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Memories of Bedford woman’s 1971 slaying haunt victim’s relatives

The Boston Globe 4/11/2022 Emily Sweeney
An undated photo of Natalie Scheublin. © Handout An undated photo of Natalie Scheublin.

Jon Fredriksen still remembers the moment his father told him that his aunt had been murdered. It was 1971, and he was 18 years old.

“It was a total shock,” said Fredriksen.

Life was never the same for him and the rest of his family. The brutal slaying of Natalie Scheublin, a 54-year-old mother of two, in her Bedford home stunned everyone who knew her, sent shock waves through the community, and left police desperately searching for clues. But the investigation kept hitting dead ends, and the case remained unsolved for decades.

It wasn’t until March of this year — more than 50 years after her murder — that an indictment was finally returned against a suspect and an arrest was made. Arthur L. Massei, 76, of Salem, is being held without bail on the murder charge.

The break in the case, after all these years, came as a surprise to him.

Fredriksen had always wondered who killed his aunt, but didn’t bring it up out of respect for his family, especially his cousins, who have spent most of their adult lives grappling with the loss of their mother.

“She was my father’s sister,” he said. “She was a very gentle and kind person. No one would have ever said a bad thing about her.”

“I didn’t want to bring up bad memories,” he said. “But I was still always wondering.”

Back in the 1960s, Natalie and Raymond Scheublin were well known in the town of Bedford. They had two children and lived in a Cape-style home on Pine Hill Road that had a swimming pool in the backyard. Raymond was president of the Lexington Trust Co., and Natalie had been active in local affairs, having served as president of the Bedford Arts and Crafts Society and as a member of the Bedford Woman’s Community Club, the Bedford Garden Club, and the Emerson Hospital Auxiliary.

June 10, 1971, probably started off like any other Thursday for the Scheublins. By then their two children were both grown and had moved out of the house. Raymond went off to work, and he spoke to Natalie over the telephone that afternoon. But by the early evening, she was dead.

Authorities said Raymond Scheublin discovered his wife’s body when he came home from work. He found her in the basement, face down on the floor, with her ankles bound and a makeshift gag tied around her neck. She had been stabbed and bludgeoned to death.

Scheublin immediately contacted police and officers arrived at the scene within minutes. Investigators determined nothing of significant value had been taken from the home. Natalie’s car was missing, but whoever took it didn’t go far. By 8:42 p.m. police located her blue-and-white 1969 Chevrolet Impala less than a half-mile away, in the parking lot of the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital.

Nearly three decades later, in 1999, investigators connected a latent fingerprint that had been recovered from Natalie’s car to Massei. Prosecutors said Massei has a lengthy criminal record that went back to 1962 and had been convicted of “numerous” offenses, including armed robbery and financial crimes. According to news reports, he also escaped from prison on more than one occasion.

When police interviewed Massei in 2000, he denied any knowledge of the killing or having ever been to Bedford.

Prosecutors said Massei told investigators that he was in jail when Natalie was murdered. But that turned out not to be true, prosecutors said, and Massei was a fugitive from justice at the time.

When he was interviewed again in 2005, prosecutors say Massei changed his story. This time he said that in 1971 an unnamed organized crime associate had asked him to kill the wife of a man “who runs a bank” and make it look like a burglary, according to prosecutors.

“Massei said that he had been told that the banker was friendly with members of the Winter Hill criminal organization,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. “Massei claimed he had been offered a large sum of money to carry out the murder, but that he had declined to participate.”

Massei also claimed that his dead cousin carried out the murder, prosecutors said.

Investigators never found any corroborating evidence that Scheublin was involved in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife.

Fredriksen, who is now 68 and retired, dismissed Massei’s allegation.

“To me, that’s [expletive],” he said. “My Uncle Ray, he was a pillar of society. He was a good guy.”

His brother, Peter Fredriksen, agrees.

As far as Massei’s allegation goes, “nothing could be further from the truth,” Peter said. “Uncle Ray was the nicest, kindest gentleman.”

After the murder, Lexington Trust Co. offered a reward for information that would lead to the arrest of the murder suspect, but nothing came of it. Raymond eventually moved out of Bedford and never remarried, according to his nephew.

“I don’t think he ever, ever got over it,” said Peter. “How could you, when something like that happens?”

Peter was 22 years old when his aunt was murdered, and he still recalls breaking down in tears at her funeral.

“I remember going to the gravesite, and I just broke down sobbing and crying,” Peter said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. It really hit our family hard.”

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said Raymond Scheublin died without ever knowing who killed his wife.

“I want to be clear that throughout this investigation, [police have] found nothing to corroborate that Mr. Scheublin ever put out a contract on his wife or was in any way involved in his wife’s death,” Ryan said. “That is merely a story that police were told by Mr. Massei.”

For the past decade, Massei has been living in Salem, most recently on Lafayette Street.

One former neighbor said Massei used to have a room in the Lafayette Hotel, where he went door-to-door trying to sell pills and claimed to exercise daily by lifting weights. In court papers, an ex-girlfriend once described Massei as a “huge body builder” with tattoos on both arms.

One day, he stopped by the neighbor’s room, she said, and made a startling remark.

“I could just hold your neck real quick and knock you out,” Massei said, according to the woman, who asked not to be named.

The remark, she said, seemed to come from out of the blue.

“I stopped talking to him after that,” she said.

Massei later left the Lafayette Hotel and moved into his current residence, a small studio apartment in a four-story brick building located across the street.

In 2016, Massei was prosecuted for violating an abuse prevention order by telephoning his ex-girlfriend, who reported his calls to police, according to court records. After one call, Massei left the woman a message, apologizing for “putting her through this,” a Beverly police officer wrote in his report.

Massei pleaded guilty to the charges and got a suspended sentence after spending 78 days in jail while the case was pending, court records show. He was placed on probation for three years, but was released from that obligation three months early after he successfully completed a literature course at Salem District Court in 2019, court records show.

His ex-girlfriend went back before a judge, and her restraining order against Massei was made permanent, court records show.

On March 23 Scheublin’s relatives watched remotely as Massei was arraigned in Middlesex Superior Court on a charge of first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and is due back in court April 28.

Prosecutors mentioned the fingerprint evidence. They also said a woman who had been involved with Massei in schemes to defraud banks in the 1990s told investigators that Massei habitually carried a knife and had bragged to her about having killed someone with a knife. That piece of information also helped lead to the indictment, authorities said.

The motive behind Scheublin’s murder has not been determined, according to the Middlesex district attorney’s office.

His defense lawyer, Julie Buszuwski, declined to comment on the case.

“At this point, I can only say: My client maintains his innocence and looks forward to his day in court,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “Since this case is in its early stages, we are going to refrain from making any further comment at this time.”

Jon Fredriksen, who lives in Beverly, is haunted by the fact that his aunt’s accused killer lived so close to him.

“He’s right across the harbor from me,” he said. “I don’t know how long he’s lived in Salem ... but I probably saw him in my travels and never knew.”

Fredriksen plans to be in court for Massei’s trial.

He wants to attend the proceedings in person to show “there’s people who still care.”

“We do care,” he said.

He just wishes his uncle and other relatives were still alive so they could see justice being served.

“I wish they were around,” he said, “to have some closure.”

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