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Daughter searching for answers in mother's unsolved homicide 36 years later

Kerry and Fred Melnick married in 1978. Two years later, their daughter Nicole was born. The Melnicks lived in Lansing, Ohio, and both of their families lived a stone’s throw away.

“My mom grew up in Bridgeport, Ohio,” Nicole, now an adult, told Dateline. “You could see my dad’s parents’ house from her parents' house.”

Nicole’s mother was a Sunday school teacher at the church down the road. She told Dateline that her mother also worked at the church doing custodial work sometimes, “because my dad wouldn’t allow her to have a job or a license, and since the church was so nearby, she was able to walk down the street to the church with me in the stroller.”

Nicole said that she remembers waking up on August 2, 1983 to her father asking her where her mother was.

Nicole, who was only three years old, said, “I don’t know.”

Kerry Melnick was missing.

“My aunt and grandpa drove around looking for her that morning,” Nicole told Dateline.

Nicole said they later saw police activity near the creek and went to check it out. The police confirmed to them that they had found Kerry’s body.

Dateline spoke with Sheriff David Lucas, who had been a deputy at the time, and on the scene at the creek that day. He said, “It was reported through the Ohio State Highway Patrol first. I believe two railroad workers found her body. They were working on the tracks and found the deceased in a creek.”

Sheriff Lucas told Dateline that an autopsy was done by a pathologist named Norman Franklin and, “In his opinion, this woman died from a massive abdominal hemorrhage, caused by blunt trauma to the right upper abdomen.”

Sheriff Lucas continued to say, “From the autopsy report, it was a questioned death right at the beginning. From the report and the blunt trauma -- that was considered a homicide. In my notes from 1983, I have it down as a questioned death, though.”

Nicole told Dateline that she has been given full access to the police reports, and has dedicated time to investigating her mother’s case on her own.

Kerry was found wearing a shirt and shorts, but no bra or underwear, because she had just showered, Nicole told Dateline.

According to Sheriff Lucas, all of Kerry’s clothing was collected and turned over to the crime lab back in 1983.

Another thing Nicole told Dateline was that the neighbors heard nothing. No screaming, no signs of struggle.

According to Nicole, when authorities spoke with her father after her mother’s death, he told them that he and Kerry had “had an argument and he threw her out of the house. He said that he threw her shoes at her and he figured she’d just walk to her mother’s house.”

Nicole told Dateline she doesn’t believe her mother would have gone to stay with her parents without taking her along.

Sheriff Lucas confirmed the gist of Nicole’s story about her father’s interview with police, referring to his notes from 1983, telling Dateline, “I have him saying that they were having an argument over various things from the past.”

That does not, however, make him a suspect in in his wife’s death. “In any case, any member of the immediate family are the first suspects that have to be ruled out as not being involved,” Sheriff Lucas told Dateline. “Her husband at the time was definitely questioned and interviewed. We have not identified or been able to show a clear person of interest, though.” In fact, the sheriff continued, “Throughout the whole investigation, there have been a whole lot of people interviewed and questioned. Nothing has been substantial or concrete enough where we could take action.”

Two weeks after her mother’s death, Nicole said her father decided to move away, leaving her with her maternal grandparents.

In 2000, when she was around 20 years old, Nicole says the police department hypnotized her to try and find any new information about that day that had been locked away in her brain from when she was three.

Detective Ryan Allar, Belmont County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Investigations, confirmed the hypnosis session with Nicole took place, but told Dateline, “I don’t think anything earth-shattering came from her hypnosis.”

Nicole said that while she didn’t have a lot of memories of her mother before she died, “being hypnotized jogged up some memories. I was able to remember the layout of the house and I was able to remember my mom,” which gave her some comfort. “She read bible stories to me every night and she would push me in a stroller on walks to my grandma’s house,” Nicole said.

Nicole told Dateline that after the hypnosis session, she had a very difficult time dealing with everything. She says she developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and went into a deep depression. The following year, when the police department tried to hypnotize her again, Nicole says she was unable to relax enough for it to work.

Nicole told Dateline that her mother’s case inspired her to go back to school and get a master’s in forensic psychology, “I want to help victims and their families.”

Detective Allar is now overseeing the investigation of Kerry’s case. “Nicole wrote out this really impressive guide of what she thinks should be done to reinvestigate. People to look at,” he told Dateline. “And that's what I’m going off of, as of now.”

“No one has ever come close to solving this case,” Det. Allar said. However, “Dedicating manpower to a case this old is difficult.”

But that doesn’t mean the investigators have run out of options. “Even though it’s a cold case, we haven’t forgotten about it,” Sheriff Lucas told Dateline. “This case is not closed and hopefully, someday we’ll be able to close this case and give closure to the remaining family.” And while the passage of time works against an investigation, it does have one advantage. “Our technology back then and today is totally different,” the sheriff noted. We’re working all angles with today’s technology to hopefully solve this case.”

“I am elated that this will finally get some long-overdue attention,” Nicole told Dateline. “I am still hopeful that we will get some closure one day, but I just don’t want people to forget about her. Anything to help us at this point is greatly appreciated. I want the person to be held accountable.”

If you have any information on the death of Kerry Lynn Melnick, please contact the Belmont County Sheriff's Department at (740) 695-7933.

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