Details of Disappearance
Melendi was a sophomore at Emory University and employed at the now-defunct Softball Country Club on north Decatur Road in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994. She was employed as a scorekeeper and sports equipment salesperson. She arrived for her shift at approximately 8:40 a.m. on March 26, 1994.
Melendi agreed to keep score during a game at Field Number One after her employer mistakenly slated her for a shift after a scheduling conflict. She worked until approximately 12:40 p.m. that day.
She was seen shortly thereafter across the street from the club at the Citgo gas station, where she purchased a soft drink. She has never been heard from again.
Melendi's roommate became concerned when she failed to arrive home by the following morning. Her roommate discovered Melendi's black Nissan 280SX abandoned in the Citgo parking lot later during the day. The keys were in the ignition and the vehicle was unlocked. There was no sign of Melendi at the scene and her roommate phoned the authorities.
Melendi's father said that officials told his daughter's roommate and additional friends to drive her car back to Emory University shortly afterwards. He reported that investigators did not obtain fingerprints from the vehicle beforehand.
Investigators learned that Colvin Cornelious "Butch" Hinton III may have been the last person to be seen with Melendi on the day of her disappearance. A photograph of him is posted with his case summary.
Hinton was employed as an umpire at the softball club at the time. He also worked full-time with Delta Airlines in Atlanta. He has a history of assaulting women and was imprisoned for two years in the 1980s for the abduction and molestation of a young girl. He reportedly flirted with Melendi during games and was reprimanded by the field's management earlier in 1994.
An unidentified man contacted a tip line several days after Melendi vanished. The individual claimed that he had her and that she was alive and "felt lonely." He promised to leave a piece of Melendi's jewelry at the pay telephone booth were he placed the call as evidence of her alleged abduction.
Authorities traced the call to a pay phone in a booth outside of a Burger King restaurant near Rex, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta. Hinton also resided in Rex in 1994, although the caller's identity has never been established. A ring that Melendi received from her aunt was discovered near the booth, wrapped in a bag and masking tape.
Investigators concentrated their efforts on Hinton after the call was received. His residence was searched several times in April 1994.
Authorities discovered women's clothing, shoes, a sleeping bag and a club scorecard buried in his yard. They also took away a hard plastic cooler. The black tote bag Hinton reportedly carried on the day Melendi vanished was also recovered at his house. There was no sign of Melendi at Hinton's residence, however.
Hinton lost his job shortly after his co-workers claimed he bragged about a possible connection to a murder-for-hire case. Media outlets focused heavily on his suspected involvement in Melendi's disappearance as well.
Hinton borrowed his father's butcher saw on the day she vanished. His neighbors also complained that he burned trash in his back yard during the evening hours of March 26.
Hinton set fire to his residence in September 1994, six months after Melendi's disappearance. Authorities speculated that he intended to destroy evidence related to her case. He blamed the fire on a faulty vacuum cleaner, but was convicted of arson and insurance fraud in April 1995 and sentenced to nine years in federal prison. He was released in December 2003.
In August 2004, Hinton was charged with Melendi's abduction and murder. Police believe that Hinton either killed her intentionally, or that her death was an unintended result of him kidnapping her.
Prosecutors cited new evidence, including alleged confessions Hinton made to cellmates, as the reason for Hinton's arrest. They theorized Hinton murdered Melendi and disposed of her body by dismembering it and burning the parts in a bonfire in his backyard.
They also believe he was the man who made the phone call to the tip line and left the ring by the phone booth; metal particles on the bag containing the ring were linked to Delta Airlines, where Hinton worked in 1994. Experts testified that the particles contained unusual alloys that could only be found around jet engines.
Hinton pleaded not guilty to the murder, but he was convicted in September 2005 and given an automatic sentence of life in prison, as prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. He will be eligible for parole in fourteen years, but it is unlikely that he will be released at that time.
Hinton is the first person to have been convicted of murder in Georgia without the victim's body or evidence of a crime scene. He initially maintained his innocence in Melendi's disappearance even after his conviction, but in July 2006 he confessed to her murder and also admitted to making the telephone call and leaving the ring behind.
Hinton stated he had lured Melendi into his car, then forced her to drive to his home and raped her at knifepoint before strangling her. He stated he burned her body and discarded the ashes. In light of Hinton's confession, authorities are renewing the search for Melendi's remains.
Melendi was raised in the Miami-Dade, Florida area. Her loved ones describe her as an ambitious and popular young woman. She was majoring in Spanish and political science and accepted a paid internship at the Carter Center in Atlanta after her enrollment at Emory University. She planned to eventually go to law school.
Foul play is suspected in Melendi's case due to the circumstances involved.
Southwest 48th Street from 87th Avenue to 107th Avenue in Miami was renamed Shannon Melendi Drive in her honor after her disappearance.