One day in May 2004, a fisherman and his kid were sailing the Chesapeake Bay when they stumbled upon something strange floating in the water. The father pulled a dark green suitcase from the bay, opened it up, and gasped at the sight of what was inside.
He wasn’t expecting to find two human legs, cut at the knees. A few days later, another dark green suitcase washed ashore, and then a third, with even more human remains as well as clues that would lead police down a path that would take them directly to a woman named Melanie McGuire.
The Suitcase Murder
Police followed a bloody trail that led them to a 32-year-old mother of two whom they believed killed her husband, 39-year-old Bill McGuire, whose body parts were in the suitcases. Melanie allegedly shot him, dismembered him, and put his body pieces in separate suitcases.
Why on earth would she do such a horrid thing? Well, she wanted to start a new life with her secret lover. Not long after the news broke, the case was dubbed the “Suitcase Murder,” with Melanie labeled as the “Suitcase Killer.” But the femme fatale had her own story to tell.
Trash Bags, Body Parts, and Fishermen in Distress
It was on May 5, 2004, when John Runge (of the Virginia Beach PD) got a call from a fisherman in distress. He told the officer about a suitcase he found at the Chesapeake Bay. “I opened the bag up, unzipped it, noticed that there were trash bags, black colored trash bags in the suitcase,” Runge recounted.
“Once I peeled the trash bags back, I saw a pair of human legs from the knees down.” Five days later, the second suitcase washed up on Fisherman’s Island with the torso of a man, his head and arms still attached.
She Was in “Complete Disbelief”
The third and final suitcase, with the remaining body parts, was found by another fisherman and his wife. Melanie McGuire told a reporter, “When I heard how my husband was killed, I was in complete disbelief, and I could not imagine what he went through.”
She played it well, but homicide detective Ray Pickell wasn’t buying it. “I did not believe that Melanie McGuire was a grieving widow… I believe that she was responsible for her husband’s death.” The wife, on the other hand, insisted she was innocent. “I did not kill the father of my children,” she declared. “I did not kill my husband.”
A Grieving Widow or Cold-Hearted Killer?
Melanie played the role of grieving widow and mother for about three months, after which she turned into a murder suspect. In fact, she became the lead suspect. In the aftermath, 48 Hours gave her a video camera for her to document her thoughts and fears from her New Jersey home.
For some, it showed the tortured mind of a caring mother. Others, however, watched a calculated killer lie to the camera. “I can’t help but think if I had made better decisions along the way, and left the marriage earlier, that I wouldn’t be sitting here,” she shared in the video diaries.
The Kind of Woman He Was Looking For
Melanie’s mother, Linda Cappararo, said her daughter was “every mother’s dream. A good girl. Never got in trouble.” The “good girl” worked as a nurse – one who would stop on the side of the road if she saw an accident and go over and assist them. “She was always there for people,” Cappararo affirmed.
That was the kind of woman Bill McGuire was attracted to. Then 28, the veteran of the US Navy was a “perfect match” with Melanie, according to his sister, Cindy Ligosh. “They were equals,” Cindy said. “They both wanted the same things out of life… or so I thought.”
The Technician and the Nurse
Melanie and Bill married in 1999. He was a computer technician, while Melanie made a career as a fertility clinic nurse. The New Jersey couple, like many pairs, had the occasional fight and would break up only to get back together. They always came back to each other.
But after several years, the marriage changed. Melanie started claiming that Bill was abusing her and was often violent. Melanie noted that Bill had gambling issues and took his anger out on her. Even Bill’s stepfather said he had a split personality: sometimes kind and sometimes manipulative.
Two Sons Later, the Marriage Falls Further Apart
There was one time, Melanie recalled, after Bill got a speeding ticket, he got so angry that he told his wife that he was going to come home and kill her. Despite the drama in the relationship, the couple had their first son.
“I saw Bill morph into [the] kind of a family man that he always wanted to be, and it really touched me,” Melanie said. It was one of their happy periods as a couple. But by the time their second son was born, they grew apart. Bill was making frequent trips to Atlantic City, to gamble.
A Hidden Affair
It was around this time that Melanie developed an extramarital relationship with her boss, Dr. Bradley Miller. But this fact was only exposed after Bill’s murder. For all we know, Bill had no idea what his wife was up to behind his back.
According to Melanie’s account, Bill was growing increasingly erratic, and she became scared of her husband. And yet, despite it all, they bought a house. It was “for the kids,” she later reasoned. “Even though we weren’t happy we weren’t ending this marriage any time soon that I could see.”
The Night of the Breaking Point
The thing is, they never moved into their new home. On the night of April 28, 2004, when they were still living in their apartment, Melanie and Bill got into one final fight – one that she insists convinced her to leave him.
The way Melanie tells it (it’s not like Bill can), he accused her of leaving their son unattended while doing laundry, saying the dryer sheet was a choking hazard. He then pinned her to the wall, hit her, and choked her with the dryer sheet. Melanie managed to grab her son and hide in the bathroom.
In a Rage, Bill Storms Out
Outside the bathroom door, Melanie remembers Bill screaming, “I’m gonna take the kids and you’ll never see them again.” He was in a rage. He packed his bags and stormed out of the house. “He said he was leaving, and he wasn’t coming back, and I could tell my children they didn’t have a father,” Melanie recounted.
On April 30, she filed for a restraining order. She said she never tried to contact Bill or report him as a missing person – something Bill’s friends found suspicious. Meanwhile, Melanie said she feared he would return and take the kids.
Bill Goes Missing
But Bill never did. He didn’t call Melanie, the kids, or anyone else. Days turned into weeks, and Bill’s sister wondered where he was and why Melanie never filed a missing person’s report. “It wasn’t that out of character for him to have a tantrum, pick up and be gone,” Melanie explained.
Three and a half weeks after the fight and his disappearance, with no word from Bill, Melanie filed for divorce. As she was in the process of divorcing a missing man, Virginia Beach police were investigating a mysterious batch of green suitcases.
Bill Is Found in a Suitcase
A fingerprint on one of the hands in one of the suitcases was identified as Bill McGuire. So, who killed him, if not Melanie, and how did his body end up 300 miles away from his home in New Jersey? It was immediately determined that Bill was shot in the head and torso with a .38 caliber gun.
Not all evidence, however, was easy to come by. “The suitcases were saturated with water,” Beth Dunton, the CSI investigator on the case, explained. “It just destroyed a lot of the smoking gun type of evidence that probably was in the suitcase.”
The Blanket Raised Flags
“The water became my greatest obstacle,” Dunton stated. As they continued their investigation, Melanie was informed of her husband’s death. She reported: “I couldn’t feel the ground under me. I was devastated.” Investigators didn’t really believe the widow, because of one thing in particular.
The blanket wrapped around Bill’s torso was the exact same kind of blanket used at the fertility clinic where Melanie worked. And just like that, Melanie found herself on the suspect list. “When you have a husband that’s missing but nobody’s reported him missing…yeah, she immediately becomes a suspect,” Detective Ray Pickell stated.
Would Bill Do That?
Melanie even admitted, reluctantly, that those suitcases belonged to her and Bill. Detectives felt as though she was hiding information. Cindy, Bill’s sister, refuses to believe that Bill was ever violent with Melanie. “I know my brother. He would never lay a hand on a woman.”
She also claims to never have seen any emotional, physical or verbal abuse toward Melanie. “And anyone that knew Melanie knew that no one would get away with that. No one could do that to her,” she said. Moreover, Bill would never have abandoned his children.
No Murder Weapon, No Crime Scene
Melanie, on the other hand, had her own explanation. She hinted at Bill’s trips to Atlantic City, which may have put him in contact with shady people. Melanie told 48 Hours that Bill didn’t just like to gamble – he “had a knack for pissing people off.” Bill’s car was indeed found in Atlantic City.
Yet Detective Pickell was sure that Melanie was misleading him. They searched the McGuires’ apartment, storage unit, and Melanie’s car, but didn’t find any murder weapon or a tool used to dismember Bill’s body. The truth is, there was no evidence of a crime scene.
Melanie’s Got a Gun
Police desperately needed more evidence. Deciphering that the murder was most likely conducted in Bill’s home state, Virginia police handed the case over to New Jersey. There, Detective David Dalrymple checked weapons purchases, and hit the bullseye.
Melanie had bought a Taurus .38 special revolver. She bought it just two days before Bill disappeared. Her explanation? Bill wanted it for protection but couldn’t buy it himself because of his existing felony conviction (a bad driving record, apparently). And since she “wanted it to at least be a registered weapon,” she said she agreed to buy it.
The Case Against Melanie
After months passed, and the gun was still never found, Prosecutor Patti Prezioso sought to make a case against Melanie. The claim: Melanie created a story to explain Bill’s absence, beginning with that fight over a dryer sheet. The restraining order, the divorce filings, the talk of shady characters – all of that was part of Melanie’s cover-up, according to Prezioso.
“There was nothing that we found to indicate that Bill was involved with any criminal element whatsoever,” the attorney stated. Soon, the investigation deepened, and Melanie’s phones were tapped. Not only was she now under surveillance, so were her parents.
A Motive for Murder
The covert operation worked in the prosecution’s favor as Melanie’s secret was finally brought to light. Remember Dr. Brad Miller, Melanie’s boss? Well, it was discovered that the two had been having an affair for over two years. Melanie fessed up.
“I was looking for attention. Affection. Understanding. And I found it there. And I am deeply, deeply ashamed of that,” she said. What she finally came clean about was exactly what detectives needed to hear in order to establish a motive – Melanie’s motive for murder. What Melanie didn’t know, though, was that Miller had a secret, too.
Her Lover Recorded Their Conversations
The police convinced Miller to betray his lover. He taped their conversations in which he asked Melanie questions about the investigation. But Melanie swore to him that she had nothing to do with the murder.
Jim Finn, a friend from Melanie’s nursing school, was also asked to secretly record conversations. Neither Miller nor Finn got anything incriminating from Melanie through those recorded phone calls. But detectives were able to get a major clue from Melanie’s friends. Apparently, Melanie was in Atlantic City the night after Bill left the house.
She Went to Atlantic City, Looking for Bill
Melanie said she went to look for Bill, found his car, and drove it to another part of town. Why? “To spite him. I wanted to piss him off… I should be if not fearful, at least cautious. But I was just so angry at that point. So angry.”
Again, the prosecutor wasn’t buying any of it. With “13 large casinos, hundreds of restaurants, hundreds of shops, parking garages and parking lots virtually all over the city” in Atlantic City, her finding his car is “simply incredible,” Prezioso said.
Melanie Gets Arrested
The police even had video footage of someone parking Bill’s car, but there was too much glare, and the footage was rendered useless. Still, Melanie now admitted that she was the last known person in Bill’s car. As the evidence was working against her, she maintained her innocence.
The blanket, the gun, her secret lover, and now the car? Police had enough evidence at this point. 13 months after the suitcases were found, Melanie was arrested for the murder of her husband. But according to Prezioso, Melanie probably didn’t act alone.
Let the Trial Begin
As the trial was approaching, Melanie admitted to being terrified. As she was free on bail, she continued with her video diaries. While Prezioso marked Melanie as a coldblooded killer, Melanie’s attorneys Joe Tacopina and Steve Turano painted a different picture.
They said Bill may have tempted his own fate. “When you have money out on the street and you’re behind and you’re not making payments, you know what happens? You get shot here and you get shot here,” Turano told the court. They also said the state was using nothing but circumstantial evidence.
Like Ghosts in a Room
As the trial persisted, Melanie watched as people from her past came to testify – people she hasn’t seen in years. “It’s like watching ghosts file into the room,” she said in a video diary entry. She also said how hurtful it was to hear people talk about her as though she were dead.
So, when a former colleague took the stand to say, “She IS a great nurse,” Melanie almost cried. “I hope it meant something to the jury. But I know it meant something to me,” she said to the camera.
Drug Reports and Search Engine History
Prezioso argued that Melanie drugged Bill before shooting him. She pointed to a powerful sedative, chloral hydrate, which had been obtained with a prescription that someone forged on the pad of Dr. Miller, Melanie’s secret lover.
But then why was no evidence of the drug found in Bill’s body? According to the state, when the body was found, it was already too late to test. And what about Melanie’s search history on her computer? Search terms, an investigator testified, included, “instant undetectable poisons,” “how to purchase guns?” and “how to commit murder.”
The Most Damning Piece of Evidence
Prezioso couldn’t pinpoint a crime scene, but she theorized that it took place in the apartment, despite the fact that multiple, in-depth searches of the home revealed no evidence. If you ask Prezioso, Melanie just did an immaculate cleaning job.
What might have been the strongest evidence against Melanie was the story she told herself, specifically that part about going to Atlantic City to find her husband. She said in a video diary, “Me moving his car is … so passively spiteful… I just gotta wonder will the jury believe it, you know.”
The Jealous Former Classmate
Four weeks in, Cindy, Melanie’s enemy who has temporary custody of the kids, took the stand. Then the two men who betrayed her – Miller and Finn – testified. Finn claimed that Melanie told him Bill was dead. As it turns out, Finn had been in love with Melanie when they were in nursing school, but it was never reciprocated.
Melanie commented in her diary, “Finn was just so sanctimonious and self-righteous.” Her lawyer exposed Finn’s real reason for interrogating his friend over taped conversation. “You felt betrayed when you found out that the woman you were madly in love with was having an affair with a doctor that she worked with. Correct?”
The Secret Lover
Finn replied: “That’s correct, Sir.” It basically rendered his testimony as useless. But then came Dr. Miller’s turn to hit the stand. It had been two years since the two came face-to-face with each other. According to his testimony, the affair grew deeper when Melanie was 38 weeks pregnant.
Miller testified that he was in love with her at the time and that she told him the same. “We were hoping to be together in the future, to buy a house and have kids together,” he testified. Her lawyers then asked him, “Never once not before the death of her husband or after, did she ever ask you to leave you wife, correct?”
He Wasn’t Going to Leave His Wife
“No, she did not,” Miller answered. He also told the court that he told Melanie that he wasn’t planning on leaving his wife anytime soon. He took the stand two days in a row, and then returned to his home in Michigan, where his wife and kids waited for him – to his job at another fertility clinic.
It came time for the defense to make its case, and it was a pretty convincing one too. They pointed to the impossibility of a crime without a crime scene, with no evidence, with no witnesses, and for a loving nurse and mother to commit such a crime.
A Message to Her Boys
Seven weeks and 70 witnesses later, with Melanie never having taken the stand herself, the trial came to a close. In a video entry, she spoke to her boys: “I hope you never see this. I hope you don’t have to. I love you more than life itself and I would never have taken your father from you.”
48 Hours asked her why she thinks the jury would believe her. “Because this is not who I am. I have spent my life, my professional life giving people life. Trying to bring life into the world,” she said.
Then came the verdict…
Guilty as Charged, Your Honor
“That 12 people were able to say, ‘Convict her beyond a reasonable doubt’ based on that record was shocking to me,” Tacopina stated. He recalls Melanie literally pulling on his arm, telling him, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. My kids, my kids!”
“If I hadn’t stayed with him this long, if I hadn’t had the affair, if I hadn’t moved the car, if I hadn’t bought the gun, that these people I love, let alone me, wouldn’t be in this kind of pain right now,” Melanie later said.
Life in Prison
For Melanie’s mother, Linda, hearing the verdict was “like a death, hearing those words, and seeing her face. And just knowing that these 12 people could think that she killed her husband.” Melanie was immediately taken into custody and put on suicide watch.
Her sentencing hearing came three months later. Melanie didn’t make a statement before the judge handed her the maximum sentence of life in prison. She told 48 Hours from prison, “It’s absolutely indescribable. The hell for me, the hell for my family. This is my life now. This is what I have to deal with.”
She Might Get Out in 2073, but She’ll Be 100
Melanie is serving her sentence at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey and will only be eligible for parole in 2073, if she makes it to her 100th birthday. In the meantime, her boys are in her sister-in-law’s custody.
She tried to appeal her case, claiming that Bill was $90,000 in debt to loan sharks. But the appeal fell apart when her key witness was deemed uncredible. Now, at 49, Melanie still can’t believe that she ended up in this situation. “After all these years, I still feel hurt. I still feel bothered. Like, how could somebody think that I did that?” she told 20/20.
She Has a Famous Cell Mate
Lifetime has recently released a movie based on the story, called The Suitcase Killer. With all the new hype, it came to light that Melanie has a rather famous cell mate. Some of you may know The Melrose Place actress Amy Locane.
Locane is serving a second sentence at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women for killing 60-year-old Helene Seeman in a drunk driving collision in 2010. Unlike Melanie, Locane will be out before its too late. Still, “I won’t be home until my oldest is 18 and my youngest is 16,” she told EW. “I can’t even fathom that.”
Where Are the Kids Now?
Bill and Melanie McGuire’s children, who were five and seven at the time and whose names weren’t revealed in public records, for their own privacy and safety, were placed with Cindy. Both Cindy and her husband, also named Bill, have two children of their own and are fit parents.
But once Melanie was convicted, her family began a custody battle with Cindy, to no avail. The two young men, so it seems, are still with their aunt, uncle, and cousins – the only family they know. The two boys have reportedly been diagnosed with autism.