Key witness says 1969 murder victim was targeted for flirting with attacker’s girlfriend

WOBURN - Edward A. Brown holds a map of the section of Lowell where 15-year-old John McCabe was murdered in 1969.
WOBURN - Edward A. Brown holds a map of the section of Lowell where 15-year-old John McCabe was murdered in 1969.Credit: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The key witness in a 1969 cold case murder trial testified today that he and two other teenagers staged the deadly abduction of another teenager because the victim had flirted with the girlfriend of one of the attackers.

Edward A. Brown’s cooperation with authorities has led to the charges in a case that had stymied investigators for more than four decades.

Michael Ferreira (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)

Brown, 61, of Londonderry, N.H., testified today that he, Michael Ferreira, 59, of Salem, N.H., and Walter Shelley, 61, of Tewskbury, Mass., abducted John McCabe, who was walking home from a school dance, because McCabe had flirted with Shelley’s girlfriend. Ferreira’s trial on first-degree murder charges is underway in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn.

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“They wanted me to go with them to help them find the kid who was flirting with Marla, to teach him a lesson,” Brown testified.

Brown testified that either Shelley or Ferreira told the victim during the abduction, “This is to teach you for messing with Marla.”

McCabe, 15, was found dead in a vacant field in Lowell. He had been bound with rope and his eyes and mouth had been taped shut, prosecutors have said. He died of asphyxiation.

Brown testified today that he believed the two others were just going to rough McCabe up. He said Ferreira hogtied McCabe as Brown sat on McCabe’s legs to pin him down.

Brown said the three teenagers had returned to the field later. Shelley and Ferreira had gone over to McCabe and crouched over him, then ran back to the car “startled, surprised, scrared,” he said.

Ferreira said the three made a secrecy pact and Ferreira said that if anybody talked, “I’ll kill them.”

Brown said he kept the secret until disclosing the truth in 2011 to investigators. He had talked with authorities in 2007, but told them nothing.

“I knew this wasn’t going to go away like I thought in 2007,” he said. “I’m a parent. If something happened to one of my children, I’d want to know.”

Brown struck a plea deal with prosecutors and, in exchange for his testimony, will accept a manslaughter charge and probation in the case. Shelley is to be tried separately on a first-degree murder charge.

Ferreira’s defense lawyer, Eric Wilson, said in opening statements that Brown was not credible and that authorities did not look at other suspects closely enough. Wilson is cross-examining Brown this afternoon.

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