Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Suicide follows morgue photos

Distraught widow takes her own life

By Rebecca Billman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Perry and Robin Melton in 1999.
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        With each of the photographs taken by Thomas Condon at the Hamilton County morgue, there is a sad story. The sadness continues for the family of Perry Melton, one of the subjects of Mr. Condon's morgue photos. Mr. Melton's family is now also mourning the death of his wife.

        Robin Melton hanged herself Wednesday in her room at Mercy Franciscan Hospital-Mount Airy. She had been in the hospital since taking an overdose of pills April 16 at her North College Hill home.

        Her relatives say she had been depressed since her husband's death in a work-place accident in November.

        But they say she became distraught after learning her husband's body was one of several photographed by Mr. Condon at the morgue.

        “It was just too much for her to take,” said Tony Chesser, Mrs. Melton's brother.

Jackie and Tony Chesser, sister-in-law and brother of Robin Melton, worked with her at Adrian Durban Florists.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Prosecutors say Mr. Condon did not have permission to take the photos, which he has described as works of art. Some of the photos showed bodies posed with props such as sea shells, keys and sheet music.

        A pathologist, Dr. Jonathan Tobias, is accused of giving Mr. Condon access to the morgue. Both men are now charged with abuse of a corpse.

        Mrs. Melton's family is among those that sued the county earlier this year, contending authorities did not do enough to keep Mr. Condon out of the morgue.

        The family's attorney, Stan Chesley, said Mrs. Melton was outraged when she learned her husband had been photographed. He said she wrote a note about her anguish after viewing one of the photos of her husband three weeks ago.

        According to Mr. Chesley, the note read: “The picture is horrifying. Tobias and Condon totally disrespected everybody that was in the morgue. ... They had no right to do what they did.”

        Mr. Chesley said the note was found among Mrs. Melton's belongings after her death.

        Dr. Tobias' attorney, Marc Mezibov, said he was sorry to learn of Mrs. Melton's death. But he said he has “no reason to believe that is in any way related to the incidents surrounding our case.”

        Mr. Condon's attorney, H. Louis Sirkin, agreed with Mr. Mezibov's assessment that there is no reason to link Mrs. Melton's death with the case.

        Before her husband died, relatives say, the 40-year-old Mrs. Melton was a happy wife, mother and grandmother who loved to host parties around the backyard pool and work in her yard.

        But on Nov. 9 — the day before their third anniversary — her husband was struck by a front-end loader while at work in Evendale.

        It was the second time Mrs. Melton had lost a husband. Her first husband, John Jessee, died of a heart attack in 1990, leaving her with three children.

        “She went ahead being a mother and a father, both,” said Mr. Chesser, her brother. “Robin always was a very strong person. She was grief-stricken when she lost her first husband, but life went on.”

        Then she became reacquainted with Mr. Melton, a friend whom she had known since 1972.

        “It was another chance for her to be happy again. It was her second chance at life,” said her brother. Mr. Chesser described the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Melton as “a beautiful one.”

        Marc Bearden, a neighbor of the Meltons, agreed that they seemed happy together.

        “She was outside constantly,” said Mr. Bearden, “and pretty outgoing before he died.” But he had not seen her leave her little brick ranch house since her husband died in November. “This is the second husband she had to bury,” Mr. Bearden said. “She wasn't in the best mental state.”

        Mrs. Melton had not returned to her job at Adrian Durban Florists in Clifton and rarely took calls, according to her sister-in-law, Jackie Chesser.

        “She just totally shut herself off after that,” said her brother. “She didn't discuss anything with her family about what she was feeling. No one in the family suspected she was planning on killing herself.”

        She did consult her family doctor about her depression. He suggested she go to a support group — which she declined to do — and prescribed an anti-anxiety drug.

        Her family thought she was getting better. “She was slowly getting back into the flow of things,” said her brother.

        But after learning her husband was among those photographed at the morgue, she was outraged. She contacted the prosecutor's office and asked to see the photos.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said his staff urged her not to view them, but she insisted.

        “Robin never did see Perry after the accident,” said Mr. Chesser. “I guess it was, more or less, she had to know.”

        Her family said the effects were devastating. A little more than two weeks later, Mrs. Melton's daughter Rahnda Cunningham discovered her unconscious from a drug overdose.

        Taken to the hospital, Mrs. Melton was treated and admitted. She succeeded in committing suicide two days later.

        Enquirer reporters Dan Horn and Michael D. Clark contributed.


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