A shaky alibi and a $400,000 insurance policy made Melissa Oxley a prime suspect in her husband’s brutal shotgun murder.
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In police audio, Melissa Oxley says she woke up after feeling something hit her head and smelling gunpowder. She explains she turned to her husband — only to realize he was shot.
“It’s really, really bad!” was how Melissa Oxley, in a 911 call, described the shocking scene at her home in Minden, Nevada in the early morning hours of February 21, 2008. Her husband, Ben Oxley, had just been shot to death while he slept.
Melissa woke up right after hearing a sound she eventually realized was the shotgun blast that killed the man she’d married two years earlier in a wedding that was a second chance at love for Ben. He’d tied the knot before and had a daughter, Alyssa, of whom he had custody, but that marriage ended in a less-than-amicable divorce.
Covered in Ben’s blood, Melissa made the desperate call for help. “It was one of the more horrific scenes I’ve seen,” Douglas County Sheriff Jon Storke told “Killer Motive,” airing Saturdays at 6/5c on urbanbreathnyc.com.
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It quickly became a scene riddled with questions — chief among them: How could Melissa claim not to have heard a thing considering that she was just inches away from her husband when he was killed?
Ben and Melissa Oxley
As police searched the Oxley home, they found shotgun ammo in the bedroom of Melissa’s teenaged brother, Craig, who lived with the couple. They also turned up weapons in the garage.
Minutes into the case, there were two suspects.
When questioned by police following the slaying, Melissa explained to investigators that she was a very sound sleeper, but that seemed unbelievable. Meanwhile, in an interrogation room down the hall, Craig was grilled about the shotgun shells.
Despite Melissa and Craig’s denials of wrongdoing there was too much evidence to release them, according to “Killer Motive.” The siblings were given a gunshot residue test that would show if either of them had recently fired a gun. The test came up negative for both.
Melissa allowed her 6-year-old stepdaughter, Alyssa, to be gently questioned by police. The girl told them that she’d heard a door creak and saw a figure in her house but didn’t know if it was a man or a woman.
At that point, Melissa said a former boyfriend of Ben’s ex-wife, Dawn, could be a possible suspect. Dawn’s ex had a record and was said to have not been happy with the way Ben was treating Dawn. However, investigators determined that he was out of town at the time of the slaying.
When police went to Dawn’s house to talk with her about the homicide, she said she and her current boyfriend, James Matlean, had been together all night watching movies and drinking. Their alibis appeared to check out.
While Alyssa had gone to live with her birth mom, Melissa was kept under observation. Three months after the murder, investigators learned that she was the beneficiary of her husband’s $400,000 life insurance policy. They also discovered that the young widow was already dating. Red flags sprang up.
However, Sgt. Ron Elges, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said that Melissa never inquired about the insurance money and didn’t seem to care about the payout. Despite early suspicions, focus on Melissa subsided. She was cleared as a suspect.
In an interview with “Killer Motive” host Troy Roberts, the soft-spoken Melissa explained that she saw other men shortly after Ben’s death because despite everything she desired “a normal life.” If she didn’t try to pick up the pieces then, she said, she “probably never would.”
Five months into Ben Oxley’s murder, a killer was still on the loose. Investigators turned their attention to Dawn Oxley, whose relationship with the victim was complicated. After their divorce, she’d lost custody of Alyssa and had to pay child support. There was a river of bad blood.
As they closely scrutinized Dawn’s claim that she and James, who had a rap sheet, had been together on the night of the murder, investigators found holes in their claims about being at home all night watching films. Surveillance video from a 7-Eleven showed James in the store. Their alibis were false.
Detectives strategically turned up the heat on Dawn and James. They trailed them for six months and let them know they were doing it. Each time James was busted for a minor infraction like stealing cigarettes it was another chance to question him about Ben’s murder.
Despite months of “hardball tactics,” investigators said James never cracked. Dawn, however, was another story. She reached out to police and said she was ready to spill about her ex-husband’s slaying. Officials noted that she was intoxicated when she came to talk.
She admitted that she’d expressed anger about her relationship with her ex-husband, but said she never directly asked James to kill him. The fact that Dawn was inebriated when she told this story tainted the testimony and made it potentially unreliable, though.
But in November 2009, a sober Dawn seized another chance to outline her tale of Ben’s murder. She was arrested for a DUI and had been in jail for two weeks — no cigarettes, no alcohol, no reality-clouding factors.
The same month, Dawn’s 16-year-old son from a previous marriage, Devin, told investigators that he’d heard his mother tell James that she wanted Ben dead.
With only circumstantial evidence against Dawn, prosecutors made a deal: She’d get to walk if she testified against James.
It was like “making a deal with the devil,” Ben’s brother Billy told “Killer Motive.”
After James learned that Dawn was testifying against him, he revealed how deeply involved Dawn was in the murder. She’d drawn a map of Ben’s house so he’d know where to go to execute him. James added another chilling revelation: Dawn had asked him to also kill Melissa, but after firing a bullet into Ben’s head, James said he couldn’t pull the trigger again.
On March 16, 2012, he pled guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole.
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Prior to his conviction, Dawn was arrested in March 2011 for involving her 15-year-old daughter from a previous marriage in multiple drug transactions, according to “Killer Motive.” She was sentenced to 90 months in prison and was released in 2014.
To learn more about the case, watch “Killer Motive,” airing Saturdays at 6/5c on urbanbreathnyc.com, or stream episodes on urbanbreathnyc.com.