Unsolved Mysteries and Scary Stuff: Mel Ignatow

Mel Ignatow

Mel Ignatow will go down in Kentucky as one of the finest examples of criminal injustice in state history. The then fifty-year-old Ignatow had been dating Brenda Schaefer for around two years in 1988. Schaefer was growing tired of Ignatow’s abusive streaks towards her and intended on ending their courtship. Ignatow was aware of this and instead of letting things take their natural course, he instead decided he would murder his girlfriend. Mel called upon his ex-girlfriend Mary Shore to aid him in this plan. The pair spent weeks planning an elaborate scheme to avoid being caught. This included sound proofing Shore’s house and preparing a grave for Schaefer.

The plan was executed on September 23rd as Ignatow and Schaefer met to return some belongings that the other still had from their relationship. Ignatow took Schaefer to Shore’s house instead, where he produced a gun and begin to bind and gag Brenda. He then forced her to strip off her clothes slowly, followed by taking pictures of her in sexually exploitative poses. He proceeded to then rape her vaginally and anally before beating her and smothering her with a chloroform soaked rag. Shore watched this all unfold, taking more pictures as Ignatow did his nasty deeds to his former lover. He then took Schaefer’s valuables before he and Shore buried the remains in the woods behind her house.

When Schaefer was officially declared missing the police zeroed in on Ignatow but could not find physical evidence or witnesses to place him with her the day she vanished. Ignatow willingly testified before a grand jury, where he slipped up and mentioned Shore. The police pounced on this possible lead and grilled Shore. She ended up confessing to the murder, and Ignatow’s involvement. Shore led the police to Schaefer’s badly decomposed body. The DNA, blood and other physical evidence was not testable due to too much time having passed since the murder. The signs of physical abuse remained evident however.

Shore agreed to try and entrap Ignatow and the FBI placed a wire on her as she met her co-conspirator. Ignatow berated Shore for letting the FBI shake her down for information so successfully. Ignatow then openly talked about the grave site, which gave the police the opening they needed to have him charged with murder.

At his trial, the prosecution played the tape that was recorded of Ignatow talking about the “site” where the grave was. The jury was convinced that he said “safe” and not “site” and therefore instead of talking about a buried victim, he actually was describing where a safe full of valuables was buried. Further wrecking the prosecution’s case was the fact that when Shore testified against Ignatow, she wore sexually suggestive clothes and instead of treating the matter seriously, Shore was laughing at points. Her credibility as the star witness was thus ruined. The defense charged that Shore killed Schaefer, and since her body was on Shore’s property, Ignatow’s guilt seemed to fall into a “reasonable doubt”. The jury came back with a verdict of “not guilty”. The judge who proceeded over the case was deeply bothered by this and made it a point to communicate with the victim’s family and offer his solace in what was an obvious miscarriage of justice.

Six months after the trial ended construction was ongoing at Ignatow’s former home. (He had sold it in order to fund his defense attorney.) One of the men working on the home found a floor vent that was covered by carpeting. Inside the vent was a bag that had been adhered to the vent’s wall. When the bag was opened, Schaefer’s jewlery and several rolls of film were found inside. When the film was developed, the images of Schaefer being raped and beaten came out on the film. Ignatow’s face was not in any of the pictures, but other marks on his body matched those pf the man in the photos.

The police were powerless to charge Ignatow with murder due to “double jeopardy” laws but they were able to use his previous testimony to have him tried on perjury charges. At this trial, he willingly admitted to murdering her, but promised her family that Schaefer died peacefully. Ignatow was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released after only five years. He was then tried for committing perjury during a separate trial where he had been threatened by Schaefer’s employer to reveal where her grave was. For that act of perjury, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was eventually released from that prison stint as well. Ignatow died in his home in 2008 at the age of 70.

Almost three years ago I wrote an article on the John Wayne Gacy serial killings. In addition to the standard story of how he murdered at least 33 young men, I also took a look at the evidence of other burial locations that the police ignored and/or put in less than a top effort into exploring for further victims. Uncovering 33 bodies created enough evidence to put Gacy on death row, but the families of dozens of missing boys were left to wonder if their children fell into the hands of this predator.

Every few years DNA manages to prove that one of the supposed victims is not actually who the police connected the skeletal remains to. We had another incident of this happening only a few weeks ago, which you can read about here. The uncertainty surrounding the case has left many to ponder whether old wounds should be reopened to put a true feeling of finality on to this case. Is the heartache worth it when the perpetrator has been dead himself for over two decades?

It is maddening to know that the police had upwards of four to five men who they believed may have played a role in the torture and murders of young men and yet the police never sought to bring them to justice. For more on this case, which is still unfolding even 35 years after the fact, I suggest you visit https://johnwaynegacynews.com/ where they keep a constant ear out for fresh information on the case.

 Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with more cases soon!

I have written about nearly 100 other True Crime cases in the past, those can be found here.

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Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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