Chelsea man accused of murdering landlady, 88, during summer heat wave

A Chelsea man allegedly murdered his 88-year-old landlady inside her Chelsea home in July and stole the wedding ring and engagement ring she always wore, one of which he later pawned at an Everett jewelry store, a Suffolk prosecutor said today.

The death of Hilda Devincenzo was initially attributed to the heat wave that beset the region in July. But after the state medical examiner conducted an autopsy and discovered she had died a violent death, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office and State and Chelsea police started a homicide investigation.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Tara Burdman said in Suffolk Superior Court that the investigation led police to Felix Melendez, a third-floor tenant in Devincenzo’s three-family home on Washington Avenue.

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According to Burdman, Melendez told a fellow tenant that Devincenzo was “driving him crazy’’ because she was always demanding he fix the wiring or do other repairs. On July 3, a first-floor neighbor heard running, a scream coming from Devincenzo’s second-floor apartment, a bang, and then no other sounds.

No one checked on Devincenzo until July 7 when Chelsea firefighters were called to extinguish a small fire in the basement of the three-family, a fire that Melendez is now accused of setting, Burdman said. When firefighters were at the house, they did a well-being check on Devincenzo and found her body.

She had been strangled and beaten to death, the medical examiner concluded.

“Thanks to the professionalism of Chelsea’s first responders and the careful, methodical work of investigators, we now have a much clearer picture of what happened in Ms. Devincenzo’s apartment,” Conley said in a statement. “It is, unfortunately, a deeply disturbing picture.’’

Burdman said two rings were stolen from Devicenzo’s body — her wedding band and an engagement ring. She said Melendez pawned the wedding band at an Everett jewelry store, where the owner made a photocopy of his driver’s license. The second ring was found in Melendez’s apartment, Burdman said.

At the request of defense attorney James H. Budreau, Melendez did not appear in the magistrate’s session but was allowed to listen to the proceedings in an adjacent hallway. Melendez, through Budreau, pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, robbery of a person over 60, and receiving stolen property over $250.

Budreau said in court and to reporters in the courthouse hallway, that the evidence the government claims incriminates his client, in fact, buttresses his claims of innocence. Budreau noted that his client cooperated with investigators, and told them where he had gotten the ring he pawned — he found it outside Devincenzo’s home.

“He cooperated at every juncture,’’ said Budreau. “He admitted he found the ring, that he pawned it. He didn’t hide it.’’

Budreau also said the fingerprint evidence merely confirmed what was already known — that his client was in Devincenzo’s apartment at some time before her death. “His relationship with his landlord was fine,’’ Budreau said.

Suffolk Superior Court Assistant Clerk Magistrate Connie Wong ordered Melendez held without bail.

He is due back in court Nov. 26.