When Melvin started blackmailing his girlfriend Lauren with intimate pictures the couple had taken, she knew it was time to get as far away from this relationship as possible. Having lied about his name and age, Melvin was clearly not a straight shooter, and Lauren wasn’t about to stand for it.
Melvin had virtually moved into Lauren’s place on campus, claiming he was a lot younger than he was. He also failed to divulge the fact that he was a registered sex offender and had been in a bunch of trouble with the law in the past. Lauren was a budding track star at her school and was looking forward to a wonderful future and a great career…
Lauren had really liked Melvin when she met him. She was just 21 while he was 37, but he had lied about his age, and his name and Lauren had no idea about it. The two got on well, but Melvin was clingy and seemed to be sharing the lion’s share of his time hanging out at Lauren’s place; her friends had serious cause for concern.
Lauren made a big mistake by letting Melvin take naked pictures of her. She assumed they were private and just between them but when Lauren started indicating to Melvin that she was ending the relationship he blackmailed her threatening to share those intimate pictures with all and sundry if she kicked him out.
Lauren’s friends also had cause for concern and described Lauren as becoming “very sad.” They alleged that Melvin wasn’t allowing her to hang out with her friends and that her physical appearance had “begun to change” according to a Thinkprogress.org report.
The matter made its way to the University of Utah Department of Public Safety (UUPS) and the Utah Department of Public Safety. The UUPS report noted, “The friends feel Lauren does not sound right and they notice that week that Lauren’s physical appearance had begun to change,” they wrote. “Both believe Lauren was too trusting and was being taken advantage of by Rowland.”
When it came out that Melvin was talking to Lauren about getting a gun, red flags were raised across all the agencies involved. “They are very concerned about Lauren, that she is in an unhealthy relationship with an older man who was controlling her and is practically living with her. They are also concerned that this man had been talking about getting Lauren a gun very soon,” the UUPS noted.
When Lauren met Melvin at a bar back in September, the two immediately hit it off and felt some strong chemistry. However, just about everything Melvin told Lauren was a lie; from his age to his first name but she had no idea. He told her he was 28 when he was really 37 and also that his name was Shawn.
After some time when Lauren finally found out that Melvin was a registered sex offender, he defended himself by telling her he had “many identities.” Lauren had enough and finished with Melvin in October. Letting him spend the night and borrow her car the next day to run errands was a big mistake though.
University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy said during a press conference about Melvin, “He was very good at getting people to trust him,” he said. “His skill and ability to do this and to con people has been evidenced in the past,” he added. Lauren’s mother at the time contacted campus police to request a campus escort so that Lauren could get her car back from her ex.
Melvin told Lauren that he was dropping her car off at the stadium parking lot near campus. It was at that point that she contacted campus police to ask for a security escort to take her to her car. When that never happened Lauren showed the police text messages she had received that she felt were of a threatening nature.
The next day, Lauren was back on the phone with the police telling them that she had received more abusive text messages and emails from Melvin or his friends. The messages demanded money in exchange for intimate pictures of Lauren. Lauren sent Melvin $1000 to keep the pictures private and then contacted the police again.
At the time, a University of Utah detective was assigned to screen for sexual extortion charges, but nothing serious came from that initial investigation. As Brophy explained to the press, “We now realize it was more than likely Rowland used his manipulative tactics to make it seem like his friends were involved,” he said.
In order to confound Lauren and make extorting her even easier, Melvin employed “multiple cell phones, texting apps, and emails to cover his identity,” according to Brophy. “We believe Rowland was behind all of this and using it as another tactic of manipulation to confuse Lauren,” he said.
When the campus police failed to take action against Melvin, Lauren decided to call the Salt Lake City Police to express her concerns. “I’m worried because I’ve been working with the campus police and last Saturday I reported, and I haven’t gotten an update,” she said. “They haven’t updated or done anything.”
Due to a lack of police action, Melvin waited for Lauren in her dorm room between 3 pm and 6 pm one day. When she arrived back at her dorm, Melvin dragged her into the car park and into the back seat of his car. He shot her dead in the back seat with a single bullet to the head.
Soon after the fatal shooting, police caught up with Melvin who had entered the Trinity AME Church located nearby. When the police entered, Melvin committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, and he then died in the church. Meanwhile, the UUPS report concluded that he was, “an evil, violent, manipulative, predatory sex offender who took the life of a promising young woman.”
While the University admitted there were “several indications” that Lauren was in trouble, they fell short of admitting that she had contacted police in desperation a total of six times in the ten days before she was killed. “Had victim advocates been engaged, Lauren might not have been left to assess the dangerousness of her situation on her own. There were shortcomings both systemically and individually,” the report noted.
The University and the local cops were forced to admit that something had gone horribly wrong here and that they were at least partially to blame. “While the University has developed systems and programs to respond to student welfare issues, those systems were not engaged nor utilized,” the report also noted.
The UUPS detective assigned to Lauren’s case was also held accountable for not checking on Melvin’s parole status. As it turned out, he was on parole at the time and was also a registered sex offender. “In the final analysis, we will never know that this tragedy could have been prevented without these deficiencies,” the report concluded.
Following the official report, Lauren’s parents wrote a letter rebutting the conclusion that her death “could not have been prevented.” “There were numerous opportunities to protect her during the almost two weeks between the time when our daughter began expressing repeated, elevating and persistent concerns about her situation and the time of her murder,” they wrote.
Had Lauren have known that the man she was dating was 16 years older than her and was a registered sex offender she likely wouldn’t have hooked up with him at the bar that night. The fact that he already served nine years in jail for attempted forcible sex abuse and enticing a minor over the internet would have been vital information for Lauren had she known it.