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Slain 11-Year-Old Girl’s Family Voices ‘Great Joy’ and Mixed Emotions After Elderly Defendant Arraigned in 1988 Cold Case Murder

Melissa Ann Tremblay, and Marvin McClendon.

Melissa Ann Tremblay, and Marvin McClendon.

After more than three decades, the family of a slain New England girl are welcoming news that a man was arrested and arraigned in her death. Nonetheless, the loved ones of Melissa “Missy” Ann Tremblay, 11, are also voicing mixed emotions because it took so long to arrest murder defendant Marvin “Skip” C. McClendon Jr., 74. Relatives, including the child’s mother, have passed away in the intervening years.

“We would like to thank the Essex District Attorney’s office for helping us be ‘present’ in the courtroom yesterday remotely,” Tremblay’s cousin Danielle Root said in a statement released through the Essex District Attorney’s Office on Saturday on behalf of her own parents and sister. “We never thought that after 33 1/2 years we would finally see someone arrested and facing a judge. While we know there are many more steps we are very confident that the District Attorney’s office will be just as vigilant in prosecuting this case as the detectives have been for all these years in finding Marvin McClendon.”

The statement followed the day after a Massachusetts judge denied McClendon bail. He had been extradited from where he was arrested last month in Bremen, Alabama.

“There have been so many emotions since the end of April when we were contacted about the arrest,” Root said. “They have gone from excitement to sadness to frustration and really all over the place. We are excited to see him in jail but very sad my aunt, grandfather and other family members are no longer alive to see him facing justice.”

Authorities have said that Tremblay, who was from Salem, New Hampshire, was with her mother and the mom’s boyfriend in the nearby Massachusetts city of Lawrence on Sept. 11, 1988. Her mom let her play in the neighborhood, but that ended tragically. Tremblay went missing, and the last people to see her were a railroad employee and pizza delivery driver in the late afternoon, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said when announcing McClendon’s arrest last month.

She was found dead the next day at the Boston & Maine Railway Yard. A train car had ran her over, amputating her leg, Blodgett said.

McClendon has been living in Alabama, but authorities said he lived in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, at the time at the time of the murder. That’s near Lawrence. The defendant, a former officer with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, had “multiple ties to Lawrence,” including the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Salem Street, Blodgett said.

Officials now say they were able to develop a DNA profile from evidence found on Tremblay’s body. From there, they zeroed in on the paternal line of the potential suspect.

“While we are frustrated that it has taken so long we are happy that the police have never given up on the case and in no way blame them for the length of time it has taken,” Root said in her statement. “The fact that technology has advanced and they were able to follow DNA evidence to find this man has brought us great joy. Our family looks forward to seeing this case go forward to the grand jury for indictment and then onto the Superior court to see justice finally served.”

At the arraignment on Friday, defense lawyer Charles Henry Fasoldt did not argue for bail but requested the decision be made without prejudice because it was “equally plausible” that the DNA could have come from another member of the McClendon family.

Prosecutor Jessica Strasnick said in court Friday that they took DNA samples from multiple members of that family, including the defendant, whose profile was consistent with the profile found on the body. She suggested that investigators ruled out other McClendon family members through further investigation.

“The majority of his family were interviewed,” she said. “They had never been to Massachusetts. In fact they resided in Alabama.”

Also, during police interviews, defendant McClendon allegedly relayed information that authorities never made public about what happened.

Investigators also claimed that he previously owned a van “consistent with what witnesses had seen [Tremblay] speaking with.”

McClendon was the only member of his family to be left-handed, Strasnick said. Investigators believed the killing blow to the girl’s neck was made by someone who is left-handed, the prosecutor said.

Fasoldt suggested that the killer’s use of their left-hand could be incidental: “Regarding the left-handed nature of the wound, most people have two hands, and most people can use both.”

Colin Kalmbacher contributed to this report.

[Image of Tremblay via Essex County District Attorney’s Office; screenshot via McClendon via WBZ]

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