Mel Ignatow, the man who admitted to killing his girlfriend, Brenda Sue Schaefer in September of 1988 after being acquitted of the crime, was found dead in his home on Carrier Court Monday morning. WAVE 3’s Caton Bredar reports on September 1, 2008.
More than 550 pages on the disappearance of Schaefer were released to WLKY after filing a Freedom of Information request with the FBI.
The documents make it clear from the start Ignatow was the prime suspect.
Ignatow was the image of success. He drove a Corvette, owned a 32-foot pleasure boat and lived in an affluent part of town.
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 Schaefer’s disappearance, Roy Hazelwood was an investigator with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences 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 Ignatow,” Hazelwood says. “Ignatow breaks up with you, but you don’t break up with Ignatow. 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.”
Ignatow and Schaefer had been in a relationship for nearly two years.
On September 23, 1988, Schaefer met up with Ignatow to return some jewelry at Mary Ann Shore’s house. This was where he pulled a gun on her and locked her in the house. She was bound to a glass-top coffee table and blindfolded.
The 50-year-old Ignatow forced his 36-year-old ex-fiancee to strip.. raped, sodomized, and took suggestive photos before killing her with chloroform on September 24, 1988.
“He was a narcissist and obviously he was a sociopath, no conscience at all,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Cox.
Cox said Ignatow was meticulous in his planning.
“He took a yellow pad out and he wrote down the sequence of events from planning the murder to raping her, sexually abusing her and photographing,” Cox said.
Ignatow’s accomplice Shore, took the photos.
The two spent several weeks meticulously planning out the murder, they went as far as to “scream test” the house and pre-dig the grave in the woods.
The two placed Schaefer in a plastic bag, neatly folded her clothes in another bag and buried the bags in a shallow grave they dug weeks earlier.
Missing was thousands of dollars in jewelry Schaefer had with her.
The body wasn’t discovered for another 14 months.
Initially the FBI worked the case as a possible kidnapping.
According to the released FBI documents, the investigation took agents to the Miami area, where Ignatow had business dealings, and to southeast Asia.
“We heard rumors he was involved in a sex crime in southeast Asia,” Cox said
Federal agents received numerous tips. One, from the Kentucky Attorney General, suggested Ignatow was a major drug dealer. Another said he took a trip to the orient to pick up $100,000 in cash.
“(In) cases like this, no stone is left unturned. Every lead was followed, even leads from psychics,” said former FBI agent Ed Armento.
Thinking Ignatow might plant jewelry or take some significant piece of evidence, agents secretly planted a surveillance device in the bedroom.
It was yet another dead end.
Ignatow shared a home with his mother. Law enforcement twice obtained search warrants.
“It was just sheer luck because those searches were very intrusive. They took the covers off light switches and electrical boxes and they did as thorough a search as they could,” said Ignatow’s former attorney, Thomas Clay.
The smoking gun evidence against Ignatow was eventually discovered, but, too late for the murder trial.
Federal authorities had caught Shore in a lie and convinced her to testify.
But jurors didn’t find her believable, and their verdict came down just before Christmas in 1991. The lack of physical evidence, Shore’s strange trance like testimony, the black prosecutor, the missing photos. Each of these factors weighed in their decision. The jury felt that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Despite an astonished courtroom and a scandalized state the jury found Ignatow not guilty. He was free to go.
“We knew from the behavioral science people at Quantico that the film and jewelry which Shore told us about would probably still be in existence,” said Armento.
“The photos represent a trophy to him, something he could view in the future,” said Cox.
Even though he was acquitted of murder, federal authorities pursued a perjury case, contending Ignatow lied about his involvement in Schaefer’s murder. Clay represented Ignatow and was optimistic about the federal case, but all that changed the evening of Oct. 1, 1992.
“It was a night I’ll never forget,” said Clay.
A week before the perjury trial was scheduled to begin, Ignatow’s luck ran dry.
“Actually, I got a call about that night indicating people who had bought the house from Ignatow pulled up the carpet and found a vent concealed by the carpet,” said Clay. “This was confiscated from him on Oct. 1. This is when he was interviewed.”
Armento was assigned to retrieve three canisters of film and jewelry found by a carpet layer in the eastern Jefferson County home once shared by Ignatow and his mother.
“We processed the film. As soon as the photographs started coming out, I knew we had Ignatow,” said Armento.
“There were 105 photographs, turned out to be what Ignatow had done to Schaefer that night he murdered her,” said Clay.
“Did you see them?” WLKY’s Steve Burgin asked.
“They were graphic, they were gruesome,” said Clay. But none of the photos showed Ignatows face, it was determined to be him by hair and mole patterns.
Within 24 hours, Ignatow was pleading guilty to federal perjury charges.
“What did you think when he stood up before a federal judge and said she died peacefully?” Burgin asked Cox.
He also claimed that the devil made him do it, literally.
“At that point, there was nothing that would surprise me what this guy would do. I think he thought the family would totally forgive him. It would be OK. That’s what a sick guy he was,” said Cox.
He is the man who got away with murder, but he didn’t totally escape justice though.
Ignatow was sentenced to two separate jail terms for perjury. He served five years of an eight-year term for perjuring himself during his grand jury testimony. He was also sentenced to nine years for lying about the status of his relationship with Schaefer during the trial of Dr. William Spalding for terroristic threatening. He was released after five years because of time served, good behavior and education credits.
Ignatow gained his freedom in 2006 and moved in with his son in Louisville, mere miles from where he had tortured and killed Schaefer. Throughout the last stages of his life he never relinquished his sanctimonious self-indulgence. Upon his release from prison he made comments disparaging the Schaefer family. As he told The Courier-Journal, “I don’t think they’ve ever forgiven me. That’s between them and the Lord…They place their own soul in jeopardy by not being able to forgive.”
Ignatow died on September 1, 2008. His fate must have seemed appropriate, even to him. He fell on a glass coffee table.
When he fell, Ignatow apparently cut his arm and hit his head. Evidence suggests he roamed his apartment for a bit before he succumbed to his injuries.
The man who remorselessly degraded and murdered a woman to whom he’d once been engaged died slowly, alone in his apartment.
He made no attempts to call for help.
Maybe he saw the irony and the justice just as clearly as the rest.
To Anthony Allen, an upstairs neighbor who discovered Ignatow’s body, Ignatow was a sick and elderly man, alone 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 of pain.”
“It just looked like he had fell and hit his head on the table,” Allen said. “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 body at.”
The day after the body of Ignatow was found, the coroner’s office says one thing is certain – there was no foul play.
Even though Ignatow spent time behind bars, Ignatow’s son, Michael Ignatow says that, in the public’s eye, “to be acquitted in that first trial, and then to have the evidence actually show up 11 months later, you know, it’s like a slap in the face to the community.”
Michael admits that his father’s sins may never be forgiven. “He will probably go down as one of the most hated men in Louisville.”
Source Credits: Wave 3, WLKY, WDRB, CBS News, famousDEAD, True Crime Report and Crime Library