Maryland · Serial Killers

The first victim of the so-called “Sex Beast” serial killer is murdered

June 26, 1957
Near Annapolis, Maryland
Melvin Rees (pictured) kills his first known victim

Rees found Margaret Harold and her boyfriend, an unnamed soldier, parked at a lover’s lane. Rees showed them he had a gun, entered the backstreet of the car, and demanded money and cigarettes. When Harold told her boyfriend not to give Rees any money, he grabbed her hair, pulled back her head, and shot her in the face. Her boyfriend managed to escape and alerted authorities. By the time police arrived, Rees had already fled, but not before raping Harold’s body.

On January 11, 1959, Rees murdered four members of the Jackson family. Carroll Jackson, the father of the family, was bound and shot before being thrown into a ditch on top of his 18-month-old daughter Janet. Janet was alive when she was thrown into the ditch and suffocated under the weight of her father. The mother of the family, Mildred, and her 5-year-old daughter Susan were taken to an abandoned building where both were raped before being bludgeoned, then buried in a shallow grave. The bodies of the Jackson family were found four months later.

Both events happened in close proximity to each other and shared similarities, leading police to believe they were carried out by the same person. The sensational nature of the story led to extensive media coverage (he was dubbed the “Sex Beast”), which in turn led to an influx of tips. One of the leads directed police to Rees who was picked out of a lineup by Harold’s boyfriend. He also possessed a gun matching the one used in the shootings and had a newspaper clipping of the gruesome details of Mildred Jackson’s murder.

During their investigation, police also found evidence linking him to the murders of four other girls. Two of the victims, Nancy Marie Shomette and Michael Ann Ryan, were murdered on June 15, 1955 and initially believed to have been Rees’ victims. In 2000, a man named Edward Dobek gave a deathbed confession claiming he had murdered the girls. The other possible victims were Mary Fuller and Shelby Venable. Rees was not charged with the murders of any of these victims.

In 1961, in two separate trials several months apart, Rees was tried for the murders of Harold and the Jacksons. He was found guilty in both trials and sentenced to death; his sentence was commuted to life in 1972. Rees died in prison of heart failure in 1995.

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