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Mel IGNATOW

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Acquitted - The victim was planning to break off the involvement
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 23, 1988
Date of birth: March 26, 1938
Victim profile: Brenda Sue Schaeffer, 36 (his girlfriend)
Method of murder: Chloroform
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Status: Sentenced to 9 in prison on state perjury charges and persistent felon charges on January 14, 2002. Released from prison December 1, 2006. Died September 1, 2008
 
 

 
 
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Mel Ignatow (March 26, 1938 – September 1, 2008) was a resident of Louisville, Kentucky, who murdered his girlfried, Brenda Sue Schaeffer, in 1988.

The case was controversial because Ignatow was acquitted of the charge, but photographs that proved his guilt were uncovered after the trial. Under the legal principle of double jeopardy, however, Ignatow could not be tried a second time for the murder. He was, however, convicted and jailed for perjury in his grand jury testimony for the case on several occasions.

Background

Ignatow and Schaeffer had been in a relationship for two years at the time of the murder, but Schaeffer, who had complained that Ignatow was abusive, was planning to break off the involvement, an intention that Ignatow was aware of.

Intending to murder Schaeffer, he worked with a former girlfriend, Mary Ann Shore, to lay out plans for the murder, spending several weeks laying out extensive preparations. Shore testified they had "scream tested" her house and dug a grave in the woods behind it.

Murder

On September 23, 1988, Schaeffer met Ignatow to return some jewelry of his that she had in her possession. Instead, Ignatow took Schaeffer to Shore's house, where he pulled a gun on Brenda and locked her in the house. Brenda was blindfolded, gagged and bound hand and foot.

Ignatow forced Brenda to strip, photographed her in suggestive positions, raped, sodomized and beat her before killing her with chloroform. Ignatow and Shore buried her behind Shore's house. He took Brenda's jewelery and the exposed film.

Investigation and trial

Police suspected Ignatow almost immediately, but were unable to locate any witnesses or physical evidence linking him to Schaeffer's disappearance, or even to locate Schaeffer's body. In search for any lead that could let them move forward with the case, police invited Ignatow to clear his name by testifying before a grand jury. There, he mentioned Shore's name, bringing her into the inestigation for the first time.

The police interviewed Shore, who eventually confessed to helping plan the murder, and to taking pictures of Ignatow as he tortured and abused Schaeffer.

Shore also lead the investigators to the gravesite, where Brenda's badly decomposed body had been buried for over a year. The autopsy showed she had been abused, but any DNA evidence, from blood and semen, had decomposed.

The investigators convinced Shore to wear a wire, by promising only to charge her with tampering with evidence. In the surveillance, Shore told Ignatow that the FBI was hounding her and she was afraid the property behind her house was being sold and developed. He was on tape berating her for letting the FBI "rattle" her and told her he didn't care if they dug up the whole property because "that place we dug is not shallow".

With this apparently damning piece of evidence in their hands, prosecutors brought Ignatow to trial for the murder in 1991.

In court, however, the jury decided that one word on the tape was "safe", not "site", as the police believed, which led them to conclude that the discussion involved a buried safe.

Furthermore, Shore, the prosecution's star witness, wore a tiny miniskirt to court and laughed during her testimony, undermining her credibility in the eyes of the jury. The defense pointed argued that Shore had killed Schaeffer out of Ignatow.

In light of these considerations, the jury acquitted Ignatow, although the judge was so embarrassed by this result that he took the unusual step of writing a letter of apology to the Schaeffer family.

New evidence

Six months after Ignatow's acquittal, however, a carpetlayer working in Ignatow's old house found a plastic bag under the carpet containing the jewelry Schaeffer had taken with her to return on the night of her disappearance.

Police re-searched the house, and discovered three rolls of undeveloped film in a heating duct. When developed, the film showed Ignatow torturing and raping Schaeffer, just as Shore had described. Ignatow's face was not in the pictures, but body hair patterns and moles matched him perfectly.

Aftermath

Ignatow was brought to trial for perjury in his grand jury testimony. Knowing that he could not be retried for the murder because of double jeopardy, Ignatow confessed in court at his perjury trial. He turned to Brenda's brothers in court and said that he had killed her, but that she had died peacefully.

Ignatow served five years of an eight year sentence for perjury. The state later prosecuted him on perjury charges in a case against Brenda's employer for threatening to kill Ignatow if he didn't tell where Brenda was. He was sentenced to nine years for that perjury charge.

Author Bob Hill wrote a book on the case called Double Jeopardy. This book became a top bestseller and provoked widespread interest in the case.

Mel Ignatow was released from prison for the second time in December 2006. He returned, yet again to Louisville, living in a home just a scant four miles from the house where he murdered Brenda Sue Schaefer.

Death

On September 1, 2008, Ignatow was found dead in his home. At the time of his death, Ignatow was 70 years old. An official cause of death has yet to be determined; however, based on initial remarks made by his upstairs neighbor who found Ignatow's body, and follow-up remarks given to the media by Ignatow's son, it is believed that Ignatow's death was due to an accidental fall that caused a laceration to either his head or his arm and that he had eventually bled to death. "Apparently, he fell and hit a glass coffee table and, from what I can tell, he cut his arm" Ignatow's son stated. The upstairs neighbor on the other hand stated that it appeared Ignatow had cut his head and not his arm; "It just looked like he had fell and hit his head on the table," And he tried to go to the kitchen, and there was a blood trail that way, and then it looked like he tried to make it to his room, before he made it to his room, that's where they found his body at."

Ignatow's upstairs neighbor also described him as a "a sick and elderly man, alone and struggling for help when he apparently stumbled to his death. I used to hear him all night, asking for Jesus to come get him, because he was in a lot of pain."

Ignatow's son admits that his father's sins may never be forgiven. "He will probably go down as one of the most hated men in Louisville". He went on to say that now he hopes his father's death will help people forget some of his transgressions. "Maybe it'll just put it to rest, that we all don't have to keep dealing with this over and over. That's what I hope."

Further reading

  • Hill, Bob. Double Jeopardy: Obsession, Murder, and Justice Denied. William Morrow & Co, 1995. ISBN 0688129102

Wikipedia.org 


Brenda Sue Schaefer

NationMaster.com

Brenda Sue Schaefer was a 36-year-old woman in Louisville, Kentucky who was murdered by Mel Ignatow in 1988. The case was controversial because Ignatow was acquitted of the charge. Later, photographs were found that proved his guilt but he could never be charged again with Brenda's murder under the legal principle of double jeopardy.

Friends described Brenda as a wonderful, sweet person, but some what naive. Brenda had been Ignatow's girlfriend for two years, but she told others that he was physically and emotionally abusive. She told them she was afraid for her life and vowed to end the relationship. Ignatow knew she was going to leave.

He and Mary Ann Shore, a former girlfriend, planned Brenda's torture and death for weeks. Shore testified they had "scream tested" her house and dug a grave in the woods behind it. Ignatow took Brenda there saying Shore wanted to see Brenda's jewelery. He then pulled a gun on Brenda and took her prisoner. Brenda was blindfolded. gagged and bound hand and foot. Ignatow took her to his secret lair in the trunk of his car.

Ignatow forced Brenda to strip, photographed her in suggestive positions, raped, sodomized and beat her before killing her with chloroform. Ignatow and Shore buried her behind Shore's house. He took Brenda's jewelery and the exposed film.

Ignatow tape recorded what he did to Brenda and these recordings were later played to the jury. The transcipt is as follows.

Ignatow: Good evening ladies and gentleman and we are coming to you live. This is your host Mel Ignatow and with me is the puta, the Jezebel who tried to leave me. She has been captured and taken prisoner by me now. (Yelling) THE PRISONER WILL IDENTIFY HERSELF.

Brenda: My name is Brenda Sue Schaefer, I have been captured and taken prisoner by Mel Ignatow.

Ignatow: Describe your situation Brenda

Brenda: You have treated me like a dog and humiliated me by stripping me naked. You have bound me hand and foot. Oh no! I am trapped like a beast in a snare!

Ignatow: (Laughing) Well Brenda my bound beauty welcome to your nightmare!

Brenda: (Sobbing) Oh no! Oh Dear God please no! Mel I am so sorry. Don't touch me! Oh God please don't hurt me!

Police zeroed in on the two immediately, but could not break them. Finally they convinced Shore to wear a wire, by promising only to charge her with tampering with evidence. She told Ignatow the FBI was hounding her and she was afraid the property behind her house was being sold & developed. He was on tape berating her for letting the FBI "rattle" her and told her he didn't care if they dug up the whole property because "that place we dug is not shallow". A bug is the common name for a covert listening device, usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter with a microphone.

However, he mumbled the word "dug" and the jury also thought he said the word "safe" instead of "grave" on the tape, so they thought they were talking about a buried safe with stolen items in it. They also did not believe Mary Ann Shore, who laughed during her testimony and was dressed in a miniskirt (she was over 200 lbs.) with her legs crossed almost revealing everything. The defense pointed to her as the killer, out of jealousy. This article can be confusing for some readers, and needs to be edited for clarity.

The badly decomposed body was not been found for over a year. The autopsy showed she had been abused, but any DNA evidence had decomposed. Rotting fruit Decomposition is the reduction of bodies and other formerly living organisms into simpler forms of matter and, most particularly, to the fate of the human body after death.

The jury aquitted Ignatow. The State then filed perjury charges for his grand jury testimony. While awaiting this trial, the people who bought Ignatow's house while he was in jail, recarpeted the house. The carpetlayer found a baggie in a heat duct under the carpet. It contained jewelery and 3 cannisters of undeveloped film. The owners immediately turned the material over to the FBI.

When the film was developed, it showed the torture and death of Brenda Sue Shafer. Ignatow's face was carefully out of the pictures, but body hair patterns and moles matched him perfectly. Perjury is lying or making verifiably false statements under oath in a court of law. ... A grand jury is a type of common law jury; responsible for investigating alleged crimes, examining evidence, and issuing indictments.

Knowing he could not be tried again because of double jeopardy, Ignatow confessed in court at his perjury trial. He had the nerve to turn to Brenda's brothers in court and say, yes, he killed her, but she died peacefully.

Ignatow served 5 years of an 8 year sentence for perjury. The state later prosecuted him on perjury charges in a case against Brenda's employer for threatening to kill Ignatow if he didn't tell where Brenda was. He was sentenced to 9 years for that perjury charge.

Author Bob Hill was so enraged by this case he wrote a book about it called Double Jeopardy. This book became a top bestseller and provoked wide interest in the case.


Ignatow Receives Prison Sentence

Confessed Killer Gets 9 Years

January 14, 2002 - WLKY.com

FRANKFORT, Ky. The man who admitted to killing his ex-girlfriend was sentenced to prison Monday.

Judge Stephen Ryan sentenced Mel Ignatow to nine years in prison on state perjury charges and persistent felon charges.

Ignatow's attorney had asked the judge to set aside the verdict saying that his client was a "model citizen", but his request was denied. The judge also denied defense requests for a new trial and for probation.

Ignatow was acquitted of the 1988 murder of Brenda Sue Schaefer in 1991, then confessed to it the following year after photographs showing him torturing her were discovered.

NewsChannel 32's Steve Burgin reported that Ryan called Ignatow "evil" at the time of the crime, and said that evil people must suffer the consequences.

"It's come full circle," Mike Schaefer, Brenda Sue's brother told Burgin. "We're just glad to be here and get the result that we have."

Burgin reported that if Ignatow serves the whole sentence, he'll be 72-years-old when he gets out.


Double Jeopardy Pt. II: Can A Murderer Avoid Prison?

Ignatow Goes On Trial For Murder

July 15, 2002 - CBS News

Under further questioning, Mary Ann Shore cracked.

“She just flipped,” says author Bob Hill. “ She couldn’t deal with it, because the last time she’d seen (Brenda Schaeffer) was during her murder.”

Shore cut a deal with prosecutors. She told them that Ignatow had sexually tortured and killed Branda Schaffer in the Louisville home Shore was renting.

Shore admitted she took part in the horrific abuse, even taking pictures of Ignatow with Schaefer, but claims she was not in the room for the actual murder.

“Mary Ann said she left the room when Ignatow actually murdered her,” says Hill, whose book details the horrific torture. “He had a bottle of chloroform and put chloroform over her mouth until she couldn’t breathe anymore.”

Shore even led police to the body, buried in a grave in the woods behind Shore’s house. Shore and Ignatow had allegedly dug the grave weeks before the murder.

On Jan. 10, 1989, 16 months after she disappeared, Brenda Schaefer’s body was found and Mel Ignatow was arrested.

It took two years before Ignatow's trial began. Publicity forced a change of venue to Covington, Ky. – a small community that knew little about the case.

Mary Ann Shore was the prosecution’s star witness. With no physical evidence linking Ignatow to Brenda’s murder, Shore’s testimony was crucial.

‘She was a terrible witness,” says Hill. “She was poorly prepared, she wasn’t ready, she wore a short skirt that was hiked up to here.” Ignatow’s attorney suggested a jealous Shore had killed Brenda Schaefer herself.

The prosecution had one other piece of heavy ammunition – a tape recording of a conversation between Mary Ann Shore and Mel Ignatow. Before Ignatow was arrested, the FBI had wired Shore as the two of them discussed what they would do if the overgrown lot where Brenda was buried was sold to developers.

“He never really mentioned the act of murder, or exposing the body, “ says investigator Wesley, “but he certainly made incriminating statements that I thought would sway the jury.”

But the the jury wasn’t swayed. Juror Greg Laukhuff says the importance of the tape all came down to one word: was it sie or was it safe?

They key word – muffled on the tape - was in Ignatow’s statement: "It’s not shallow that place we dug and it’s not shallow, so don’t let it get you rattled. Besides that one area right by where that site is does not have any trees by it."

“We listened to that many, many, many times and collectively as a group we could not decide on what word that really was,” says Laukhuff.

Ignatow was acquitted. “Just like a thunderbolt,” Hill says. “People couldn’t believe it.”

Ignatow ‘s acquittal meant that only one person would be going to jail for the murder of Brenda Schaefer. As part of her deal with prosecutors, Shore pled guilty to a lesser charge of evidence tampering and served a few years in jail.

Six months after Ignatow's trial ended, Steve Doherty was hired to rip out the carpeting in Ignatow’s old house. “I was just pullin’ it up and then all of a sudden I seen a Ziplock bag down there,” Doherty recalls.

The bag held some jewelry - the jewelry Brenda Schaefer was planning to return to Ignatow on the night she disappeared. Police, who had gone through the house twice before, went back a third time.

They found the photographs in a heat duct in Ignatow’s old house. These were the photos that Mary Ann Shore had taken, which showed Ignatow abusing and raping Brenda Schaefer.

But there was a problem: Ignatow can never be charged with Brenda Schaefer’s murder because of double jeopardy – the constitutional provision that protects citizens from being tried over and over again for the same crime. But he could be prosecuted for perjury in his grand jury testimony.

“And then of course, being Ignatow, he turned on a dime,” says Hill. “After years of denying any involvement whatsoever, he tried to get a lesser plea because he’d cooperated with authorities.”

Ignatow described how he sexually tortured and murdered Brenda.

“And then,” says Brenda’s brother, Mike, “he turned around and looked at the family and said that she died peacefully. It was just pure Ignatow.”

Ignatow spent only five years in prison for perjury and was released. Unemployed and living on disability, he turned away a 48 Hours camera crew and told a neighbor the media was trying to rehash an old story.

But many people in Louisville fear that Ignatow could strike again.

“It would be awful, just awful, if Ignatow should happen to do this sort of thing to another woman,” says Mike Schaefer.

Determined to see that some sort of justice prevails, state prosecutors pressed new charges of perjury against Mel Ignatow, even though he already had served five years on federal charges of lying in court.

In January, Ignatow was sentenced to nine years in prison on state perjury charges. Just three months into his sentence in April, Ignatow asked to be released on parole.

The judge denied his request.

While it once seemed Mel Ignatow would get away scott-free with the murder, prosecutors can take some measure of relief, knowing a dangerous killer is behind bars, at least for now.


Double Jeopardy

Boyfriend Suspected In Woman's Disappearance

July 15, 2002 - CBS News

There is no mystery about who killed Brenda Shaefer. Everyone in Louisville, Ky. knows that Mel Ignatow did it.

The mystery is why Ignatow is still a free man. It’s a question that has consumed writer Bob Hill.

“The guy got away with murder, absolutely got away with murder, and 13 years later, he’s still walking around getting away with murder,” says Hill. A newspaper columnist for 26 years, Hill was so enraged by the murder that he wrote a book about it: “Double Jeopardy.”

As Erin Moriarity reports for 48 Hours, the story started on Sept. 24, 1988, when 36-year-old Brenda Schaefer disappeared. Her car was found abandoned the next day less than half a mile from where she lived with her mom and dad.

“I don’t think our mother believed it, but we knew she was dead right away,” says her brother, Mike about himself and his brother, Tom. Brenda’s best friend, Joyce Basham, also feared the worst.

Before she disappeared, Brenda had confided to Basham that she was going to break off the relationship with Ignatow, her boyfriend, and return all the jewelry he had given her.

Ignatow claimed he had last seen Brenda at 11 the night before, when she left his house to drive home. But the family didn’t buy the story and went to the Jefferson County police. Detective Jim Wesley was in charge of the Violent Crimes unit.

Wesley’s suspicions were aroused as soon as he met Ignatow “He was calling me ‘Jim’ and he was calling me ‘Jim,’ like ‘you’re my buddy, Jim,’ and I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not this man’s buddy and this man has done something,’ ” Wesley recalls.

Ignatow was the image of success. He drove a Corvette, owned a 32-foot pleasure boat and lived in an affluent part of town.

“He was a work of art,” Mike Schaefer says of Ignatow. “I tell you , this guy told such outlandish lies and stories to impress people. And no one believed him.”

According to police, Ignatow fit the profile of what is called a criminal sexual sadist, someone who is aroused by the suffering of another.

At the time of Brenda’s disappearance, Roy Hazelwood was an investigator with the FBI’s Behavioral Scienes Unit and a leading authority on sexually deviant criminals. Louisville authorities called in Hazelwood for help in better understanding their lead suspect.

“You don’t break up with someone like Mel Ignatow,” Hazelwood says. “Mel Ignatow breaks up with you, but you don’t break up with Mel. And I think he made up his mind to kill her and so he decided to make it as enjoyable as possible to him, in the way he killed her.”

Without a body, police had only suspicions. After nine or 10 months, Ignatow seemed to be flaunting the fact that he was untouchable – never shying away from the cameras that followed him.

U.S. Attorney Scott Cox devised a plan - to use Ignatow’s own thirst for positive publicity against him. Cox asked Ignatow to voluntarily testify before a Federal Grand Jury to clear his name. And Ignatow went for the bait, fully aware that if he slipped, authorities could use any incriminating statements against him.

“He volunteered to testify before a Grand Jury, which is just nuts,” says author Hill. But the move came as no surprise to FBI behavioral expert Hazelwood.

“I call narcissism the Achilles Heel of the sexual offender,” he says. “They think they are so superior to society in general and law enforcement in particular that, yeah, I know they are going to be attracted to me, but that’s going to be kind of exciting.”

In his testimony, Ignatow mentioned an old girlfriend named Mary Ann Shore. Police began to question Shore and called her in to testify before the Grand Jury. Shore testified that she’d seen Brenda Schaefer one time, but when asked about Brenda's looks, Shore said, “You mean the last time I saw her?” When the discrepancy was pointed out, Shore got up and fled the grand jury room.


Mel Ignatow released from prison

By Mark Hebert - whas11.com

Friday, December 1, 2006

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After all the lies and failed parole hearings, Mel Ignatow is free, having served his time.

He got away with murder but couldn't dodge two perjury convictions later. Now, after serving out his second short prison term, Mel Ignatow is on the loose, released from prison Friday morning, probably for the final time.

He's arguably the most notorious and reviled criminal in Louisville history the guy who got away with the murder of Brenda Sue Schaefer. But Mel Ignatow did do two prison stints -- both for perjury after being acquitted of Schaffer’s murder.

Today, Ignatow's a free man, released from an eastern Kentucky prison after serving about half of a nine-year sentence. 

“I guess I felt a sense of relief that maybe this is the final chapter of a long story that has been burdensome for this whole community.”

That's Charlie Ricketts, who successfully defended Ignatow against the murder charge and got word Friday that his former client is again a free man.

“Is he a danger? No, I don’t think so,” says Ricketts. “Perhaps if he were somewhere else and he fell into some old habit, then there might likely be such a danger, but as long as we know who he is and what he is, I don’t think there’s any danger.”

“I genuinely believe he is still a dangerous person,” says prosecutor Scott Cox.

And Adelyn Spaulding, the widow of Dr. William Spalding (Brenda Sue Schaefer's boss and the man who was convicted of threatening Ignatow), says she was stunned when she got a letter over the weekend saying the man who lied at her husband's trial was going to be freed.

“Just a wonderful Christmas present,” she says. “I’m really upset about getting the news at this time, when I didn’t expect it… Wasn’t anything I could do about it.”

Adelyn Spaulding says she's not really afraid of Ignatow, but wishes he was still behind bars.
 

 

 
 
 
 
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