By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Drugs and murder have combined to keep the man found guilty of a gruesome Peabody killing in prison more than 40 years after the crime.
Bruce Dabrieo was denied parole on April 17 in the March 27, 1971, shooting of John McCormick, following a parole hearing attended by the inmate’s wife and son on Jan. 5. Dabrieo had been sentenced to life in prison after a May 1974 conviction of second-degree murder.
“It was a pretty infamous crime,” recalled current Peabody police Chief Robert Champagne, who wasn’t on the force at the time but is a lifelong Peabody resident. “Part of the reason for that ... the car was set on fire.”
McCormick was shot in his Cadillac near a Peabody apartment complex, after which the car was driven to a YMCA camp at Cedar Pond, not far from the current YMCA building, where it was set ablaze.
Dabrieo was allegedly dealing drugs for McCormick and owed him money.
A veteran, Dabrieo was paroled twice before and returned to serve his sentence each time due to problems with drugs. The board cited a long history of involvement with hard drugs, including heroin.
“The overriding factor in his parole failures has been his decadeslong struggle and uncontrollable addiction to drugs,” the board reported.
After a parole in August 1989, he was returned to prison in September 1990 after testing positive for opiates. He was paroled again in 2004, despite references to being disciplined in prison in 1996 for heroin use. In March 2011, he was discovered by a state trooper in the Revere Super Stop & Shop Plaza trying to conceal a hypodermic needle.
Additionally, the parole board noted a long history of obtaining drugs from physicians, including, recently, morphine. “He stated at the hearing that he did not believe that he was aware of the ramifications of using morphine,” according to the report. “This is not credible as his drug involvement began in his teens. ... Indeed, the murder he committed was directly related to his drug use.”
Asked how he planned to reform, he offered nothing concrete, the board noted, “other than simply stating that he ‘would never do opiates again.’”
Dabrieo also told the board that the murder was a case of self-defense — that McCormick had threatened him with a gun. The board dismissed this as unlikely, as it hadn’t been raised at the time of the trial.
The testimony of a companion, Fred Szybiak, figured heavily in Dabrieo’s conviction. He described the pair going to the Roadhouse in Peabody, where McCormick emerged. Dabrieo and McCormick left in the latter’s Cadillac with Szybiak instructed to follow.
“They went to an apartment complex in Peabody ... Szybiak parked the defendant’s car about four or five car lengths behind the victim’s car.” He saw the pair walking toward the building “laughing and talking.” When they returned, he saw two heads facing one another and then “some flashes of a gun” and “like fire-cracking noises.”
Szybiak said he was told the victim was dead and he was instructed to drive his car, with the victim in it, to Cedar Pond. He reported that the body was motionless, on the floor. A bullet was later found in McCormick’s chest. The pair then went to a gas station in Salem for the fuel to burn the vehicle and McCormick.
Later, they disposed of a gun, which Szybiak said he hadn’t seen before. At a restaurant in Swampscott, he reported hearing Dabrieo tell another man “it was all taken care of.”
A witness told the court that Dabrieo had told her of a huge debt owed to McCormick. “That he didn’t know what he was going to do about it, and that “sooner or later it was going to come down ... to him or (the victim), something was going to happen.” The same witness, whose credibility was questioned, reported hearing from Szybiak that McCormick might have survived the shooting.
“His release is incompatible with the welfare of society,” the board wrote of Dabrieo, noting that he is “not fully motivated to maintain sobriety and is uninsightful on how he might do so.” His request for parole could be reviewed in five years.