the time of the killing, is charged with murder as a juvenile but is also charged with perjury (for allegedly lying in Grand Jury testimony in 2008) and impeding a criminal investigation, as an adult. Both were held on $500,000 cash bail. Brown was charged with manslaughter and, as part of his deal with prosecutors, was released on personal recognizance.
Threats of murder, vows of silence after killing
In his statement to police, Brown said that after McCabe was tied up, the trio left for an hour or two and then went back to the lot and found McCabe dead. He said three teens were afraid of getting caught and, according to Brown, the 15-year-old Ferreira took over the situation. Brown says Ferreira told them that if nobody talked their could not get caught and threatened to kill Brown and Shelley if they ever opened their mouths about the incident.
Ferreira and Shelley were suspects from the beginning
According to court documents, investigators considered Walter Shelley and Michael Ferreira strong suspects in Johnny McCabe's murder from the outset of the investigation back in 1969. According to court documents, they "gave conflicting to police concerning their activities the night McCabe disappeared. At the time, police said that there were people who failed polygraph exams given as part of the investigation. Though this has not been confirmed, many following the case believe now that they were talking about Ferreira and Shelley. According to published news reports of the day, one key piece of evidence was a fingerprint. However, a lack of confessions, witness testimony or corroborating evidence prevented arrests.
A tip re-ignites case in 2008
According to court documents, investigators got a tip in 2008, which put the case back on the front burner. Eventually, a grand jury was convened and Ferreira was called to testify. At that time, he denied any involvement or knowledge in the murder. No indictments were handed down at the time. Prosecutors believe Ferreira lied to the Grand Jury, which has led to the perjury charges he faces now.
Witnesses claim Ferreira and Brown confessed to them years ago
There are at least four witnesses who say either Brown or Ferreira confessed to their roles in the murder. According to court documents, three witnesses "are available at the court's request who said Ferreira made statements to them taking responsibility for McCabe's death." This contradicts Ferreira's 2008 Grand Jury testimony, in which, according to the documents, he denied ever making such statements to anyone. In addition, Brown admitted he confessed to his involvement to a person back in 1986. According to the court documents, that individual, identified only as CW2, confirmed to police that sometime in 1986-87, Brown had told them he was involved in an incident in which a teenage boy was killed, that "a young boy was killed and he had participated."
Efforts being made to try Ferreira as an adult
Two weeks ago, Ferreira appeared in the Juvenile Division of Lowell District Court for a hearing. Prosecutors filed a motion to try him as an adult for McCabe's murder. An immediate decision was not handed down. It's possible the judge is waiting to read Grand Jury testimony before ruling.
No death penalty possible
While the death penalty was still in place in Massachusetts back in 1969, a spokesperson for District Attorney Gerry Leone said it is not possible to pursue capital murder charges. This is because Massachusetts Courts ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. In other states, where voters had eliminated the death penalty, retroactive charges would still be possible. In addition, according to the spokesperson, the case does not qualify to be handed over to Federal Prosecutors to be pursued as a capital case under Federal law.
Brown arrested again
Brown is facing additional charges in New Hampshire for an incident that took place on May 1. According to police reports, Brown allegedly told a co-worker at his job in Salem, NH that he planned to kill his wife and then himself with a .38 handgun. Police arrested Brown at his Londonderry, NH home. His wife was unharmed. No gun was recovered.
Walter Shelley is free on bail
According to members of the McCabe family, they were notified recently that Shelley had posted the $500,000 cash bail and had been released, pending his next scheduled court appearance, May 26 in Lowell District Court. Ferreira remains jailed on $500,000 cash bail.
For complete coverage of the Johnny McCabe Murder Case, click here.