The case of

Brenda Sue Schaefer

Victim

Brenda Sue Schaefer

Victim Race

Caucasian

Victim Date of Birth

1952-04-25

Victim Age

36

Date Reported

1988-09-25

Date of Death

1988-09-24

Case Status

Closed

Incident Location

Louisville Kentucky

Body Location

Louisville Kentucky

Date of Conviction

N/A

Body Discovered Date
Murderer

Melvin Henry Ignatow

Who was Brenda Sue Schaefer?

36 year old doctor’s office assistant Brenda Schaefer was the youngest of Essie and John Schaefer’s 6 children. She lived with her parents, and lived what most would consider to be a fairly ordinary life. She was described as smart, efficient and hard-working, she was popular with both her colleagues and the patients.

On 24th September 1986 Brenda Sue Schaefer went on a blind date with a man called Mel Ignatow, a successful business man 14 years her senior. On valentines day 1987 Melvin Ignatow proposed to Brenda with a 2.3 carat diamond engagement ring, their relationship appeared to those on the outside perfect although by the following year this appearance of perfection had indeed deteriorated. By the summer of 1988 Brenda’s usually upbeat demeanor had changed, as Ignatow became increasingly abusive.

Lead Up to The Murder

On 24th September 1986 Brenda Sue Schaefer went on a blind date with a man called Mel Ignatow, a successful business man 14 years her senior. On valentines day 1987 Melvin Ignatow proposed to Brenda, their relationship appeared to those on the outside perfect although by the following year this appearance of perfection had indeed deteriorated. By the summer of 1988 Brenda’s usually upbeat demeanor had changed, as Ignatow became increasingly abusive.

Around this time, Brenda Sue Schaefer told her brother Tom and numerous work colleagues that she was planning on breaking off the engagement with Mel. On 24th September 1988, 2 years after their first date, Brenda and Melvin met up.

Investigation Details

At 3:30 am the morning of September 25th 1988 Essie, Brenda’s mother, called Ignatow as she was concerned Brenda had not returned home. He proceeded to tell her that the pair had spent the evening together before Brenda dropped Melvin off at his home on Florian road at around 11:30pm.

At around 4am on 25th September, Brenda’s brother Tom contacted the police to report her missing. Around 2 hours after this, an officer spotted Brenda’s car on the side of a busy road less than half a mile away from her house. The rear window had been smashed and the passenger door was not locked, the radio was missing, a tyre was punctured and the speakers looked as though someone had tried to take them. It was apparent that the car had been stationary for several hours.

A large police investigation soon followed. A small amount of o positive blood was found in the car, this was Brenda’s blood type, but the science and technology in the 80’s could not conclusively identify this as hers. The Ohio river was searched by divers, but that was unsuccessful in locating Brenda. While the police conducted many interviews, they seemed to be focusing their efforts onto one main suspect. Melvin Henry Ignatow.

Ignatow was determined to clear his name, but he refused to take a polygraph test, instead being vocal about his dislike of the police. The police had no physical evidence against him, they hadn’t found Brenda Schaefer’s body and all they had to go on were rumours and hear say from Brenda’s friends and family about his abusive behaviour. A year after the investigation started, the police were no closer to closing the case.

In October 1989, the police invited Ignatow to testify in front of a grand jury to ‘clear his name’, during this testimony he mentioned the name of his ex-girlfriend, Mary Ann Shore. He had dated Shore for 10 years prior to his relationship with Brenda, and this was the first time her name had come up in relation to the crime. This gave police reason to bring her in for questioning, and she told police the full story about what had happened that night.

The Murder

Several weeks prior to the murder, Ignatow had gotten in touch with Shore; he proceeded to tell her that Brenda Sue Schaefer was planning to leave him and that he would not allow for that to happen. Together, they then continued to plan the details of Brenda’s murder, ensuring they would not get caught.

They decided to commit the murder at Shore’s house and bury her in the wasteland behind the house. They decided to torture Brenda first, reportedly Ignatow made a list of all the things he wanted to do to her. They spent the next few weeks preparing for the murder, digging the grave and even ‘scream testing’ the house

On September 24th, 1988, Brenda Sue Schaefer agreed to meet up with Ignatow in order to return some jewellery to him following their breakup. He then pulled a gun on Brenda and took her to Mary Ann’s house on Poplar level road. She was then locked in the house, stripped, blindfolded, gagged and tied to a glass coffee table. Ignatow then physically and sexually assaulted Brenda while Mary Ann stood by and took photos. Once he was satisfied he had completed his torture, he killed Brenda with chloroform. The pair then wrapped her body in rubbish bags, bound her with rope, and buried her in the already dug grave.

Mary Ann showed police where the body was buried, but by that time, the decomposition was so bad they could not find forensic evidence to link Ignatow to the crime. They could, however, see signs of torture, which corroborated Shore’s version of events. Police made a deal with Mary Shore; she would be charged with much lesser crimes if she helped them to get evidence against Ignatow. She agreed and wore a wire during a conversation with him; when she said that the land behind her house is now up for sale, his response was he wasn’t worried as the place they dug was not shallow.

Based on that evidence, on January 10th, 1990, Melvin Henry Ignatow was charged with Brenda’s murder.

Trial

In late 1991 Ignatow’s trial took place in Kenton County, moved from Louisville, where the case had gotten a lot of media attention. Mary Ann Shore testified on behalf of the prosecution as their star witness, with the recordings being brought into evidence. The defense, however suggested that Mary Ann was jealous of Ignatow and Brenda Sue Schaefer’s relationship and killed her by herself.

Verdict

The jury found Melvin Henry Ignatow not guilty of Brenda Sue Schaefer’s murder, citing a lack of evidence and Mary Ann coming across as an unreliable witness who held animosity towards him. The recordings were deemed inconclusive as Brenda’s name was not mentioned, and they could have easily been talking about a buried safe rather than a body.

This verdict was so shocking the judge wrote a letter of apology to Brenda Sue Schaefer’s family.

Aftermath

During the investigation and trial, Melvin had to sell his house to fund his defense. On October 1st, 1992, the new residents were replacing the hallway carpet, and they discovered a plastic bag taped to a concealed floor vent. This bag contained jewelry and three rolls of undeveloped film. Police received these items and discovered over 100 images of Brenda Sue Schaefer being sexually assaulted and much worse. They identified the assailant as Ignatow.

Because he had previously received a not guilty verdict, he was now protected by the double jeopardy laws and could not be tried again for Brenda’s murder. The following day, knowing he could not be charged due to the double jeopardy rule, he confessed to Brenda Sue Schaefer’s murder and apologized to her family.

Melvin Ignatow was then handed perjury charges for lying to the jury and FBI. He was sentenced to a total of 14 years on federal perjury charges

Frequently Asked Questions

How Did Brenda Sue Schaefer Die?

Brenda Schaefer was killed with chloroform after being raped and tortured.

Who Killed Brenda Sue Schaefer?

Brenda Schaefer was killed by her former boyfriend Melvin Henry Ignatow, who was aided by his ex-girlfriend Mary Ann Shore.

How Did Mel Ignatow Die?

In a twisted sense of karma, Mel Ignatow died after an accidental fall into a glass coffee table, much like the one he tied Brenda Schaefer to when he tortured and murdered her, lacerated his arm, and he bled out.

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