- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) - Andrea Ganley vividly recalls a September morning in 1988 when she was a second-grader at the Lancaster School in Salem.

The 9 a.m. bell rang. Students were settling into their seats, readying for the start of another school day.

Her teacher, Mrs. Wilson, stepped into the hallway for a minute to speak to someone.

She returned, crying.

“She told us Melissa had been found and she wasn’t alive,” Ganley said.

Now a 35-year-old writer and mother, Ganley recently launched a social media campaign to find whoever killed her 11-year-old friend, Melissa Ann “Missy” Tremblay, 28 years ago.

Melissa, a sixth-grader at the Lancaster School, was found dead on railroad tracks at the Boston & Maine freight terminal in Lawrence on Sept. 12, 1988.

Reported missing the previous day, Melissa had been stabbed and run over by a freight car.

Ganley said the news of the girl’s death immediately threw a cloak of darkness over the school. She said she “instantly burst out in tears” when she found out.

“And I think I was somewhat in shock,” she said.

While they were four years apart in age, Ganley said she and Tremblay, a happy and bubbly girl, were close friends.

“She was always friendly. … She loved fashion and pocketbooks, Madonna and New Kids On The Block. … I thought she was just beautiful, perfect. She had cool hair, cool clothes. I basically looked up to her,” Ganley said.

In the days after Tremblay’s murder, Ganley remembers all students gathering in the school cafeteria. Friends from Tremblay’s class spoke. And then the whole school sang “That’s What Friends Are For,” by Dionne Warwick.

“To this day, I still can’t listen to that song without crying,” Ganley said.

On Sept. 13, 1988, a day after Melissa was found, a smiling picture of the young girl with dark, feathered hair topped the front page of The Eagle-Tribune.

Then-reporter Susan Forrest wrote about how the girl’s body was found face down on the railroad tracks, hidden between two trains. A Boston & Maine worker who was making routine checks in the area spotted her around 3:45 p.m. the day before.

Melissa, she wrote, “was known to hang around the railroad tracks while her mother visited with her boyfriend at the LaSalle Social Club on Andover Street several times a week.”

“Footprints and blood discovered about 65 feet from the tracks indicate that a struggle took place. There appeared to be at least one stab wound and Melissa’s left leg had been severed by a train,” according to the report.

The story also noted Melissa was found fully clothed and she was wearing high-topped sneakers. A small denim purse with Melissa’s wallet and identification was found near her body.

Melissa’s body was taken to Worcester for an autopsy. Meanwhile, state and local police scoured the area looking for witnesses. Dumpsters were searched for a murder weapon, Forrest wrote.

“I know police conducted a massive search. They are stopping cars and questioning sex offenders,” said Ganley, who has spoken to a variety of local and state police detectives over the years about the murder.

Ganley said there were a number of people who saw Melissa that night near what was then the Lil’ Peach convenience store at Andover and Broadway.

“She was last seen talking to a man that was driving a very rusty, tan-colored van,” she said.

Ganley said she believes Melissa fought for her life.

“She was a sweet girl but she was also tough. … I know she would have fought to the death,” she said.

Lawrence Detective Thomas Murphy was way over at the city’s public library on Sept. 12, 1988, when he got a call over the radio from his boss, Detective Capt. Joseph Fitzpatrick.

“He told me to get over to the railroad tracks and see a guy over there. He didn’t tell me why,” Murphy recalled.

Murphy, a father of four, soon encountered a crime scene that would haunt him throughout his 32-year career and into retirement.

“I was young and I had a daughter the same age at the time. It was a tough case to digest,” he said.

“You never forget those cases,” he added.

Melissa’s case was officially assigned to him, but Murphy said many state police and Lawrence detectives worked on the case then and followed it up over the years.

“There were a lot of days and a lot of nights. … We worked on it forever and ever,” he said.

At one point, a drifter and carnival worker, Tommy Lynn Sells, who confessed to 13 murders in seven states, was eyed as a possible suspect.

Eventually, Sells was cleared of Melissa’s murder. Over the years, Murphy said there were other names, other suspects too, including some who are dead now.

Despite the obstacles, Murphy said, “You never give up.”

Murphy’s son, Dean, is now a Lawrence police detective and he’s spoken to him about Melissa’s case. Officially, the case is still assigned to an officer, Sgt. John Dushame, along with state police.

“We would look into anything,” said Lawrence police Chief James Fitzpatrick, son of the late Capt. Joseph Fitzpatrick, stressing the case remains open.

March 1, 2017, would have been Melissa’s 40th birthday. Ganley said she had hoped to find her friend’s killer by that time.

Over the years, she has thought of Melissa time and time again. She said her friend’s death “was a hard thing for me to wrap my head around being 7 years old.”

“I learned there were people out there that really do hurt kids,” she said.

Janet Tremblay, who adopted Melissa, died Nov. 20, 2015, at age 70. Ganley has been trying to locate Melissa’s adoptive father, other family members and fellow childhood friends, hoping to get their help in finding the killer.

“It’s been 28 years and we are going on 29. Nobody is fighting for her. If it’s going to be just me, let it just be me,” she said.

It’s unclear if it was collected, but Ganley also is pushing to have had any DNA that was collected from Melissa’s body or the crime scene loaded into a national database. She personally feels whoever killed Melissa likely killed another or committed another crime.

“She was definitely preyed upon. Nobody just kills a kid for no reason. I want people to hear her story, read her story. If you know something, say something. Twenty-eight years is too long,” she said.

Murphy said he believes there is hope Melissa’s killer can be found.

“Absolutely … I would love to see Lawrence and state police put that case to bed,” he said.

He encouraged anyone with information to “make the call.”

“It’s never too late,” he stressed. “Let justice be served to someone who did such a horrendous crime.”

___

Information from: The Eagle-Tribune, https://www.eagletribune.com

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