LOUISVILLE, KY — On September 23, 1988, Mel Ignatow, 50, raped, tortured, and murdered Brenda Schaefer, 36, his romantic partner of two years — and he got away with it.
Prior to the killing, Ignatow heard that Schaefer had been talking to friends about their relationship turning “abusive.” She had also reportedly been seeing an ex-boyfriend while she prepared to leave her husband. He suspected, correctly, that Schaefer had been planning to break up with him. Ignatow simply could not — would not — allow that to happen, at least not on Schaefer’s terms.
His solution, then, was to team with an ex, Mary Ann Shore, and cruelly calculate the abduction, torment, and slaying of Brenda Schaefer. Their despicable plan, in fact, came off without a hitch.
On that September evening, Ignatow drove Schaefer to Shore’s home and duped her into going inside.
Once there, Ignatow pulled a gun on Schaefer, assaulted her, tied her up, and sexually violated her in an array of horrors and humiliations that included posing her in pornographic positions to be photographed. During parts of her ordeal, Schaefer was tied to a glass coffee table while she was tortured.
Yes, Shore took pictures of the whole atrocity. Ignatow also recorded everything on audiotape.
Upon finally deciding that he had had enough, Igantow fatally poisoned Schaefer with chloroform. Shore snapped photos of that, too.
Immediately following the murder, Ignatow and Shore dumped Schaefer’s remains in a grave they had previously dug in the woods behind Shore’s house.
Brenda Schaefer’s disappearance quickly attracted media attention and hugely frustrated authorities. The cops suspected Ignatow, but they couldn’t pin anything on him. Mary Ann Shore initially stonewalled investigators, too, but in time, she cracked.
In fact, Shore blabbed everything to the police. She told them of the careful planning that included “scream testing” her house to make sure neighbors couldn’t hear Schaefer’s cries, and how they readied her grave ahead of time. She also informed them that Ignatow even had undeveloped film and tape recordings of everything they’d done.
Most importantly, Shore led searchers to Schaefer’s grave. Sixteen months after she vanished, authorities unearthed Brenda’s badly decomposed body.
Prosecutors cut a deal with Shore. In exchange for being charged only with evidence tampering, she agreed to wear a wire and get Ignatow to talk.
On the police recording, Shore tells Igantow she’s worried about her landlord selling the property where they disposed of Schaefer. He mentions a “grave,” but responds that he doesn’t care if anyone tears up the land because “that place we dug is not shallow; beside that one area right by where that site is does not have any trees by it.”With that, police arrested Ignatow and charged him with Brenda Schaefer’s murder. It didn’t work.
During the trial, Shore proved to be a bizarre witness. She reportedly wore an outrageously skimpy miniskirt, and also repeatedly cackled with laughter throughout her testimony about the sex torture.
Worst of all, after attorneys pointed out contradictions in Shore’s story, she jumped up and ran off the witness stand.
In addition, the wire recording proved to be imperfect. Ignatow couldn’t always be heard clearly, which allowed the defense to claim the word “site” was actually “safe,” and that Mel was talking about a safe full of stolen goods they had buried.
While police did not find the alleged photographs of the murder-in-progress, the prosecution did play Ignatow’s bone-chilling audiotape for the jury. The transcript includes the following exchange:
IGNATOW: Good evening, ladies and gentleman. 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!
SCHAEFER: My name is Brenda Sue Schaefer. I have been captured and taken prisoner by Mel Ignatow.
IGNATOW: Describe your situation, Brenda.
SCHAEFER: 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!
SCHAEFER: (Sobbing) Oh, no! Oh dear God, please no! Mel, I am so sorry. Don’t touch me! Oh God, please don’t hurt me!
Despite hearing that, the jury acquitted Mel Ignatow. They reportedly believed Shore had actually killed Schaefer. The judge publicly apologized to Brenda Schaefer’s family as the guilty party walked free. Regardless, the state filed perjury charges against Ignatow. They wanted to get him for something.
During the trial, Ignatow had sold his house to fund his defense. Six months later, a contractor tore up carpet there and discovered a plastic bag containing Brenda Schaefer’s jewelry and three rolls of undeveloped film.
Police developed the film and, indeed, the photos depicted Ignatow raping, torturing, and murdering Schaefer — exactly as Shore had described it.Related: Man Who Had Previously Kidnapped and Tortured His Wife Released On Bond; Allegedly Killed Her And Himself
Because of the United States’ “double jeopardy” policy — which states explicitly that no citizen can be tried twice for one crime — Ignatow could never be convicted for killing Schaefer.
Ignatow knew this and, during his perjury trial, he confessed to the murder. With Schaefer’s brothers in the courtroom, he even had the nerve to claim she died “peacefully.”
The judge gave Ignatow nine years for lying under oath.
After getting released from jail in 2006, Ignatow lived by himself just four miles from where the murder took place.
On September 1, 2008, a neighbor found Ignatow dead. It appeared as though he had slipped and crashed into, of all things, a glass coffee table, then bled to death on the floor. He was 70, and he had gotten away with murder.
Ignatow’s own son said after his death, that his father had been “the most hated man in Louisville.”
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