‘Really, really disturbing’: Family, police beg public for help solving double murder of elderly Fort Lauderdale couple

FORT LAUDERDALE — Claudette and Major Melvin spent their last days doing what grandparents do: Doting on their children and grandchildren, going to church and spending time with one another in the quiet corner home in Melrose Park, surrounded by trees. Then violence entered their lives, seemingly at random.

Twelve days have passed since the 85-year-old and 89-year-old were found shot to death in the Fort Lauderdale home where they have lived for more than 40 years. Still, police have not made any arrests or found the couple’s red car that might hold the key to solving the case.

Homicide detective Leann Swisher, left, and homicide Sergeant Donald Geiger point out a sticker, top, and damage, below, on photos of the victims' vehicle during a news conference in reference to the March 22, 2024, double homicide of 89 year old Major Melvin and 85 year old Claudette Melvin at their Fort Lauderdale home in the 600 block of SW 30 Terrace. This at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Homicide detective Leann Swisher, left, and homicide detective Sgt. Donald Geiger point out a sticker, top, and damage, below, on photos of the victims’ vehicle during a Wednesday news conference at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Major Melvin, 89, and Claudette Melvin, 85, were found shot to death in their Melrose Park home on March 22, 2024. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

At a Wednesday news conference, Fort Lauderdale Homicide Detective Sgt. Donald Geiger and lead Homicide Detective Leann Swisher joined the couple’s youngest daughters, Tonya Mitchell and Kim Melvin Hill, at the police department headquarters to ask the public for help finding the car and the killer. Both sisters had traveled  to Florida from North Carolina when they got the news, though originally, their mother had plans to fly up and visit them.

“I’m so numb,” Hill said when asked about her initial reaction. “I still can’t believe what happened.”

Few new details, many questions

Detectives were tight-lipped when asked for details Wednesday, not wanting to jeopardize the investigation. Originally unable to say whether foul play was involved, they are now describing the killing as a double homicide, which happened sometime in the early evening hours on a Friday two weeks ago.

Both were shot, though police would not say where or how many times, information they say only the killer would have. Family members had told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that whoever killed them had entered through the front door, shooting Major first, then Claudette when she ran out to see what had happened, though Geiger would not confirm that information. A family member called 911 and told them that her brother, who also lived in the Melrose Park home, had discovered their bodies.

The case had seemed odd from the start. Though the killings happened two Fridays ago, police did not issue a BOLO, or “Be-On-The-Lookout,” for the red car until four days later, on Tuesday, saying only that it pertained to a death investigation.

Geiger explained Wednesday that the car was put into the police system incorrectly, a “technical issue on our part” where police made an error by putting “death investigation” instead of “homicide.”

“I think when we initially put things out, the wording might have not got out properly,” he said when asked about the vagueness of the initial information, which made the situation appear less urgent. “And I’ll take ownership for that. We were trying to keep a lot of things internal at the time because we had some leads we were looking into. So that’s why they initially came up the way it did.”

After family members spoke to media, police announced last Wednesday that they were investigating the couple’s deaths, but did not say if foul play was involved.

As of Wednesday, Broward Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.

Red car is key

Despite the lack of information, the focus of the police has been clear: The couple’s car was taken, and whoever has it might have killed them or at least know what happened to them.

“To break it down in layman’s terms,” Geiger said, “we need their vehicle.”

The car taken from the couple is a red Ford Fusion with a sticker on the left bumper and damage on the left passenger side door, according to images taken before the car was stolen. Geiger would not say whether the couple’s car keys were stolen, if the car is likely on the road or ditched somewhere, if license plate spotters have picked it up, or if it is likely still in the area at all.

Police have put out a national BOLO alert for the car, he said. Geiger urged people to pay attention to any cars that might resemble the Ford Fusion while driving down local streets.

Detectives also have been speaking with every member of the large family and their acquaintances and investigating all possible leads.

The case is more than just routine for Geiger, who said he thinks of the couple as his own grandparents. Earlier, family members had shown him old videos of Major Melvin.

“The way he dressed, the way he talked, was a lot like my grandfather,” Geiger said. “So when I tell you that this one really hits home for not only me, but my detectives, it does. This is a couple that were born right after the Depression, lived through World War Two, lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, everything imaginable they’ve lived through, and now it ends like this.”

Who were the Melvins?

Major Melvin was an excavator before he retired, Hill said Wednesday. Claudette Melvin worked as a housekeeper for Broward General Hospital.

They had been married for 60 years, and moved to Florida from Virginia in 1968. They had 11 children and about 28 grandchildren.

Kesha Anderson Francis, the firstborn granddaughter of Claudette and Major Melvin, said she and her grandmother were “best friends.”

A collage of Claudette and Major Melvin and family. (Courtesy/Kesha Francis)
A collage of Claudette and Major Melvin and family. (Courtesy/Kesha Francis)

The couple cherished Francis the way grandparents often do with their first-born grandchild, she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday.

“They wouldn’t even let my parents name me,” she said.

Francis’ own mother is dead, and Claudette Melvin took on a bit of that role. Francis often would take her grandmother out of the house to the beach or out to eat, even if she said she wasn’t hungry.

Sunday was the family’s first Easter without the couple, who are not only grandparents but great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. Now, Francis is raising money for their funeral expenses.

Francis and her grandmother were supposed to get their hair done together on Friday; Francis ended up going by herself.

“Grandma just was a very special lady,” she said. “She had a really really big heart. If someone needs clothes or shoes or food or even a refrigerator, Grandma bought things to help people in the community.”

Major Melvin, meanwhile, loved plants; the inside of their house was cluttered with pots of whatever he was growing. He would give seeds to people in the neighborhood.

Francis thinks his love of foliage may also have made it harder for police to catch whoever shot him to death. The trees and bushes he had planted outside of the home to give the couple shade and privacy also blocked much of the surveillance footage.

“It’s just so sad that all the plants he planted ended up costing him his life,” Francis said, “because no one could see.”

Francis was prepared for her grandparents to die of natural causes. But their violent deaths have left her disturbed and confused.

“For someone to come and do something like this it’s heartbreaking,” Francis said.  “It’s really, really disturbing. It’s so bittersweet. One minute you’re crying, one minute you wanna get somebody.”