In May 2004, three matching suitcases surfaced in waters near Virginia Beach, each containing dismembered body parts of a man. Forensic tests later determined that the victim was William T. McGuire, 39, a father of two and an adjunct professor from New Jersey, and that he had been shot to death.
Yesterday, more than a year after the three grisly discoveries, Melanie McGuire, 32, of Brick, N.J., was charged with first-degree murder in the April 29, 2004, slaying of her husband of four years. Investigators do not believe that McGuire, a medical technician, acted alone.
New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said yesterday that McGuire probably was aided -- either with instructions or physical help -- from someone with the medical knowledge to dismember a body precisely using a knife, possibly a scalpel, and a saw.
"Think about what it takes for a man of [200 pounds] to be dismembered and put into garbage bags, put into suitcases and have them lifted, moved and transported 350 miles from New Jersey to Virginia," Harvey said. "That's not an easy feat -- not something a person could do alone, man or woman."
McGuire's attorney, Michael J. Pappa, said he knew his client was a target of the investigation when the case was transferred in September from Virginia to New Jersey. He said, however, he did not want to comment until he examined the state's case.
After Melanie McGuire was arrested, her home was searched, as was the Ocean County, N.J., home of her mother and stepfather, Linda and Michael Cappararo.
William McGuire's sister, Nancy Taylor, said yesterday she was relieved that her sister-in-law had been arrested.
"I always believed Melanie killed my brother," Taylor said. "She had no remorse whatsoever that he was dead. She's a horrible person."
Melanie McGuire had insisted that her husband purchase the black suitcases for a trip the couple took to Atlantic City in October 2003, Taylor said.
"It was the luggage she eventually buried him at sea in," Taylor said.
She also said her brother raised the couple's children. She said that he read them bedtime stories, gave them baths and cooked them meals.
Taylor said that Melanie McGuire cut off contact with her in-laws after the funeral and that McGuire would not allow them to talk to the children. Taylor said she and her sister want to raise the couple's two sons, who are 5 and 4.
McGuire filed for divorce three weeks after her husband's car was found abandoned in Atlantic City. She claimed in the court papers that her husband, who worked at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, was abusive and had a gambling problem. She also stated that the couple were about to move into an expensive new home when they had a fight and her husband stormed out of their Woodbridge, N.J., apartment.
Matching black luggage, containing black trash bags filled with her husband's remains, surfaced in the area of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel shortly after he disappeared in April 2004, according to Virginia Beach police. The first suitcase was recovered May 5, 2004; the others were recovered six days later and then five days later, they said.
The Norfolk medical examiner used fingerprint comparison to identify the remains, making a positive identification May 22. The Virginia medical examiner later determined that McGuire was shot at least twice, in the head and chest, officials said yesterday.
John R. Hagerty, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, said the defendant and others gave misleading statements to investigators. He cited initial reports that William McGuire was an inveterate gambler and that loan sharks might have played a role in his death.
"There's no indication Mr. McGuire was anything more than a occasional recreational gambler," Hagerty said. "Individuals painted a picture that was inaccurate to lead the investigation astray."
In the criminal complaint filed yesterday, investigators alleged that Melanie McGuire was the last person to see her husband alive April 29. Investigators said they are working under the assumption that he was killed in the couple's New Jersey apartment.
The complaint cites a ballistics report by a Virginia forensic scientist that determined that the bullets taken from the body were .38 caliber. Records from a Pennsylvania gun shop showed that Melanie McGuire purchased a .38-caliber handgun April 26, 2004. Officials said she gave the seller a false address.
Investigators also identified a paint chip -- consistent with nail polish -- taken from the adhesive tape that they said the killer or killers used to seal one of the trash bags containing the body. Investigators said yesterday they searched McGuire's home for matching polish, among other items. They said they would conduct tests to see whether DNA found under the polish matches hers.