KINGSTON, MA — On September 15, 1990, 13-year-old Melissa Benoit disappeared during what was would, on any other day, have been a short walk home after visiting the grave of her father, who had passed away almost exactly one year earlier.
Lurking nearby, Henry Meinholz, Melissa’s 52-year-old neighbor, watched the girl intently.
The retired Navy veteran turned church deacon and Bible studies instructor later said that as he gawked at Melissa, a voice in his head commanded:
“You’re not a man unless you have her. Do it!”
By his own subsequent account, Meinholz lured Melissa into his home. He then tied her up with a rope, bound her hands, and raped her. Afterward, Meinholz smothered Melissa to death with a blanket and buried her body in his basement.
For the next 11 days, no one knew what fate may have befallen Melissa. The entire Kingston community rallied to find the girl, only to repeatedly be met with frustration.
Even after using track dogs to scour the neighborhood, local authorities turned up no clues. The FBI stepped in and asked local residents to submit to polygraph tests. Meinholz, who knew Melissa’s family well, asked to be spared any such exam. He confessed to the authorities that, in the past, he had fantasized about “molesting” young girls.Still, Meinholz swore up and down he had nothing to do with whatever happened to Melissa — but he reportedly began to crack.
In the course of some proper FBI questioning, Meinholz broke down and, as his attorney put it, “made certain disclosures about other crimes he may have committed.”
Among those transgressions, according to published reports at the time, Meinholz allegedly copped to:
• Raping a teenager at knifepoint near a fair in 1980.
• Sexually abusing multiple children.
• Following schoolbuses to masturbate to the children onboard.
• Picking up female hitchhikers to grope them.
• Making obscene phone calls
• Initiating a sexual relationship with his own sister when he was 12.
In addition, records came to light that in 1979, a social worker removed one of Meinholz’s daughter from the family home during a month-long investigation into claims that he had been molesting her.
Regardless, Meinholz would admit nothing regarding Melissa Benoit — until an anonymous tipster forced his hand.
Many observers have stated they believe strongly in the possibility that Meinholz’s own wife called the cops and told them to dig up his property.
Officers unearthed Melissa’s body in the basement of Meinholz’s home. The dead child was clad only in a pink T-shirt and she displayed “injuries consistent with sexual assault and bruises consistent with a struggle prior to death.”
Faced with such indisputable evidence, Meinholz finally admitted he violated and murdered Melissa, but when it came to his trial he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Most disgustingly, Meinholz also claimed in court Melissa “willingly participated” in sex before he killed her.
On November 23, 1991, a jury found Meinholz guilty of all charges. Upon sentencing Meinholz to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Superior Court Judge Cortland Mathers told him:
“It is said that my predecessors in colonial times had a gallows erected on the green in front of this courthouse and summarily sent defendants convicted, as you have been, to be hanged. I truly regret that option is not open to me in this case.”
Henry Meinholz died from a brain hemorrhage in 2002.
Main image: Melissa Benoit/Missing Poster [New England Missing Persons Bureau]