Month after month father returns to N.O. for clues in son's murder


by Mike Hoss / Eyewitness News

Posted on November 16, 2010 at 11:42 PM

NEW ORLEANS – John MacLellan was only a few feet from the safety of his home when he was gunned down on a Lakeview street corner.

That was before Hurricane Katrina. His murder is now an unsolved cold case, but the young man’s father refuses to let anything stand in the way of finding his son's killer.

Dave MacLellan, with an accent that is pure Boston, Massachusetts, likes visiting New Orleans, but wishes he didn't have to come.

“As Winston Churchill once said, ‘Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.’ And I'm never giving up,” Dave MacLellan said.

He is hoping for anything promising in the murder investigation of his son, a case that is now more than 6 years old.

"My son was a good person, with a fine Jesuit education. He appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dave MacLellan said in August at a press conference.

His son John, who was 38, worked the bar at Smith and Wollensky in July 2004. On his way to his Lakeview home in the early morning hours on July 16, he stopped off at a neighborhood bar and then walked the remaining half a mile home.

When he got to the corner of W. Harrison Ave. and Bellaire Dr., literally 75 feet from his front door, police say he was robbed at gunpoint and eventually shot six times.

Around 2 a.m. police got the 911 call from the shooting scene, and despite being shot several times in the chest and abdomen, it was John MacLellan himself who made the 911 call. He gave police their first and only eyewitness description:

Dispatcher: Harrison and Bellaire. Someone was shot?

MacLellan: Yeah, myself.

Dispatcher: Where were you shot?

MacLellan: The leg, arm and chest.

Dispatcher: Who shot you?

MacLellan: Black gentleman, early 20's, kind of heavyset.

Dispatcher: He was trying to rob you?

MacLellan: Yeah.

John MacLellan said the man was wearing a white shirt, a blue bandanna and a red baseball cap, and that he took off towards Veterans Blvd.

Dispatcher: John, the police and ambulance are on their way, OK?

MacLellan: Thank you very much.

John’s father has heard the 911 call once, and said it was an emotional experience, to be sure.

“I was curious to make sure it was my son's voice on there. It was,” he said.

John survived the shooting, but spent the next month at Charity Hospital, unconscious, until one day he opened his eyes.

“I said, ‘Do you know who I am?’” his father recalled. “He said yes. I was crying at that point.”

John appeared as though he would make it, but an infection sent him downhill fast and he died weeks later from complications from the six bullet wounds.

"In the middle of a tragedy, I'm happy with the time we had to spend with him,” his father said.

The case is tough. The shooting happened in the middle of the night and apparently no one saw or heard anything.

Dave MacLellan initially followed his son’s case from Boston, but when the leads dried up he decided the best way to keep the case fresh was to be here in New Orleans.

"I have this thing about face time. I don't want to be out of sight, out of mind.”

And so every month, the retired tax manager leaves Boston and his family to spend a few days in New Orleans.

He meets with New Orleans cold case Detective Winston Harbin, who believes John was not alone the night he called 911.

In August, Dave MacLellan was here for a press conference to raise the reward money in the case to $5,000. For New Orleans' annual Night Out Against Crime, he worked a table with Crimestoppers, telling John’s story to anyone who would listen.

Dave also convinced the Louisiana Department of Corrections to put John's picture on one of the cold case playing cards. The cards are the only cards allowed in the Louisiana state prison system. Dave has brought flyers to nearly all of them in the state.

But the rest of his time is spent walking the streets, flyers in hand. He walks his son's old neighborhood, making sure that what happened a year before Hurricane Katrina isn't forgotten.

Dave has worked so closely with Crimestoppers over the years on John's case, he's become sort of a co-worker, mentoring other families who are also suffering.

“He'll sit down and he'll talk to people, letting them know that he knows what it feels like, what they’re going through,” said Darlene Cusanza, president & CEO of Crimestoppers.

“Having someone else that’s been there and done be able to be supportive is incredible,” she said.

Time passes, but Dave believes someone knows something and will eventually talk.

"Luck doesn't sound any good anymore. It's faith. I believe that good things will happen,” Dave said.

But until then, he'll book next year’s flights.

"So I'll keep coming and if I have to come for the next 50 months, I'll be down here,” he said.

A father's relentless pursuit of his son's killer. It’s a lonely walk, often in the same footsteps his son took that night six years ago.

“I just....I can't do anything else besides this,” he said.

If you can remember anything or might know something that will help in the John MacLellan murder case, call Det. Harbin at 504.658.5300 or Crimestoppers at 504.822.1111. You can remain anonymous and could earn the $5,000 reward.