John Joseph McCabe Cold Case: Teen's Murder Cracked After 41 Years

Suspects made a pact never to talk about the 41-year-old murder.

April 15, 2011, 3:24 PM

April 15, 2011— -- More than 41 years after 15-year-old John McCabe was found bound and dead in a vacant Lowell, Mass., lot, authorities said they finally know who was responsible for the young man's murder.

Three men were arrested today for the murder of McCabe, of Tewksbury, Mass., on Sept. 27, 1969, as he was on his way home from a school dance, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone announced today.

"It is remarkable that, after nearly 42 years, we were able to tell the McCabe family that their son's murder was solved," Leone told ABC News. "We think this provides hope to families of other unsolved homicide victims and would encourage them to never lose faith that their loved one's case can be solved.

"It also serves as a warning to those who have committed these crimes: We never give up on victims," he said.

The three men allegedly involved in McCabe's death are Edward Brown, 59, Walter Shelley, 60, and Michael Ferreira, 57. Only Shelley is charged with murder, while Brown faces manslaughter charges and Ferreira, who was not yet a legal adult at the time of the crime, will face juvenile murder charges as well as a perjury charge for lying in court regarding the case.

According to authorities, McCabe was abducted by the three men and held against his will in their car, where he then was assaulted, bound and gagged so badly he no longer could breathe. Authorities believe McCabe was targeted because the other young men were upset about him speaking to a girl at the dance.

McCabe's body later was dumped in a nearby lot and left to die, according to Leone. His cause of death later was determined to be asphyxia due to strangulation.

The three men made a pact with one another to never talk about the murder, according to the Associated Press, and thus went without punishment for their alleged crime for more than 41 years.

But while Leone credits "recent evidentiary developments" for the recent arrests, a childhood friend of McCabe's said she was at least partially responsible for cracking the cold case.

Decades-Old Cold Case of Murdered Teen John Joseph McCabe Finally Cracked

Maggie Coffey, who grew up with McCabe, said she was supposed to go to the dance with him the night he was killed. Ever since, the mystery surrounding his death has spurred her to keep on top of the local authorities to continue the investigation.

"[We were in art class together], and he had startling blue eyes and red, red hair, and he came right up to me and showed me his poster and said, 'I made this for you.' Then he asked me to the school dance," recalled Coffey, now 56. "I, of course, said yes. But my mom made me stay home and babysit. I cried and cried and pissed and moaned about the whole thing.

"John never came back from the dance that night," she said. "The case never went away in my mind. I kept it going. I would email old school friends, and anything I heard I just shot it immediately to the police.

"Today, the investigative machine is getting all the attention," she added, "but what I firmly believe is that John's friends and the impression John made on us and the fact that we could never forget him -- it was that kind of resilience that kept the heat up all those years. ... It renewed efforts and, finally, I think it got done.

"All we wanted was for the truth to come out and to know what happened before John's parents died," said Coffey. "Think about it all those years they never knew what happened, who was responsible. And now they do."

At a press conference today, McCabe's sisters thanked authorities for their hard work. Their parents did not speak.

Messages left for Brown, Shelley and Ferreira were not immediately returned. Lawyers for the three defendants were not immediately known.

Shelley and Ferreira are being held on $500,000 cash bail while Brown was released on his own recognizance. Shelley and Brown's next court date is scheduled for May 26 and Ferreira will be back before a judge on April 18.

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