Arrest in cold case a time to refocus on others

May 2—It was the stuff of a true-crime podcast. More than 33 years after an 11-year-old girl was murdered and left to be run over by a freight train in Lawrence, an arrest was made Tuesday to the shock of her loved ones and those close to Marvin McClendon, the 74-year -old Alabama man accused of the crime.

Melissa “Missy” Tremblay was a sixth-grader who often played outside a city social club while her mother and her boyfriend were inside, as she did Sept. 12, 1988. But that afternoon she didn’t go home. A day later her body was found stabbed and with a severed leg after she was run over post mortem. The case went cold — but some of those who were close to Melissa and some determined detectives — vowed not to let it remain that way.

“I want to thank everyone involved in this investigation from beginning to end,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said at a Wednesday press conference. “Their tireless pursuit of justice for Melissa has brought us to this moment. We never forgot about Melissa, nor did we give up on holding her killer accountable.”

On a trip to Bremen, Alabama, reporter Jill Harmacinski found a lot of southern normalcy. McClendon collects cars, has a hand-painted mailbox, and lives on an 80-acre rural family complex. As with so many cases that go cold, this suspect — who would have been 41 at the time of the murder — is an old man in ill health now. Harmacinski talked to relatives who live nearby, and who expressed confusion over the charges.

“It’s been the biggest shock ever in my life”, McClendon’s brother-in-law, Dan Greenwood, said while at the suspect’s empty house Friday. “I’ve known him since I can remember.”

Another relative said he was just a grumpy old man who sometimes shouted at children playing nearby. But authorities last week said McClendon is someone far more sinister.

A cold case is an unsolved criminal investigation, such as in a murder or abduction, that due to lack of evidence has stopped being actively pursued. As technology advances, these cases are typically reopened, but not always. It takes loved ones who won’t stop trying no matter how much time passes. They often hold press conferences and reach out to the media and these days podcast producers to keep the story alive. And it takes determined detectives — often just one who is long retired but haunted by a case that couldn’t be cracked.

There are many other North of Boston cold cases that need the public’s help. Just a few of them follow.

* Michael O’Gorman

* , a 12-year-old boy who on March 18, 1974, was last seen at Fuller School in Gloucester. His body was found five years later near a rest stop off Route 128 in Manchester, Massachusetts.

* Claire Gravel

* , a 20-year-old North Andover native and sophomore at Salem State College, was last seen after a softball game June 29, 1986, at Major Magleashes’ pub at 268 Washington St. in Salem, Massachusetts. She took a ride back to the rooming house where she lived on Loring Street. Her body was found the following day off Route 128 in Beverly.

* Gabriel Gonzalez Jr.

* , 18, was murdered June 28, 2009, in a gang-related shooting near his Andover Street home in Lawrence, where he lived with his mother, Lee Fickenworth. She dedicated to finding the murderer, staying in touch with investigators, hoping to keep a focus on Gabriel’s killing.

* John “Jack” Magee

69, and

* Geraldine “Jeri” Magee

* , 67, were found shot dead in their home at 7 Orchard Crossing in Andover on the morning of Dec. 14, 2011. Their bodies were discovered by their daughter, Holly Senykoff, who was dropping off her children at the time. John died of a multiple gunshot woulds and Jeri of one.

Detectives deserve applause for staying focused on Missy Tremblay, the girl who went out to play in September of 1988, but wound up dead on the train tracks. There are those who blame her mother, but Janet Tremblay was never a suspect and loved her daughter, a fact her family pointed out in a Friday statement. The grief and guilt she must have experienced until she died at age 70 is hard to fathom. It’s heartbreaking to know she didn’t live to witness McClendon’s arrest.

In the aforementioned North of Boston cold cases — any cold case — it’s imperative to bring even what seems to be the most insignificant detail to the appropriate authorities.

“We never stop looking,” Lawrence police Chief Roy Vasque said. “These cases are constantly under review.”

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