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Real Estate Agent Uses Key To Break Into Young Woman's Home And Murder Her

Melinda Snyder had been asleep at her South Carolina residence when an intruder attacked her and shot her.

Melinda Snyder featured on Sleeping with Death

A frantic 911 call pierced the pre-dawn quiet of Rock Hill, South Carolina on January 23, 1990. 

Melinda Snyder, 22, had been found shot in her bedroom. Her roommate, who had been asleep in her own room, was the one to discover her after she was awakened by odd noises and a loud bang.

“My roommate just shot herself,” she told a 911 dispatcher in a recorded call heard on “Sleeping with Death,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. 

Detectives arrived at the scene and found Melinda grappling for life with “a gunshot wound off the left side of her head to her temple,” said Bruce Bryant, former senior special agent, SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED). She was wearing only a nightgown, which was pulled up over her chest.

Melinda, a recent college graduate and teacher’s assistant beloved by family and friends, was rushed to the hospital, but she died hours later. 

Melinda Snyder featured on Sleeping with Death

Based on the 911 report by Melinda’s roommate, who’d called her brother and Melinda’s ex-boyfriend before police arrived, officers searched for evidence of an attempted suicide. A spent .22 cartridge was found, but there was no gun. 

“It was originally reported as a suicide. It very obviously was not,” said Charles Cabaniss, retired captain of the Rock Hill Police Department.

It was now a murder investigation.

The roommate’s 911 report raised a red flag, but she clarified to detectives what had happened. She said she was roused by noises in Melinda’s room and then by someone using the bathroom. The person went back into Melinda’s room and then the loud bang came. The roommate said she looked out her window and saw a white sedan with a black molding drive off.

Psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser reasoned that between being groggy and frightened, the roommate could have mistakenly believed Melinda had shot herself.

Early on in the investigation, detectives had three suspects — the roommate, who had only known Melinda for six months, her brother, and Melinda’s ex. 

“We looked at the possibility that one of those three individuals shot Melinda … and got rid of the weapon,” explained Les Herring, former detective with the Rock Hill Police Department.

Reviewing the crime scene, investigators found no forced entry or signs of a struggle, although they collected shoe prints in the bathrooms. There was a realtor lockbox on the front door because the house was for sale.

An autopsy found that she had died from a single gunshot, said Cabaniss. She had no defensive wounds or signs of sexual trauma. But based on how Melinda was found, detectives weren’t convinced she had not been assaulted.

Police turned their attention to the roommate’s brother. Police learned he was separated from his wife and believed he may have been attracted to Melinda. He had helped Melinda move some furniture in the home days before the murder, according to investigators. 

He told officials he had no romantic feelings for Melinda and willingly handed over his shoes so the prints could be compared to ones collected as evidence. But he refused to take a polygraph test. He and his sister got an attorney and stopped talking with investigators.

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Investigators spoke with Melinda’s ex-boyfriend. He and Melinda had broken up just a few days before the murder. After the interview, detectives moved him down on the list of suspects. 

They also focused on the real estate lockbox, which held a key to the residence inside it. Anyone with the code could retrieve the key. They assembled a list of all real estate agents who had access to the lockbox.

During his interview with police, Melinda’s ex had said that a real estate agent named Ed “acted flirty” when he was in the house. Reviewing records, detectives found that on January 15, eight days before the shooting, Edward “Ed” Cronell had been in the residence. Investigators found out that he drove a white sedan with black molding, much like the one the roommate said she had seen the night of the shooting.

When detectives questioned Cronell he said he’d been in the house when no one was home. He also said that the night of the murder he was at a bachelor party and didn’t leave until around 4:30 a.m. He claimed that he’d got into a fight and went to a hospital to get stitches.

But investigators checked all area hospitals, and found no report to back up his claim.

“That blew his alibi right out of the water,” said Herring.

At this point ,Cronell got an attorney and stopped talking with police.

On March 8, the case took another twist. The shoe prints collected at the crime scene matched the roommate’s brother’s shoes. He still refused to be interviewed.

Out of other leads, Bryant turned his attention back to the autopsy report. He requested the evidence to be retested for evidence of a sexual attack. On the second analysis, semen was found.

Investigators requested a blood sample from the roommate's brother, Melinda’s ex, and Cronell. The ex-boyfriend consented and was found not to be a match. The other two men refused and officials couldn't force them to comply.

But about a year later, the roommate’s brother had a change of heart. He came to investigators and agreed to give a blood sample. He wasn’t a match. His shoe impressions were left when he helped Melinda move furniture, he said.

On July 24 1992, two and a half years after Melinda's murder, a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court enabled prosecutors to collect a blood sample from Cronell.

It was a match for DNA found on Melinda’s body. Cronell, then 27, was arreste in March 1993 for murder, criminal sexual conduct, and first-degree burglary.

Prosecutors laid out their theory of the crime. Cronell went to Melinda’s home, where he had access to a key. He crept in, raped her, and then killed her.

In 1994, the jury found him guilty on all counts. He was given a life sentence on both the murder charge and the burglary charge, and was given 30 years on the sexual assault charge. 

Due to legalities and the fact that the murder was committed in 1990, Cronell became eligible for parole after 20 years. However, his requests for release have been denied. Melinda’s parents have been at each parole hearing.

“We will fight it until we die,” Jerry Snyder, her father, told wsoc-tv.com

“It's brutal for me to have to see them do that,” Melinda’s brother, Kevin, told producers. “But they're there to speak for my sister.” 

To learn more about the case, watch “Sleeping with Death,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.

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