Even on the cracked blacktop of “Methadone Mile,” a rough stretch of blocks in the South End where recovering addicts congregate to be dosed each morning, Michael McCarthy stood out as wretched and strange, said dozens who knew him.
With a faraway look in his hooded eyes and a little Pomeranian named Bailey cradled in his arms — to detect his seizures, he told people — McCarthy moved slowly and spoke of conspiracies, the occult, and a demon with horns and a long lizard tail.
Late this summer, driven by drugs and haunted by spirits nobody else could see, McCarthy began telling people that his live-in girlfriend’s toddler daughter was filled with demons. But by that time, 2-year-old Bella Bond was already dead, her body stuffed in the apartment refrigerator, and later tossed into the harbor.
In a group session this summer, according to a patient who gave his name as J.P., McCarthy said his little dog could sense that Bella was a demon, and barked at her. Another group therapy patient said McCarthy spoke of experiencing a vision in which the girl came to him sleepwalking, and he got up to put her back to bed, only to imagine her again.
The little girl’s body was found in June, washed up on Deer Island, her identity a mystery.
Around the world, millions grieved for Baby Doe, a computer-crafted picture of a toddler whose name they did not know. But in the apartment where McCarthy allegedly punched her to death, the memory of a very real little girl named Bella was haunting McCarthy.
Prosecutors say that in May, McCarthy’s wild theories about Bella’s possession drove him to brutally kill the girl, pummeling her stomach, leaving her gray-faced and breathless on her bed. He allegedly stood over the girl’s body and declared that “it was her time to die.”
At his arraignment on Monday, at which McCarthy pleaded not guilty, investigators described him as obsessed with the occult. After he killed her, prosecutors said, McCarthy and the girl’s mother, Rachelle Bond — who McCarthy’s lawyer suggested falsely pinned the crime on his client — stuffed her body in a trash bag, put it in a refrigerator, and later dumped her in the harbor.
Anonymous for months after washing up on the Deer Island shore, Bella was finally identified by investigators after a longtime friend of McCarthy came forward.
Hunched over and ruddy-faced, often clutching the tiny, matted dog, McCarthy, 35, was prone to bizarre outbursts, those who came into contact with him in recent years said. Adrift following the death of his mother in 2013, McCarthy wore the same clothes every day, rarely washed his long, greasy blonde hair, and smelled foul.
His slide into strangeness and violence was so obvious that when they heard what he’d allegedly done, former acquaintances were horrified and disgusted — but not necessarily surprised.
“He couldn’t have gotten any lower,” said Jennifer Lightbody, 32, who was close to McCarthy’s former girlfriend. She recalled an argument on a medical transport van in which he challenged her Catholic faith with homespun demonology, pockets full of crystals, and a belief that he could communicate with the dead.
“He never shut up about demons,” said Robert McMahon Jr., 28, who lived with McCarthy and the former girlfriend on the third floor of a Quincy apartment house from August 2014 until early this year. There, he spun bizarre tales, McMahon said, including one about Bailey, the dog: Once, he said, the dog was hit by a car, only to be revived by a sorcerer who summoned ominous black beads out of Bailey.
He moved paper and objects in the apartment and blamed unseen spirits, McMahon said, and stole McMahon’s prescription pills. He demanded that the History Channel be paused during programs about Nazis, so he could ramble about the demonic symbology buried in the images. Every time he looked at the clock on the cable box, he claimed, it was 11:11, except when it was 4:44.
Finally, McMahon said, McCarthy decided the apartment was full of demons — the remnants of those who’d died there.
This week, McMahon said, he found a diary McCarthy left behind when he moved out in January. It was filled with conspiracy theories, McMahon said, and ideas about demonology. McMahon turned the diary over to police.
McMahon said much of McCarthy’s rambling seemed to be bluster: “He knew the difference between right and wrong.”
Born in Boston and raised in South Boston, where he attended Saint Brigid School, McCarthy struggled socially. A woman who attended middle school with McCarthy said he was an outcast and a target for bullies.
In 1992, when McCarthy was 11, he came to school groggy and red-faced, and told a teacher his father had punched him, according to a letter from Saint Brigid School included in court papers filed in connection with his parents’ 1990 divorce.
His mother, Suzanne, had filed to end visitation with his father, Joseph, avowing in an affidavit that her former husband had struck McCarthy in the face after the boy said he didn’t want to practice baseball at the batting cages.
Joseph McCarthy did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this story.
In a letter to the judge, Michael McCarthy asked for a restraining order against his father. “Please don’t make us go with Dad anymore,” he wrote in neat cursive.
Trouble started soon after. A few months later, McCarthy was arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon, according to probation records obtained by the Globe.
The first evidence of drugs in his life came in 2001, when he was arrested for allegedly trying to pick up someone else’s prescription for the painkiller Vicodin. The case was dismissed when McCarthy agreed to drug evaluation and treatment.
From 2005 through 2010, McCarthy was arrested 10 times, for charges including receipt of stolen property, larceny, shoplifting, and knowingly being in the presence of heroin.
Despite the toll that the drugs were taking on his life, his mother gave him cash to support his habit, a woman who grew up with McCarthy and used drugs with him said.
“He would have hundreds of dollars every day,” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “His mother didn’t want him to be sick or steal.”
Around 2012 and 2013, McCarthy spent time in Braintree, neighbors there said, living in an apartment with his mother and his girlfriend on Weston Avenue.
He made few friends, and domestic disputes occasionally drew the police to the apartment, though McCarthy was never arrested. The girlfriend’s sister, who spoke on the condition she not be named, said McCarthy beat the woman, and that she had seen bruises and a scar on the woman’s arms.
“He was very, very violent,” said Lightbody, who said she also saw the injuries McCarthy inflicted on the girlfriend.
In July 2013, McCarthy’s mother died, the death certificate listing the cause as “complications from chronic pulmonary disease and morbid obesity.”
McCarthy found her body, he wrote in an answer to an eviction complaint shortly afterward. She was his caretaker, he wrote, and he had to “run threw” her bedroom door to get to her body.
He was eventually evicted from the Braintree apartment, to the relief of neighbors.
In August 2014, he and his then-girlfriend moved in with McMahon, who said he finally kicked them both out this winter. They stayed briefly at his father’s Hancock Street plumbing shop. The girlfriend left him.
He grew his hair long, but started haphazardly shaving the dog. He was a fixture around the Topeka Street methadone clinic, slinking in on mornings he couldn’t afford heroin.
“I used to call him the dog boy,” said one man who also frequented the clinic. “He said he was a psychic reader or something,” the man said. “Like he could tell what was going to happen to people.”
Sometime this spring, he moved in with a woman who was a regular at the methadone clinic around the corner.
Her name was Rachelle Bond, and she had a little girl.