Stopping the Violence: The Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial

Carole McFaddan

Sam and Wanda Rieger visited UNH on Feb. 15 and held an informational lecture and discussion on domestic violence and the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference Against Violence. Sam and Wanda are the parents of Melanie Ilene Rieger of Waterbury, Connecticut who was murdered by her boyfriend on May 24, 1994. She was 19.

The lecture opened with introductions and a video showing family photographs of fishing trips, vacations, proms, and all the other “Kodak moments” that constitute a life. You wanted to smile as you watched the family and the girl on the screen love and grow throughout the years in the photographs, but you couldn’t because you already knew what became of her. In the photographs the youth and vitality of the less than 5-foot young woman struck you, as she will never know life’s joys and pains as we do.

At the time of her death Melanie Rieger, a college student at Naugatuck Valley Community Technical College, was having difficulty escaping the violent relationship she had been in for several years with Jose Crespo. Melanie was a Human Services and Sociology major, working in social work and psychology, with the desire to continue her education at the University of Hartford. On May 24, 1994, her abusive boyfriend came to her house while he was aware her parents were vacationing in Aruba and strangled her to death in her own home. Crespo made it appear as if Melanie had also left town, as he pawned several pieces of her jewelry and electronics and rented a storage locker. He later returned to the Rieger home to transport Melanie’s body and some of her belongings, which he placed in her brother’s hockey equipment bag and trash from the murder in the storage locker. For the next couple days he went about as if nothing had happened until he asked his brother-in-law for the best place to abandon [Melanie’s] car. His brother in law brought him to an attorney and turned over the locker keys to the police, to whom Cespo had told he remembered nothing. Crespo was convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

After Melanie’s death, her parents Sam and Wanda started the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference Against Violence and the Survivors of Homicide group in Connecticut. Both these groups work throughout Connecticut and the Northeast.

The couple works with survivors of homicide and their families to cope with the crimes that have affected those families and support those individuals through the difficult trial process.

Through these efforts the Rieger family has appropriately assisted in the development and alteration of the state constitutional Victim’s Rights. Their victim’s rights effort included the prevention of the state legislature official from revoking victim’s right’s compensation and awarding it to convicted individuals and their families They also work with other large names in criminal investigation but especially those in victim advocacy, such as Henry C. Lee, Chip St. Claire, Mark Class, David Kaczynski – brother of the Unibomber-, Dr. Petit of Cheshire, and the Meghan Kanka Family.