BODY IN BURNED JAGUAR: Bodybuilder admits to affair
Warrant reveals details of suspects' links to slain woman
Pictured to the right, Las Vegas bodybuilders Kelly Ryan and her husband, Craig Titus, pose at the Mandalay Bay hotel in October 2002.
Arrested on charges of being an accomplice in the slaying of Melissa James
A week before Craig Titus and his wife, Kelly Ryan, became fugitives, the professional bodybuilders met with Las Vegas homicide detectives about the dead woman who was found in Ryan's burned 2003 Jaguar.
Titus, 40, admitted to secretly having an affair with 28-year-old Melissa James, whose body was found in the trunk of the car. Titus and Ryan, 33, said James was their live-in personal assistant. They said that they had recently evicted her for embezzling from them, but that they had not filed a police complaint.
Both told investigators that James had stolen Ryan's car, though they did not report the theft to police.
Titus and Ryan made those comments Dec. 14, hours after James' body was discovered in the torched Jaguar off state Route 160, according to an arrest warrant filed in Las Vegas Justice Court. The warrant was issued for 23-year-old Anthony Gross, an alleged accomplice in the slaying. Gross is in custody.
But Titus and Ryan were set free after their interrogation because of a lack of evidence, and authorities presume the two have since fled, possibly to Greece.
Titus and Ryan have since been charged with murder and third-degree arson.
Maura James, who on Thursday marked her 51st birthday by remembering her daughter with relatives in Florida, said she hopes the fugitives will soon be caught.
"I find it hard to believe they had anything to do with it because she trusted them as friends," she said. "I was shocked. I never imagined they'd be capable of doing anything like this."
Witnesses told police that Titus had said he would flee to a country that would not extradite him.
Las Vegas police Lt. Tom Monahan said Titus "mentioned that he has been to prison and has no intention of going back."
Titus was convicted of conspiring to possess and sell Ecstasy and served a couple of years in prison in the late 1990s after he tested positive for steroids.
Las Vegas police say that Titus killed Melissa James and that Ryan and Gross helped dispose of her body.
Ryan told police that after discovering funds missing from her accounts, she kicked James out of her $470,000 southwest Las Vegas home. The eviction came Dec. 13, a day before James' body turned up in the remote desert.
James packed a suitcase and Ryan, a former Ms. Fitness America, dropped her off at a convenience store, Ryan told police.
But Ryan and Titus contradicted each other when police asked them separately which vehicle Ryan had used to take James to the store.
"Ryan told detectives she used her Jaguar to take James to the convenience store," a police officer wrote in the report. "Titus said she used his silver Dodge truck."
Maura James, who lives in New Jersey, said she last spoke with her daughter about 11:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 13. During the brief cell phone conversation, Melissa James said she was eating at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.
Maura James heard her daughter ask someone what they wanted to eat. She asked her daughter whom she was with, but the question went unanswered.
A short time later, Melissa James wrapped up the call and said she would call back after lunch.
She never called back and never answered her mother's follow-up calls.
The next day, a Wednesday, Maura James went to the Newark airport before 9 a.m. She was scheduled to pick up her daughter, who was coming home for Christmas. She said her daughter was also considering moving home to New Jersey.
Melissa James' flight arrived, but she wasn't on it. Maura James called her cell phone and left messages. Airport officials issued a page over a public address system. Maura James eventually returned home alone.
She later called Titus' cell phone several times and left messages.
"I thought she had been in an accident or something," she said. "I started calling hospitals in Las Vegas. Nobody had her.
"Thursday night is when I got the call from the coroner. ... She had been strangled."
Maura James said her daughter never mentioned being romantically involved with Titus, who married Ryan in Clark County in June 2000. Melissa James, who was a model and former dance instructor, had lived with the bodybuilders in Southern California several years ago.
Titus asked Melissa James to move to Las Vegas about two months ago, and she accepted, her mother said.
In the days before her death, James told her mother that she and Ryan were not getting along. She said she was staying at a hotel.
"I said, 'Why?' She said, 'Well, Kelly is flipping out and acting crazy,'•" Maura James said.
Titus booked the hotel room for two nights, from Dec. 12 to Dec. 14, and paid for it with a credit card belonging to Emperor Enterprises, a company he and Ryan own, according to police.
"He said he had spent most of one night with James at her room," investigators said in the report, quoting Titus.
Titus also paid for James' plane ticket home, her mother said.
On Dec. 16, two days after James' body was recovered, Amanda Polk, a young bodybuilder who had moved to Las Vegas to train with Ryan, contacted police with a tip. Polk met with investigators the next day and told them that she had received a phone call from Titus on Dec. 15 "saying he was in a bad situation (and) needed to get out of town for a while," police said.
Titus and Ryan went to the home of Polk and her boyfriend later that evening. Ryan hugged Polk and said someone had found her Jaguar burned with a body inside. During a car ride to dinner, Ryan confided in Polk, she told police.
"Ryan proceeded to tell Polk she had found their roommate, Melissa, dead in her room from an overdose," police said. "Polk said Ryan told her Melissa had been dead for a few hours and couldn't describe what she looked like because it would traumatize Polk for life. Polk said Ryan proceeded to tell her" that her life was ruined "because she bought seven bottles of lighter fluid at Wal-Mart with her credit card" at 3:30 a.m.
Investigators say Polk confronted Ryan and asked her why she hadn't called police when she found the body.
"Ryan responded by saying Craig told her, 'No body, no crime,'•" police wrote in the report. "Ryan told Polk she just did what Titus told her to do, that she thought Titus got someone to get rid of Melissa and she didn't kill anyone."
Police say Titus met with business partner Gregory Ruiz at a Subway restaurant in the Las Vegas Valley on the morning of Dec. 17.
"Titus told Ruiz he had to leave the country," an investigator wrote, adding that Titus had traded in his Dodge Viper truck for a new vehicle and intended to meet a friend in Boston to liquidate his assets.
Police obtained cell phone records that showed Titus called Anthony Gross in the early morning of Dec. 14.
Gross told investigators that he left his apartment in pajamas, filled up a can with gas and drove west on Blue Diamond Road until he saw flashing headlights from a Jaguar.
He told police that he pulled up beside the Jaguar, rolled down his window and handed Titus a metal gas can. He said he did not know what Titus did with the gas can and, though he gave Titus a lift back into town, the two never discussed what had happened.
On Dec. 14, before 5 a.m., a trucker saw the Jaguar ablaze. In the trunk, authorities found a body with white fabric around its neck and duct tape across the face.
An autopsy revealed that James had likely died from asphyxiation.
Police used the license plate on the car to trace the vehicle back to Ryan.
"I think they had hoped the fire would completely consume the car so that it would be unidentifiable," Monahan said.
On Wednesday, however, Titus and Ryan -- who have been on the covers of bodybuilding magazines -- were being identified on television news broadcasts as murder suspects.
Neighbors recalled Thursday that Titus and Ryan often had visitors, some driving flashy cars -- Ferraris or Mercedes. One neighbor described Titus as friendly, adding that his physique was noticeably smaller these days.
Titus, who graduated high school at 140 pounds, has often competed in the 250-pound range or more.
Police say he is now down to about 225 pounds.
A neighbor who did not want to be identified because Titus remained on the loose, said he had noticed another change in the man: "He's smoking. Before, he was not smoking."
Monahan said police have evidence suggesting that Titus' loss of size was causing him to lose sponsorship contracts.
Maura James, meanwhile, recalled something her daughter had once mentioned about Titus, Ryan and steroids.
"She told me that since he was getting older, he was not going to be competing as much," James said. "She used to tell me, 'Yeah, they took them when they were getting ready for competitions. And they would go to the doctor quite a bit for checking organs and things like that.'•"
Monahan said he believes authorities will find Titus and Ryan sooner or later, in part because of their high profiles and flamboyance.
Their capture might bring a measure of consolation to a grieving mother.
"You know what's so hard?" James said. "They burned my daughter so that we can't even see her again before we bury her. She is so sweet. She is so sweet and beautiful. I can't imagine anybody doing that to her."
Review-Journal writers Brian Haynes and Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report.