tv Dateline MSNBC October 2, 2021 2:00am-3:00am PDT
there, to finally be able to let her go and dance with mom, that's real satisfaction. real satisfaction. i'm craig melvin and this is "dateline." >> her roommate went looking for her because she didn't come back to the dorm. >> they found her car abandoned with the keys in the ignition. >> everything was a blur. all i'm thinking is shannon really gone? >> we interviewed her roommates, boyfriend, everybody is a suspect. >> then a phone rings. >> he said i kidnapped her. i have her. we ran his criminal history. that's when all the bells went off. >> he pulls in, asked me to get in the car. i feel the cold blade against my
neck. he carries me into the basement of his home. >> it was jaw dropping, just chilling. >> they started digging and they found women's clothing. >> it was just escalating, escalating. >> there were so many victims, weren't there? >> there were. there still are. >> until this guy is no longer in existence, i will carry this fight. hello and welcome to "dateline." shannon dreamed big and wanted to become a supreme court justice. in college she scored a prestigious internment at former president jimmy carter's foundation. suddenly she vanished. detectives had a suspect in their sights but it would take years and the revelation of a terrific tale to unravel the mystery of shannon's disappearance. here is dennis murphy with
"shannon's story." >> the portraits, the snapshots, the videos, i documented her life. >> the photographer dad, the camera professional who captured every moment of his daughter's life. >> she loved life. she wanted to do everything. >> these parents didn't know back then how difficult it would be one day to look at these memories. >> when i want to remember her voice, i put on a video. >> that's probably the hardest is hearing her voice. >> i'm shannon melendi, welcome to our special segment on the -- >> when i look at that video, it's definitely a sweet memory. i look back at how just innocent we were. >> shannon was someone that wanted to live. >> but then came that phone call way back in march 1994. shannon melendi's little sister monique was just 13 years old. >> and i received a phone call from her roommate.
>> shannon was midway through her sophomore year at emory university in atlanta. monique answered the call at their childhood home in miami, and on the other end of the line was athena, her sister's college roommate. >> athena was very distraught, and was asking me frantically if -- if i had heard or spoken from shannon. >> shannon hadn't been seen or heard from in more than a day. now, are you starting to do the calculation, even at the age of 13, that this is trouble? >> i was. i knew immediately that -- that something was terribly wrong. >> monique hung up with the roommate and made a few calls of her own. >> i immediately called my godmother, who was living in atlanta, asked her if she had heard from shannon. she had not. i called my aunt that also lived there. she had not heard from shannon. >> monique was gripped with fear. she called her grandparents, and her grandfather came to pick her up. monique's dad, luis, was at work, photographing a baptism,
and her mom, yvonne, was with him. and after they were done, luis and yvonne went to his mother's house. >> we got out of the car, and then my mother -- i think -- was my mother or my sister came out and said, "shannon's missing." and i dropped to the ground and -- on my knees, and i said, "we'll never see her again." >> i just saw my father collapse to his knees, and i knew that -- that i was right in feeling the -- the fear that i felt. >> when you heard the word "missing," yvonne, what did you think? >> i kept thinking, no, it can't be. >> shannon missing, it was beyond all imagination. from the roommate, a rough timeline emerged. shannon was supposed to be in her dorm on a saturday night, but when she still wasn't home by sunday morning, her roommate had started to worry. >> she said, "where is she?" so she went looking for her. the first thing she did was went to the softball country club -- >> shannon worked part-time at a
softball field about five miles from campus. the roommate headed out to look for shannon with two other friends, but they missed the entrance to the softball field parking lot, and when they turned around they spotted something. >> she saw her car parked at a convenience store. >> gas station. >> shannon's black nissan, unoccupied and parked at the far end of a gas station. she was as proud as she could be of that car. >> yes, she loved her car. >> what was concerning about the way the car was found, what condition it was in? >> it was unlocked, keys in the ignition. >> and the biggest thing was the plate on the radio. at that time radios were a commodity, and shannon would always take the plate off and take it with her. >> but that expensive radio plate was still in the car, which to the melendis meant this
wasn't some kind of robbery. shannon's friends called police. they were patched through to the dekalb county police department, where gene moss worked as a captain. >> you know, we've worked a lot of missing persons in my day. that was something we investigated a lot. >> one of his officers was sent out to meet shannon's roommate and friends at the gas station. >> inside that vehicle, there was no -- no signs, no blood, no -- no real signs of anything, a struggle or anything. >> solution was, you girls take the car home. >> yeah, take the car. >> shannon's friends drove her nissan back to campus. the melendis were reeling. the question then is, where is shannon, who's got her? where is she? >> right. >> it didn't take long for shannon's friends back in miami to hear that she was missing. anne martinez vazquez found out in the worst way possible. >> i got up and was getting ready to go to class, and my
father looked worried. he just handed me a copy of the local section of "the miami herald." it says, "miami family is flying up to atlanta to search for their daughter, shannon melendi." it was surreal. >> by the time anne read those words, the melendis were already in atlanta, feeling dazed and desperate. >> and we were like, what's going on? >> what was going on? a question that would consume law enforcement and the melendi family for over a decade. >> what had happened to shannon? police float the idea she might have skipped town. >> coming up -- >> we kept telling them, you don't know her. she would never run away. she never ran away from anything. >> and then, some of shannon's acquaintances draw the interest of investigators. >> i did feel under the pressure at points.
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where is shannon? is she okay? as the investigation started, police told reporters they were looking at two very different possibilities. >> either she left on her own or somebody else grabbed her. >> if police were looking into whether shannon left on her own, the melendis told investigators they were wasting time. >> we kept telling them, "you don't know her. you do not know her." she would never ever run away. she never ran away from anything. >> the melendis used the media to spread that message, hoping attention focused on the case would yield answers. >> i'm somebody who loves my daughter, and i'm going to do whatever i have to do to get this thing happening. >> so you think to get anything going, it needed your intervention and your passion and your concern? >> well, i'm a pain. i do what i need to do, and i don't care whose toes i step on. >> shannon's parents said the only thing that made sense was that she'd been abducted. gene moss says police were investigating every option. >> the first thing you do on a missing person case of this magnitude is try to interview
all the acquaintances and friends and get as much information out of those as you can. >> the melendis were eager to share, because the shannon they knew would never put her family in this kind of pain. their shannon was the one who always put everyone else at ease. >> she had a smile that just warmed a room. she'd walk in and people would, oh, shannon's here! >> from a young age she commanded her parents' attention. >> she had her father under her thumb, and she'd just look at him and go, "but daddy, please!" >> she was very good at convincing me of whatever she was trying to do. >> people liked being around her. she was witty, she was smart, she was funny. >> anne and shannon became fast friends in seventh grade. >> we just had a lot in common. her father came from cuba. my parents are immigrants from
cuba. we were, i guess, what you would describe go-getters. >> for shannon the getting was good. she was a top student at her high school, captain of the debate team and class president two years in a row. >> she had the confidence to speak, you know, in front of a class or a group of people and she just wasn't afraid. >> we can't always say that it's been for the better. >> this is video of shannon and her pal anne doing a school project together. >> different people perceive the same things to be both unethical and immoral, while others believe it is a-okay. >> if you asked her at 15, what are you going to do, she would have told you what? >> that she wanted to be a supreme court justice. >> but before the supreme court was emory university, over 700 miles away from home. >> i wasn't a happy camper. >> you thought she was too far away? >> down the street would be too far away. >> but shannon thrived at emory. >> she loved everything about it, the culture, the nightlife, the friends she made.
she loved emory. >> she studied political science and scored an internship at the carter center. and now? her determined family leveraged every political connection from their local congresswoman to the former president and got the case on the fbi's radar. the feds were joining the search for the missing college student. >> we interviewed her roommates, we interviewed boyfriends. you can imagine they're -- everybody's a suspect. >> special agent joe fonseca says investigators looked into every aspect of shannon's young life, including a spring break trip she took in the weeks before her disappearance. >> who did she meet with? what hotel did she stay at? who did she travel with? >> and one of the questions at the top of their list, did shannon go off the grid possibly with someone she'd met on spring break? >> we spoke to a lot of people, all those people that she went with. >> including chris goslin. chris and shannon went to high school together, and he was on
that group spring break trip to panama city beach, florida. >> so we would be out on the beach during the day, we'd be out in the nightlife at night in the clubs there. >> were you wild and crazy or not so much? >> i think it was a little bit wild. we weren't out of hand at all. it was very controlled. >> knowing what's going to happen, is there anything you look back on and wonder, what was that about? >> no, i didn't see anything. we were just young, having a good time. >> chris told the fbi just that when they showed up at his apartment for an interview. investigators had lots of questions, including asking chris to account for his own whereabouts after shannon disappeared. >> i did feel under the -- under the pressure at points. >> how so? >> they showed up a couple times. they would call me at work. they'd call me at home early in the morning. >> chris wasn't the only one being grilled by authorities. he was good friends with one of shannon's ex-boyfriends. >> he had gone on a few dates with shannon, but i don't think
it was anything long-term or serious. >> authorities polygraphed the ex. they were still interviewing all of shannon's friends when a mysterious phone call came in. the caller was about to give police a clue that would kickstart the engine of this investigation. coming up, right before shannon disappeared, a game, and some attention from an umpire. >> his object of his affection was shannon. >> he was checking out shannon? >> he was more interested in watching shannon than he actually was in calling the softball game. >> when "dateline" continues. welcome to allstate. ♪ ♪ you already pay for car insurance, ♪ why not take your home along for the ride? ♪
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college student shannon melendi had vanished in broad daylight. investigators had been looking at a spring break trip she'd taken recently. >> when we were done doing our interviews, regarding any spring break activity, we were pretty confident there was no one during her spring break activities that knew her that had anything to do with her disappearance. >> also ruled out, shannon's ex-boyfriend. he ended up passing that polygraph. does that take you back to the softball field? >> it does. >> the softball field where shannon was working part-time as a scorekeeper. it was the last place she'd been seen alive. so police tracked down everyone who'd been around shannon on the saturday she disappeared. >> the softball field that day was having a tournament with
25 teams. so you're talking about a lot of people. every single one of the people that was there was questioned. that took us to probably 400 to 500 interviews that were done. >> and out of those hundreds of interviews, investigators were told a curious story about one person in particular, an umpire. >> a lot of the players in the game were concerned that his umpiring method wasn't normal. he didn't pay attention to a lot of balls that were being thrown. his object of his affection at that time was shannon, who was behind home plate, where he was calling the game, and she was keeping score that day. >> so he's checking out shannon, the ballplayers are saying? >> yes, he was more interested in watching shannon than he actually was in calling the softball game. >> police learned his name was butch hinton. here he is seen on camera getting ready for a game. >> he was a member of a church, where his dad was a pastor. he was married and had a job as
an airline maintenance worker, when he wasn't umpiring at the softball field. you don't take these stories at face value, you go to this guy butch and say, "let's talk about saturday. what's your story? what were you doing that day?" >> so we did talk to him on april 4th. >> hinton told police he was aware shannon was missing. and he said nothing unusual happened during the game. still -- >> he had a number of inconsistencies that just didn't add up. >> hinton told different stories about where he was in the hours after shannon vanished, but he did say he went home soon after the game. sure enough phone records showed he'd made a phone call from his house. so if this man did something to shannon, he would have had a tight window to commit his crime. but hinton was the only possible suspect they had. then a phone call came in, one that could become a game changer. >> we had hope when that call came in. >> there was that moment where you think, "oh my gosh, she's alive. she's okay."
>> this is about a week after shannon had gone missing. is that right? >> correct. >> who gets called and who was on the other end of the line? so a phone call came in to the emory counseling center at emory university, and he appeared nervous to the woman who was working the switchboard, he asked her first if she's familiar with the shannon melendi case. >> the woman said, "no, explain." and he said, "well, i have -- i have -- kidnapped her. i have her. " >> a man had shannon. he said she was fine and healthy. and before the caller hung up he told the operator his plans. >> when i'm done with her, basically, i will release her. what you'll find where i'm at right now is an article that belongs to her. and so he hung up and got off the phone. following that, the fbi did immediately trace the call. we got the call from emory. we traced it back to a phone booth. >> a phone booth outside the city. and just as the caller promised, there was something there. >> underneath the phone booth -- had fallen to the ground -- was a little cloth bag. and inside the cloth bag was a ring. >> a ring. yvonne recognized it right away.
>> it was a gold ring, and it had an oval stone with two little diamonds on either side. >> what's the story about that particular ring? >> her godmother had given it to her. >> shannon's parents told police shannon received the ring in high school. they said from the day she got it, that ring was always on shannon's finger. she even wore it in this family portrait. so luis and yvonne knew whoever made that phone call had their daughter, a dreadful shock, but mixed with some vindication for the family in their dealings with the authorities. >> they had to accept that she was definitely kidnapped. you can no longer say "flighty," because we established that she was, in fact, kidnapped. >> they waited for the caller's next move. waiting but not idle. the distraught parents are about to turn up the heat on their
daughter's abductor as the search for shannon continues. coming up, an ingenious idea to ensure that whoever has shannon cannot take off. >> we put 77 billboards all around the city. i felt that if people see her face, that they can't move her. >> and then -- >> the phone rang and a friend in atlanta said, "butch hinton's house is on fire." >> when "dateline" continues.
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hello, here is what's happening. the united states surpassed 700 deaths from the coronavirus friday. despite widespread vaccine availability, the latest surge in covid deaths has made the pandemic the deadliest in american history. an experimental pill for covid has cut the risk of hospitalization and death by half. u.s. drug maker merck, which makes the antiviral pill, said it will apply for emergency use
authorization in the u.s. within the next two weeks. and now back to "dateline." welcome back to "dateline." i'm craig melvin. missing college student shannon melendi was last seen at a softball tournament where investigators learned umpire butch hinton was acting strangely. word had it he kept his eye on shannon more than the ball. police were quick to question him. then came that startling discovery police had recovered her ring, but could it lead them to shannon? back to dennis murphy with "shannon's story." after more than a week of theories, of speculation, investigators now had a promising lead in shannon melendi's disappearance. an anonymous caller had left a cloth bag, like this one, carrying shannon's ring at the phone booth.
could that be proof of life? is there a glimmer of hope here that you're going to be in a period of ransom negotiations with whoever this anonymous -- >> yeah, at that -- >> caller is? >> -- moment, yeah, at that moment i -- i kind of had hopes, so all of a sudden i, i said, maybe, maybe we can recover her. >> you're waiting for another phone call or -- >> right. if this -- >> a letter or something? >> about money, maybe we can -- there's still a chance that she's still alive. >> the fbi was less optimistic. what was your instinct telling you? >> ten days out is a long time on a kidnapping. i think in this instance you could probably give it a little bit more possibility that she's alive because she was an adult. it's possible. >> with that new break in the case, the family stepped up its media campaign. >> we are living through every parent's nightmare. we just want shannon to come home. >> they started raising money for a possible ransom demand, canvassing the city with fliers, and more.
>> we put 77 billboards all around the city. i felt that if people see her face, that they can't move her. >> shannon's family and friends kept waiting, but no ransom demands came in. >> that was the one and only call. and then as time goes on, you realize she's gone, she's not coming back. >> law enforcement focused on the key lead they had, that softball umpire butch hinton. he's still the prime suspect in the disappearance of shannon, i'm assuming? >> he is. he is. we have no other subjects. >> they didn't have any physical evidence to link him to shannon, so they executed a series of search warrants. >> this was to take his blood sample for dna if dna was found that matched his and hair samples, if the same was found. >> additional search warrants let law enforcement go to hinton's home, about 30 miles away from emory university. shannon's family found out about
it from the local news. >> we know you're the primary suspect in the disappearance of shannon melendi and we'd like to take a chance to talk to you. >> i glance to the tv and i see a picture of an officer going like this, you know, with -- with a rod and one of the planters. >> they were at his house? >> yes. and we already knew that he was a suspect, so they were at his house, searching the house. >> now were the cops letting you in on this about what's going on with their investigation? >> very little. >> what'd you find? >> well, that house was gone through with a fine-toothed comb, they say. and they also took a cadaver dog down there to see if there was any evidence of a body being there. and we found nothing down there. >> no sign that shannon had ever been there? >> that we could find. >> but in a trash pit behind hinton's house they did find something interesting, a collection of women's clothing. anything from shannon? any garment, any apparel? >> there was nothing of evidence to link him in those search warrants to shannon.
>> and what about shannon's car, found abandoned at that gas station? the officer on the scene let shannon's friend drive it back to campus. that meant any forensic evidence was contaminated. >> this was our first mistake we made in the case. >> not to beat that officer back in the day, but what -- what was the protocol there? what should have happened when you come upon this abandoned vehicle? >> what should've happened was somebody from investigations probably should have said, release the car, maybe come out. we would've been able to maybe look in that vehicle at the time and see if there was any forensic evidence left. >> shannon had been missing for days by the time a forensic team got a real look at that car. when they processed it, chief, what'd they find? was there anything there? >> well, that's -- that's -- that's another interesting thing. they come to conclusion, crime scene people did, that the car had been wiped down. >> so someone had made an effort to clean the car up? >> yes. >> shannon's parents felt certain that hinton had
kidnapped their daughter and hoped he'd be arrested, but days turned to weeks, weeks to months, with no resolution. they came to realize the unbearable, they would never see her again. photographing others' happy events started becoming too painful for luis and yvonne. is it difficult that you're in the business of gathering intimate memories for families, and yet you're not able to do the same thing for your child? >> yes. i stopped doing weddings just because of that. we tried one, and she was crying. and you know, she usually operates my camera in -- in the back of the -- of the church -- or -- >> too close? >> and she's -- i went back to check and she was crying. and i said, that's not fair to the bride and groom. it's not fair to us. so that was -- i -- the last couple a weddings that i had, i finished them and i never booked another one again to this date. >> difficult as it was, they still kept up their awareness
campaign in the press. until a sudden twist five months after shannon had disappeared. >> the phone rang. it was 11:10. and a friend in atlanta said, "butch hinton's house is on fire." >> investigators determined the fire was deliberately set. and when hinton filed an insurance claim on the house, that led to his arrest for fraud. he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. >> it was great to have him off the streets, but that just left shannon's family, shannon's friends, just wondering, "what happened to shannon? where is shannon?" with hinton now behind bars, shannon's loved ones worried they might never have an answer, but investigators were about to dig deeper. coming up, from hundreds of miles north, a critical clue in the form of a bone-chilling tale. >> he asked me to clasp my hands
together and tied my hands behind my back. >> what's going on here? >> i'm not registering that it's a problem until i feel the cold blade against my neck, and he says if you don't cooperate, i'm going to use it on you. >> when "dateline" continues. (brad) how does apartments-dot-com help more renters get into new homes than any other site? it's really as simple as taking the ol' power nap. and wakey, wakey... apartments-dot-com. the most popular place to find a place.
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(brad) apartments-dot-com's 3-d virtual tours are so realistic it feels like you're actually there. and that's all thanks to this guy, ted. (ted) oh, just a matter of perspective, really. (brad) apartments-dot-com. the most popular place to find a place. nearly two years after shannon melendi's disappearance, butch hinton was serving time in prison for fraud after a mysterious fire at his home. shannon's parents, who had always been suspicious of hinton, thought it could be a
sign. >> i said, "well, he probably burned the house himself to cover evidence." >> now the investigation into shannon's disappearance had a deadly clock ticking till his release. >> the case is still open at that point in time. and we realize that no new leads are coming in, and we decide at that point in time that this is a time when butch is going to get out of jail. he's going to get out of jail at the end of december 2003. >> during hinton's time behind bars, the fbi kept working on the case, building up more and more circumstantial evidence against him. >> it seemed like it was just escalating, escalating, escalating. and the thinking is, well, we're going to know what happened. >> it would take a new prosecutor to look at the case with fresh eyes. john petrey, who was the chief assistant d.a. for dekalb county, georgia. what did you have and what
didn't you have? >> well, we never really had much at all until the u.s. attorney's office did, in fact, bring the boxes to us. and i was able to find an empty store room in the courthouse and created, what i called, a war room for this case. so i buried myself in this office, started going through the file. >> one thing was clear, hinton had been their key suspect early on because he had a criminal record. as petrey began poring through the file, he came across a name, tammy singleton. she sat down with us to tell the same harrowing story she told to the fbi. >> really small town, everybody knew everybody. >> back in 1982, 12 years before shannon's disappearance, tammy was 14 years old and living with her family in neponset, illinois. one day she got a call from the brother of her ex-boyfriend. the brother was 22 years old, already married. he asked tammy to get together, and she agreed to meet him on her way to a slumber party. >> i'm waiting around with my overnight bag, and he finally pulls in, doesn't see me initially, then does.
>> she expected her ex, tim, to be there, too, but he wasn't. still, she knew the brother as the son of her one-time pastor. so when he asked her to get in his car, she did. >> and he said he had something from tim for me. and it was a ring that he tried on my fingers and placed on my pinkie. and then he tied my -- asked me to clasp my hands together and tied my hands behind my back. i'm still not registering. >> tammy, tammy, what's going on here? >> i'm not registering that it's a problem until i feel the cold blade against my neck. and he says, you know what this is. it's a knife. and if you don't cooperate i'm going to use it on you. >> the man with the blade, as you might suspect, was butch hinton. >> he tells me things like, i ought to waste you right now. if you don't cooperate i'll do
you like i did the other two. >> i'll waste you right now? >> yes. and at some point i move from the front seat to the back. and he proceeds to tie me further, to use bandanas tied together around my mouth. he duct tapes me. he does what's known as hog-tying, and he places me in his trunk. >> tammy says he drove around with her in the trunk for a long time, until he finally got to his house. >> he carries me through the cellar door into the basement of his home in kewanee. >> it's now dark out? >> yes. >> can you yell or scream, tammy, at this point? >> no, my mouth is gagged. >> you've clearly been abducted, to what ends you don't know. how are you going to play this person? >> i prayed. i prayed hard. >> he took the gag off her mouth and started asking her questions. >> he asked me if i had ever had sexual intercourse. >> i told him that, no, i had not, that i was a virgin, i had never had sex. >> what are you seeing, tammy, about his face, about his demeanor? >> i can tell you that there
was, like, a jekyll and hyde kind of personality. i recall the evil that passed over his eyes. there was definitely an evil in his eyes at the time he's talking to me. >> hinton took her to a bed and sexually assaulted her. >> at that point i had lost it, and it was painful what he was doing. so i was screaming, "please don't do this to me. please don't do this to me," and crying. >> after the assault, he left tammy in the basement, handcuffed with duct tape on her mouth. >> and at some point i hear his wife. i hear her voice upstairs. and so i begin to make some noise in the basement. >> and she's like, "what is that?" and he kept running to the basement, which was curious to her. so in the meantime, i managed to lick the duct tape off of my mouth so that my mouth was free. and he came down and opened the door yelling at me.
and he actually punched me. and i somehow managed to connect with his thumb and i bit him. and then he recoiled because he was in pain bleeding. and his wife came running down the stairs behind him. she sees me. she says, what's going on? i said, gail, it's me, tammy singleton. he tried to rape me. and she breaks down into hysteria and is crying and -- and immediately he's like a chastised little boy. and she takes control -- >> so his demeanor -- >> of the situation. >> has changed again, huh? >> yeah, he -- and he's begging -- begging. she says, "butch, you've got problems. you need to get help." >> butch hinton was arrested and charged with kidnapping, and taking indecent liberties with a child. he entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill. how long was he inside? >> he received a four-year sentence and he served about 21 months and came out after the 21 months in jail. >> that short prison sentence in tammy's case back in the '80s meant that he was a free man. free to divorce and remarry,
free to move to georgia, free to get those jobs at delta airlines and the softball field, and free to meet shannon in march 1994. as john petrey studied the files, he realized there was a lot there, but with one huge challenge -- shannon's body had never been found. but this prosecutor wanted to take a chance. >> this is the kinda case that you look at and you say, "i want one of those." >> i can make a difference here. >> yes, i can make a difference. >> hinton was released from prison for that insurance fraud case in 2003. it would take another few months before law enforcement finally arrested him for murder, ten years after shannon had disappeared. >> and i heard butch being arrested for the murder of shannon melendi, and my tears just hit my glasses. my glasses were wet from the inside, and that was a great moment, great moment for my soul. >> a great moment for the family
for sure, but prosecutors had an uphill battle. still didn't have a body or a crime scene. could they convince a jury that butch hinton was shannon's killer? coming up, an emotional trial. >> this is your first chance to really see him? >> the old saying if looks could kill, he would have been dead on the spot. >> then, it's all up to the jurors. >> all i could do was pray, pray that they saw what we saw, see him for the monster that he was. >> when "dateline" continues. coaching. new workouts. and screening for colon cancer. yep. the american cancer society recommends screening starting at age 45, instead of 50, since colon cancer is increasing in younger adults. i'm cologuard®. i'm convenient and find 92% of colon cancers... ...even in early stages. i'm for people 45 plus at average risk for colon cancer, not high risk. false positive and negative results may occur.
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welcome back. at just 14 years old, tammy singleton was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by butch hinton. years later, shannon melendi disappeared and they believed butch struck again. her family believed justice was in sight, but they were about to learn their fight was far from over. here's dennis murphy with the conclusion of "shannon's story." butch hinton's trial for the murder of shannon melendi began in august 2005, more than eleven years after she disappeared from that softball field in georgia. >> when we went into the
courtroom, i was thinking in my head, 50/50 chance, this is the way it could go. >> there he was, the onetime delta airlines maintenance worker they'd had in their sights for years. yvonne, this is your first chance to really see him, huh? >> well -- you know, the -- the old saying, if -- if looks could kill, he would have been dead on the spot. >> dekalb county prosecutor john petrey had a daunting task ahead, the first case in georgia with no crime scene, no body. >> the absence of a body doesn't mean that you cannot prosecute a murder case. it does, of course, complicate it. >> but it was going to be a steep mountain to climb. >> oh, absolutely. >> still, the prosecutor did have some key witnesses to paint a portrait of butch hinton, and possibly link him to shannon's murder, inmates who'd shared a cell with hinton. >> butch never really confessed, per se, to anybody. but he made horribly incriminating statements to three inmates that, to me, were -- were just so believable.
>> one of them remembered an eerie late night conversation. >> butch had waked up in the middle of the night and said, "i didn't do this. the demon inside of me killed that girl." and then went back to sleep. >> and yet, jailhouse snitches, as they're called, get a lot of side-eye. >> oh, yes, they do. >> what is -- what is this guy getting in exchange for sitting here, telling us a story? >> right, right. >> but the state had other witnesses to bring in stories of his criminal past. tammy singleton came to court to tell how hinton kidnapped and assaulted her when she was 14, and to show he no longer had any power over her. are you seeing him? are you making eye contact? >> i looked directly at him. he tried to avoid my stare, but i -- i did look directly at him and forcefully say what had transpired. i needed people to understand that he did have a modus operandi. i wanted to assist the melendis in getting some closure in their situation. >> and while the prosecutors didn't have a crime scene, they did have that bag found at the phone booth.
it would tell a tale of its own. what'd you learn about it? it's a little cloth bag. after a number of weeks of trying to determine where this bag came from, we finally found there because little company in richmond, virginia, the millhiser kompany. they've been around for 100 years. they produced this bag. >> that company supplied those bags through a middleman to only one client in georgia, delta airlines. >> delta airlines is where butch hinton worked, and when we conducted a search at butch hinton's workplace, on his desk were a number of these bags. >> and the prosecutor brought in a forensic expert who said that the bag from the phone booth contained metallic particles that would have been found at hinton's workplace. >> as i started listening to the scientist, i started feeling really positive about it. >> and the forensic -- >> when he said, "this bag could only have been sold to this customer." >> oh, phenomenal. >> it was unreal. >> hinton's defense was
straightforward. his attorney argued that the state's evidence was scant and circumstantial and that he could not have killed someone whose body has never been found. >> and his defense is, it's not me, you've got the wrong guy. >> absolutely. >> look somewhere else. >> yeah, and he never took the stand. he never -- he never claimed his innocence on the stand. >> after nearly a month of testimony, hinton's fate passed to the jury. shannon's sister monique waited alongside her parents. >> that's always a moment of high anxiety. what are they going to do with this? >> all i could do was pray, pray that -- that they saw what we saw, see him for the monster that he was. >> the jury deliberated for three days. then the moment they'd been waiting for finally came. >> we the jury find the defendant colvin c. hinton iii guilty. >> i'll never forget when they announced the verdict just the sheer joy and pain that you just saw on the faces of shannon's family.
it was good to know this monster would be away. >> the sheriff cuffs him, and when i hear the click on the cuffs, i took a deep breath and i said, this is over. >> but the family found out it actually wasn't over. hinton was sentenced to life in prison, and the melendis assumed he would remain behind bars forever. they were crushed when they learned that because hinton committed the murder in 1994, under looser parole guidelines, he would be eligible for parole in seven years. >> we are the ones who have a life imprisonment without parole. he has the hope, just the hope, that he might get out. >> they remain determined to do all they can to fight every time his parole comes up. hinton will be eligible again in 2025, when he will be 64. >> i'm carrying this to the very end. until this guy is no -- no longer in existence i will carry
this fight. >> the melendis fight not only because of shannon, but because the family and investigators believe hinton may have had other victims. remember those police searches behind hinton's home? they didn't find anything from shannon, but -- >> it was very, very macabre. they found many, many items in different locations of women's clothing, all sorts of sweaters and tops, blouses. >> this is chilling just hearing you say this. >> oh, yeah. >> hinton did finally confess to killing shannon after his conviction, which answered some key questions for investigators, but her body has still never been found. recovering the remains, how important is it to you at this state? >> well, i'll -- i'll ask that question, why do we bring the remains of our world war ii veterans wherever they are and bring them back? it's important to their families. so i say, she is my hero. she's our daughter.
we deserve to have her remains. >> he could draw a map. >> yes. >> he could lead people to wherever the site is, presumably. >> yes, but he refuses to, and i think it's because there are other bodies there. >> if it weren't for the events after that softball game back in 1994, shannon would be sharing her life with loved ones, like one-time best friend anne. >> we would have been at each other's weddings. i'm sure we would've been at each other's bridal showers and baby showers. there's only so many, you know, friends in life that you kind of stay in close touch with over a lifetime. shannon would've been one of those. >> and monique has a keepsake that ensures shannon is with her every day on her finger. >> this was the infamous ring that he had taken from her. >> saying, "this is the evidence that i have her." i'm guessing that ring and you are never separated for -- >> no.
>> -- very long. >> no. no. it makes me feel very close to her. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. first up on msnbc, now what? another delay on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but the president says, there's no rush. >> it doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days, or six weeks, we're going to get it done. >> now some democrats are pointing fingers as a party in power tries to figure out what's next for the president's ambitious agenda. thousands of women are about to take their