(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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
interviewed Shore, who eventually confessed to helping plan the
murder, and to taking pictures of Ignatow as he tortured and
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.
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".
apparently damning piece of evidence in their hands, prosecutors
brought Ignatow to trial for the murder in 1991.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Hill wrote a book on the case called Double Jeopardy.
This book became a top bestseller and provoked widespread
interest in the case.
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
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
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
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
Double Jeopardy: Obsession, Murder, and Justice Denied.
William Morrow & Co, 1995. ISBN 0688129102
Brenda Sue Schaefer
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.
(Double jeopardy is a procedural defense (and, in the United
States, a constitutional right) that forbids a defendant from
being tried a second time for a crime, after having already been
tried for the same crime.)
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
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
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
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
Ignatow Receives Prison
Confessed Killer Gets 9 Years
January 14, 2002 - WLKY.com
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The
man who admitted to killing his ex-girlfriend was sentenced to
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
July 15, 2002 - CBS News
Under further questioning, Mary Ann Shore
“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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
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,’ ”
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
Ignatow is free,
having served his
He got away with
murder but couldn't
dodge two perjury
Now, after serving
out his second short
prison term, Mel
Ignatow is on the
loose, released from
for the final time.
He's arguably the
most notorious and
reviled criminal in
the guy who got away
with the murder of
Brenda Sue Schaefer.
But Mel Ignatow did
do two prison stints
-- both for perjury
Today, Ignatow's a
free man, released
from an eastern
after serving about
half of a nine-year
“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.”
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,”
“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
“I genuinely believe
he is still a
And Adelyn Spaulding,
the widow of Dr.
Schaefer's boss and
the man who was
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
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.”
says she's not
really afraid of
Ignatow, but wishes
he was still behind