By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
After work, Melissa wasn't eager to stay home alone in an empty house, so she would go to Debra's to cook and laugh and be with her adopted family.
"I always joke, 'Yep, Melissa's our dad,'" Aimee told police. "She does our groceries, she takes care of us, she spoils us at Christmastime, she spoils my son. We go to the Keys together. She makes sure we have everything that we need."
Her generosity was essential to the Villegas family as Debra pursued a new life without Tony. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Melissa's sister, Carrie Fisher, and her then-fiancé, Jon Holmberg, spent Thanksgiving and Christmas 2007 at Melissa's house in Plantation. One day during the holidays, Holmberg later told police, he overheard Melissa talking to Carrie about Tony. Melissa said Tony had threatened to set Debra on fire.
Wanting to protect themselves, Debra bought a Taser, and Melissa bought Mace, Holmberg remembered Melissa saying. "And I told her she should have got a gun," Holmberg said.
In mid-December 2007, Melissa sent an email to some of her lawyer friends asking how hard it was to do a will. She was thinking of protecting Debra's children in case Tony did something drastic. "My friend Debra is going through a divorce," she wrote. "Her ex-husband is nuts. To be on the safe side, she wants to be sure she designates who gets her children if he hurts her and goes to jail. Seems extreme, but you have NO IDEA what is going on and restraining orders are worthless."
Around this time, Tony Villegas was keeping a makeshift diary in his day planner. He filled it with entries about how much he missed his family. He also knew Debra had been spending a lot of time with friends at the Round Up Country Western Club in Davie.
"Missing my family," he wrote in a December 12 entry. "Mad at her but loving her so that it hurts... She look like she in love. At Round Up with some guy for 3 hrs. outside making out. Tony you don't like flys on you meat. Forget her."
A few days later, he added, "Remember Tony, she don't love you. She laffing at you."
According to his son Caleb, Tony was also aware of how much time Melissa and Debra were spending together. In fact, Caleb told police that his dad blamed Melissa for Debra's filing for divorce, and that case is still pending.
Once, when Tony came to collect Caleb and his brother for a weekend visit, he noticed Melissa's car at the house. And he brought up the issue to his sons.
"He's like, 'The reason that we probably got a divorce [was] so they can spend more time [together],'" Caleb told Plantation Police. "'Cause she had gotten a divorce; Melissa got a divorce from her husband the same time as my mom and dad got a divorce. So [Tony] thought it was planned for awhile, like they were planning to get a divorce at the same time."
"Did he seem at all upset about that?" a detective asked Caleb.
"Yeah," Caleb replied.
"OK. Did he tell you anything more than what you told me?"
"Not really," Caleb said. "He just thought it was her fault."
On March 5, 2008, Melissa left the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler offices on Las Olas Boulevard around 7 p.m. She stopped at a Publix near her home in Plantation and picked up a few groceries. She called her 11-year-old niece, Sheila, to discuss the Jonas Brothers concert they were planning to attend that week.
After that, what happened next is something police can only surmise based on crime-scene evidence. Melissa pulled her car into the garage of her house and was attacked. She fought back. Rust-colored pepper-spray stains marked her garage floor, walls, and ceiling. Her bull terrier had some on his legs.
On the morning of March 6, Melissa didn't show up for work, and she didn't call. So Debra phoned a Plantation Police sergeant and asked him to stop by Melissa's house to see if she was OK. Carrie drove over with a key to let the officers inside. Melissa was gone. So was her black Cadillac.
That afternoon, police found her Cadillac in a parking lot in Plantation. Her brown suit jacket, missing a button, and her dress shoes were in the trunk. A crime-scene deputy noticed bloodstains on the carpet in the trunk.
It took another day to find the body. A South Florida Water Management District employee was raking debris from water pumps in the New River Canal in Plantation when he saw a body floating face-up in the water. Melissa was still wearing the flowered shirt and pants she had modeled for Debra two days earlier.
Her attacker had beaten her repeatedly around her head and neck, but she had fought back, earning bruises and cuts on her arms. The official cause of death was strangulation.
Police have never found Melissa's Prada purse or her iPhone. They did not note in their reports that her body was found less than a mile from the Round Up club where Tony had watched Debra kiss another man.