“The video in my head of her last breath has never escaped my mind, never.”
-Luis Melendi, Shannon’s father
It was the 26th of March 1994. A Saturday. Nineteen year old Shannon Melendi, an Emory University student from Miami, Florida, United States, was keeping score at a softball tournament in Atlanta. She worked part time at the Softball Country Club and she loved school and her job. It gave her a bit of extra money to socialize with friends.
During a break in the game, Shannon was seen driving off in her black Nissan 240 SX car around 12.50 pm. She would normally leave during the break to get a soda. But Shannon never returned.
When Shannon was reported missing, police believed that she ran away. But her family and friends did not believe that was the case and they searched for her themselves and put up missing posters in the area. The next day, Shannon's car was found with the keys in the ignition.
Shannon loved her car. Her parents bought it for her and she took great care of it and really appreciated it. She always kept it in great condition. But when it was found, it was parked crookedly at a gas station close to the Softball Country Club and the car was left unlocked. An employee who worked at the gas station told police that they saw Shannon there the day she disappeared.
As police believed that Shannon had run away, a proper search and examination of the car was not conducted and it was released to Shannon's roommate.
Three days after Shannon disappeared, a man called the police number that was on the missing posters and said that Shannon's shorts were blue, not green. The media had reported they were green but they were in fact blue. He told police that he “got” the victim at the gas station and would keep her until he was through with her.
In early April, a man called the Emory University Counseling Center. He claimed that he had Shannon. He said that he had her ring. The call was traced to a payphone near a restaurant and the ring was found in a small cloth bag wrapped in masking tape.
The bag was traced to the manufacturer. The manufacturer said that their only customer in Georgia was Delta and the masking tape was also traced back to Delta.
No trace of Shannon was found and in the years that followed her disappearance, little progress was made. Her family believed they knew who was responsible for her disappearance and police would later reach the same conclusion.
Colvin Butch Hinton III was sentenced to ten years in prison for setting his Clayton County, Ga., home on fire. He was charged with arson and mail fraud. Police believed he set his house on fire to collect on a $185,000 home insurance policy.
Colvin Butch Hinton
At the time of Shannon's disappearance, Butch worked as an umpire at the Softball Country Club.He was also employed by Delta Airlines as a maintenance utility employee. The day Shannon went missing, the 26th of March 1994, Butch was working at the Softball Country Club. He denied any involvement in Shannon's disappearance. But police began to build a case against him.
Butch was a sex offender. On one occasion, he went to his employer's home in Kentucky and assaulted her. He tried to restrain her with rope but he let her go when she promised that she would not tell anybody. She called the police as soon as he left. He was treated as a juvenile and given psychiatric treatment. Butch moved to Illinois and when he was there, he told his brother's former girlfriend that his brother was in town and asked her to meet with him and his brother. When the woman arrived, his brother was not there. Butch restrained her with rope, abducted her and brought her to his basement. He sexually assaulted her. She managed to escape when Butch's wife went down to the basement and saw her there. He was charged with kidnapping and indecent liberties with a minor and served a prison term.
During his incarceration for arson, a number of inmates told police that Butch made statements in relation to Shannon. And police believed they had enough evidence to charge him. He was charged with Shannon's murder in 2004.
It was the Prosecution's case that even though there was no body and no crime scene, the evidence against Butch was strong and compelling. It was their case that Butch worked as an umpire at the same game that Shannon was keeping score at. He left the game at 12.45pm and Shannon left just five minutes later.
A number of players complained about Butch that day. They said that he was not performing his duties and seemed more interested in trying to talk to Shannon. He was supposed to work for the full day that day but the day before, his wife told him that she would be out of town. He called the umpire supervisor and told her he needed the afternoon off on the Saturday as his sister in law had been hospitalized by a beating from her husband and she needed someone to look after the children. But that was not true. Butch made other arrangements.
He called his wife's best friend and asked her if she would meet up with him and his wife on the Saturday afternoon. He told her not to tell anyone where she was going or who she was meeting. When Butch left the Softball Country Club at 12.45pm on the Saturday, he told another umpire he was going on a date with a woman who was “hot.” It was the Prosecution's case that Butch and Shannon left the Country Club together that day and only one of them returned.
Butch returned to the Softball Country Club that day sometime between 2.30pm and 3pm. He was also seen at the gas station where Shannon's car was found abandoned.
Butch changed his clothes at the Country Club. He was seen at the Country Club again at 5pm. A witness testified that he told him that he was there to return a pay slip but he had no pay slip in his hand. When the FBI asked Butch about his movements that day initially, he did not tell them he had returned to the Country Club and the witness asked him why. Butch asked him to disregard the information he had about his returning to the Country Club because it did not match what he told the FBI.
Butch was seen tending a bonfire in his yard around 3.00 am the next morning, and borrowed a bow saw from his father later that morning. Police found three pits buried in Butch's back yard. Wire ties were found in one of the pits. They were wire ties that could be used to bind wrists and ankles.
Inmates who shared a cell or met Butch during his time incarcerated for arson testified at his murder Trial. Adonis Cornwell shared a cell with Butch and said he woke one night when he heard a scream. It was Butch. He said that Butch was crying. Butch told Adonis that he did not kill her, the demon inside him had.
Curtis O'Neal testified that after he mentioned he knew someone charged with murder even though no body was found, Butch asked him how to research cases like that.
Allen Howell testified that Butch told him he was worried he would be blamed for Shannon's death because his score book had been left in her car.
Johnny Pleasants testified that when he told Butch gambling was his weakness, Butch said young girls were his and that he was a suspect in a missing girl's case. He told Johnny that he worked at the same softball game as Shannon did and she remained him of a woman he had an affair with years earlier.
Butch was found guilty and after he exhausted all possible appeals, he told police that he would confess.
According to Butch, he asked Shannon if she wanted to get lunch that day, the 26th of March. She agreed and they both went to Burger King. Butch asked Shannon to drive his car. He told her that he had a leg cramp.
When they were inside the car, Butch held a knife to Shannon's throat and forced her to drive the car to his home, which was a 25 minute drive from the Country Club. He said that when they got into his home, he raped Shannon and kept her inside the house for 12 hours. He then strangled her to death with a necktie.
Butch said that he burned Shannon's body with gasoline at his property and put her ashes in a bag.
After he made his confession, Butch said:
“I hate what I done. I know I’ll never, ever be forgiven by most people. And I accept that. But I am so sorry. I’ve hurt so many people with the lies I’ve told.”
Colvin Butch Hinton was the first person in Georgia history to be convicted of murder without a body or a crime scene. He was sentenced to life in prison but under Georgia law, he is eligible for parole after serving seven years. To date, he has been denied parole. The next consideration by the Parole Board is scheduled for 2025.
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