In August of 1974, budding photographer, Michele Wallace, went backpacking with her German shepherd in the mountains of Western Colorado. Although she preferred portraiture, Michele had just received her first big break and had been taking pictures of the Ozarks for a national magazine. On the drive back from her trip, she spotted two stranded motorists, Chuck Matthews, and a man who introduced himself as ‘Roy’. She offered them a ride into town and whilst Matthews got out at a bar, his companion hesitated for a moment and then asked the young woman to take him to his truck, a little further on. Matthews later told investigators he thought this strange, since he knew Roy didn’t own a vehicle. After failing to make her weekly Sunday phone call, Michele Wallace’s parents reported her missing.
Two weeks later, Roy Melanson was caught driving the photographer’s car. Found in his possession were her driver’s license, backpack, and pawn tickets for several items, including a camera. Although he was held until April 1975 on a separate theft charge, without a body, police didn’t have enough proof of foul play to prosecute. The case had gone cold.
However, five years after her disappearance, a hiker stumbled upon a scalp of braided brown hair on a logger’s road in Colorado. Yet another decade would pass before a young investigator named Kathy Young began looking into the county’s only unsolved homicide and discovered Michele’s brush, forgotten in an evidence file. Scientists conducted a test, comparing hair taken from the bristles against those from the braids, and discovered a ‘likely match.’ Young decided it was time to call in NecroSearch.
NecroSearch are a crack team of forensic specialists, made up of individuals with expertise in archaeology, entomology, geology, and much more. Frustrated by large-scale ground searches and trial-and-error excavations, their aim is to uncover clandestine gravesites using non-intrusive methods. NSI is also a non-profit organization, who volunteer their knowledge without a fee, in the hope of providing a final voice for the dead. No matter how well a murderer tries to hide a victim, the decomposition of a body will always cause changes in the surrounding environment. Plant stress, soil disturbance, and insect activity are all vital clues that could lead to the discovery of evidence. It just depends on how hard you look.
A botanist from NecroSearch studied a sample of conifer needles found on the scalp and was able to pinpoint a location where this particular tree could grow. A shady north-facing slope, 9,000 feet up in the wilderness of the mountains. Using a meticulous grid system, a search was conducted and on the second day the glint of a gold tooth uncovered a human skull. Femurs, vertebrae, and a hiking boot containing the bones of a foot were soon found nearby.
In 1993, Roy Melanson was put to trial and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Michele Wallace. Her remains were finally laid to rest in the same grave as her mother, who had been so grief stricken that she committed suicide a month after her daughter went missing. But this isn’t the only homicide Melanson has been connected to: the 1988 disappearance of a Texas woman is a case that remains unsolved to this day. Her body has never been found.