While we would like to believe that the justice system helps put away people who have committed heinous crimes, that is not always the case. Mel Ignatow is the perfect example of how the justice system failed to give the Shaefer family closure after Ignatow brutally murdered their beloved Brenda Shaefer.
Shaefer was a sister, a daughter, and a loving woman whose life was cut short by Ignatow and his ex-girlfriend, Mary Ann Shore. They brutally plotted and committed her murder but were acquitted of the charges. Ignatow later admitted to killing Shaefer, but he still got away with murder.
The Divorce Changed Everything
Mel Ignatow lived in Louisville, Kentucky, for most of his life. He had been married and had three children, two daughters and a son named Michael. Although little is known about his first wife and their relationship, the two divorced in 1973, and Ignatow got custody of his three children.
Before the divorce, he was described as a happy man who was never in a bad mood. However, Michael said his father changed when their mom left. Ignatow became hardened and angry, yelling at his children all the time. He would inspect their rooms every day, making them pick up dust by hand.
Two Different Personalities
Although he was brutal and angry at home, Ignatow kept up his nice persona in public. People liked him, and he rarely had problems with others. But when he went home, Ignatow turned into a different person. Michael almost wished his dad would beat him instead of dealing with the yelling.
Ignatow would call his kids stupid and lazy if their rooms weren’t spotless. Michael said his dad’s face would turn red, and the veins in his forehead would pop out because he was yelling so loudly. He was never quite happy, but things got worse when a new woman entered his life.
She Weaseled Her Way In
Not long after his divorce, Ignatow started dating Mary Ann Shore. She was his secretary and at least ten years his junior. Shore was attracted to Ignatow and started pushing her way into his life by helping him with his kids. She would watch them while he was on business trips, but she wanted more.
Michael said Shore did anything to persuade him and his sisters to tell their father nice things about her. She wanted them to convince their father to date her. To make sure they listened to her, Shore manipulated and threatened them so that they would be scared of her.
She Was a Manipulator
Shore wormed her way into Ignatow’s life. She told Michael that she would show his father the cigarettes she found in his room if he didn’t do what she wanted. Shore was incredibly manipulative, and she had Ignatow wrapped around her finger. He believed her more than his children.
Strange things started happening around the house, which caused tension in the family. Michael’s sisters started fighting over things like ruined clothes, but they soon realized that Shore was behind the cause of their arguments. She did everything to make them look bad in front of their father.
Driving a Wedge Between Them
Shore’s goal was to drive a wedge between Ignatow and his children because she wanted him all to herself. Michael and his siblings tried to show their father that Shore wasn’t a good person, but he was blinded by her. They couldn’t do anything to change his opinion.
Eventually, Shore succeeded and drove Ignatow’s children away. When his daughters graduated high school, they went to college and never returned home. They wanted nothing to do with their father and Shore. Michael was the only one stuck at home.
An Unstable Relationship
Ignatow and Shore’s relationship was rocky. They broke up and got back together several times because Shore would always find a way to convince Ignatow to reconcile. After a few years, Ignatow broke things off for good, but it didn’t sit well with Shore.
She wanted to be with Ignatow and resented him for leaving her. It turned into an obsession, causing her to do something drastic to get revenge. Shore didn’t care if she had to hurt Ignatow and his family if it meant she had a chance at being with him again.
He Went Away
When Michael was in high school, his dad told him he was going overseas on a month-long business trip. Usually, Ignatow had someone stay with his kids when he went on trips or had someone check in on them, but this time was different.
Ignatow didn’t tell Michael where he was going, and his son didn’t hear from him for a month. Ignatow returned one morning, and to Michael’s surprise, he was with Shore. Years later, Michael found out that his father went to jail for tax evasion because Shore had turned him in.
A New Woman
Michael never thought Shore would be back in his life, but she manipulated her way back. He didn’t know if his father ever found out that Shore had turned him in for tax evasion, but Michael had enough. He enlisted in the army at 18 and was away for three years.
When he returned, Ignatow was dating a new woman, Brenda Schaefer. Michael noticed how happy his father was, and Schaefer seemed so sweet and kind. He was happy that Ignatow found a genuine woman who had no ulterior motives.
They Met on a Blind Date
After two toxic relationships, Schaefer was ready to settle down with a good man and start a family. When she met Ignatow on a blind date, she wasn’t sure about the 50-year-old, divorced father-of-three because he wasn’t her usual type. However, he charmed her.
Schaefer liked that Ignatow was a good listener, and it didn’t hurt that he was financially stable with a job that took him around the world. He swept Schaefer off her feet and impressed her with boat rides and romantic drives in his sports car.
Not the Man She Knew
Almost two years into their relationship, Ignatow proposed to Schaefer with a stunning engagement ring on Valentine’s Day, 1987. The 36-year-old nursing assistant thought she would finally get the fairytale life she always dreamed of. Unfortunately, Schaefer’s dreams disappeared when she saw the real Ignatow.
The relationship between the two turned sour after the engagement. Schaefer confided in her brother, Tom, that she was afraid of Ignatow because he was abusive and controlling. She said Ignatow drugged her when she didn’t want to perform a sex act he requested.
She Called Things Off
Before returning the engagement ring to Ignatow, Schaefer told many people she was going to meet him because she was afraid of how he would react. On September 23, 1988, she returned Ignatow’s ring and gifts and ended their relationship. He didn’t take it well.
Ignatow knew that Schaefer was going to end their relationship long before that day, so he created a plan with his ex-girlfriend, Shore. They spent several weeks planning Schaefer’s murder, and Shore was delighted to have Ignatow back in her life.
A Good Actor
The day after Schaefer broke off their engagement, Ignatow called his family over for dinner because he had an important announcement. He shared that he proposed to Schaefer, and she said yes, but she wasn’t at the dinner. Ignatow told everyone that she had to work late.
Michael brushed it off as his father’s quirky personality, but he later realized Schaefer’s absence was strange. Little did they know, Schaefer had called off the engagement, but she met a brutal end. However, it would be a while before Ignatow’s family knew the truth.
He Acted Distraught
The following morning, Ignatow received a visit from the police saying Schaefer was missing. They found her car broken into on the side of the highway with blood inside. Ignatow broke down in tears, telling the police that Schaefer had left his home at 11:30 p.m., alive.
Ignatow called his family to tell them the news. They rushed over to his home, where Ignatow told them that he and Schaefer had spent the day together, eaten, and then she had gone home. He claimed she never called him, and now he feared the worst.
Ignatow was hysterical, saying Schaefer was probably dead. He overdid it, but he had to convince everyone that he couldn’t have possibly hurt her. While his family believed him, the police suspected Ignatow was involved from the start but couldn’t prove it.
There was no evidence linking him to the crime, and the blood in Schaefer’s car didn’t match him or Schaefer. The investigation took police all the way to Hong Kong, where Ignatow regularly went on business trips, but they didn’t have any solid leads.
Trying to Clear His Name
Since Ignatow was adamant about his innocence, the police invited him to testify in front of a grand jury to clear his name. He told the court that Schaefer left his home alive and he couldn’t have killed her because he spent the night with his ex-girlfriend.
It was the first time he mentioned Shore, giving the police someone else to question. Using Shore as his alibi turned out to be a mistake because she couldn’t keep a secret. Investigators turned their attentions to Shore and knew they could break her.
Caught in a Lie
Shore was called to testify in front of the grand jury to see if her story matched Ignatow’s. She got caught in a lie on the stand, stating she had only seen Schaefer once. But when asked about how Schaefer looked, Shore said, “You mean the last time I saw her?”
Immediately, the prosecution dismantled her statement, and Shore left the proceedings abruptly. Investigators brought Shore in for questioning following her testimony, pressing for more information. It wasn’t long before she cracked under pressure and told the police what she knew.
She Helped the Police
After the authorities agreed to give her lenience if she cooperated, Shore confessed to helping plan and assisting in the murder of Schaefer. She told the police how Ignatow tortured and abused Schaefer while she took pictures. Shore also told them how Ignatow killed Schaefer.
Fourteen months after Schaefer went missing, Shore led police to the shallow grave in her backyard, where they had buried the body. Schaefer’s body was badly decomposed, but the autopsy showed she had been abused. Unfortunately, there was no DNA evidence on her.
She Wore a Wire
The police had Shore wear a wire, promising only to charge her with evidence tampering. She met with Ignatow to tell him she was concerned because the wooded area behind her home had been sold. Shore said she was worried that the developers would find Schaefer’s body.
Shore told Ignatow that the police had been hounding her for answers. He got angry and scolded her for letting the FBI rattle her. On the tape, Ignatow said he didn’t care if they dug up the whole property because “that place we dug is not shallow.”
Arrested but Not Worried
The recording was enough evidence for the police to arrest Ignatow and charge him with murder. Schaefer’s family didn’t like him and thought he was responsible for her death from the beginning. Meanwhile, Ignatow’s family was shocked when he was arrested.
Michael was even more surprised that Shore was back in the picture, but he didn’t think his father was guilty. Ignatow’s family believed Shore killed Schaefer because she was jealous that Ignatow loved another woman. Michael said his dad was not bothered by the arrest and didn’t seem stressed.
An Unreliable Star Witness
When Michael visited his father in prison, Ignatow didn’t talk about Schaefer; he was more concerned about what Shore had done. He also didn’t grieve when he found out Schaefer was dead. Still, Michael believed his father’s innocence.
As Ignatow’s trial began, Shore was called as the prosecution’s star witness. She testified that they planned the murder for weeks and dug the hole a while before the murder. However, Shore laughed during her testimony, leaving a terrible impression on the jury.
No One Believed Her
Shore said she took pictures of the murder, but the police couldn’t find anything in her home. The police work was sloppy, and there was no DNA evidence to attach either Ignatow or Shore to the crime. But people saw Shore as the jealous woman who killed Shaefer to have Ignatow to herself.
The jury was unimpressed with Shore’s testimony because she was emotionless and adamantly claimed she didn’t kill Schaefer. They didn’t see her as a credible witness because of her attachment to Ignatow. His defense played the “hell hath no fury than a woman scorned” card.
He Walked Free
On December 21, 1991, Ignatow was acquitted on all charges. He and his family felt relieved when the jury delivered the ruling. Michael said he felt a sense of relief, still believing that Shore framed his father and killed Shaefer by herself.
Ignatow walked away from the courthouse a free man and was incredibly happy with the outcome of the trial. He kept saying he didn’t do it, and the jury believed his story. Meanwhile, Shore received five years in prison for evidence tampering, not expecting to receive jail time.
The judge was so embarrassed by the trial’s outcome that he wrote a personal apology letter to Schaefer’s family. They were disappointed by the ruling, and the prosecution didn’t want to give up. Their sadness turned into hope six months after the trial when new evidence was discovered.
The new owners of Ignatow’s old home were having the carpets replaced when they uncovered a floor vent. They found a plastic bag filled with jewelry and the rolls of undeveloped film that Shore had told the police about. Knowing the house’s history, they turned everything over to the FBI.
The photos proved that Shore’s testimony was the truth. Unfortunately, the discovery was too late because authorities couldn’t charge Ignatow with murder again. Since Ignatow already went to trial for murder, double jeopardy protected him from being tried for the same charges twice.
The authorities didn’t want to give up, so they charged Ignatow with perjury based on his testimony. It was the least they could do to give the Schaefer family some kind of justice for their loved one’s horrific death. Still, Ignatow took advantage of his immunity from murder charges.
Ignatow knew he was safe, so he decided to confess during his perjury trial. He told the court how he knew Schaefer would end things, so he asked Shore to help him plan the murder. The day she broke off the engagement, he pulled out a gun and kidnapped her.
He then took her to Shore’s home, where he blindfolded, gagged, and bound Schaefer to a glass table while she begged for her life. He sexually tortured her before filling her body with chloroform and suffocating her. Ignatow and Shore then buried her.
His Family Felt Betrayed
Ignatow shared that he drove Schaefer’s car, punctured the tire, and left it on the side of the highway. Shore followed him, and they drove away together. The car’s stereo was then stolen by someone else. When Ignatow finished his confession, everyone was horrified.
Michael, who had been a character witness for his father’s defense, felt betrayed and angry. He couldn’t believe his father lied to him and got away with it. Schaefer’s family also felt like they were cheated because Ignatow didn’t receive a harsh sentence.
A Short Sentence
During his testimony, Ignatow turned to Schaefer’s brothers and told them their sister died peacefully. He only added salt to their wounds. Although he was guilty of a horrific crime, he only received eight years for perjury. He was then charged in another perjury case.
Ignatow was prosecuted again for a false testimony he gave in a case against Schaefer’s employer. He claimed her boss threatened to kill him if he didn’t tell them where Schaefer was. Ignatow received another nine years for those charges. It still wasn’t enough for what he did.
Her Family Never Got Justice
Schaefer’s death was especially hard on her mother and father, John and Essie. When her brother Tom told Essie that Schaefer was dead, she didn’t want to believe it. Schaefer was the second child they had to bury. Schaefer’s brother died in 1971 after being shot in the line of duty.
Sadly, John and Essie’s health deteriorated quickly after Schaefer’s murder. They both passed away before they got to see justice for their daughter. Schaefer’s remaining two brothers were left to carry on their sister’s memory and seek justice against Ignatow.
He Couldn’t Forgive His Dad
During his second jail stint, Michael never visited him, and they didn’t have any contact. His father hurt him by lying, and he resented him for killing Schaefer. Michael didn’t want anything to do with his father, but he tried not to hold on to the resentment.
When Ignatow was released after serving seven years out of his nine-year sentence, he had no place to go, so he asked to live with Michael. He thought it was the right thing to do because his dad didn’t have any other options, but Michael realized his father hadn’t changed.
He Didn’t Feel Sorry
While Ignatow stayed with him, Michael tried to speak to his father about the crime. However, it was tough to talk about, and his dad showed no remorse. Michael felt that Ignatow took no responsibility for the murder. Still, he tried to apologize to Michael for lying.
Ignatow stayed with Michael for almost a year before moving into his own apartment. He was nearly 70 by then, and he was weak. Ignatow moved into a place just four miles from where he murdered Schaefer. It was strange that he wanted to stay in the same area.
Shore Didn’t Live Long
Shore served four years in jail and was released a year early. Despite her past, she got married and passed away in 2004 from natural causes. Michael believes she had a heart attack or cancer. After being released from prison, Shore remained in Louisville.
Ignatow was guilty, but Michael believes Shore convinced him to kill Schaefer out of jealousy. He thinks she got into Ignatow’s head and made him feel horrible that Schaefer was going to leave him and end their relationship. He blames Shore for ruining their family.
Karma Got Him
On September 1, 2008, just three weeks before the 20th anniversary of Schaefer’s murder, Ignatow died in his home at 70-years-old. In an almost poetic form of karma, Ignatow fell and crashed through a glass table which cut his arm, causing him to bleed to death.
He had tied Schaefer to a glass table before killing her. It was karma at its finest, and Michael was the one who found his father. He walked in to find a blood trail leading to his father’s room, where he was slumped over, dead.
No Foul Play
Due to the circumstances of Ignatow’s death, an autopsy was performed to rule out foul play. The medical examiner found that his death was an accident because he lost his balance and fell. Ignatow didn’t grab his phone and try to call for help on the way to his room.
Michael believes that his father knew it was time for him to go, so he let himself die. No one was saddened by the news of his death because many felt he deserved it. He never received the justice that Shaefer’s family deserved, and he lived a free life.
He Has Moved On
As the years have passed, Michael and his family have tried to move on from the pain their father caused. Ignatow was remembered as “the most hated man in Louisville.” He ruined many people’s lives and never felt bad for killing an innocent woman.
In an exclusive interview, Michael said he has tried not to hold on to the resentment. He still wonders why his father killed Schaefer and believes he snapped after she broke off the engagement because it crushed his dreams of the perfect family. He feels Shore was the catalyst of it all.
What Went Wrong in the Case?
The FBI handled the case as a kidnapping and followed every lead they could find. However, there were many missteps in the case. Investigators thoroughly searched Ignatow’s home twice, and he got lucky that they didn’t find the hidden items under the carpets.
Additionally, the recording taken from Shore’s meeting with Ignatow was muffled. Ignatow mumbled the word “site,” and the jury thought he said “safe.” They believed he was discussing a buried safe. These things helped him walk away from the murder charges.
After his murder trial, the FBI found pictures of a yellow notepad used by Ignatow, which meticulously listed every step of the murder plot. He had everything planned down to the last detail. They also received tips, including one from the Kentucky attorney general.
The attorney general told the FBI that Ignatow was a major drug dealer. Another anonymous tipster said Ignatow went to Hong Kong to pick up $100,000 in cash. They had many leads, but the FBI couldn’t physically connect Ignatow to the crime without DNA evidence.
He Thought They Forgave Him
Ignatow did horrible things to Schaefer, and the pictures were like trophies of his crimes. When he stood up at his perjury trial to apologize to her family, he really thought they forgave him because he said Schaefer died peacefully after being brutally tortured.
According to Michael, his father “found God” while he was in jail. Ignatow claimed he was a born-again Christian since 1989. He once said, “I’m at peace with the Lord, and he’s at peace with me.” However, the Schaefers never forgave him.