Melvin David Rees Jr.


Melvin David Rees Jr.

A.K.A.: "The Sex Beast"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 5 - 9
Date of murders: June 26, 1957 / January 11, 1959
Date of arrest: June 24, 1960
Date of birth: 1928
Victims profile: Margaret Harold / Carroll Jackson, his wife Mildred, and their two daughters, Susan, aged four, and Janet, aged eighteen months
Method of murder: Shooting - Beating - Suffocation - Strangulation
Location: Maryland/Virginia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in Maryland, 1961. Sentenced to death in Virginia, 1961. Commuted to life in prison in 1972. Died in prison 1995

Melvin David Rees, also known as the "Sex Beast", 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 an unidentified soldier, 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.

Early life

Little is known about Rees' childhood and upbringing. What is known is that 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, obstensibly to pursue a musical career. He travelled around the D.C. area, showing up at local nightclubs to play jazz.

In 1955, Rees was arrested on charges of assaulting an unidentified thirty-six-year-old woman. Rees had tried to forcibly place her in 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.


Margaret Harold

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 grotesque 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 1955 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--Margaret Harold's murder became a cold case until Rees killed again two years later.

Jackson Family

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 an upstanding, church-going 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 five-year-old Susan were discovered in a forest near Fredericksburg, 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 brutal sadism 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 invesigators 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.

Melvin David Rees

On June 26, 1957, Margaret Harold and her date were parked on a lover's lane road near Annapolis, Maryland. Another car pulled up alongside and a young man got out and shot Harold in the head, killing her. The woman's date escaped on foot and called police but when they arrived on the scene the killer had departed, having lingered long enough to rape Harold's corpse. A subsequent search of the area revealed an abandoned cinder block building. Inside the walls were plastered with pornographic pictures and morgue photos of dead women.

On January 11, 1959, the slayer struck again near Apple Grove, Virginia. Carroll Jackson, his wife Mildred, and their two little girls, five-year-old Susan and 18-month-old Janet, were reported missing when their car was found abandoned. There was no sign of the family until March 4 when Carroll and Janet were discovered in a ditch near Fredericksburg. Little Janet had been placed in the ditch alive but suffocated to death when her father's body had been thrown on top of her. Carroll died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Two weeks later Mildred and Susan Jackson's bodies were found in a shallow grave near Annapolis. Both had been sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death. A nearby abandoned structure was revealed to be the likely murder site when investigators found a button from Mildred's dress on the floor.

The cases were at a standstill until an anonymous letter was mailed later that spring. The author accused a thin, quiet jazz musician named Melvin Rees of being the killer of the Jackson family. Investigators discovered Rees had been a student at the University of Maryland during the time of the killings and had known Wanda Tipton, a former Maryland student who's picture had been found in the abandoned building near the scene of Harold's murder. The only problem was that Rees was now a traveling musician and nobody knew where he was.

The anonymous letter writer came forward in person in early 1960 and told authorities that Rees had contacted him and was currently working at a music store in West Memphis, Arkansas. Rees was finally arrested and a search of his home turned up 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 slayings, though it was eventually changed to life in 1972. Rees died in prison in the 1990's.

Investigators strongly suspect Rees was also 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 slain in seperate incidents. Rees was never charged in any of those four murders.

Melvin Rees

On January 11th, 1959, the Jackson family was driving back home near Apple Grove, Virginia. In the car was Carroll Jackson, who was driving his wife Mildred, and their two daughters, Susan, aged four, and Janet, aged eighteen months.

Almost suddenly, another car came out of nowhere and ran them off the road. The driver came out with his gun drawn and ordered the family out of their car. Once out of their car, they were all tied up and thrown into the trunk of the gunman's Chevrolet.

Later that day the Jackson's aunt spotted the family car by chance and reported them missing. Even so, it wasn't until two months later that the bodies of Carrol and his youngest daughter were found in Fredricksburg, stashed away in a ditch with Carrol suffering a single gunshot wound to the head, while his daughter was suffocated under the weight of her father.

In Maryland around the same time, there was a similar attack being investigated by the local authorities. Back in 1957, a young couple was forced off the side of a road by a tall stranger who demnded money and cigarettes. When he didn't get either, he shot the woman in the face. Her companion, an army seargent, immediately took off running, and was able to escape the gunman.

When the police went over the area to investigate, they found an abandoned shed filled with pornographic material taped to the wall, as well as images of dead women who were brutally murdered. It seemed that someone was coming here to live out brutal fantasies of murdering young women.

About a year after the Jackson murders, two young boys who were out hunting came across a fresh grave. When the police arrived, they discovered the bodies of Mildred Jackson and her daughter Susan. The child was struck with a heavy blow to the head and died of a fractured skull, while her mother was raped, beaten, and strangled with her own stocking.

What followed was a nationwide manhunt from the description of the army seargent. Police were now convinced that the same man was responsible for all the attacks. One anonymous tip led them to a jazz musician named Melvin Rees. Police didn't pursue the lead, and it wasn't until the anonymous tipster literally walked to the station himself to plead with the authorities that he was convinced Rees was the man they were looking for.

The tipster was an acquaintance of Rees, and he told police about Rees' odd remarks to questions about the murders, saying such things as, "You can't say it's wrong to kill. Only standards make it right or wrong."

With this new tip, the police went right to Rees' home in West Memphis, Arkansas (later the infamous spot of the Damien Echols "Paradise Lost" murders). Once in Custody, he was identified by the army seargent, and at Rees home, police found a .38 revolver that was linked to the Jackson murders. They also found cryptic notes describing murders.

One such note stated, "Drove to select area and killed husband and baby. Now the mother and daughter were all mine." It also went on to describe the brutality Mrs. Jackson endured. He wrote, "then tied and gagged, led her to place of execution and hung her. I was her master."

Police also came to believe that Rees was responsible for four vicious murders over the last four years of young women in the area. It was at this time that the media tabbed Rees as the "Sex Beast".

Never able to explain to anyone why he committed the crimes that he did, Rees was sentenced to life in prison in Maryland. When tried for the murders in Virginia, he was also convicted, and this time was sentenced to death, where he was executed in 1961.


By Katherine Ramsland

Without a Trace

It was 1959, the end of a decade of turmoil and violence, and a threshold of more to come. While Americans struggled to control their lives in the aftermath of World War II, the start of the Cold War, and the rise of racial tensions, incidents of multiple murder seemed to increase, especially in the latter half of the decade. On January 11, an event occurred that would throw light on an earlier crime and bring to the public's attention a chilling phenomenon that shadowed the culture's progress.

Carroll and Mildred Jackson, along with their two daughters, were missing. They had been driving home from visiting family near Falls Church, VA. A relative of Mildred's was also driving home and saw a car abandoned along the road that looked like Carroll's. She called the police with her concerns. Patrols checked the car and found it empty. It was indeed the Jacksons' car, but there was no sign of them, either at home or with any relatives. As time passed and they failed to turn up, it was evident that something had happened to them.

Police scoured the routes that the family probably had taken, but there were no clues. The Jacksons were just gone. They had an infant daughter, 18 months old, and a girl, 5. Relatives were concerned that even the children were gone. It seemed strange that an entire family would go missing, with no sign of a struggle, no blood, and no trail police could track. It remained a mystery, and as days became weeks, searchers and worried friends turned up nothing.

There is no book devoted entirely to this crime, despite how sensational it was at the time, but summaries of the story have been passed along from one collection of crimes to another, gleaned mostly from newspaper reports. Yet, some authors who purport to have complete information about the perpetrators of such crimes have missed this one entirely.

To attempt to gather clues, investigators examined Carroll Jackson's background, and Colin Wilson supplies it in The Killers among Us, Book II. Jackson was a quiet, retiring man who attended a Baptist church and appeared to have no enemies. He did not smoke or drink, and had met Mildred at the same church, where she was president of the local missionary society. They lived in a modest home and took their girls to Sunday school regularly. There were no problems to speak of in the family, and no feuds with relatives or neighbors. In short, the Jacksons appeared to be decent people who lived their lives according to the correct social conventions of the times.

The family's disappearance was reported in a local newspaper, with photos, in the hope that someone would come forward with information. Perhaps someone had seen them with a suspicious person, or had spotted them somewhere after the car was found. It seemed that there would surely be some bit of information, and that hunch proved to be correct. A couple came and told police about a suspicious incident that had happened to them on the same day the Jacksons disappeared. During the afternoon, they said, an older-model blue Chevrolet wildly flashing its lights had driven up behind and around them, stopping quickly and forcing them to the side of the road. As they waited, they saw a man step out of the car and walk toward them, but sensing danger and thinking quickly, they had put their car in reverse and escaped.

But he had scared them. They remembered what he looked like: He was tall, had a thin face, heavy eyebrows, dark hair and unusually long arms. He walked oddly. They thought he might have had a gun, but they did not stay long enough to find out. His manner was threatening and they were certain that if he managed to reach them before they got away, he would have harmed them. They figured that he meant to rob them, but now they believed he intended worse. They hoped their information would assist the police with the missing family.

Theirs was just one more in a long line of strange and disturbing stories from the 1950s.

Decade of Danger

The world was a tense place during that mid-century decade. Communist governments controlled land from Czechoslovakia to China --- and approximately one-third of the world's population. The Western nations formed the capitalist bloc, and because of greater industrial progress Western Europe was much wealthier than Eastern Europe. That boosted their recovery from the wars, but the United States quickly became the dominant world power, offering the highest standard of living. It was also the envy of other nations and for some an enemy to be feared.

Yet even in the United States, things were not at peace. The youth culture resisted the naïve mainstream emphasis on clean, orderly, and disciplined families in perfect homes pursuing the materialistic American dream. As citizens struggled to restore a sense of innocence after the devastating world war, television came into more and more homes, offering guidelines for specific roles: Fathers were to be providers and mothers contented homemakers. Shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet taught Americans how to manage their households.

Yet bucking this idealistic trend were those who rebelled, and while some turned to art or communications to shake the system, some reacted with violence. For example, former convict William Cook got out of prison and went on a murder spree. Once abandoned by his father, he forced people to become his hostages before killing them. First was a family of five, whom he shot in their car. He drove around with their corpses before depositing them in an abandoned mineshaft in Missouri. Then he headed to California, where he killed a salesman. From there, he took two men hostage, but authorities grabbed him before he could harm them, and California convicted and executed him.

President Harry S. Truman emphasized the U.S. mission to defend free countries from communism, so armies increased on both sides of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe, and economic relief was exchanged in needy countries for political control. Those on each side viewed the other as the aggressor. In Indochina, French troops fought the spread of communism southward, while a political conflict in Korea provoked the United Nations to assist the South against the communist North. Eventually boundaries were defined between democracy and totalitarianism, and each side set about developing the most powerful weaponry possible. Advanced technology ushered in the age of military secrets, clandestine missions, and espionage.

Soon, paranoia became formalized. Starting in 1950, a young senator named Joseph McCarthy led a campaign against "card-carrying communists" that he claimed had infiltrated the government and the country's communications systems. As the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee provided a venue for his hysteria, people were labeled as communist sympathizers and blackmailed into giving up other names. During the "red scare" government employees had to go through loyalty tests, and illegal measures were tolerated in the name of national security. The FBI kept records on people considered "subversive" and many people were ruined. Finally, in 1954, McCarthy was discredited by a senate censure. During this time, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were tried and executed for giving nuclear secrets to the Soviets.

Those who could, gave voice to this gripping tension between "good" and "bad" people, and among them, one author wrote a chilling tale that seemed to both absorb and anticipate the national anxiety over threats to domestic safety.

Literary Psychopath

As if expecting these cultural pressures to grip and motivate roving men who turned to murder, in 1953 Flannery O'Connor published a short story entitled, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Known for twisting expectations into gruesome images, she probably never topped herself outside this tale.

It opens with a grandmother resisting a trip to Florida that her family desires to take, so in an attempt to scare them out of it, she describes the horrific crimes of "the Misfit," a fugitive from a federal prison who had done "something" to "some people." His crimes remain vague, but the woman's worried tone conveys an uneasy fear of pervasive danger on the road: someone who doesn't even know you and has nothing against you, could nevertheless come along and harm or kill you. The family goes to Florida anyway, taking her with them. Along the way, she raises the subject of the Misfit, warning the others of what he might do. The story's title refers to the fact that danger from strangers is increasing in America and it's getting more difficult to feel safe. There once were "better times."

The family decides to go down a dirt road to see an attraction, and of course, they encounter the Misfit. Having an accident, thanks to Grandma's cat, they seek help, and a car with three men passes by them and stops. The men are armed, and the grandmother, having seen a photo in the paper, shouts at one of them that he's the Misfit. He affirms it, and tells her it would have been better for them had she not said so. Now they're in trouble. The grandmother attempts to appeal to the man's better nature, and he apologizes for not wearing a shirt in front of the ladies. Nevertheless, it's clear that his intent for them was formed as soon as he saw them. No appeal will budge it.

Even as the Misfit talks about being a gospel singer and one of his companions comments on how to fix the car, the other takes the father and son into the woods and shoots them. Then, they take the mother, daughter and baby, and do the same. The grandmother, aware of what's happening, continues to remind the Misfit of what was once good in him. But he compares himself to Jesus, who suffered punishment for no crime, proving that the world is morally off balance. The Misfit figures that the only thing a person can do is enjoy whatever time he has, and since he likes killing people, that's what he does. He likes "meanness." When the grandmother offers a touch of kindness, he jumps back and shoots her dead. Then he cleans his glasses and, without affect or remorse, tells his companions to dump her body with the others.

It was just this sort of cold predatory behavior that frightened people around the country, and with good reason, as television, newspapers, and newsreels shown in movie theaters covered the evident increase in demented or angry killers.

Cultural Xenophobia

In Wisconsin, Ed Gein was arrested in 1957 for killing two women and desecrating multiple female corpses in cemeteries in his pursuit of preserving skin and body parts to act out a transgendered homage to his deceased mother. A more grizzly ghoul could not be imagined by novelists or screenwriters. In Los Angeles two years later, Harvey Glatman showed police after his arrest how he had posed as a photographer to get potential models to allow themselves to be tied up. He then took photographs of them as they began to realize that he intended them harm. He apparently most enjoyed those moments just before he murdered them. He killed three before a fourth escaped and alerted the police. Not much was known then about multiple murderers, but the country was learning that they were out there, almost anywhere, preying on strangers.

Near the end of the decade, another criminal deviation occurred in the form of a killing couple who had absorbed the youth culture's appreciation for social alienation. The Beats were getting attention for their angry poetry readings and a movie star named James Dean epitomized the feeling of disenfranchised youth in a popular film, Rebel without a Cause. Charles Starkweather, 19, viewed Dean as his role model, and with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, he cut a murderous swath through Nebraska during two weeks in 1958, killing her family, his friends and several strangers before he was stopped. Their death toll was 11, and she went to prison while he was executed.

America was shaken by the images of demented neighbors and roving strangers killing people senselessly. The availability of cars and cheap new motels, along with better highways, made the population more mobile, but this erosion of a cohesive community life also made people feel more vulnerable. Killers were striking at good folks, even at families, as if to undermine the county's very foundation. Prosperity clearly had a shadow side, a rather dark one, and police in Virginia were still trying to learn what had happened to the Jackson family.

One Mystery Solved

It had been two months since Carroll Jackson apparently abandoned his car near Falls Church, VA. According to Colin Wilson, on March 4, two men were riding in a car near Fredericksburg, Va., when it got bogged down in mud on a back road. To attempt to get some traction to get out, they went searching for dried underbrush. As they gathered several armfuls to take back to the car, they made a shocking discovery. A decomposing man lay in a ditch, his hands bound in front of him with what appeared to be a necktie. The men ran back to their car, worked with haste to get out of the rut, and drove as fast as they could to alert the police.

Detectives found their way to the body. Clearly, the dead man had been there a while, but as it was winter, the body was somewhat preserved, even for that part of Eastern Virginia. It was clear that he had been shot in the back of the head. Then, as they removed him from the ditch, they made another grim discovery. Underneath him was a second body, that of a female baby.

Whoever had killed these two had simply tossed the child in first. There was no sign that she had been shot, stabbed or strangled, and the pathologist later determined that she had been dumped in the ditch alive and had suffocated beneath her father, probably soon after he was tossed on top of her. It was a cruel and brutal killing.

It was not long before the police had identified the victims as Carroll Jackson and his daughter, Janet. Investigators surmised that the killer had forced the car off the road, much like the man who'd encountered the other couple that day, and had forced them to get into his car, probably the trunk. Assuming that Jackson's wife and other daughter had suffered a similar fate, teams of officers returned to the woods to search the area for their bodies. But after extensive time and work, they turned up nothing. Wherever Mildred and 5-year-old Susan were, they had not been dumped there.

It was not until March 21, more than two weeks later, that they finally came across the missing members of the Jackson family, much deeper in the woods. Two boys out squirrel hunting, Wilson says, came across an area that appeared to have been freshly dug. Curious, they went closer to have a look. One of them moved some of the loose dirt aside and thought he saw something. They bent over for a better view and dug a little deeper. Then they saw what looked like blond human hair. They pushed more dirt aside and realized that they had found someone buried there - a little girl. Startled, they ran home to tell their parents, who called the police. Since the discovery was in the area where they had been looking for the Jacksons, they assumed that the boys had led them to Susan's shallow grave. It seemed a tragedy for this family, but it was about to become much more than that.


As the police carefully dug into the grave, they exhumed the body of little Susan. Beneath her was Mildred. They took the decomposed corpses to the forensic pathologist for a thorough examination. He announced that both victims had been raped and Mildred had apparently been forced into other sexual acts, as well as tortured before she was bludgeoned to death. She had a stocking loosely tied around her neck, as if used for leverage to force her to perform.

Investigators believed that she may have been told to engage in a sexual act that disgusted her, possibly oral sex (Schechter confirms this), and perhaps had refused, so her killer had found a way via a collar to make her do what he wanted. She had been bludgeoned, but it was not clear whether this had caused her death or whether she had died from strangulation. Her body was too decomposed to offer a definitive medical opinion. Susan had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument, possibly a gun butt.

As the bodies were removed, several detectives walked around the area to see if there was any dropped evidence, footprints, or some indication why the killer had brought his victims to this place. But then the story gets confusing from one account to another.

Within a few hundred yards, says Wilson (and echoed by Lane and Gregg), detectives came across a cinderblock building which they already knew about. Two years earlier in 1957, they had found it full of pornography and morgue photos of dead woman. However, Newton and other authors say nothing about this building, indicating instead that a quarter mile from the bodies the police came across a shack. It's difficult to know which story is correct. Fredericksburg is not that close to Annapolis, and while some authors indicate that the first incident was just over the Maryland/Virginia border, it nevertheless seems a stretch to say that it's quite as close to Fredericksburg as these authors indicate. It's more likely that because buildings were found near both incidents, they were confused by some authors as the same one.

Outside the shack near the Jackson grave, police observed fresh tire marks, which made them wonder if the driver from the Chevrolet who had stopped the one couple had perhaps forced the family into his car and had brought them here. It was likely that he had killed the father and dumped the baby so he could have Mildred and Susan at his mercy for his sexual pleasure. In fact, inside this shed, the police found a red button, and it turned out that Mildred's dress was missing a button exactly like it. It now seemed likely that the killer was familiar with the area, knew about this shack, and had brought his victims here for a clear predatory purpose. He then had killed them and buried them close by.

Yet there were no leads for identifying him, and the case became increasingly frustrating as the media sought answers.

The Jazz Player

As investigators interrogated suspects and looked for anything that would help them solve the Jackson murders, an anonymous letter arrived from a man with suspicions about his friend. The following year, he was identified, according to Everitt in Human Monsters, as Glenn Moser of Norfolk, VA. His friend's name, he said in the letter, was Melvin David Rees, and he was a 26-year-old self-styled existential philosopher and jazz musician. Dark-haired Rees was intelligent and talented, traveling from one place to another to play saxophone, piano or clarinet. Rees had once attended the University of Maryland, but had dropped out before graduating. Ostensibly he had left to pursue a musical career. Their conversations were often filled with heady ideas and commentary on what life should be. One evening the subject turned to murder.

"You can't say it's wrong to kill," Moser recalled Rees saying. "Only individual standards make it right or wrong." It was a Nietzschean rendering of situational ethics, bold for the time. In fact, in 1948, Alfred Hitchcock had made a movie based on the idea, in which two intellectual college students kill a man to prove it, horrifying their professor, who had introduced them to it in the classroom. Even before that, in 1924, Leopold and Loeb had done that very act, murdering 14-year-old Bobby Franks in Chicago to prove that they were superior individuals, above the standards of ordinary people. (But they weren't above being punished for it.)

Under the experience of Benzedrine, an amphetamine that made him talk excessively, Rees confided to Moser that he craved to have every intense experience, from love to death. According to Wilson's rendering in The Mammoth Book of the History of Murder, this conversation supposedly took place the day before the Jacksons were abducted.

Then, when their murder was publicized two months later, Moser viewed his friend's bold words in a new light. He already knew that Rees had been arrested on charges of assaulting a 36-year-old woman in 1955. Rees had tried to get her into his car and when she'd refused, he had resorted to dragging her. The victim would not press charges, however, so the case was dropped, and Rees's friends had dismissed the incident, Moser among them. But now he wondered. Rees was mild-mannered, but one never knew what lay in another man's heart, especially if he wanted to hide it.

To understand why Moser suspected Rees and why Rees might indeed have been the killer, we need to examine ideas that were floating around in the counter-culture at the time.

Existential Excuse

During the 1950s, existentialism was popular among people in the counterculture—musicians, artists, poets, and the hangers-on who followed them like groupies. While it was primarily a 19th century philosophy attributed to the Danish thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, several key European philosophers had updated the notions for application to troubled, post-war anxieties that plagued nations. The most notable of these were Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who often discussed the ideas in cafés in Paris's Latin Quarter, making the image of the educated, cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking artiste into a popular model for others. They took their cue primarily from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, so we'll start with him.

He proposed ideas toward the end of the 19th century that had ramifications for more than a century on how certain psychopathic criminals perceived and excused themselves. In 1886, Nietzsche published Beyond Good and Evil, in which he spelled out how morality is illusory and then postulated that crime might be regarded as an invigorating condition to make the human species stronger. Exploitation within society is normal, because "life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker." In other words, life is a "will to power," his title for a more forceful book in which he described the human ideal as an intense Dionysian affirmation of the world as it is, including violence.

But the key notion is his proposal about moral behavior. Morality, Nietzsche said, was a system of judgments that coincided with the conditions of the moralist's life. There was a master morality and a slave morality. People who could assimilate the will to power would survive, be honest about the aggressive instinct, become leaders, and determine what is good and what is evil. The greatest enjoyment, Nietzsche said, was to "live dangerously", that is, to live on one's own terms. In the century to come, those who learned these ideas and desired to "live dangerously" would adopt Nietzsche as a patron saint --- or sinner.

Having declared that God is dead in the modern soul and that Christian values shield us from our true selves, Nietzsche proclaimed that a moral genius, or übermensch, would overturn those values and create new ones based on the will to power. Without such a person to renew our society, he claimed, we're doomed to go through phases of soul-deadening nihilism until we lose spiritual momentum.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre became famous for popularizing existentialism in a brief essay and for publishing the massive and obtuse, Being and Nothingness. He insisted that people were entirely free to choose how they lived, and that their choices defined them: You are what you do. With such freedom came the burden of responsibility, and individuals were essentially on their own. Everyone used everyone else and true bonding was not really possible.

One of Sartre's associates was French-Algerian Albert Camus, who published The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus in 1942. The Stranger portrayed the antihero, Meursault, a man unreflective and utterly detached, showing what it's like to be a stranger to oneself, one's friends, and one's own world: He's indifferent to his mother's death, his girlfriend's attempt to love him, and even his random murder of a man because the sun was in his eyes. Only when sentenced to death does he come to terms with his freedom. It is a depressing tale, but Camus seemed to have succinctly and disturbingly expressed the war-ravaged outlook of a generation of people who felt lost, detached, and out of place. His book was an international sensation, and he followed it with his essay about the Greek myth of Sisyphus--a man whom the gods condemn endlessly to push a large boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again. Because of our absurd metaphysical situation, Camus stated, we share the same fate as Sisyphus and our best response to life's absurdity is defiance. Otherwise, we'll be crushed.

All three philosophers had a significant impact on the alienated subcultures of the 1950s, and their ideas about choice and morality were filtered into poetry, film, art, and music. Even murder.

You Are What You Do

Soon, Moser said in the letter, he confronted Rees, asking him directly whether he was involved in the disappearance of the Jackson family and their murders. Rees admitted nothing, but seemed evasive and would not deny it, and it was this behavior that most alarmed Moser. Even though Rees was his friend, he believed he had to do something. Anyone who killed another person should be punished, but he realized that if Rees could so easily slaughter an entire family, he might also kill again - or do something worse. If he were truly seeking intense experiences, he might subject people to unrelenting terror and torture. The idea was appalling.

In the letter, Moser stated that he believed Rees may have been involved in another murder as well - a woman who was killed in 1957. He said that he was a salesman and that he and Rees had been in the area at the time when Margaret Harold was murdered. Given the circumstances and Rees's attitudes about killing, Moser urged the police to investigate and directed them to where he believed the itinerant musician might be.

They agreed that the lead was worth pursuing, but they failed to find Rees. He had moved out of his house and had not left a forwarding address. However, the contents of the anonymous note were sufficient for them to check his background. They discovered that he had once dated a woman from the University of Maryland named Wanda Tipton. That rang a bell, so detectives went to the university to ask for yearbooks to see what she had looked like. To their astonishment, she turned out to be a young woman who had been questioned when Ms. Harold was killed. They knew it was time to review the 1957 investigation.

Random Maniac

On June 26, 1957, Margaret Harold was in the car with her boyfriend, an army sergeant who was on leave for the weekend. In The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Lane and Gregg describe what occurred. They had been driving together in a remote area of Annapolis, Md. (Newton indicates that they were parked), when a man in a Green Chrysler forced them off the road (Newton says he walked up to the parked car and identified himself falsely as the property's caretaker). They wondered if he needed assistance, but his intentions were much more malignant.

He got out of his car and came over to them, gesturing for them to roll down the window. He showed them that he had a gun. (Newton indicates that he climbed into the back seat.) Then he demanded a cigarette. They had none and told him so. He demanded that they give him some money, and they refused. This response apparently angered him. He lifted the gun, pointed it at Margaret, and shot her in the face. (In The Chronicle of Crime Fido says that he started to molest her, at which point the soldier ran. Wilson, too, indicates that he was in the back seat and he wound his fingers into Margaret's hair, pulling her head back and shooting her when she told her boyfriend not to give him anything.)

The soldier (whom no source names), was stunned and horrified, but he also knew that his own life was in danger. Unable to save Margaret, he jumped from the car and ran as fast as he could across several fields until he found an isolated farmhouse a mile away where he was able to call for help. The police came to pick him up while another team went to the crime scene. As anticipated from the point-blank assault, Margaret was dead. Yet the attacker had not just shot and left her. He had also removed her clothing and sexually assaulted her after she died, leaving her exposed in the car. It was the epitome of craven disregard for a victim. And it signaled how bold the man was. Even as the soldier had run off, the attacker had nevertheless taken the time to get his pleasure from a corpse.

The sergeant gave a good description of the man - average build, somewhat tall, dark hair, clean-shaven, and rather ordinary looking with a thin face. There was nothing overtly threatening about the way he looked, only in his cold, brutal manner.

Looking for any type of evidence, investigators fanned out in the hope that the maniac driver had not gotten very far, or that he possibly had dropped something. In the process, they came across a cinderblock building with a broken basement window not far from the scene of the murder. This was the building, mentioned earlier, that they entered and found potential clues. Inside was a collection of violent pornography and morgue photos of women who had been murdered, many of which were taped to the walls. It was clearly a sadist's hideout, kept secret for his sexual pleasure. That was also where the police had found the yearbook photograph of Wanda Tipton. She had attended the University of Maryland, graduating in 1955, and since she stood out among this odd collection, they set out to find her.

When Ms. Tipton was contacted and questioned, she claimed not to know anyone by the description the police had given her. That was a disappointing development. They had felt certain they would learn something from her that would make an arrest in this horrendous crime possible. In 1957, there were few forensic procedures for processing evidence, and catching killers often depended on finding them right away. But that was not to be. With no more leads, the case dried up, leaving the killer to move on in his predatory ways until he crossed paths in Virginia a year and a half later with the Jackson family, and possibly with others.

After receiving the anonymous letter in 1959, police compared the mass murder of the Jacksons with the killing of Margaret Harold and found significant similarities: A tall, dark-haired man traveling in a car, who approached people in cars to attack. A sexual assault on the females. A brutal disregard for the victims' suffering. Operating in the same general area. It all seemed to fit, and despite Ms. Tipton's insistence that she did not know a man like the one they described, it seemed that she had actually known such a person fairly well. Wilson states that she later admitted that she had dated him but had given him up because he was married. (Perhaps he had told her so, but there was no indication that he was.) Her reticence may have cost investigators considerable time, but it's unlikely that admitting to knowing him would have helped them to find him.

With what they now knew, they believed they had the jazz musician Melvin Rees dead to rights: They were certain that he was their man. They revisited the address they'd received in Moser's anonymous note, but still did not find him. They checked jazz clubs where he'd played but no one knew where he was. Rees seemed to have disappeared, perhaps tipped by someone that the police were looking for him or merely anticipating the possibility after Moser had confronted him. In any event, he was gone, and for more than a year, the trail went cold and the murders had to be shelved to devote resources to more immediate concerns. But the Jacksons and Ms. Harold were not forgotten.

Then, the police received help from an unusual source.

Psychic Detective

Peter Hurkos had gained international fame during that era as a seer, which inevitably got him involved in murder cases. Norma Browning, his biographer, recounts the episode in The Psychic World of Peter Hurkos. Having fallen from a ladder in 1941, he claimed that he survived the accident with "two minds" - one of them psychic. He said he could see the future, travel mentally into the past, and learn about people from touching objects they had owned or going to where they had been.

Leaving the Netherlands, he came to the United States, developed a successful nightclub act, and hobnobbed with celebrities and politicians. Many people wanted him to use his powers to assist them, from finding missing children to organizing their lives to solving crimes. One such person was Dr. F. Regis Riesenman, a forensic psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C., who invited Hurkos to visit at his own expense in June 1960. He wanted Hurkos to help with the Carroll case.

Browning says police had already questioned some 1,500 suspects and were focusing on more than 100 as good candidates. They accepted Hurkos's services, via Riesenman, but were dismayed by the publicity that accompanied his arrival in Falls Church. He predicted a resolution to the case within two weeks and said the man the police would arrest would be indicted for nine murders, not just the Jackson family. He went to the cemetery where the Jacksons were buried to get a psychic sense of them and also handled their possessions, accurately describing the position of their bodies when found. He knew how each had been killed and described the murderer as just over six feet tall, left-handed, with a tattoo on one arm. His arms were longer than normal and he walked like a duck. All of this was consistent with witness reports.

When Hurkos was taken to that area where Margaret Harold was killed and assaulted, Browning says he found a piece of the victim's skirt still caught on a bush. He confirmed psychically that she was killed by the same man who murdered the Jacksons.

He also drew a picture of a house where he believed the killer lived and led the police to it. They were amazed that it was the home of one of their primary suspects, a trash collector. Browning says that upon the man's arrest (she doesn't name him), he confessed to the crimes. The newspapers quickly printed the fact that Hurkos had solved the crime, but within 10 days (within the framework that Hurkos had offered), the FBI had located Rees. The Washington Post then ridiculed what Hurkos had said, calling his assistance a failure, but his biographer defended him against these charges.

She believed (and Wilson confirms) that in retrospect, it was clear that Hurkos was highly accurate about certain significant details. If Browning can be trusted, Hurkos accurately described the killer's appearance and posture, and had picked out the house that had once been Rees' home. Rees just had not lived there when Hurkos arrived. Hurkos also indicated that Mildred Jackson had only 31 teeth (she was missing one), which was confirmed by the autopsy report. And there was one more salient detail, but we'll get to that later.

Murder Journal

A year went by before Moser heard from Rees, and Hurkos had already arrived in Falls Church to help with the investigation. Out of the blue, Moser received a letter letting him know that Rees was now living in Hyattsville, Ark., and working as a piano salesman in a music store in West Memphis. He provided an address.

Moser realized that he now had a way to send the police right to Rees's door. He'd been disappointed as he'd followed the investigation in newspapers to learn that his earlier tip had failed to pay off. It had been difficult then to turn in a friend and he was now faced with doing that again, but he knew it was right. This time he went directly to the police department to show them the letter from Rees and provide everything he could to ensure a thorough investigation. Thanks to his intervention, things turned out quite differently for the jazz player.

Because Rees had crossed a state line, the FBI entered the case. Agents went to Arkansas, arrested Rees at the store, and brought the Army sergeant from Annapolis there for a line-up. He identified Rees as the man who had approached them that fateful night in 1957 and killed Margaret Harold.

The agents then searched Rees's home. Although it seemed unlikely that there would be any evidence from the murders this far away, unless he had kept a memento from a victim, they looked through everything. Finally they struck pay dirt. Inside a saxophone case they found the evidence they needed.

Rees had secreted a .38 caliber handgun in the case -the attacker in both cases had shot the victims with a .38. But more telling was the sheaf of notes written by Rees that described a number of sexually sadistic acts. One note was paper-clipped to a piece of newspaper, and when the agents examined it, they knew they had the best evidence they were going to get: the note described killing a man and baby on a lonely road, which resulted in a chilling confession: "now the mother and daughter were all mine." The piece of newspaper was a photo of Mildred Jackson. It was as good as a token taken from the body or as actual property of the victim. No jury would deny the connection.

In essence, Rees had offered a murder journal, and he'd gone on to explain that he had indeed tortured Mildred and had drawn out her death in a sadistic manner. Lane and Gregg quote it thus: "then tied and gagged, led her to a place of execution and hung her. I was her master."

A gun, a photo, a specific description by the killer tantamount to a confession, a line-up identification, and the suspicions of a friend - it was a good collection of evidence. Even as Rees was taken to Maryland to await his first trial, investigators started looking at other unsolved cases that bore possible links to this mad dog. They found what they were looking for.


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.)

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 Rees's 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.

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. Newton writes that Rees survived for two more decades before dying in prison of natural causes.

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, Newton's information might be more accurate. Schechter confirms the information, but might simply be passing it along from Newton's 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.


Browning, Norma Lee. The Psychic World of Peter Hurkos. New York: Signet, 1970.

Everitt, David. Human Monsters. New York: Contemporary Books, 1993.

Fido, Martin. The Chronicle of Crime. London: Carlton, 1993.

Friedman, Maurice, editor. The Worlds of Existentialism. New York: Random House, 1964.

Lane, Brian and Wilfred Gregg. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. New York: Berkley, 1992.

Newton, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. New York: Facts on File, 2000.

O'Connor, Flannery. "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works. Library of America.

Sahakian, William. History of Philosophy. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Schechter, Harold. The Serial Killer Files. New York: Ballantine, 2003.

Wilson, Colin. The Killers among Us: Sex, Madness, and Mass Murder. New York: Warner, 1995.

341 F.2d 859

Melvin Davis Rees, Jr., Appellant,
C. C. Peyton, Superintendent of the Virginia State Penitentiary, Appellee.

Docket number: 9410

Federal Circuits, 4th Cir.

February 1, 1965

Before SOBELOFF, Chief Judge, and HAYNSWORTH, BOREMAN, BRYAN and BELL, Circuit Judges, sitting en banc.

ALBERT V. BRYAN, Circuit Judge:

By habeas corpus in the District Court Melvin Davis Rees, Jr. seasonably but unsuccessfully attacked, as unconstitutional, his trial, conviction and sentence of death in a Virginia court for the murder of Carroll Vernon Jackson, Jr. On his appeal we find no entrenchment upon his rights in the criminal trial. Nor do we see error in the conduct of the habeas corpus hearing. Discharge of the writ will be affirmed.

The incursions upon his fundamental privileges by the State, as charged by Rees, are (1) the admission in evidence of a pistol seized in an illegal search, (2) refusal of a change of venue or venire, and (3) imprisonment during trial in Richmond, 50 miles away, rather than in the jail of Fredericksburg, about 6 miles from the place of trial. Errors pointed at the District Court, beside the failure to declare the conviction a nullity, are its rulings at the hearing precluding interrogation of the trial jurors as to their impression by or indifference to publicity during the trial relating to the crime. Prior to the Virginia trial, appellant Rees had been convicted in the Federal District Court of Maryland for kidnapping of the murder victim's wife and sentenced to life imprisonment, with no appeal taken. See United States v. Rees, D.C., 193 F.Supp. 849 (1961).

A compendium of the facts will suffice to frame the legal issues now before us.* Carroll Vernon Jackson, Jr., the victim of the murder, with his wife, Mildred, and their two infant children, Susan and baby Janet, left his mother-in-law's home in Louisa County, Virginia during the late evening of January 11, 1959, driving to their own house in the same county, only a few miles distant. Next morning the car was found at a point midway to their destination, on the side of the highway and unoccupied.

About two months later, March 4, the bodies of Carroll Jackson and the baby were found in adjoining Spotsylvania County. The infant had expired from head blows. Her father, severely beaten in like manner, had also been fatally shot through the head. The wound, in the opinion of the Medical Examiner of Virginia, came from a .38 caliber bullet. Near his body were his broken eyeglasses and a pair of plastic gun grips.

Afterwards, on March 21, 1959, the bodies of Mildred Jackson and her other daughter, Susan, were found buried in Maryland. Both had been cruelly clubbed about the head and apparently died from aspiration of blood.

Rees was arrested in West Memphis, Arkansas on June 24, 1960 by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for another murder in Maryland. His movements on the day of the Jackson tragedy had placed him in Spotsylvania County.

Upon notification of Rees' apprehension, FBI agents were sent to the home of his parents in Hyattsville, Maryland, not far from where the bodies of the wife and daughter had been unearthed. Rees was known to sleep at the house on occasion. The agents' purpose was to inform the parents of the arrest before news reporters reached them; to locate the Jackson murder pistol, to which it was believed the plastic grips belonged and with which it was thought the fatal blows had been dealt Carroll Vernon Jackson and his daughter; to obtain additional specified evidence connected with the Jackson and other homicides of which Rees was suspected; and to check his activities from time to time in the vicinity where his parents lived.

The revolver was found in their residence. The search there and the seizure of the pistol, resulting in its introduction in evidence, admittedly the decisive proof against Rees, constitute the primary and principal violation of constitutional immunities now pleaded by Rees.


The Fourth Amendment, applied to State prosecutions by the Fourteenth Amendment, Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961), was not transgressed. The search and seizure were not unreasonable, but in every sense reasonable and authorized in law. This conclusion rests on the facts; they demonstrate its soundness. Cf. Ker v. State of California, 374 U.S. 23 , 33, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1913); United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 63, 70 S.Ct. 430, 94 L.Ed. 653 (1950). This becomes manifest upon continuation of the factual recital to include what occurred after the FBI agents arrived at the home of the Reeses.

Both of the parents consented to the search of the premises by the agents, the husband signing a formal authorization and the wife giving oral approval. But appellant Rees contends that this permission was vitiated through coercion of his parents. The first factor of the asserted duress is the timing of the visit on June 24, 1960, the very day of the arrest: that the agents should be the ones to carry the news to the parents and rely upon the mental shock to weaken their resistance to a search.

The agents reached the home about 3:30 o'clock in the afternoon. Finding no one there, they waited in a neighboring home. The father returning at four o'clock was invited by the neighbor into her house. She introduced him to the agents and left the room. They had already informed her of the arrest. When she entered the room again, she says, the senior Rees was shaken with emotion and was standing between the two agents for support. There is a difference of recollection here; the agents say they did not tell the father of his son's trouble until they were in his home.

The agents and the senior Rees left the house through the back door, to avoid the reporters who had gathered nearby, and went to the Rees home. Whether they then or had previously told him of what had happened, they here stated they wished to search his property and to ask him about the whereabouts of his son on certain days. In this he was requested to sign a form, prepared at the time, stating his consent to the search. He preferred to consult his wife before making a decision. She came shortly. In the interval there is no indication of the agents' pressing their desire to search.

Upon hearing the distressing report, the wife readily acquiesced in the agents' proposal, observing that there was nothing to conceal. The father expressed the thought of consulting an attorney about the consent. The agents agreed that it was his right but said that as he felt his son could not have committed murder, there would be nothing found to incriminate him. Before it was signed both of the Reeses were fully aware of the contents of the paper. It read in this way:

"I, Melvin Davis Rees, Sr., having been informed of my Constitutional right not to have a search made of the premises hereinafter mentioned without a search warrant, and of my right to refuse to consent to such a search, hereby authorize James W. Sibert and Thomas J. Fynee, Jr., Special Agents of the F.B.I., U.S. Department of Justice, to conduct a complete search in my residence located at 3908 Madison Street, Hyattsville, Maryland. These agents are authorized by me to take from my residence any letters, papers, materials, or other property which they may desire. This written permission is being given by me to the above named Special Agents, voluntarily and without threats or promises of any kind."

During the search pursuant to this permission the agents went into the attic. There they saw in the rear of a closet a removable section leading to a crawl space. In this area was found what is now designated as an accordion case. Its discovery was reported to the father and it was produced before him.

The case was locked with a padlock and hasp. A tag was attached bearing the name, address and telephone number of one Dennis J. Werber. When questioned about it, the father had no knowledge of its existence or ownership. Nor could he identify it as anything belonging to his son. He assented to its forcible opening. In it was found the pistol. The other contents were certain obscene drawings, including newspaper pictures of the Jacksons, and an account in the younger Rees' own handwriting of his killing of Mildred Jackson and daughter Susan, with the molestation of the former. Receipting for all the articles and with the Reeses' consent, the agents took the pistol and the papers to the FBI office. The revolver proved to be the gun which matched the plastic grips. Blood stains were revealed on the butt. Upon objection none of the papers was admitted in evidence.

The circumstances of the agents' entry and search, we think, are a complete refutation of appellant's charges of psychological compulsion of either of his parents. Both the State and the Federal court have found that consent was understandingly and voluntarily accorded. Any question of a search warrant was thus waived, as is permissible. Zap v. United States, 328 U.S. 624, 628, 66 S.Ct. 1277, 90 L.Ed. 1477 (1946), vacated on another ground in 330 U.S. 800 , 67 S.Ct. 854, 91 L.Ed. 1259 (1946). This finding is deeply anchored in the evidence. The elder Reeses were in exclusive possession of the house, with every right to authorize even its rummage. The testimony showed the house was not the home of the appellant, that he was merely an occasional visitor there, with no particular space assigned him for any purpose. Consequently, his concurrence in the search was unnecessary. These circumstances divorce this case from the category of Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 68 S.Ct. 367, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948); Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313, 41 S.Ct. 266, 65 L.Ed. 654 (1921) and like precedents cited by appellant as illegalizing the search for want of consent.

Likewise, the facts themselves render impregnable the District Court's approval of the State court's sanction of the opening of the accordion case. No tag or other indicium attributing its ownership to appellant Rees was apparent. It was hidden in a remote part of the house, put there by someone without the knowledge of even the owners and occupants of the property. True, it was locked and the appellant, it now turns out, had the key. But the case itself negated any ownership of the younger Rees. It was marked as the property of another, Werber ? not only by name but address and telephone number ? with whom the senior Reeses were unacquainted. It could well have been abandoned personalty which, of course, was seizable. Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217, 241, 80 S.Ct. 683, 4 L.Ed.2d 668 (1960). Appellant's parents had joined in the wish of the agents to force the lock of the case. Certainly they were warranted in ascertaining the subject-matter of an unrecognizable case found secreted in their home. These facts quite plainly exclude this situation from that in each of the contra precedents urged by the appellant: Holzhey v. United States, 223 F.2d 823 (5 Cir. 1955) and United States v. Blok, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 326, 188 F.2d 1019 (1951).

Once the case was legally opened, as we think it was, the pistol could be seized; it was suspect as an instrument of the crime. This was not a general hunt for evidence of any kind; it was a search for specific articles. Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217 , 239, 80 S. Ct. 683 (1959); Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 154, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399 (1947). To our mind, the entire search and seizure were altogether without legal infirmity. Roberts v. United States, 332 F.2d 892 (8 Cir. 1964). For this view, we also adopt the reasons noted by Judge Lewis in the hearing below, as well as those given by Judge Thomsen and Judge Butzner in their respective determinations at trial to admit the pistol. United States v. Rees, supra, 193 F.Supp. 849 and Rees v. Commonwealth, supra, 203 Va. 850, 127 S.E.2d 406.


Nor do we perceive fault in the denial of the venue or venire change moved at the criminal trial. Without doubt, there was publicity aplenty about the crime. It was, admittedly, disseminated throughout the county of trial by press, television and broadcast. But discriminate consideration will prove that it was not allowed to rob Rees of a fair trial.

The Jacksons disappeared, to repeat, on the night of January 11, 1959, their bodies discovered in March. The pistol and the indecent written material were not found in the accordion case until June 1960. The prosecution on the Federal indictment for kidnapping took place at Baltimore, Maryland in March 1961, more than two years after the crime. The notoriety of which Rees complains first emanated from that trial. So far as humanly possible, it was restrained by the District Judge there. Nevertheless, the testimony was propagated through all the news media. The trial in Virginia was not begun until September 1961. Here again, the trial judge confined the potentially injurious publicity as far as it was at all possible. Rees' written description of his Maryland crime ? labelled "Death Diary" in the news ? was never divulged in either trial.

A change of venue or venire in Virginia would have been of no aid whatsoever. Obviously, the same broadcasts and telecasts heard and seen in the county of trial would extend over the State generally. Press stories had nearly the same circulation everywhere in Virginia as they did in Spotsylvania County. Alert to protect the accused against the prejudice of an affected jury, the trial judge subjected the veniremen to a rigorous and scrupulously searching voir dire. Counsel participated in the prying. In its aim we think the court succeeded.

The finding of the criminal court that no veniremen were accepted who had a fixed opinion in the case is confirmed in our review of their inquisition. Of course, the exploration developed that they had heard and read of the crime. Scarcely any person in Virginia of jury fitness and stature could reasonably have been expected to be unaware of it. With patience and determination the trial judge ascertained from each juror whether his was a mind open to an appreciation and appraisal of the testimony only as it came from the stand, and to base decision exclusively on the evidence adduced at trial. No more can be demanded by an accused. It was put with clarity in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717 at page 722, 81 S.Ct. 1639 at page 1642, 6 L.Ed.2d 751 (1961) by Justice Clark:

"It is not required, however, that the jurors be totally ignorant of the facts and issues involved. In these days of swift, widespread and diverse methods of communication, an important case can be expected to arouse the interest of the public in the vicinity, and scarcely any of those best qualified to serve as jurors will not have formed some impression or opinion as to the merits of the case. This is particularly true in criminal cases. To hold that the mere existence of any preconceived notion as to the guilt or innocence of an accused, without more, is sufficient to rebut the presumption of a prospective juror's impartiality would be to establish an impossible standard. It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court. * * *"

While that decision declared the publicity destructive of due process, the present circumstances are not within its condemnation.

The Virginia trial was more than 2½ years beyond the day of the crime, and not until 15 months after the arrest. Attendance at the trial was sparse, the State circuit judge noted. His findings, adopted by the Court below, also noted: "There was no evidence introduced of mass prejudice against the defendant, of mob action, or threat of such action. There was no evidence of inflammatory newspaper editorials or interviews, of provocative radio or television commentaries. There was no evidence that it was the predominant belief in the county that the defendant was guilty * * *. Interest, agitation and apprehension concerning the case had diminished over the intervening years."

The defendant's insulation from unfairness in trial resulting from the wide pervasion of news of so startling crimes was, we conclude, constitutionally adequate.


Furthermore, no prejudice whatsoever was inflicted upon Rees through his incarceration, during trial, in Richmond instead of in a county or city jail closer to the trial courtroom. The accused was under two life sentences passed by the Federal court in Baltimore, he was in the custody of the Attorney General of the United States, although made available to the State for trial, and the Federal marshal considered only the Richmond penitentiary to afford the necessary security against escape. It was an approved institution for Federal prisoners. No deputy marshal was available at a nearer point for surveillance of Rees. The Circuit Judge particularly saw to it that Rees was made readily and conveniently accessible to his counsel at the trial courthouse, and elsewhere, at all reasonable times.

IV. Post-trial examination of the jurors was sought and refused in the habeas corpus hearing. Acknowledging the impropriety of post-trial plumbing of a juryman's conscience and disavowing any intention to re-canvass the impartiality of the jurors, Rees asserts that he had the right to question them as to their knowledge before trial "of incriminating information" not admitted in evidence. The distinction is not sound. The "information" was that which was conveyed in the news. The judgment a juror expresses in the verdict is not subject to subsequent public sounding. Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, 148, 13 S. Ct. 50, 36 L.Ed. 917 (1892); Rakes v. United States, 169 F.2d 739, 745 (4 Cir. 1948), cert. denied, 335 U.S. 826, 69 S.Ct. 51, 93 L.Ed. 380. The District Judge punctiliously preserved the sanctity of this principle, one so vital to our trial procedures.

Of course, a juror may after verdict be queried as to information, whether documentary or oral in nature, introduced into the jury room but not put before them at trial. Similarly, the intrusion of a stranger, or the misconduct of a juror, during deliberations is open to such inquiry. Cf. Mattox v. United States, supra, but that is not the nature of the present complaint.

Particular exception is taken by the appellant to the Court's rejection of proffered testimony of a juror's neighbor to a conversation in the presence of the juror before he was summoned for jury service. The subject of the conversation was a repetition of a report that Rees, before the Jackson murder, had once forced the car of one June Tuozzo off the road and abducted and assaulted her. Upon refusal of the District Court to permit the examination of the witness in this respect, Rees requested to call the juror. This, too, was refused.

While we think the statement of the neighbor was admissible, its exclusion was not substantial error. The juror had been questioned extensively on voir dire, as already mentioned, and had vouched his ability to decide objectively. Just how long prior to his acceptance as a juror was the alleged discussion is not clear. Nothing indicates, however, that the juror concealed any such discussion from the Court. If actually he had overheard the reiteration of the accusation, he may simply have not recalled it at the time he was examined.

Furthermore, the Tuozzo event was public knowledge. Indeed, it is one of the items of publicity mentioned by Rees in asking for a venue or venire change. In the Maryland trial the incident was permitted in evidence. United States v. Rees, supra, 193 F.Supp. 849, 856. The Virginia trial court rejected it. Rees v. Commonwealth, supra, 203 Va. 850, 127 S.E.2d 406, 419. Our judgment is that in this the petitioner shows no prejudicial error at the habeas corpus hearing.

The order of the District Court is affirmed.




* In addition to the opinion of District Judge Oren R. Lewis below, 225 F.Supp. 507, a careful narrative of the evidence is given by Chief Judge Roszel C. Thomsen in United States v. Rees, 193 F.Supp. 849 (D.Md.1961), and also is to be found in Rees v. Commonwealth, 203 Va. 850, 127 S.E.2d 406 (1962), refusing to review the conviction and adopting the opinion of Circuit Judge, now Federal District Judge, John D. Butzner, Jr., who presided at the trial

Memphis, Tenn.: In prison garb, Melvin Davis Rees sits before U.S. Commissioner Leslie Nicholson as a second bail of $50,000 is fixed against him on Virginia kidnap-murder charges, June 25th. The first $50,000 bail was set by Nicholson [on] June 24th in connection with a 1957 murder in Maryland. The FBI named Rees as the kidnap-killer who wiped out an entire family of four in a fiendish crime 18 months ago.
(Bettmann/CORBIS - June 25, 1960)

Melvin Davis Rees Jr.

Melvin Davis Rees Jr., 32 year old jazz musician, was convicted 2/23/61 of murder in the kidnap massacre of a Virginia family of four. The all-male jury did not specifically recommend the death sentence, meaning Rees can be sentenced up to life imprisonment for the grisly crime spree. Technically, he was charged with the 1959 kidnap-slaying of Mildred Jackson, 27, and her 5 year old daughter, Susan Ann. But the prosecution based its case on the belief that the handsome, one-time Maryland University student also had killed the father of the family, Caroll, and his 18 month old infant daughter, Janet.
(Bettmann/CORBIS - February 23, 1961)

Melvin Davis Rees, dance band guitarist, handcuffed to a U.S. Marshall, arrives at courthouse where he is standing trial for the murder of Carroll Vernon Jackson and his 18-month-old daughter, Janet. Rees has already been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in Maryland for the kidnapping and murder of Jackson's wife, Mildred, and daughter, Susan, 5. FBI agents testified that they found a pistol which the state claims was used to kill the Jackson family at the home of Rees.(Bettmann/CORBIS - September 25, 1961)

Spotsyvania, Virginia: Melvin Davis Rees Jr., enters car to be taken to jail after a circuit court jury today convicted him of murdering Carroll Vernon Jackson, head of a Virginia family of four and specified he be put to death. Jackson, his wife and two children were abducted from their car near their home in Apple Grove, Virginia and slain in January 1959.
(Bettmann/CORBIS - September 28, 1961)

Melvin Davis Rees Jr.