Melissa Montz ran the same 5-mile path each morning past the LSU golf course, a routine that didn’t break until one October day almost three decades ago.
It was Montz’s coffee pot that first alerted her roommate that something was wrong with the 27-year-old LSU doctoral candidate, a woman down-to-earth in ways befitting someone devoted to studying sedimentary rocks. Allison Drew recalled recently that Montz timed the brew to be ready for her return from early morning runs, but by late morning that day, the coffee was still untouched.
She was missing for 51 days before police found Montz’s decomposed body on Nov. 24, 1985, in a ditch between the 18th fairway of the LSU golf course and the railroad track along Nicholson Drive, near the Gourrier Avenue intersection. Montz was tied to a log and had been raped, police said. No one was arrested in her murder.
Thirty years later, Baton Rouge Police detectives are reopening Montz’s case, hoping that advances in genetic testing could mean new DNA matches on items found at the scene.
“We knew that there are people that know stuff about this case,” said Detective Logan Collins, who is in charge of the cold-case investigation. “There were people who called in information that you would’ve only known if someone that did the crime had told you. There’s no other way.”
Montz was found with ropes around her arms, neck and legs, Collins said. He believes she was strangled to death, but so much of her body had disintegrated it was nearly impossible to definitely determine a cause of death, he said. An intense rain came not long after she was left in the ditch filled with trash and debris, he said.
Montz’s shorts were gone, but her shirt and shoes were found, along with a whistle, Collins said. She was also missing a ring and a watch, but detectives don’t know if the items were stolen or washed away, he said.
The abduction between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. that fall day meant it was still dark when Montz was running, Collins said. Because she kept such a reliable schedule, someone could have been tracking Montz, but the attack could easily have been random.
It “appears to be more of a crime of opportunity than anything,” Collins said. No suspects emerged in the initial investigation.
Raised in a small Midwestern town, Montz was described as “sensible,” “friendly,” “focused” and “straightforward” by friends. She was a geology student more drawn to examining ancient oil deposits in New Mexico than attending wild parties.
Montz was in a happy relationship with her boyfriend, Donald Broussard, and had just penned a letter to her sister, Pam, expressing excitement over her studies and job prospects.
“We head off to the Ouachitas (Arkansas) next week on a field trip to look at some ‘Deep sea sedimented deposits!’ I’m looking forward to the scenery as much as the geology,” Montz said in a handwritten note, dated Oct. 5, 1985, the day after she vanished.
Pam Montz, the Police Department’s main contact with Montz’s family, declined to be interviewed for this story, as did Broussard. Montz’s parents, from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, are deceased, according to public records. They’d suffered the death of their 17-year-old son in a car crash six years before Montz’s murder, according to reports in The Advocate.
In the years after Montz went missing, newspaper accounts brought up her name in possible connection to Baton Rouge serial killers like Sean Vincent Gillis and Derrick Todd Lee. But those men committed murders in the 1990s, later than when Montz was killed. Collins isn’t convinced there’s any link.
“She grew up in a sheltered environment and didn’t realize how dangerous situations can be,” said Louise Hose, a classmate of Montz. Now 63 and a noted geologist and spelunker, Hose choked up at the memory of her friend, who brought a serious work ethic to her LSU studies but maintained a small-town innocence, she said.
One time at Wal-Mart with Montz, Hose said she was keeping her eye on some men in the parking lot who’d made rude comments at them. Later, the men came running at the young women, and Hose quickly urged Montz into their car and locked the doors. Montz turned to her wide-eyed, and said, “How did you know they were coming?”
Hose’s statements echo Montz’s father’s description of his daughter in The Advocate in 1985: “If she had one fault, it was she was too trusting.” Still, Hose said Montz was aware enough not to put herself in dangerous situations.
Dag Nummedal was Montz’s Ph.D. adviser who’d organized search parties among friends, family and geology students to find Montz. Many of them had grown frustrated, feeling the police weren’t doing enough to locate her.
“I thought the world of her,” Nummedal said. “Typically, when you work with Ph.D. students, you spend many, many years with them, so it was a personal loss in that respect.”
Other classmates, such as Sarah Moore, also a geologist, remembered Montz as a kind, no-nonsense person.
“She was a woman natural in her appearance,” said Moore. “I admired her energy.”
Montz’s inner circle is still hopeful for closure in her story.
“I miss her. I’m horrified at what was done,” Hose said. “She is one of the reminders of how precious life is and how terribly short it can be. (Her death) was not because she was taking any risks. She was a pretty conservative and calculated person, just out jogging.”
Anyone with information about Montz’s murder is asked to contact Baton Rouge cold-case detectives at (225) 389-4869.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.