Who was Mel Ignatow?
Mel Ignatow was an American criminal who was charged with the murder of his former girlfriend, Brenda Sue Schaefer. The case became popular because Mel was acquitted initially, following lack of evidence against him. However, a number of photographs that were found later proved Mel’s guilt. After the evidences were found, the victim’s family tried to re-open the case. However, it turned out that this was not legal. According to the principle of double jeopardy that was applied in the case, a person could not be tried twice for the same crime. However, he was later jailed on many accounts of perjury, or misleading the court by false oaths. The murder took place in September 1988, two years into their relationship. When Mel came to know that Brenda was planning to leave him, he planned her murder along with one of his ex-girlfriends. When Mel was acquitted due to lack of evidence, the judge felt so guilty that he wrote a letter of apology to Brenda’s parents, who had died even before the trial commenced. The crime TV series ‘American Justice’ telecast an episode based on Brenda’s murder, in March 2000.
Melvin Henry Ignatow, better known as Mel Ignatow, was born on March 26, 1938. He started dating Brenda Schaefer in 1986. They enjoyed a smooth relationship until trouble started brewing. Mel was an abusive boyfriend, and he knew that Brenda was tired of him and a break-up was inevitable. In 1988, the year Brenda was killed, the couple was still in a relationship, living in Louisville, Kentucky, US.
Mel was deeply in love with Brenda. He knew she was planning to break up with him, but he could not tolerate her decision. He got in touch with one of his ex-girlfriends, Mary Ann Shore, and planned to carry out the murder in a way that would eliminate all the chances of them getting caught. They planned to kill her in Mary’s house and also dug a grave in the backyard of her house. They also intended to torture her for weeks before finally killing her. To make their plan foolproof, they scream-tested the house several times and made sure her screams would not reach beyond the walls of the house.
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On the evening of September 23, 1988, Mel Ignatow and Brenda met, as she had to return the jewelery that Mel had gifted her earlier. He took her to Mary’s house, where Mary and he had planned to execute the murder. Once they reached Mary’s house, Mel pointed his gun at Brenda. He then tied her up and gagged her. He forced her to strip and took photographs of her. He then raped her brutally and sodomized her, before killing her with chloroform.
After murdering her, he and Mary took the jewelery and the photos with them and buried Brenda’s body in the backyard, where they had dug the grave.
The authorities were clueless about Brenda’s disappearance and death, but they knew that Mel must have had some kind of role to play in it. However, no evidence or witness was found against him. Brenda’s corpse was also not found, and that led the police to remove Mel’s name from the list of suspects. However, as their last attempt to find the killer, the police invited Mel to the court and asked him to testify in front of the grand jury. Mel mentioned Mary in his statements, which provided the police enough evidence to pull Mary into the investigation.
A year had already passed by then, and the police focused on Mary Shore. Upon being investigated and interrogated, she testified in front of the authorities and said that she had planned Brenda’s murder along with her ex-boyfriend, Mel. She also led the police to Brenda’s grave, which was dug in the backyard of the house. The body was badly decomposed by then, and traces of blood or semen that would have proved to be strong evidences against Mel were not found.
Unable to find solid evidence, the police made a deal with Mary. She was told that she would be charged with tampering with evidence, a minor crime, if she helped the police secure sufficient evidence against Mel. She wore a wire, as directed by the police, and met Mel. She told him that the ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ (FBI) was hounding her and that her house was up for sale. Mel responded by saying that he was not worried about the house getting purchased by anybody else, as the grave they had dug was not shallow.
On the tape that was presented to the jury, it was clear that Mel had mumbled the word “dug.” The police thought he had mentioned “grave,” while he had uttered the word “safe.” The jury thought that usage of the word “safe” could have been about a “safe” full of jewelery. Furthermore, Mary’s testimony was not deemed as reliable by the jury, as she laughed repeatedly during her testimony. The defence further suggested that Mary was the killer and that she had probably killed Brenda out of jealousy.
As there was no solid evidence against Mel, the jury had no other option but to acquit Mel of all charges. Although Brenda’s body showed signs of torture, there was no evidence that could have led the police to the killer. Brenda’s parents died soon after her body was recovered. According to some of their family members and friends, the couple died due to the heartbreak caused by the loss of their daughter. When Mel was acquitted, the judge wrote a heartfelt letter to Brenda’s parents, asking for their apology for his failure to locate their daughter’s murderer.
Six months after he was acquitted, Mel Ignatow sold his house to get enough money to fund his defense. Soon, solid evidence was found against him. A carpet-layer who was working at Mel’s old house found something that looked like a plastic bag under the floor. Inside the bag, he found some jewelery and some rolls of undeveloped films. When the film rolls were developed, they revealed gruesome scenes of Mel torturing Brenda. The scenes matched those that had previously been described by Mary.
The tapes also showed Mel raping Mary in cold blood. However, Mel’s face was not clearly visible in the tapes. Despite this, the police found similarities between the hair patterns and the moles of the man on the tape and those of Mel.
Mel knew that he would not be tried for the same crime twice. Thus, when he was presented in front of the grand jury, he confessed to the crime. Brenda’s brother was present during the trial, and Mel turned toward him and said that he had made sure that Brenda received a peaceful death.
Following this, Mel was charged with perjury. He served five years of his eight-year sentence. He was later tried for a fake testimony that he had given against Brenda’s employer, which had him claiming that the employer had been sending death threats to Mel. Mel was sentenced to nine years in jail for perjury related to that case.
Mel was finally released from prison in 2006. He came back to Louisville and started living in a house that was four miles away from the house where he had killed Brenda.
Several documentaries have been made on the case by media houses such as ‘MSNBC’ and ‘CourtTV.’ All such documentaries portrayed Brenda as a sweet, simple, and innocent girl, attracting widespread sympathy for her and hatred for Mel Ignatow. Ignatow died on September 1, 2008, after an accidental fall that injured his head, causing him to bleed to death. He was 70 years old at the time of his death.