Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Melvin Rees -- The Sex Beast


Newspapers covering the arrest and trial of Melvin David Rees dubbed him the Sex Beast. He would be tried in both Virginia and Maryland. The police soon suspected him in the unsolved murders of four adolescent girls in Maryland, and Newton lists them: Mary Shomette, 16, Ann Ryan, 14, Mary Fellers, 18 and Shelby Venable, 16. The first two were found near the University of Maryland during the time that Rees had attended classes there. The other two were removed from area rivers. While prosecutors did not add these charges to those they already had against Rees, they supposedly believed they could use the information later if they had to. (Hurkos had indicated that the killer of the Jackson family would eventually be indicted for nine murders. While Rees was not indicted, the final total of his suspected murders was, in fact, nine.)

Spotsylvania County Courthouse
Spotsylvania County Courthouse

In Baltimore in February 1961, Rees was tried for the murder of Margaret Harold. Her former boyfriend, who had identified him as the man who had approached them and shot Margaret, testified, and the gun found in Reess possession proved to be a match to the bullet that had killed her. Rees was easily convicted and that jury gave him life in prison. Then he went to Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in September to be tried for the first-degree murders of the Jackson family. There his murder journal did him in, since his descriptions were so specific. This time after he was convicted, he was sentenced to death.

Melvin Rees in prison garb
Melvin Rees in prison garb

Then the story gets confused again. Wilson and Everitt write that Rees was executed (Everitt gives 1961 as the date, which is impossible), while Lane and Gregg offer what they consider a strange bureaucratic twist: Rees was ordered to undergo psychiatric testing in 1966. However, Newton indicates that Rees was not executed. Instead, after extensive appeals, his sentence was commuted to life in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court suspended all death sentences to evaluate the constitutionality of the death penalty. In 1985, he confessed to a reporter from the Richmond-Times Dispatch that he had killed two of the four unsolved murders in which he was suspected: those of Fellers and Venable. Newton writes that Rees survived for two more decades before dying in prison from heart failure in 1995. Since Newton extensively researched the case while he was writing a book about Harvey Glatman, who killed three women the same year that Rees started his spate of murders, Newtons information might be more accurate. Schechter confirms the information, but might simply be passing it along from Newtons book.

While criminologists and several authors of books about serial killers tend to neglect Rees, one musician (at least) found in him some grisly inspiration. According to the Web site,, which posts lyrics about necrology, Grant S. McWilliams wrote a song, Crimson Concerto, based on his favorite serial killer, Melvin Rees. It is purportedly an anthem of strange behavior. The three-minute ditty describes slit throats, violins polished with human carnage, and an indifferent attitude toward - in fact, a craving for - suffering. The lyrics seem to get to the heart of what the existential Rees viewed as living for the moment, with moral concerns of no weight beside the extreme of raw sexual violence.

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