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Swampscott

Dead-end case turns to Facebook

Family hopes for leads in 1974 murder

Henry Bedard in his 1974 yearbook photo. Henry Bedard in his 1974 yearbook photo.
By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / January 30, 2011

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Back in December 1974, when police found the body of Henry Bedard Jr. in a shallow grave on a cliff overlooking one of the busiest streets in Swampscott, there was no such thing as the World Wide Web.

After decades of frustration over a lack of leads, Bedard’s sister, Cheryl Armas, and his former girlfriend, Cindy Cavallaro, have gone online with the hope of generating new information about a murder that old-timers still talk about in coffee shops in this coastal community. More than 500 people have joined a Facebook page dedicated to Bedard. The page has brought in new leads, which have been forwarded by the two women to Swampscott police.

More than 36 years after the 15-year-old was discovered under a pile of leaves — just yards away from the murder weapon, a baseball bat — the case remains unsolved. To date, Swampscott and State Police have never identified a suspect and, while it’s still under investigation, police are not revealing much about any progress they may be making on the case.

“We’ve turned over to police information that they never would have gotten,’’ said Cavallaro, referring to the Facebook page. She went to her eighth-grade prom with Bedard. “They can read something and be in a safe place and respond back and feel safe about doing that. It’s a vehicle we never had before.’’

Swampscott Police Chief Ron Madigan said the site has produced some new information, but he declined to say if there were any suspects in the case. “We can use all the help we can get, and a lot of it is getting people to talk,’’ said Madigan. “I share their hope that it may make someone come forward who may have some information — someone who was a teenager at the time and is now an adult who may feel it’s time to do the right thing.’’

The leads from the Facebook site have brought renewed attention to a case that has stymied police since the sandy-haired, 5-foot-4-inch high school sophomore was found just above the town’s Public Works Department yard nine days before Christmas. The page serves as an open discussion forum and has video and pictures of Bedard, who worked at his father’s gas station on weekends and dreamed of playing for the Swampscott High School varsity football team.

In recent weeks, Bedard’s Facebook page has also been noticed by John Walsh, the host of TV’s “America’s Most Wanted.’’ The show — which has helped solve more than 1,000 crimes — has posted a story on its website and is considering filming a segment about Bedard.

Jon Leiberman, a correspondent for “America’s Most Wanted,’’ also said some new leads have come in since a story on Bedard was posted on the show’s website. According to Leiberman, all leads are immediately passed on to police and people can send anonymous tips. Leiberman said one of the most intriguing clues in the case appears on the handle of the bat, which is engraved with markings that appear to form the letters VI or K.

Circumstances surrounding the murder immediately provided challenges to the investigation. Bedard was found almost 24 hours after he was killed, following a night of heavy rain.

According to Swampscott police, the bat, along with Bedard’s clothes, was sent for DNA analysis several years ago. Now, with improved DNA testing, Madigan is considering sending the bat and clothes out for further analysis.

Meanwhile, Bedard’s sister believes the momentum and leads that have come from the Facebook site will help bring answers her family has sought since 1974. The family has been hesitant to discuss the murder, but last summer Armas decided to visit the scene for the first time, and also met with Madigan and other police. “I really feel it is going to be solved this year,’’ she said.

In the decades since the murder, just a few facts about the case have been released. Besides the 31-inch Louisville slugger, police found perfume that Bedard had bought less than an hour before his death at a CVS — two-fifths of a mile from the murder site. In the hour before his death, Bedard was seen twice — first around 3 p.m. near the CVS by then-lieutenant Peter Cassidy, and at 3:40 by two workers in the DPW yard. After a brief chat with the men, he climbed onto a set of abandoned railroad tracks and walked into the woods, up a hill overlooking the town property where he was killed.

“It’s clear to me that Henry went up there purposely,’’ said Armas, who said her brother took an alternate route that day from his usual path home.

For Cavallaro and many of Bedard’s other friends, the murder marked the end of a charmed era in the town. People began locking their doors and some looked solemnly up at the cliff where the boy was found.

Said Cavallaro, “It was a day that the Swampscott children lost their innocence.’’

Information on the murder of Henry Bedard Jr. can be e-mailed to Swampscott Police Chief Ron Madigan at rmadigan@swampscottpolice.com, or by phone at 781-595-1111. The Facebook page is “Henry Bedard Jr. — In Loving Memory.’’