Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Melvin Rees -- The Sex Beast

Random Maniac

Map showing Annapolis & Fredericksburg
Map showing Annapolis & Fredericksburg

On June 26, 1957, Margaret Harold was in the car with her boyfriend, an army sergeant who was on leave for the weekend. In The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Lane and Gregg describe what occurred. They had been driving together in a remote area of Annapolis, Md. (Newton indicates that they were parked), when a man in a Green Chrysler forced them off the road (Newton says he walked up to the parked car and identified himself falsely as the propertys caretaker). They wondered if he needed assistance, but his intentions were much more malignant.

The Chronicle of Crime
The Chronicle of Crime
He got out of his car and came over to them, gesturing for them to roll down the window. He showed them that he had a gun. (Newton indicates that he climbed into the back seat.) Then he demanded a cigarette. They had none and told him so. He demanded that they give him some money, and they refused. This response apparently angered him. He lifted the gun, pointed it at Margaret, and shot her in the face. (In The Chronicle of Crime Fido says that he started to molest her, at which point the soldier ran. Wilson, too, indicates that he was in the back seat and he wound his fingers into Margarets hair, pulling her head back and shooting her when she told her boyfriend not to give him anything.)

The soldier (whom no source names), was stunned and horrified, but he also knew that his own life was in danger. Unable to save Margaret, he jumped from the car and ran as fast as he could across several fields until he found an isolated farmhouse a mile away where he was able to call for help. The police came to pick him up while another team went to the crime scene. As anticipated from the point-blank assault, Margaret was dead. Yet the attacker had not just shot and left her. He had also removed her clothing and sexually assaulted her after she died, leaving her exposed in the car. It was the epitome of craven disregard for a victim. And it signaled how bold the man was. Even as the soldier had run off, the attacker had nevertheless taken the time to get his pleasure from a corpse.

The sergeant gave a good description of the man - average build, somewhat tall, dark hair, clean-shaven, and rather ordinary looking with a thin face. There was nothing overtly threatening about the way he looked, only in his cold, brutal manner.

Looking for any type of evidence, investigators fanned out in the hope that the maniac driver had not gotten very far, or that he possibly had dropped something. In the process, they came across a cinderblock building with a broken basement window not far from the scene of the murder. This was the building, mentioned earlier, that they entered and found potential clues. Inside was a collection of violent pornography and morgue photos of women who had been murdered, many of which were taped to the walls. It was clearly a sadists hideout, kept secret for his sexual pleasure. That was also where the police had found the yearbook photograph of Wanda Tipton. She had attended the University of Maryland, graduating in 1955, and since she stood out among this odd collection, they set out to find her.

University of Maryland logo
University of Maryland logo

When Ms. Tipton was contacted and questioned, she claimed not to know anyone by the description the police had given her. That was a disappointing development. They had felt certain they would learn something from her that would make an arrest in this horrendous crime possible. In 1957, there were few forensic procedures for processing evidence, and catching killers often depended on finding them right away. But that was not to be. With no more leads, the case dried up, leaving the killer to move on in his predatory ways until he crossed paths in Virginia a year and a half later with the Jackson family, and possibly with others.

After receiving the anonymous letter in 1959, police compared the mass murder of the Jacksons with the killing of Margaret Harold and found significant similarities: A tall, dark-haired man traveling in a car, who approached people in cars to attack. A sexual assault on the females. A brutal disregard for the victims suffering. Operating in the same general area. It all seemed to fit, and despite Ms. Tiptons insistence that she did not know a man like the one they described, it seemed that she had actually known such a person fairly well. Wilson states that she later admitted that she had dated him but had given him up because he was married. (Perhaps he had told her so, but there was no indication that he was.) Her reticence may have cost investigators considerable time, but its unlikely that admitting to knowing him would have helped them to find him.

With what they now knew, they believed they had the jazz musician Melvin Rees dead to rights: They were certain that he was their man. They revisited the address theyd received in Mosers anonymous note, but still did not find him. They checked jazz clubs where hed played but no one knew where he was. Rees seemed to have disappeared, perhaps tipped by someone that the police were looking for him or merely anticipating the possibility after Moser had confronted him. In any event, he was gone, and for more than a year, the trail went cold and the murders had to be shelved to devote resources to more immediate concerns. But the Jacksons and Ms. Harold were not forgotten.

Then, the police received help from an unusual source.

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