Melvin Rees in handcuffs being escorted by authorities
Cause of death
|Other names||Sex Beast|
Span of killings
|26 June 1957–11 January 1959|
|June 24, 1960|
Melvin Davis Rees (1933–1995) was an American serial killer who committed five murders in Virginia and Maryland between 1957 and 1959. He murdered and sexually assaulted Margaret Harold, the girlfriend of US Army soldier Sgt. Roy D. Hudson, during a highway encounter near Annapolis; two years later, he murdered the four members of the Jackson family near Fredericksburg, Virginia. After his conviction for the killings, Rees confessed to two other murders, and authorities believed he was involved in two more. Prior to his arrest and imprisonment, Rees was known as a jazz musician in the Washington, D.C. area.
Little is known about Rees' childhood and upbringing. During the early 1950s, Rees attended the University of Maryland in College Park, just outside of Washington, D.C. Classmates at UMD would later recall Rees being a talented musician, showing skill with the saxophone, piano, and clarinet. Rees dropped out of UMD before he could graduate, ostensibly to pursue a musical career. He travelled around the D.C. area, playing at local jazz clubs.
In 1955, Rees was arrested on charges of assaulting an unidentified 36-year-old woman. Rees had tried to force her into his car, but she escaped. The victim, however, did not press charges, and the case against Rees was dropped. Rees' friends dismissed this early incident until after his killing spree began.
On June 26, 1957, Margaret Harold and her boyfriend—a U.S. Army sergeant on weekend leave—were traveling near Annapolis, Maryland when Rees, driving his green Chrysler, forced them off the road. After exiting the vehicle, Rees gestured at the couple to roll down their car window, displaying a gun. After being refused demands for cigarettes and money, an angered Rees shot Harold point-blank in the face. The horrified soldier fled the scene and ran across several rural fields before reaching a farmhouse, where he called the police. As the soldier was being picked up at the farmhouse, other officers arrived at the crime scene, where they found that Rees had removed the deceased Harold's clothing and sexually assaulted her.
Upon searching the area for the then-unidentified Rees, authorities came across an abandoned cinder block-constructed building, noticing a basement window that had been broken into. Inside, investigators discovered a collection of violent pornographic images and autopsy photos of female corpses, taped all over the walls. They also discovered a yearbook photo of Wanda Tipton, a 1945 graduate of the University of Maryland. Police managed to contact and question Tipton, who denied knowing a tall, dark-haired man described by the soldier as Harold's killer. Since there were few new leads — and since forensic science was primitive in 1957 — Harold's murder became a cold case until Rees killed again two years later.
On January 11, 1959, the Jackson family—Carroll Jackson and his wife Mildred, and their infant daughters, Janet and Susan—disappeared after visiting relatives in the Apple Grove area. The Jacksons were by all accounts a normal family who had no known enemies, making their disappearance especially baffling. A female relative of the Jacksons, who was also driving home from the same Apple Grove reunion, came across Carroll Jackson's abandoned car on the side of the road. The relative called the police, who inspected the car and found no indications of any struggle. A massive search effort was called to locate the missing family, but it was unsuccessful.
Almost two months later, on March 4, two men gathering brush near Fredericksburg discovered the decomposing body of Carroll Jackson in a ditch. He had been shot in the back of the head. His hands were also tied behind his back. Upon recovering the body, police discovered that Carroll had been dumped over that of eighteen-month-old Janet Jackson; it was later determined that the child had been dumped alive in the ditch before her father, and had suffocated under the weight of his body. On March 21, the bodies of Mildred and Susan Jackson were discovered in a forest near Annapolis, showing signs of torture and pre-mortem sexual assault.
Investigation and manhunt
Soon after the Jacksons' disappearance, a local couple came forward to report that they had had a frightening experience with a tall, darked-haired man that same afternoon. The man had driven behind and around them in a blue, older-model Chevrolet, flashing his headlights and forcing them off the road. The man later got out of his car and menacingly approached the couple; sensing danger, they reversed and managed to flee the scene. After Mildred and Susan Jackson's bodies were found, detectives discovered an abandoned building near their dump site—reportedly the same cinderblock structure that had been searched after Margaret Harold's killing. Inside, they found a red button missing from Mildred's dress, indicating that she had been taken there after being kidnapped. Near the building were fresh tire marks. After finding points of comparison between the Harold and Jackson cases—mainly the general area of the murders and the sadistic nature of the crimes—investigators determined that both homicides were committed by the same culprit.
The murder investigation became a media sensation with the involvement of self-proclaimed psychic Peter Hurkos, who visited the gravesite of the Jacksons in Falls Church, Virginia and handled their possessions, allegedly using his powers to accurately describe the murders and the positions in which their bodies were found. Hurkos visited the site of the Margaret Harold murder, and told investigators that the same killer had murdered the Jacksons. He also made various predictions about the outcome of the case, saying that it would be solved within two weeks and that the killer would ultimately be indicted for nine murders. Hurkos reportedly led investigators to the house of one of their main suspects, a trash collector who confessed to the murders; with the later apprehension of Rees, however, Hurkos and his claims about the case were ridiculed by The Washington Post.
An anonymous source—later identified as Glenn Moser of Norfolk, Virginia—sent a letter to the Fredericksburg authorities, suggesting that they look into Rees. Moser explained that he and Rees often engaged in heady philosophical conversations, one of which had been about whether murder could be considered acceptable. Rees, under the influence of benzedrine, confided to Moser that he considered murder to just be another part of the "human experience" that he eagerly wanted to take part in. "You can't say it's wrong to kill," Rees reportedly told Moser. "Only individual standards make it right or wrong." The discussion took place the day before the Jacksons disappeared; upon hearing of their murders months later, Moser suspected Rees of killing the family. Moser confronted Rees about the murders; while Rees did not confess to the killings, he also didn't deny responsibility and became evasive. In his anonymous letter, Moser also voiced his suspicion of Rees in Margaret Harold's murder in 1957, as the two men were working in the Annapolis area as salesmen at the time.
Authorities decided to follow the lead and question Rees, only to find that he had moved out of his house and left no forwarding address. They also searched for Rees at the jazz clubs where he was known to have performed, but were still unable to locate him. Upon running a background check, police discovered that he had attended the University of Maryland and dated Wanda Tipton, their person of interest in the Margaret Harold investigation. Upon further questioning, Tipton admitting to having a relationship with Rees, but broke it off after Rees claimed to be married.
Arrest and death
The writer of the anonymous letter personally came forward in 1960 to tell authorities that Rees had contacted him and was currently employed at a music store in West Memphis, Arkansas. Rees was ultimately arrested and after searching his home police found notes describing the Jackson family's murders. The man who witnessed Margaret Harold's killing confirmed that Rees was indeed the man he saw put a bullet into Harold's head.
Rees was convicted by the state of Maryland of Harold's murder and sentenced to life in prison. Virginia added a death sentence for the other four murders, though it was eventually changed to life in 1972. Melvin Rees died in prison in 1995.
Investigators also suspect Rees was responsible for four homicides in the area around the University of Maryland. Teenagers Mary Shomette, Ann Ryan, Mary Fellers, and Shelby Venable were all found raped and killed in separate incidents. Rees was never charged in any of those four murders.
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- Hutchinson News, June 26, 1960
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