For months, the general public has believed that an 88-year-old Washington Avenue woman died due to the extreme heat last July.
There were even warnings put out as a result of her death for people to look out for the elderly during the heat wave last summer.
However, law enforcement officials from the get-go knew that foul play was involved, but they had to remain mum in order to catch their suspect.
As it turns out, Hilda DeVincenzo, 88, who has lived in Chelsea for decades, was actually murdered last July 3.
Her body wasn’t discovered for four days, despite neighbors hearing her scream frantically and then not seeing her for days.
The heat wave played no factor in her death.
Instead, investigators and District Attorney Dan Conley’s office believe that Chelsea resident Felix Melendez, 35, murdered the woman. On Wednesday, they charged him in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court with first-degree murder.
Melendez was arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court Wednesday morning on charges of first-degree murder, robbery of a person over 60, and receiving stolen property over $250. At the request of Assistant District Attorney Tara Burdman, Clerk Magistrate Connie Wong ordered Melendez held without bail.
“Thanks to the professionalism of Chelsea’s first responders and the careful, methodical work of investigators, we now have a much clearer picture of what happened in Ms. Devincenzo’s apartment,” Conley said. “It is, unfortunately, a deeply disturbing picture. We will do everything in our power to hold accountable the person responsible for this tragedy.”
DiVencenzo lived by herself in the second-floor apartment of a triple decker at 649 Washington Ave. Earlier this year, she had rented out the third floor to Melendez and his girlfriend.
Prosecutors said that on July 3 Melendez allegedly told a neighbor that he was performing electrical repairs for DeVincenzo and that she was “driving him crazy” with her requests that everything be fixed. Later that afternoon, the neighbor heard running, a scream, and a bang from the victim’s apartment and recognized the scream as being DeVincenzo’s voice.
That neighbor – also a tenant of DeVincenzo’s – never alerted police to the matter.
Four days later, on July 7, Chelsea firefighters responded to the address after the smell of smoke was reported inside the building. Melendez allegedly told first responders that he had discovered a fire in the basement that he was able to extinguish. While at the home, firefighters were asked to perform a well-being check on DeVincenzo.
They found the 88-year-old woman dead inside her apartment.
Her remains were in a state of decomposition, but the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined after autopsy that she died of compression to the neck and torso, causing fractures to her thyroid cartilage, ribs, spine, and sternum.
Investigators soon learned that several of DeVincenzo’s personal items were missing from her bedroom. The victim’s wedding band and engagement ring – which DeVincenzo’s family told investigators she always wore – were also missing from her body.
The wedding band was recovered at Gold ‘N Oldies jewelry shop in Everett where Melendez sold it, having had to provide his driver’s license as identification in order to complete the exchange. Investigators obtained a photocopy of the license from the shop.
The engagement ring was found inside Melendez’s apartment by officers executing a search warrant.
In addition, a fingerprint found on a plastic bag in the victim’s bedroom was a match to one of Melendez’s fingers.
An investigation by the Chelsea Fire Department, Chelsea Police, and State Police detectives assigned to Conley’s office later revealed that the fire that initially drew authorities to the Washington Avenue residence had been intentionally set.
Melendez will return to court on Nov. 26.