Alabama man linked to 1988 cold case murder of New Hampshire girl through DNA, left-handedness, prosecutors say

Advances in DNA analysis and the fact that her killer was left-handed were two bits of evidence that prosecutors say point to a former Massachusetts Department of Correction employee in the nearly 34-year-old cold case murder of 11-year-old Melissa Ann Tremblay.

Marvin C. McClendon Jr., now 74, had been living in Bremen, Alabama, until authorities came knocking on April 27 and charged him with the September 1988 murder. He had long been considered a “person of interest” in the case, authorities say, which was reopened by the cold-case unit of the Essex County District Attorney’s office in 2014.

“You imagine a person in your head and what they possibly could look like and who they could be and then you look and you see a frail old man,” Sherry Carignan, an old friend of Tremblay’s, said to the media outside the courthouse following McClendon’s arraignment at Lawrence District Court Friday.

Prosecutors say McClendon stabbed Tremblay, of Salem, New Hampshire, to death and left her body in a south Lawrence railyard, where her left leg was severed after her death by a passing train.

Why the authorities had fingered McClendon remained a mystery until his arraignment. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf and he was held without bail.

A DNA profile of a suspect taken from the girl’s body was linked to McClendon, prosecutor Jessica Strasnick said. In addition, a van spotted near the scene of the killing was similar to a van that the suspect drove at the time, she said. No motive for the killing was disclosed. Prosecutors also said that McClendon being left handed was consistent with the stabbing.

Tremblay had gone with her parents to a Lawrence bar, the LaSalle Social Club on Andover Street, the night of Sept. 11, 1988, and had played in the surrounding neighborhood while the adults were inside, according to a narrative given by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett announcing McClendon’s arrest.

The adults searched all around for Tremblay, who went by “Missy,” when she didn’t return and, by 9 p.m., they reported her missing to Lawrence Police. The next day, Melissa’s body was found in the Boston & Maine Railway Yard near the corner of South Broadway and Andover Street, a block or so away from the social club.

The girl’s mother, Janet Tremblay, died in 2015 at age 70, according to her obituary. But surviving relatives had been informed of the arrest.

“Since her murder in 1988, we have always prayed for justice,” an aunt, uncle and two cousins said in a statement last month.

“My aunt Janet may not have used the best judgment in allowing Missy to play around the neighborhood of the social club, but that is between her and God,” they added. “She loved Missy and never intended any harm to come to her.”

— Herald wire services contributed to this report

Courtesy / Essex County District Attorney’s office

Salem, MA – April 27: A courtesy photo of Melissa Tremblay, from the press conference announcing the arrest of Marvin C. McClendon, Jr. for the murder of 11 year old Melissa Ann Tremblay, whose body was discovered in a Lawrence rail yard in 1988, at a press conference in Salem on April 27, 2022 in Salem, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

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