Walter Shelley sentenced to life in 1960s cold case murder in Tewksbury

A Tewksbury man was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he committed in his teens, more than 40 years ago, Middlesex County prosecutors said.

Walter Shelley, 62, was sentenced to life with parole in Middlesex Superior Court Thursday, district attorney’s spokeswoman Stephanie Guyotte said. He had been convicted in September.

John McCabe, 15, of Tewksbury was walking home from a dance at the Knights of Columbus in Tewksbury on Sept. 27, 1969, when three teenagers spotted him. One of the boys thought McCabe had been flirting with his girlfriend, and wanted to confront him, the Globe reported.

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Shelley, then 17, and two of his friends abducted McCabe and strangled him, according to the DA’s office. Police discovered McCabe’s body in a vacant field off Maple Street in Lowell. He was tied up, and his eyes and mouth were taped shut.

For four decades, investigators pursued the case to no avail. The teens had promised each other to never tell, the Globe reported.

In 2011, alleged accomplice Edward A. Brown came forward about the crime. He entered a plea agreement with the Commonwealth. This led prosecutors to charge Shelley and Michael Ferreira, prosecutors said.

Ferreira was acquitted in January 2013.

Shelley, who lived just miles from the McCabe family’s home in Tewksbury for years, was given life with the possibility of parole, because he was under 18 when he committed the crime, said Guyotte.

Under a recent state Supreme Judicial Court decision, juveniles who commit murder in Massachusetts cannot be sentenced to life without parole.

Evelyn McCabe, John McCabe’s mother, said she was happy the trial was over.

“It’s finally done,” she said in a telephone interview today.

She said she wanted to thank everyone who helped with the case. John’s father, William McCabe, dedicated his life to figuring out what happened that night. When he died in January 2013, Evelyn McCabe said she promised him she would continue their quest for justice.

“I promised him I would continue this battle,” she said. “I’m happy it’s finally over.”