John McCabe: How Did He Die? Who Killed Him?

Image Credit: Italia/Find a Grave

As the police found the body of a 15-year-old missing boy named John McCabe in September 1969, they turned their focus on catching the perpetrator/s responsible for claiming the life of the innocent teenager. The murder sent shockwaves across the entire community while the family and friends of the victim were struck with a heavy sense of grief. The entire case, which took more than four decades to solve, is profiled in a detailed manner in the episode titled ‘The Pact’ of CBS’ ’48 Hours.’ From the events that led to the murder of John to the conviction of the killer/s, it includes all the intricate details. Besides the perspective of the officials involved in the case, it also showcases the raw emotions of the victim’s loved ones through exclusive interviews with them.

John McCabe’s Body Was Found on a Vacant Field

John Joseph McCabe was brought into the world on March 13, 1954, by his loving parents, William John “Bill” McCabe and Evelyn Doris Spellman McCabe. Born and raised in Middlesex, Massachusetts, along with his siblings, Debbie and Roberta, he was already a budding engineer like his father as he took a keen interest in not just riding his bike but also intrigued with the idea of rebuilding engines. The innocent and compassionate soul also loved animals, so much that he brought an injured goose home to shelter him and aid it needed.

Image Credit: Craig J. Dougherty/Find a Grave

John was looking forward to doing great things in his life, but all his aspirations and dreams went out the window when he lost his life unexpectedly. On the evening of September 26, 1969, the 15-year-old boy attended the Knights of Columbus dance in Tewksbury. But after leaving the event, he never returned home. Worried about his well-being and whereabouts, Bill and Evelyn reported their son missing and hoped that he would come back to them safe and sound. The police kept looking for John but couldn’t find any leads until the following morning.

Around 9:45 am on September 27, 1969, the authorities received a 911 call informing them that children playing in the vacant field off Maple Street in Lowell discovered the body of a teenage boy. Upon arriving at the scene, they identified the boy as the missing John McCabe, whose limbs were found tied up with rope while his eyes and mouth were taped. The cause of his death was reported to be asphyxia from strangulation. After launching an investigation into the murder of the boy, they found scrapings of a foreign material on the victim’s clothing. The detectives collected other vital pieces of evidence from the body and the scene.

Jealousy Played its Part in the Murder of John McCabe

Once the investigators had gathered the evidence, they reached out to potential witnesses and John McCabe’s loved ones. When they learned that teenagers Mike Ferreira and Nancy Williams had picked up the 15-year-old while he was hitchhiking to the dance event on the fateful night, the authorities brought them in for questioning. The two claimed that they never saw the boy after dropping him off at the event. After Mike admitted that he joined Walter Shelley to buy some beers later that night, they interviewed the latter and polygraphed him five times, which showed that he lied in the tests, mainly in the vital areas of the questioning.

However, without any physical evidence against Mike and Walter, the case went cold for more than a couple of decades until the late 1990s. One of John’s close friends overheard Mike Ferreira accusing Walter Shelley of murdering him at a party. A few years later, when the detectives questioned Mike about it, he mentioned that Edward Alan Brown was also with him and Walter Shelley the night John was murdered. Over the following years, the authorities dug deeper into the life of Edward before zeroing in on him in 2011. While interviewing him, they got his confession about the night as he admitted his involvement in the murder.

As per reports, on the fateful night, Mike and Walter heard that John had flirted with the latter’s alleged girlfriend, Marla Shiner, at the dance. In a fit of jealousy, they decided to teach the 15-year-old a lesson, so they picked up Edward from his home and the trio drove around Tewksbury, looking for John. As soon as they spotted him walking home from the Knights of Columbus dance, they grabbed him and forced him to sit in the back seat of Walter’s Chevy Impala while they assaulted him. After driving around for almost an hour, they decided to leave John in a vacant field off Maple Street in Lowell, bound and gagged. When they realized that they had killed him, Mike, Walter, and Edward promised to never tell anyone about it.

Finally, after more than four decades, the police collected enough evidence to arrest and charge Edward, Mike, and Walter for the murder of John McCabe. After the trial, out of the three accused, only Walter was found guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison in February 2014, in addition to a concurrent imprisonment sentence of 9-10 years for his conviction of intimidation of a witness. Meanwhile, Edward pleaded guilty and received manslaughter charges. As for Mike, he pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to probation for five years.

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