Case File #0139
Melvin Rees
The Sex Beast
"You can't say it's wrong to kill"
In January 1959, the Jackson Family mysteriously disappeared after visiting relatives in the Apple Grove area of Fredericksburg, Virginia. After a relative discovered the family car, police were given their first lead, but came no closer to finding out what happened to Carroll Jackson, his wife and two infant daughters. It would be almost two months later before their bodies were found. Carroll Jackson and daughter Janet were found in a ditch, whilst Mildred Jackson and their other daughter Susan had been sexually assaulted and tortured prior to death. The police had little evidence to capture the unidentified killer, but it wasn't long before witnesses came forward with information and the murder of the Jackson family bore some similarities to the murder of a young woman near Annapolis two years previously. An anonymous letter sent to police resulted in the arrest of Melvin Rees, a Jazz musician, who would confess to several cases of serial murder.
The Margaret Harold Murder (June 1957)

On 26 June 1957, a young couple were travelling along the freeway near Annapolis, Maryland. Margaret Harold was in the passenger seat next to her boyfriend, who was a Sergeant in the US Army, and the two were enjoying a date during his weekend leave. Another car, later identified as a green Chrysler, forced the couple off the road and a dark-haired man exited the vehicle. He gestured to the couple to roll down their windows and was seen brandishing a .38 revolver as he demanded money and cigarettes. When the couple refused he became angry and raised the gun, shooting Margaret Harold point blank in the face. Harold's boyfriend then escaped the car and ran frantically across several rural fields before finally reaching a farmhouse from where he called the police. As the soldier was being picked up by officers from the farmhouse, others arrived at the crime scene and discovered Margaret Harold's body. The killer had removed her clothing and sexually assaulted her.
When detectives launched a search of the surrounding area for the perpetrator, they came across an abandoned building made from cinderblock and noticed someone had broken the basement window to gain access. Inside investigators found a large collection of pornography, which included violent images and autopsy photographs of female corpses, which had been taped onto the walls. Amongst the items left there was a 1945 yearbook photo of Wanda Tipton, who graduated from the University of Maryland. Tipton was located by police and questioned about the dark-haired man who was responsible for the Harold murder, but she denied knowing anyone of that description. With few leads, and little advancement in the use of forensic evidence, the case went cold.
The Jackson Family Murders (January 1959)

Carroll Jackson, his wife Mildren and their two infant daughters were visiting relatives in the Apple Grove area of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He left his mother-in-laws house in Louisa County on 11 January 1959, and drove in the direction of their home which was only afew miles away. On their return journey the family mysteriously disappeared. A police investigation found the family were well liked, had no known enemies and no reason to leave the state without telling relatives. A female relative of the family who had been visiting at Apple Grove, came across the Jackson's car which was abandoned on the side of the highway at a mid-way point to their destination. When the police made a search of the car, it did not seem to show any indications of a struggle.
A large search was conducted of the surrounding area, but nothing was found of the missing family. Shortly after the Jackson's disappearance, a local couple reported to police about their frightening encounter with a tall, dark-haired man on the same afternoon. The couple were driving when a blue older model Chevrolet came up behind them and the driver began flashing his headlights and soon forced them off the road. When the man got out of the car and approached the couple, they were not sure if the man had a gun but sensing the danger, they managed to reserve the car and flee the area.
Almost two months later, on 4 March, a discovery was made, when two men gathering brush discovered a decomposing body, later identified as that of Carroll Jackson. His hands had been tied behind his back, he had been shot in the back of the head and his body thrown into a ditch. When police removed his corpse, they found the remains of eighteen-month-old Janet Jackson. It was determined by investigators that the child had been alive when thrown into the ditch, before the body of her father was dumped on top, suffocating her under the weight.
Later that month, on 21 March, the bodies of Mildred and Susan Jackson were found in a forest near Annapolis. Mildred had died from strangulation and both showed signs of torture and pre-mortem sexual assault. After the bodies were found, detectives searched the area and came across a cinderblock structure near the dump site, which was reportedly the same abandoned building which had been searched after the Harold Murder. Within, officers found a red button that was missing from Mildred Jackson's dress, which meant she had been taken to there by her killer after being kidnapped. Outside there were fresh tire tracks, meaning someone had visited the building recently.
There was now a clear link between the Harold murder from June 1957, and the Jackson Family killing, with the killer using the same abandoned building in the same general area and most detectives now believed the same person was responsible for both crimes. The investigation soon became a media sensation when a self-proclaimed psychic offered his help to police. Peter Hurkos alleged his psychic powers could help detectives solve the murders, and he soon visited the gravesite of the Jacksons in Falls Church, Virginia and also held their possessions in an attempt to commune with the spirits. He then accurately described the murders and also the positions the bodies were found in. Hurkos also paid a visit the site of where Margaret Harold was murdered, and claimed to the police that the same murderer was responsible. Detectives began looking into a possible suspect who had apparently confessed to the murders. The man worked as a trash collector, and Hurkos reportedly led investigators directly to his home address. Hurkos also made several claims about the case, telling the media that it would be solved within two weeks and that the killer would eventually be convicted of nine murders.
The Jazz Musician.

During the investigation, an anonymous letter was sent to the authorities in Fredericksburg suggesting the police look into the author's friend who he believed was a potential suspect, the man's name was Melvin David Rees. Rees was born in 1928, and little was known about his childhood and early life until he attended the University of Maryland in College Park, situated just outside Washington, D.C. He was known to his classmates as a talented musician, and was proficient in the piano, saxophone and clarinet. He soon dropped out of University because he wished to pursue his musical career, primarily playing at jazz clubs and he was known as "Dave" to the other musicians around the D.C. area.
The letter explained that the author and Rees were friends and that they often discussed many things during the time they spent together and detailed one discussion, which occurred the day before the Jackson family disappeared. Rees, who was under the influence of benzedrine at the time, began to discuss the philosophy of murder and how he believed it to be just another facet of the "human experience", something which he actively wanted to participate in. When his friend questioned this, Rees told him, "You can't say it's wrong to kill, only individual standards make it right or wrong." When he learned of the Jackson murders, the author wrote he had become suspicious that Rees was responsible for this crime. He went so far as to confront his friend about the killings, and although he did not openly confess to them, he did not refute or deny it either. The letter writer also suspected Rees of having committed the Harold murder, because at the time both men were working as salesmen in the Annapolis area during 1957.

Melvin Rees

Detectives conducted a background check on 26-year-old Rees, and found that he had previously been arrested in 1955 on charges of assault. During the incident he had attempted to force an unidentified 36-year-old woman into his car, but she fought back and managed to escape. The case was dropped when the victim did not wish to press charges and family and friends believed it was an isolated incident, something the young man would never repeat. When police learned that Rees had attended the University of Maryland, they became aware that he had dated Wanda Tipton, the woman who had been interviewed in 1957 as part of the Harold murder case. When questioned further, Tipton admitted she had a relationship with Rees, but soon broke it off when he claimed to be married. With a clear link to the Jackson murders and now the Harold murder, police began searching for Rees. They checked his home address but discovered he had moved out and left no forwarding address, and the local Jazz clubs where he was known to play, but there was no sign of his whereabouts.
It would be almost a year later in 1960 when the identity of the letter writer was revealed as Glenn Moser from Norfolk, Virginia. He came forward and told detectives Rees had recently contacted him, revealing he was working at a music store in West Memphis, Arkansas. Because he had crossed state lines the FBI became involved in the case and agents were dispatched to Arkansas where Melvin Rees was placed under arrest. During a police line up, the boyfriend of Margaret Jackson identified Rees as the man he saw shoot and kill the young woman. With Rees' arrest, the claims of the pyschic Peter Hurkos were ridiculed by The Washington Post. The agents then made a search of his home and found notes which described the Jackson family murders. Rees wrote, "Drove to select area and killed husband and baby. Now the mother and daughter were all mine." and described what he had done with Mildred Jackson, "then tied and gagged, led her to place of execution and hung her. I was her master." There was also a newspaper clipping which contained a photo of Mrs. Jackson. The most telling piece of evidence was the .38 revolver he had used to murder Margaret Harold, which they found hidden within his saxophone case.

Melvin Rees

Rees arriving at court

The newspapers now referred to Rees as the "Sex Beast", and he was charged with all five murders. He was tried in Baltimore by the state of Maryland in February 1961 for the murder of Margaret Harold, and the evidence against him was undeniable and the prosecution had numerous pieces of evidence linking Rees to the murder. The letter from Glenn Moser and the positive identification of Rees by Harold's boyfriend were all strong indications of his guilt, however it was the .38 calibre murder weapon, which was found in Rees apartment that was the most damning evidence presented and which tied him to the murder of Ms. Harold.
He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was then tried in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in September 1961 for the Jackson family murders and there was similarly mounting evidence which tied to him to the crime. Most telling was the the "murder journal" found at his home, which was a definitive confession of what Rees did to Mildred Jackson. He was sentenced to death for the murder of the Jackson's, but this was eventually commuted to life imprisonment in 1972 after numerous appeals. The US Supreme Court had suspended all death sentences so the constitutionality of the death penalty could be evaluated.
Investigators suspected Rees was involved in four additional murders, that of teenagers Mary Fellers, Michael Ann "Mikie" Ryan, Mary Shomette and Shelby Venable who were all found raped and killed in separate incidents in and around the University of Maryland area. In 1985, Rees allegedly told a reporter from prison that he was responsible for two murders in 1956, that of Shelby Venable and Mary Fellers. Rees would ultimately be exonerated of the murders of 16-year-old Nancy Shomette and 14-year-old Michael Ryan when another person confessed to the crime. Melvin Rees never explained the motivation behind his murderous rampage, although he was ordered to undergo psychiatric testing in 1966. He served over twenty years of his sentence, before dying in prison in 1995.

Written by Nucleus