We’d like to imagine that our neighbors and friends are trustworthy. Yet though we share potlucks, parties, and other such get-togethers, one never knows what happens behind closed doors.
It began on a cold December night in Lorton, Virginia. The Woodside Apartment complex was having its annual Christmas party and everyone was having a great time. But a shadow was lurking somewhere at the party and fell upon one of its most innocent partygoers…
It was December third, rather early for a Christmas party, but the only time that the whole of the Woodside Apartment complex could get together for their annual party. It was a big get-together and more than 80 people showed up to spread the holiday cheer before they all went off to do their own thing.
Tammy was a single mom who lived with her five-year-old daughter Melissa in the complex. Things weren’t easy for them, but they got by and the annual Christmas party was a time where the normally lonely pair could find camaraderie amongst their fellow tenants. Little did they know what awaited them that night…
Handful of Chips
It was getting late and Tammy decided that it was time for the two of them to leave. Melissa was still young after all, and it was way past her bedtime. Just as they were about to leave, Melissa told her mom that she wanted to grab a handful of potato chips before they went up to the apartment, so she headed back into the party.
After a few minutes had passed, Tammy went back into the party to look for her now missing daughter. She thought maybe she’d gotten caught up in a discussion with a friend or neighbor and had simply lost track of time. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and the revelation as to what really happened would be something much worse…
Search is On
Everyone at the party stopped what they were doing to find Melissa, but they never found her. When the police arrived, they believed that the little girl’s disappearance was the result of foul play. A huge search of the area took place later that day and over 300 people volunteered to help find the missing five-year-old.
Cold and Disappointed
By the time the 300 people returned, cold and forlorn from their massive search, things looked rather bleak. There had been no sign of the missing girl. The investigators did find out something about the party that seemed particularly interesting. It all had to do with the groundskeeper of the apartment complex and the crude way he had been behaving all night…
Groundskeeper Caleb Hughes, by virtue of the rude and crude sexual propositions he made during the party, quickly became the prime suspect in the case. There were multiple women at the party who witnessed the married groundskeeper’s boorish behavior and that wasn’t even the most suspicious thing.
What was even more telling was the fact that several people had witnessed Hughes giving unusual levels of attention towards the children at the party. Normally, this would just be a friendly neighbor reaching out to be nice to the kids and make sure they were having a good time, but that was evidently not the case: especially when one of those kids was Melissa…
That night, the police visited Hughes’ apartment. Hughes’ wife was home at the time but he wasn’t. Considering what they were accusing him of, she seemed more than willing to cooperate with them in “nailing” her husband. They asked her why she thought he was guilty and she pointed to the evidence by her washing machine.
Caleb Hughes’ entire outfit, all the clothes he had been wearing at the time of Michelle’s disappearance, were in the washer. This included his shoes, which had the sides of the soles cut off, and his belt: which had a sheath on it for a huge knife. What had Hughes been up to that night?
It seemed that no sooner had he arrived home than he’d immediately thrown those articles of clothing into the wash and only those. Police quickly booked the clothes into evidence, as well as the red Honda Civic saloon car he owned. In the car, they found even more evidence of some sort of wrongdoing on Hughes’ behalf.
The problem was, they didn’t know exactly what wrongdoing Hughes had gotten into or indeed if it had involved the missing Melissa Brennan. They took him into custody and questioned him with the assistance of a polygraph. He was found to be lying when asked about Melissa’s disappearance, meaning he knew something. They just didn’t know what…
Carol Hughes, Caleb’s wife, was now an integral part of the investigation. Police decided to ask her more about what had happened the night of the party. Carol noted that he had arrived home not only several hours later than usual, but that there seemed to be extra mileage on the Honda’s odometer.
Hughes seemed to have an explanation for this, though. He explained that the mileage was up because he took a trip to purchase a 6-pack of beer after the party and took a longer route home. Yet, he couldn’t explain why he’d chosen to take that route on that terrible night of all nights. It was not looking good for his innocence…
As if that weren’t enough, his improbable story also saw him claim to have gotten home around 12:30 am the night of the disappearance. That would prove to be patently false because liquor stores in Virginia are prohibited from selling alcohol past midnight per state regulations. He was lying again and had been caught once again.
CSI techs tested the front seat of the vehicle and found fibers that matched a Big Bird dress Michelle had been wearing from J.C. Penney. Investigators then obtained an identical dress, and compared the fibers to those found in Hughes’ car. They matched perfectly, and there was even more evidence in the Honda as well…
The car also contained some hairs from a rare rabbit fur coat worn by Tammy at the party. It appeared as though Michelle had been sitting in the passenger seat of the car at some point during the evening. As to why she would have been in Hughes car, he could offer no credible explanation.
Sure of It
There was a problem though, despite their certainty that Hughes was the one who killed Melissa and disposed of her body, there was no way for the prosecutors to determine the location of the murder: something which is required by Virginia law…
Regardless of this lack of evidence, the matching fibers and Caleb Hughes’ unbelievable account were enough to charge him with kidnapping with intent to defile. Hughes was convicted in March of 1991 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He will not serve his whole term, however, and he is due to be released in August of 2019.
In 1995, four years after the disappearance, a search of a nearby lake was made. A power company worker found some red cloth in the lake and they believed it to be where Hughes had dumped her remains. Unfortunately, this evidence went nowhere. We may never know what really happened that night, but all signs point to a culprit that is now behind bars.