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LAWRENCE, Mass. (WHNT) — 74-year-old Marvin C. “Skip” McClendon, Jr. entered a plea of “not guilty” to a murder charge on Friday at his arraignment in a Massachusetts court.

DNA evidence linked McClendon, who had been living in Cullman County in Alabama, to the 1988 murder of 11-year-old Melissa Ann Tremblay, according to a prosecutor at McClendon’s hearing last week.

McClendon was held without bail after the plea was entered on his behalf in the Lawrence District Court.

Marvin C. McClendon Jr., right, stands in the prisoner’s dock as his defense attorney Charles Henry Fasoldt addressed the court during his arraignment in Lawrence District Court, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Lawrence, Mass. McClendon Jr., a 74-year-old Alabama man, was held without bail after a not guilty plea to a charge of murder in connection with the 1988 killing of 11-year-old Melissa Ann Tremblay. (Tim Jean/The Eagle-Tribune via AP, Pool)

“Missy,” her family called her, disappeared from the streets of Lawrence on a late September evening in 1988 while playing around the neighborhood of the LaSalle Social Club. She was reported missing by her mother around 9 p.m. after she and her boyfriend had frantically searched for her.

Her body would be found the next day, just one block away from the social club, authorities said.

Her lifeless body was left on the train tracks of the old Boston & Maine Railway Yard. She had been stabbed multiple times. According to Essex County District Attorney Johnathan Blodgett, her left leg had been amputated by a train car after she died.

Evidence from Missy’s body was “instrumental,” officials say, in leading them to McClendon. The DA’s office says what that evidence was won’t be released just yet.

A van that had been seen in the area was similar to a van that the suspect drove at the time, prosecutors said. No motive for the killing was disclosed.

Carrie Kimball with the Essex County DA’s office says the case, though never fully closed, was reopened “with intention” in 2014. Investigators, Kimball said, were digging through the case again “in earnest.”

A former Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer, McClendon “has been a person of interest for a period of time,” DA Blodgett said in a press conference shortly after his arrest. “We believe we have the right person,” Blodgett said.

McClendon was arrested at his home in Bremen, Alabama, on April 26, 2022, on a fugitive-from-justice warrant.

Missy’s family released a statement shortly after his arrest, and had this to say following McClendon’s plea of not guilty:

“We would like to thank the Essex District Attorney’s office for helping us be ‘present’ in the courtroom yesterday remotely.  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. 

There have been so many emotions since the end of April when we were contacted about the arrest. 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 [Missy’s mother], grandfather and other family members are no longer alive to see him facing justice.

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.

The 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.” 

Massachusetts man arrested in Alabama in cold case murder investigation
Marvin “Skip” McClendon
(Cullman County Sheriff’s Office)

Though there is no death penalty in Massachusetts, Kimball says the highest penalty McClendon faces, if convicted of first-degree murder, is a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.