The beautiful stretch of Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach, Va., is associated more with sunny vacations than dark, family secrets. But the serene setting was disturbed three years ago when a green suitcase was discovered floating in the water.
Police Officer John Runge, first on the scene, made a gruesome discovery. "I opened the suitcase and found it to be two legs from the knees down," he said.
Within two weeks, three matching suitcases containing the remains of a man appeared in the water. The body, with two bullet holes, was wrapped in a medical blanket and plastic garbage bags.
Suddenly the race was on to identify the man, and a sketch was distributed to the local media. "There weren't many calls at all," said Detective Ray Pickell, until Susan and Jon Rice saw the sketch and called in. Susan Rice believed the sketch showed a strong resemblance to Jon's best friend, 39-year-old New Jersey computer programmer Bill McGuire.
McGuire, the father of two young boys, had been missing for two weeks. The body was identified as his, and that was only the beginning of a dark and disturbing story.
Three hundred miles away in New Jersey, McGuire's wife, Melanie, got a call from a detective and said that she "burst into tears and probably sobbed for about an hour or so. All I remember is my mother holding me."
At first, police had little to go on. There was no murder weapon, no eyewitnesses and no apparent reason for anyone to want to murder Bill McGuire.
Police questioned Melanie, who described her marriage as not "particularly happy" and said Bill "had a knack for pissing people off." Pickell said that "during the whole time in the interview, she made expressions like she was crying, but she never had a tear in her eye."
Regardless, Melanie McGuire seemed like an unlikely murder suspect, particularly for such a brutal killing. She's a petite nurse, with no history of violence and no apparent motive for murder. But June 2, 2005, after a year of investigation, New Jersey police arrested Melanie. She said that's "what started the nightmare."
Bill and Melanie McGuire met in 1997. "We found that we wanted the same things out of life," said Melanie. They married two years later, and she gave birth to their first son. "The best times were after we were married and after our first son was born," Melanie said. "The sun rose and set over that child and over me."
A Troubled Marriage
Slowly, the picture-perfect courtship became a less-than-perfect marriage. Melanie said Bill began gambling heavily in Atlantic City, and day trading. When life did not go his way, she said he became frustrated and "eventually that frustration became directed at me."
Melanie was aware that Bill's ex-wife, Marci Paulk, had filed for a restraining order against him, alleging violence. Melanie said Paulk once visited her to warn her about Bill. According to Melanie, Paulk said, "He's going to make you think you're crazy. This is what he's done to me. He's going to do it to you."
By 2003, Melanie said things were getting worse -- that Bill was becoming more menacing and she feared he was having affairs. She said that once, after Bill received a speeding ticket, he called her and took out his anger on her, saying, "When I get home I'm going to kill you. I'm going to smash your face in," Melanie said. "That's when I wish I'd left."
But Melanie remained in her troubled marriage and established herself as a successful fertility nurse at a clinic in Morristown, N.J. Clinic patient Linda Smith described her as "very easy to talk to. … She really captured you. She captured your heart right away. She just made you feel like you were the most important person in her office."
But Melanie had a secret. She was having an affair with Dr. Bradley Miller, a married doctor at the clinic. Melanie said that she "was deeply in love with him," but that neither she nor Miller had plans to divorce their respective spouses and be together, because "the children came first."
And despite the McGuires' marriage troubles, they made a big commitment, purchasing a $500,000 house. On the night of the closing, April 28, 2004, Melanie said that Bill began to berate her, complaining that he "settled for that house."
She said that the fight escalated, "and before I know it, I'm up against the wall, and then he just smacked me."
She said Bill later stormed out and that neither she nor the children ever saw or heard from him again. Why didn't she report him missing or call him? Melanie said she "was done," and she eventually left the apartment, filed for a temporary restraining order against Bill and began divorce proceedings.
Bill never returned to his New Jersey apartment, and the McGuires never moved into their new house. And what exactly happened the night Bill disappeared was left up to a jury to decide.
'Resounding' Lack of Evidence
Melanie McGuire was accused of drugging, shooting and dismembering her husband, and two years after McGuire's murder, she became the focus of a high-profile trial shown live daily on cable television and splashed on the front pages of local papers.
No DNA evidence was found in the McGuires' apartment, where the prosecution said the murder happened, and defense attorney Joe Tacopina told the jury, "There is no proof that Melanie McGuire murdered her husband." Tacopina said the 5-feet, 4-inch, 110-pound Melanie was not physically capable of dismembering her husband. "It's physically impossible for Melanie to have done this," he said. "There's no evidence pointing to Melanie's involvement. … The lack of evidence is resounding."
The defense argued that investigators fully searched the McGuires' apartment five times, and in the words of co-counsel Stephen Turano, not "a speck of blood" was found.
Defense attorneys also argued that police should focus on Bill's many trips to Atlantic City and his past history as a high roller at the casinos. He "was a big gambler and gambled beyond his means. When you have money out on the street and you're behind, you're not making payments and you know what happens? You get shot," Turano told the court.
Could Bill's murder really have been a "Sopranos"-style hit over gambling debts? New Jersey Detective David Daylrymple said, "We found absolutely nothing to substantiate that, absolutely nothing."
How to Commit a Murder
New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Patricia Prezioso argued in court that Melanie had the means, motive and opportunity to kill her husband. Prezioso argued that Melanie had drugged her husband with the powerful sedative chloral hydrate, shot him and cut him up in the family shower with a household power saw.
Prosecutors alleged Melanie used dropcloths to protect the crime scene and put Bill's body into their matching suitcases, then drove approximately 300 miles and dumped him into the Chesapeake Bay.
Prezioso said the motive for murder was Melanie's relationship with Miller. "I believe she was in love with him. I believe it drove her to commit an act that under normal circumstances, I don't think few people on Earth would be able to do."
Melanie's stepfather, Michael Cappararo, said Prezioso's theory is deeply flawed. "Why would she drive all the way down to Chesapeake with body parts in the car?" he asked.
Despite a lack of physical evidence at the apartment, Internet searches on Melanie's computer were found for "how to commit a murder" and "undetectable poisons" in the weeks before the murder. Melanie also purchased a .38 caliber gun at a gun shop in Pennsylvania just two days before McGuire disappeared. The gun she bought is consistent with the one that killed McGuire, but has never been found.
Melanie said her husband had pushed her to buy the gun, because he had a felony conviction and could not buy one legally. He wanted it for protection, she said, because his job took him to high-crime areas. She acknowledged that buying a gun "doesn't look good" but said she "wasn't thinking clearly about it."
Melanie did not take the stand in her own defense but maintained that she was innocent and said that in more than 100 hours of wiretapped phone calls, she repeatedly denied killing her husband. As for the circumstantial evidence, Melanie said that most married couple's lives "are intertwined" and that although there is "a mountain" of evidence, she said it's simply "a lot of coincidences. … It doesn't mean that I did it."
"Am I an angel? Am I a perfect person? Absolutely not," Melanie said, just days before the jury began deliberating. "But that doesn't make me a sociopath, or a killer." She repeatedly denied all charges against her, saying, "No matter how I felt about my husband, I could not have done this to my sons."
The jury deliberated for nearly 14 hours, and before a packed courtroom the foreman read a verdict of guilty on four counts, including the murder and dismemberment of Bill McGuire.
Melanie McGuire was acquitted of four lesser counts, and now faces 30 years to life in prison. Tacopina said he would not rest until this decision was overturned, and would file an appeal. He contended that "There are plenty other viable suspects and plenty other avenues that [the investigators] should have gone down. … They didn't do it, because it didn't fit their theory." He asked the judge to order a new trial based in part on allegations that the jury members might have been influenced by what they saw or read in the media.
Last week, the judge in the case rejected defense motions for a new trial. Melanie McGuire is currently in a New Jersey jail, awaiting sentencing on July 19. In the meantime, the two young McGuire children, ages 5 and 7, are being raised by Bill's sister, Cindy Ligosh. Melanie McGuire has had no contact with them since before the verdict.