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To Have and To Kill
Nurse Melanie McGuire, an Illicit Affair, and the Greusome Murder of Her Husband
By John Glatt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 John Glatt
All rights reserved.
When Master Officer John Runge of Virginia Beach's Marine Patrol Unit first received a report of a suitcase containing human legs, he didn't know what to think. It was one of the first hot days of the year and the veteran ex-naval officer, whose crack unit patrols the Chesapeake Bay area around Virginia Beach, was looking forward to a quiet shift.
"The water was calm and it was hot outside," he remembered. "Murder was the last thing on my mind."
After placing the suitcase on the front bow of his patrol boat, Officer Runge told Chris Henkle and Dee Connors to go to the City Marina to be interviewed. Then he put on a pair of gloves and unfastened the zipper.
"There were black-colored trash bags in the suitcase," he said. "Once I peeled [them] back I saw a pair of human legs from the knees down. Then I zipped it back, called my superior and asked for a homicide detective to meet me."
At 12.30 p.m., Virginia Beach Homicide Detective Janine Hall had just finished testifying in court when her pager went off. She was then told to go the marina by Vista Circle to check out a possible murder.
The former U.S. Air Force officer, who had worked the tough Virginia Beach beat for four years, arrived at the Marina at 1:06 p.m., where she was joined by Steve Stockman, a senior technician at the Virginia Beach Police Department Forensics Unit.
"I walked to the dock," she recalled. "I saw John Runge on one of our police boats [with] a closed dark green carry-on case."
She then paged Virginia Beach Medical Examiner Dr. Turner Gray, who arrived at the marina within minutes. A police launch took the three of them over to join Runge on the police boat.
As Stockman photographed the suitcase from all angles, Dr. Gray donned a pair of medical gloves and carefully opened it.
"I observed a large black plastic bag with yellow drawstrings," Detective Hall would later testify. "Dr. Gray opened the garbage bags and I [saw] two legs. There was no decomposition or decay. They were cut off around the knee area and there was a blue paper towel in there."
Then Dr. Gray closed the suitcase, placing it in a large clear plastic bag, and brought it to his office in Norfolk, Virginia, for autopsy.
Several hours later, Dr. Wendy Gunther, the assistant chief medical examiner for Virginia Beach, carefully removed the legs from the black trash bags. She then laid them out on a surgical table in an autopsy bay.
"This was very unusual," said the round-faced bespectacled pathologist, who has performed more than 3,000 autopsies in her long career. "I have never before received a pair of legs from the knees down."
Although it was impossible to tell gender from lower legs, it was obvious they were male from the hairy muscular calves.
"You could tell they were right and left," she said. "They looked like they'd been sawed off, and they also looked fresh. They had no smell ... like the legs of people who come from the hospital the day before. The right leg was cut through the knee, exposing the tibia. It looked like a saw mark, cutting through the cartilage, and the muscle looked kind of fresh."
She also noted there was no blood where the knees had been severed, as though someone had started to cut and suddenly stopped. There was little else she could do, except taking blood and hairs for DNA analysis.
Then Detective Hall brought the medium-sized Kenneth Cole Reaction suitcase back to the Virginia Beach police headquarters, to be forensically examined the following day.
Later that evening, she briefed her colleague Detective Doug Zebley, who was to head up the homicide investigation. Early the next morning, he drove to the medical examiner's office in Norfolk, Virginia, to meet Dr. Gunther.
"At that point my investigation was focused on who could these [legs] belong to," said Investigator Zebley, "since this was all I had at the time."
Then, after taking X-rays of the lower legs to a radiologist, for information about height, weight and age, Zebley went to the Virginia Beach P.D. Forensics Unit, to examine the suitcase.
"It was a carry-on bag with an expandable handle and wheels," he said. "Something that you would carry onto an airplane."
Inside the case Zebley discovered a Marshalls price tag, faxing the UPC code to the store's head office, to see where it had been purchased.
Then the Virginia Beach Police Department's Forensic Unit supervisor, Beth Dunton, who works crime-scene investigations, and her senior technician, Steve Stockman, began testing for trace evidence.
"When I first saw the legs, it looked almost surreal," said Dunton. "I thought to myself, 'This is the start of something that's going to be very, very bad.'"
The attractive blonde forensics expert noted that the bag was in fairly good condition, with only a little dampness, and there were no apparent traces of blood or biological fluids. But the two black plastic trash bags, which had contained the legs, were covered in a slimy wet film.
First they hung the bags in a six-foot-tall cyanoacrylate fuming chamber, where the fumes given off by heated superglue attach themselves to fingerprints, rendering them easily visible. Then Dunton sprayed the bags with MBD, a fluorescent dye, to enhance the results. But there were no signs of any fingerprints.
At the bottom on the suitcase she found two blue paper towels and a piece of blue painter's tape with a hair attached to it. These were also tested in the fuming chamber with negative results, the hair being sent to a Norfolk laboratory for analysis.
With the lucrative summer vacation season just weeks away, Beth Dunton and her team were under tremendous pressure to come up with results fast, because Virginia Beach officials were horrified at the negative impact that the discovery of human body parts could have on tourist dollars.
On Thursday, May 6, The Virginian Pilot broke the story, running a brief report of the suitcase, without revealing that two legs had been found:
A fisherman Wednesday found a suitcase containing human remains floating in the Chesapeake Bay. A preliminary investigation showed the remains to be that of a white male. Detectives are reviewing missing persons' reports and are seeking the public's help in identifying the man. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Solvers.
For the next few days detectives and forensic experts could do little but sit tight, until the results of the DNA tests came in.
"Now we were anxiously waiting for the rest of the body," explained Dr. Gunther.
Four days later, on Monday, May 10, a young female graduate student was picking up litter on the Fisherman Island bird sanctuary when she spotted a large dark green suitcase lying on the sandy beach. Initially, she didn't pay it much attention, but the following day, when it was still there, she took a closer look.
It was midday, with temperatures in the high seventies, as she bent down and began to unzip the side. She had just opened it a few inches when the overpowering odor of rotting flesh first hit her. Then she glimpsed a human shoulder and screamed, running down the beach to call the police.
Beth Dunton was about to leave for work when she heard that a second suitcase had been found. She immediately jumped in her car, driving to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel Toll Plaza. There she met Medical Examiner Dr. Turner Gray and Virginia Beach Homicide Detectives Doug Zebley, Ray Pickell and Brian Seabold.
After paying the $12 toll, they drove in a convoy almost the entire length of the Bridge-Tunnel to Fisherman Island, nestled under the tunnel off the Eastern Shore and off-limits to the public.
"We met in the parking lot area," remembered Dunton. "And we all went over to the suitcase. From the smell, we knew we had another body part in there."
The large thirty-inch Kenneth Cole Reaction suitcase was lying face down in the sand with both zippers open, revealing the end of a black plastic trash bag. It was in far worse condition than the earlier suitcase, and waterlogged, with a lot of sand in it. It had probably been on the beach for several hot days before being discovered.
After Dunton photographed it from all angles, she and Dr. Gray placed the case, weighing between 70 and 80 pounds, into a black body bag, before putting it in a tin tub.
"We loaded it into my truck," said Dunton. "And we immediately brought it to a controlled, sterile environment."
On arrival at the medical examiner's office in Norfolk, the case was put on an autopsy table and more photographs were taken. Then, with Beth Dunton and Detectives Pickell and Seabold observing, Dr. Gray unzipped the top flap of the suitcase and folded it back, revealing black plastic trash bags inside.
"It smelled like decomposing flesh, rotten fish and the actual sea or bay water," recalled Beth Dunton.
The contents of this suitcase had been carefully packaged in four separate trash bags, two large industrial-sized ones and two small kitchen-type ones, with yellow drawstrings.
"We were doing it in a step-by-step procedure," explained Dunton. "Unzip it — photograph it. Start to remove the bags away from the torso — photograph it. So each step we took to remove the torso from the suitcase was documented."
It took a few minutes for Dr. Gray to carefully prise the trash bags apart and open them.
"It revealed the torso of a white male, his head and arms still attached," said Beth Dunton.
The torso was lying on its back in the suitcase, the right arm up over the shoulder. The left arm was under the chest across the belly, with three fingers curled. His first finger and thumb were in a cocked position, as if pointing a gun.
One of the kitchen-type bags had been raised over his head, while another went from the severed part up. The two bags met in the middle of his chest. Then two larger trash bags had been placed over them, from either end.
"The head was attached," she said. "You didn't have to look hard to see the bullet hole in his forehead, and then there was one on his back. They stood out. His eyes were closed, and let's hope that he was asleep."
A heavily bloodstained blanket had been wrapped around the back of the head to the ears, bunching up around the chin without covering the face. When Dunton removed it, she immediately recognized it as hospital linen, noting a tag reading "Property of HCSC." She later made a Google search, discovering that it had come from an Allentown, Pennsylvania–based medical supply company.
The head and torso were in the early stages of decomposition. The skin was discolored with gray-green marbling, and pale white, green and red spots. There was also skin slippage, and some hair had fallen off.
The hands had washerwoman's syndrome — severe wrinkling from the effects of being in the water so long. But there was little sign of any blood or other biological fluids.
"This was one of the most brutal crimes I have seen," said Dunton, who had worked seventeen years in CSI forensics. "The fact that somebody can dismember another human being like a piece of meat is just very disturbing."
Dr. Turner Gray carefully maneuvered the head and torso out of the trash bags and onto a gurney. All the internal organs were visible, near the jagged cut-line at the waist.
"The insides were coming out onto the gurney," remembered Detective Ray Pickell. "But I don't remember seeing a lot of blood on the body itself. There was decomposition, but no blood that was pooling or spilling out onto the gurney."
Then the torso was placed in a freezer, until it could be autopsied the next day. Beth Dunton placed the suitcase, trash bags and blanket in a biohazard bag, for testing back in her laboratory at Virginia Beach police headquarters.
On arrival, she first placed the trash bags and blanket in a drying chamber, before processing for fingerprints and trace evidence. Then she searched the suitcase, finding a 5.5-pound Weider weight in one of the front small zipper pockets, as well as Marshalls store tags.
"I guess people watch television and think they can easily weigh down a body with a weight," she said. "But you have to have four times the body weight to actually weigh down somebody successfully."
Then, after taking more photographs, she examined the suitcase under luminescent fluorescent lights for blood, finding none. The trash bags were then fume-tested in the superglue chamber, but again there were no fingerprints.
She then sent the blood-stained blanket for forensic analysis, before logging the five trash bags and Weider weight into the property evidence room.
That night, lead investigator Detective Doug Zebley took account of the new evidence from the second suitcase.
"At least this gave me something," he would later recount. "And now I could find out who this man was. I noted he had short hair, and with our high military population, that was the direction we went in first."CHAPTER 2
The next morning Dr. Wendy Gunther performed an autopsy on the head and torso, observed by Detective Ray Pickell and Beth Dunton, who documented it with photographs.
"I saw the body of a white man beginning to decompose," Dr. Gunther would later testify. "He was between thirty and forty and looked healthy, muscular and not overweight. The scalp hair was brown and about half an inch long. It was beginning to slide off."
She first X-rayed the body, immediately seeing two bullets, one in the chest and the other lower down in the belly, where the guts were hanging out. But she quickly decided that neither of these bullets had been fatal.
She then examined the face and nose with her hands, finding that they were not fractured. She noted the whites of the eyes were very pale, and there was no sign of petechiae — minute hemorrhages in the blood vessels that indicate strangulation. The chest appeared normal and muscular, and the teeth were natural.
"I saw the entry and exit gunshot wounds on the head," she later testified. "Both of the bullets that killed him seemed to have entered and exited the body."
She then sawed through the top of the skull, carefully removing it to reveal the brain, which was dark red and coated with old blood.
"[The bullet] enters on the left side of his forehead [and] goes through his skull," she explained. "Right through the frontal bone. And it goes through his parietal bone on the opposite side and through his brain ... leaving little pieces of lead wipe."
But the brain was so badly decomposed that it liquefied and fell apart when Dr. Gunther tried to remove it from the skull.
"We had a pan there waiting to catch it," she said. "So we were able to weigh it. I took my knife and made cuts through it. And I could see the bloody decomposed rot, where the bullet must have passed through. And it goes in a straight line from where the bullet goes in and goes out. But if you asked me what fine structure of his brain it went through, I don't know, because he's starting to rot. Going bad."
Then she turned her attention to the lower chest and abdomen, where there was another fatal gunshot wound. This bullet had entered the abdomen, just below the edge of his ribs, three-and-three-quarter inches left of midline. It had probably traveled through the lung before exiting out of the back, and has never been recovered.
It was impossible to determine if he had been shot three or four times, as the bullet could have been a short return, partially exiting the body and then falling back — something highly unusual, but not impossible.
"It was very frustrating," explained Dr. Gunther. "The bullet went right through his lung and leaves [the] back, after shattering his fifth rib."
She described this exit wound as being like "a big halo of blood," proving that the victim had been alive when shot.
The doctor then retrieved the two bullets still embedded in the body. The first, removed from the chest cavity area, was in pristine condition. But getting the second bullet proved far more difficult, for as the torso was lifted onto a gurney and rolled onto the stomach, the guts spilled out all over the place.
"Everything started shifting," explained Dunton. "The second bullet was found loose on the gurney, close to the waist area. A lot of the insides came out, and the bullet was under that."
This bullet was covered in green fibers, like ones used in furniture upholstery.
"There was another piece of fiber wrapped around the head," said Dunton. "Then I collected DNA of the torso to see if all the body parts matched up."
Dr. Gunther also took just 1,100 ccs of blood from the body cavity, leading her to believe that the unfortunate victim had been bled out before being dismembered.
"[The cause of death] was that he was shot through the head and chest," said Dr. Gunther. "That was the only part of the case that was easy."
Heavy media coverage after the discovery of the second suitcase led to the Virginia Beach Marine Patrol being deluged with sightings of more.
"Every single lead and report had to be looked at and investigated," said Beth Dunton. "I traveled across that Chesapeake Bay Bridge I don't know how many times."
Everyone knew there had to be another suitcase out there somewhere, with the remaining body parts, plunging the popular tourist destination into a grisly real-life whodunnit.
Excerpted from To Have and To Kill by John Glatt. Copyright © 2008 John Glatt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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