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Mel Dyson, a Huntington Beach, California accountant who also worked with computers, made a very comfortable living managing the fortunes of successful people. He enjoyed displaying the proof of his own hard work and financial achievements.
But it all came to a horrific end on November 17, 1984, when Dyson, 30, was stabbed 17 times and killed as he slept in his bed.
The motive for the ghoulish murder that would remain unsolved for two years eventually came down to something accountants deal with every day: the bottom line. The killer desperately wanted the victim’s money.
“It was a very violent attack,” Tom Gilligan, a retired investigator for the Huntington Beach Police Department, told “The Real Murders of Orange County,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen. Blood soaked into the mattress and was spattered on the walls and floor.
On the night of the fatal knifing, Mel Dyson apparently wasn’t the only victim. His wife, Dixie, 42, who had called 911 to report the crime, told authorities that she had been sexually assaulted.
Around 2 a.m., she said she heard her son coughing in his room where he was bunking with his cousin and went to check on him. When she returned to her own room, a man grabbed her from behind, wrestled her to the floor, and raped her.
The rapist, she said, threatened her life and the kids’ lives and forced her to hide him in the trunk of her car so he could leave the secure apartment complex unseen.
She said he then instructed her to drive him to a shopping center in Huntington Beach, where he ran off. She told police she was then able to drive home where she found her husband’s body, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1998.
Dixie, who’d had a hardscrabble life before meeting and marrying Mel, remained remarkably unemotional as she recounted the events, according to Dale Mason, the retired lead investigator with the Huntington Beach PD on the case. Of course, she could have been in shock, he told producers.
At the same time, Mason considered what years of experience with Huntington Beach homicides had shown him. These fatal crimes typically weren’t random, out-of-the-blue events. There was usually a relationship between the victim and the killer.
Investigators dug in to see if this murder was an exception to the rule or deadly business as usual. One lead officials followed was that there had been a break-in at the Dyson apartment two weeks earlier.
They looked at that incident as well as Mel’s business practices for a link to the stabbing. They also analyzed “scientific evidence” — blood patterns at the crime scene, fingerprints inside the car trunk, and DNA evidence left by Dixie’s rapist — to find a suspect.
When none emerged, they circled back to Dixie’s story and her activities around the day of the murder. A red flag was hoisted when authorities found a receipt from a store in the same complex where Dixie had been forced to drop off the assailant.
“There were too many things that didn’t add up” about her account of the events, Mason told “The Real Murders of Orange County.”
Investigators dove deeper into Dixie’s life. They found that she had a boyfriend, Enrico Vasquez, a repairman who, unlike Mel, was not a man of means. Dixie, as former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn told producers, was a “sugar mama.”
Dixie went from being a victim to a suspect, with Vasquez as a possible accomplice. The subsequent investigation yielded hits and misses. Vasquez’s fingerprints didn’t match the one lifted from inside Dixie’s car — but that didn’t rule out his involvement.
Meanwhile, Dixie was trying to cash in on her late husband’s $100,000 life insurance policy. In keeping with their policy, the insurance company wouldn’t pay out during an ongoing investigation.
Then, during the investigation an incident from Dixie’s past surfaced that authorities used to their advantage. She’d allegedly stolen a ring from Mel’s family and Vasquez reportedly pawned it. The plan was to arrest Vasquez for receiving stolen goods. When police announced themselves at his door, Vasquez jumped out a window and ran.
There still wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest, though, and Vasquez flew to New York City.
Detectives tightened surveillance on Dixie — sometimes secretly, sometimes openly — in order to let her know that the investigation was still going on, Mason told producers.
Eighteen months after the murder, the surveillance paid off. Detectives who trailed Dixie to a post office discovered that she mailed a letter to Vasquez in the Bronx.
To find out what was inside the envelope Mason flew to New York City and obtained a search warrant from a federal judge allowing them to search the letter.
“I didn’t know they could do this, but the postal inspector steamed the letter open … It had all kinds of admissions in it about the murder,” Mason told producers. “That letter gave me enough evidence to charge Dixie with the murder.”
But Dixie was out of their reach. She had flown to Mexico.
Investigators needed bait to lure Dixie back to the U.S. Word that the insurance company was ready to shell out the six-figure payout did the trick. Dixie booked a flight, and then was booked by authorities.
In December 1986, two years after the crime, Dixie Dyson was arrested in connection with the murder.
“Police would not discuss how they linked Dixie Ann Dyson, 42, a data-entry clerk, to the slaying, but they said she has been their prime suspect from the start of their investigation,” the Los Angeles Times noted at the time.
While the letter appeared to seal her fate and cement her involvement in the murder of her husband and the conspiracy to commit that murder, her arrest didn’t account for everyone involved in the heinous stabbing.
Using leniency as a leverage, investigators convinced Dixie to cooperate and to turn in her conspirators. She then told them that she and Vasquez planned the murder together. Vasquez recruited his friend, George Lamb to carry out the hit, the OC Register reported in 2011.
Lamb was the same person who’d burgled the condo on Halloween and left the fingerprint inside the trunk of the Dysons’ car.
“Dixie’s account of the night of the murder,” former Los Angeles Times reporter Geoff Boucher told producers, “is full of a lot of disturbing details.”
As Mel Dyson was bleeding out and dying, “his wife proceeded to have sex with his killer,” Boucher said.
The intercourse had been planned in advance so she’d have physical evidence to support her rape claim.
Vasquez and Lamb were arrested in June in New York, soon after Dixie began cooperating with authorities. With help from Dixie’s testimony, Vasquez was found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Lamb was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Both were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Dixie Dyson was convicted in 1988 of first-degree murder, but the conviction was reduced to second-degree murder after she cooperated with authorities. She was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
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