Mel Ignatow

I often speak here on the blog about how it is not always about guilt or innocence but the law and what can and cannot be proven in a legal way.  I have also often stated that in order to believe in the justice system you have to go into looking at a case as if the jury got it right. Then there are the cases where in my opinion, and usually in many people's opinions, you look at a jury and wonder how they heard the evidence that you heard (keeping in mind only what was presented at trial) and came up with the decision they did.  One of the more infamous cases I can think of concerning this is the Casey Anthony case.  Many of the jurors later said they acquitted her because the prosecution could not tell them exactly how Caylee Anthony had died. This is true, but it was not from a lack of trying.  The prosecution in that case could not say an exact cause of death because the body had not been found for several months and had been exposed to the Florida heat and elements, including animals. I will never understand the thinking of the jurors in that case, just as I will never understand the thinking in the case against Mel Ignatow.

If you know anything about the legal system you know the words "Double Jeopardy."  This means that when someone is acquitted of a murder charge they cannot be tried again, no matter what evidence is found later.  Quite often attorney's will try to work around that by attempted federal, as opposed to state charges, but they generally fail.  In fact, the only case that I can think of in which someone has been able to be charged again in a case in which they were acquitted is the case of Timothy Hennis.  He was convicted for the murder of a mother and two of her children at Fort Bragg Army base. He was sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned and at his re-trial he was acquitted.  For the next twenty plus years Hennis apparently lived a crime free life.  Then, when advances were made in DNA the case was looked at again. Authorities announced that it was a match to Hennis.  Due to his military service (he was by this time inactive) authorities were able to bring him back to court through the military and try him again. He currently sits on death row once more. The Hennis case is a one in a million case. The general rule is that once someone is acquitted of a crime they can confess to anyone, anywhere, they please and escape justice.  The prosecutors in Louisville Kentucky were faced with that prospect in 1991 when a jury acquitted Mel Ignatow in the death of his ex girlfriend, Brenda Sue Schaefer.  

On September 23, 1988, 36 year old Brenda Sue Schaefer went missing.  The following day her car was found less than a mile from the home she was staying with her parents. Everyone immediately suspected that Mel Ignatow had done something to her.  Brenda had been very vocal to friends and family that Mel had been physically and verbally abusive to her during their two year relationship and that she was breaking things off and returning some jewelry belonging to Ignatow.  

For the next several months investigators could find nothing.  They could not even find Brenda's body but somehow they knew, despite his pleas of innocence, that Mel Ignatow was involved.  They decided to call a grand jury to investigate and Ignatow was forced to testify.  Of course he proclaimed his innocence but it was during his testimony that investigators first heard the name Mary Ann Stone.  They would learn that Ignatow had dated Stone for about ten years just prior to Ignatow and Brenda dating and that there had obviously been continued contact.  I cannot say for sure in what context Ignatow mentioned Mary Ann but apparently it was a bad move on his part.  In January of 1990 Shore would confess to investigators exactly what happened to Brenda Schaefer and lead them to her body.  The discovery of the body would be kept under wraps while investigators also convinced Mary Ann to wear a wire and talk to Ignatow after investigators agreed to only charge her only with tampering with evidence.  So, what exactly did Mary Ann Shore have to say?

According to Mary Ann, Mel Ignatow had meticulously planned the murder of Brenda Sue Schaefer. Many would say it was because Brenda was breaking off the relationship and Ignatow was such a control freak, as they say, that he was not about to let that happen. Mary Ann would agree with Ignatow to allow the house she was renting to be used for the murder to the point in which they did what she called a "scream test" on the house. Ignatow would be outside while Mary Ann screamed inside the house to see if it could be heard outside by the neighbors.  Mary Ann also confessed she helped Ignatow dig a hole in the woods behind the home prior to Brenda coming to the house.  Ignatow then convinced Brenda to meet him for the exchange of the jewelry and lured her back to Mary Ann's home. Once inside Ignatow would hold Brenda at gun point, blindfold her, tied her to a glass top coffee table, gagged her, and stripped her of her clothing.  For the next few hours Ignatow would rape, sodomize and beat Brenda.  When he was done with her he simply killed her using chloroform.  Mary Ann told investigators that while Ignatow did these things she had taken pictures but that Ignatow had taken the film, along with the jewelry, with him when he left the home.  She admitted to helping Ignatow wrap the body up and place it in the pre-dug hole.  

Mary Ann then wore a wire and began speaking to Ignatow.  She told him that she was worried and concerned because the FBI had come and talked to her concerning Brenda. She also mentioned she was worried that the land Brenda had been buried on had been sold (or would be) and that the land would be developed and the body found.  Ignatow chastised Mary Ann for her fears and assured her that the "place we dug is not shallow" and would not be found by simple by developers.  What he said next would be up for debate at his trial.  "Beside that one area right by where that site is does not have any trees by it." For whatever reason the jury would believe that instead of the word "site," Ignatow had said "safe" and they could not determine that he was speaking of the site in which Brenda's body was later found.  Most people would find this argument unbelievable.  

Based on this Ignatow would eventually be charged and face trial but prosecutors faced a huge obstacle.  They had searched the home Ignatow shared with his mother several times and had found nothing tying him to Brenda's murder.  DNA was pretty much in its infancy and what they had found with the body was too degraded to get any sort of match.  So, in reality all they had was Mary Ann Shore and statements from friends and family of Brenda's that described the relationship between her and Ignatow.  Well, that and the wire tapping made with Mary Ann's help.

I want to point out here that several sources have quoted an audio tape supposedly made by Mel Ignatow at the time of Brenda's death and is said to have been played for the jury. The transcripts of this tape is cited often but I am unclear as to this being true.  First, I cannot find when or where these audio tapes were found. The only tape that I can confirm was played for the jury in Ignatow's trial was the one in which was recorded through the wire tap. And yet this supposed tape is said to have been played for the jury (although I found obvious other false information on a few sites that also claimed this) and is between Ignatow and Brenda, during the time of her torture and is a play by play of what was happening. 

The defense argued that Ignatow was innocent and that he was being set up by Mary Ann Shore.  Shore did not help herself either.  It was said that she showed up in court wearing a short miniskirt and seemed to laugh often throughout her testimony.  In the end the jury said they did not believe her story.  And, well, truthfully aside from finding the body where she said it was, there was nothing yet to prove anything else she said.  Several searches had gone on and there was no evidence of any pictures from the time of the murder or even the jewelry.  Then there was the argument that the jury believed Ignatow had said "safe" instead of "site" as the prosecutors contended.  I have heard the recording on television and while I would agree that the word is a bit muffled it boggles me to think the jury "reasonably" believed that there was talk of a "safe" being buried in the area in which investigators would find Brenda's body.  I found no evidence that there was ever even any discussion about a supposed safe being buried, even by the defense.

In the end everyone, the judge, the prosecutors, the community, even the defense and their client, Ignatow, were surprised when the jury returned with a "not guilty" verdict.  It was said that the judge himself, was so ashamed he wrote a letter of apology to Brenda's family.  And yet, Mel Ignatow walked out of the courtroom after spending almost two years awaiting trial, a free man.  Ignatow's mother had sold the home they lived in to pay for the lawyers that defended him at trial.  Six months after the trial ended the police would receive a phone call that would change everything.

Prosecutors knew that they had tried the right man for Brenda Schaefer's murder and had already tried to figure out what they could do to punish him in some way after the surprising not guilty verdict.  They had decided to charge him with perjury based on his testimony at the grand jury, the one in which he first mentioned Mary Ann Stone's name.  Apparently evidence at trial indicated that he had lied to the grand jury so they were going to go after him.  Then they got that phone call.  The new owners of the home in which Ignatow had lived with his mother at the time of the murder had decided to get new carpet in the home. When the old carpet was pulled up in the hallway there was a heating vent in view.  Inside the vent was a plastic bag taped to the side.  Inside the bag was three rolls of undeveloped film and some jewelry.  Investigators immediately obtained possession and as soon as the film was developed they knew what they had!  They had found the pictures that Mary Ann Stone had told them she had taken.  It was said that Ignatow's face could not be seen but that other marks on this body were identified, including moles, to make it certain that it was him in the pictures.  Within just a few hours a deal was made in which Ignatow would admit to the killing of Brenda Schaefer in court and plead guilty to the perjury for a sentence of 8 years.  He would serve five.  Prosecutors were still not completely happy though. Aside from the time he had served awaiting trial, technically Ignatow had not, and could not serve any time for killing Brenda so they apparently vowed to get him in any way they could, for as much as they could.  In 2002 they were able to get Ignatow on another perjury charge. He had testified in a trial against Brenda's employer who had threatened Ignatow, begging him in essence to tell what he had done to Brenda and where her body was.  Once again they were able to prove that he had lied under oath. This time he was sentenced to 9 years, which he would serve nearly 5 years, being released in December of 2006.  

For her part, Mary Ann Stone would be sentenced to 5 years and would serve just over 3 years of that sentence, being released in 1995.  Little is really known about her other than she obviously married a man named Charles Inlow (it was in her obituary) and she died in August of 2004 at the age of 54.

Mel Ignatow, as I said was released in December of 2006 from prison but never really lived down what he had done.  When he died in September of 2008 his son was quote as saying his father was "one of the most hated men in Louisville."  Most find Ignatow's death ironic. He was found by an upstairs neighbor.  It was determined that he had likely fallen against a glass top coffee table, cut his arm and likely hit his head.  There were streaks of blood throughout the house indicating that he had moved around.  He officially died due to blood loss.  More has been said that he died due to the glass top coffee table, considering that he had tied Brenda to one, than the fact that he had one at all.  No one said, but I am sure it was not likely the same coffee table considering that the murder happened in Mary Ann Shore's home and not his own, but I find it odd, or maybe not so odd, that he had one himself.  It makes me wonder if it was simply the symbolism of it for him.  Others find his cause of death ironic because at his sentencing for perjury, when he admitted what he had done to Brenda, he had told her family that she had not suffered and her death was quick, which was obviously not true.  Most say neither was his.  


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