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:

”As the family of Melissa Tremblay we would like to address the recent arrest made in her case. First and foremost we would like to thank the police who have worked so hard over the years to make sure justice was found. Thank you to the Essex District Attorney’s Office for reaching out to us to make sure we knew what was going on. Especially Michelle Defeo who worked hard to locate us since we have moved out of state.

Since her murder in 1988, we have always prayed for justice. We have never stopped thinking of Missy, despite what others, who say they are her friends, have said in the media in the past years. My aunt Janet may not have used the best judgment in allowing Missy to play around in the neighborhood of the social club, but that is between her and God. She loved Missy and never intended any harm to come to her.

We thank everyone for their prayers and so many of the kind words we have seen posted on the social media articles. We are very eager for the next steps that the Essex County DA’s office will be taking in the prosecution of Marvin McClendon.”

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.