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Craig Michael TITUS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Professional bodybuilder
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 13, 2005
Date of arrest: December 23, 2005
Date of birth: January 14, 1965
Victim profile: Melissa James, 29 (his personal assistant)
Method of murder: Undetermined
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Status: Sentenced to 21 to 55 years in prison on August 22, 2008

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Craig Michael Titus (born January 14, 1965, in Wyandotte, Michigan) is an American former IFBB professional bodybuilder and a convicted murderer.

Early life

Titus is of French and Greek origin with a French mother and a Greek father and lived most of his early life near Detroit, Michigan, in a city called Riverview. He has a younger brother, Kevin, and a younger sister, Nicole. Titus played high school football but quit because he was too small. He also wrestled at 132 lbs. After graduation Titus decided to put on some muscle by weight training.


When Titus graduated from high school, he was 5'6" and 140 lbs. By the age of 21, he was 5'9" and 185 lbs. Once he started seeing good results from weight training, he decided to become a bodybuilder. Titus's first bodybuilding show was the 1988 Houston Bodybuilding Championships in which he won the Men's Open middleweight class and the overall title

Personal life

Titus wrote a monthly column for Muscular Development from July 2003 until November 2005. Previously married to bodybuilder Kelly Ann Ryan, Ryan filed for divorce while both were in prison in connection with the murder of Melissa James. The divorce became final in December 2009.

Criminal convictions

In April 1995 in Louisiana, Titus pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute Ecstasy, and was sentenced to 16 months house arrest via monitoring with an electronic anklet. In July 1997, Titus was sentenced to 21 months in prison for violating his probation by using anabolic steroids.

In December 2005, Titus and his wife Kelly Ryan were implicated in the death of Melissa James, their personal assistant, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Titus admitted to an affair with James. After fleeing cross-country, the couple were arrested in Stoughton, Massachusetts. The FBI claimed intelligence that Titus and Ryan might have been trying to head to Greece; Titus is of Greek descent, and Greece has no extradition treaty with the United States.

In February 2006, after being extradited to Nevada from Boston, Titus and Ryan were denied bail. On March 29, both pleaded not guilty to a felony charge for killing their live-in assistant. The charge carries the possibility of the death penalty, although prosecutors said they have not decided whether to seek it. Anthony Gross, also charged as an accomplice in the crime, pled guilty in February 2009 and received probation.

Despite previous statements asserting their innocence, both Titus and Ryan pled guilty to various charges on May 30, 2008, just days before their murder trial was set to begin in Las Vegas. On August 22, 2008, Titus was convicted of second degree murder, kidnapping and arson. He was sentenced to 21 to 55 years in prison. With time served from the date of capture, Craig Titus is eligible for parole release on December 23, 2026.


Fire in the Desert: The True Story of the Craig Titus-Kelly Ryan Murder Mystery by Glenn Puit (Stephens Press, published February 2007


Bodybuilders Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan Sentenced for Murder

August 23, 2008

Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan took a plea bargain regarding the death of their former personal assistant Melissa James, 29, of Lambertville, N.J.

In February 2008, Anthony Gross, Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan's accomplice also pleaded guilty in the Melissa James murder case.

Craig Titus Sentencing

Craig Titus, 44, pleaded guilty on May 30, 2008 to second-degree murder, kidnapping and arson. The plea allowed Craig Titus  to avoid trial and avoid the death penalty.

Craig Titus received a sentence of 21 to 51 years. Craig Titus will not be eligible for parole until 2026-12-23.

Kelly Ryan Sentencing 

Kelly Ryan pleaded guilty to arson and Nevada’s equivalent of no contest to battery with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 6 to 26 years. The plea allowed Kelly Ryan to avoid trial and avoid the murder charge.

Kelly Ryan is serving her sentence at Florence McLure Women's Correctional Center in Nevada. Kelly Ryan will be eligible for parole as early as 2011.

The Melissa James Murder

Prosecutor Robert Daskas said Melissa James was beaten, drugged, stunned with a Taser, injected with morphine and strangled before she was “burned beyond anybody’s recognition” in the trunk of Ryan’s Jaguar.  James’ head was encased in duct tape, and showed the court graphic photos of a “death mask” formed by her face when it peeled away with the heavy tape during her autopsy.

Daskas said investigators could never say for sure whether James was still alive in the back of the red Jaguar caught on videotape outside a Wal-Mart – where Ryan bought charcoal starter fluid and a backyard barbecue set at 3:30 a.m. – or at a gas station where Titus, Ryan and a friend, Anthony Gross, allegedly bought another $2.66 worth of gasoline. The barbecue set was later found burned in Ryan’s car. Gross met Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan at the gas station and drove them back to Las Vegas after they set Kelly Ryan’s Jaguar ablaze in the desert outside Las Vegas. 

Kelly Ryan Statement

Ryan stated the following in court, “I am truly, truly sorry,” Ryan said. “I know I did not kill. But I did aid in the events. I know I was not in a state of mind emotionally or physically to make the right decisions or to, oh God, to take appropriate control of what was happening.”

Craig Titus Statement

Craig Titus said, “I am ashamed and sickened of my actions after Melissa (James) passed away. I let drug use get way out of control in my home,” he said. “I failed my wife. I failed my family. And most regretfully, I failed Melissa (James), who was my friend.”

Craig Titus Appeal

In December 2008 Craig Titus made a request for a sentence reduction which District Judge Jackie Glass denied. Craig Titus is currently serving his sentence at Ely State Prison, Nevada's only maximum security prison.

Anthony Gross, Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan's Accomplice Pleads Guilty

In February 2008, Anthony Gross, Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan's accomplice pleaded guilty in the Melissa James murder case. Gross plead guilty to accessory to arson and accessory to commit first degree arson. The two are both felony charges.

If Gross successfully completes his probation, Gross will be permitted to withdraw his guilty plea to the two felony offenses, plead guilty to the gross misdemeanor charge of Conspiracy to Commit 3rd Degree Arson and receive credit for time served. If Gross doesn’t complete the probation the two felony charges will remain.


Indictment unsealed: Autopsy: Drugs in body

Fitness champs charged in assistant's death

March 25, 2006

An autopsy showed that the personal assistant of Kelly Ryan and Craig Titus had morphine and heroin byproducts in her system at the time of her death. It also indicated that she had previously used methamphetamine.

Both the cause and manner of death for Melissa James, 28, was officially listed as undetermined, giving defense attorneys for Ryan and her husband, Titus, the opportunity to maintain what the pair once told police -- that James died of a drug overdose, they panicked and disposed of her body.

"The defense can make hay out of it," former Prosecutor Charles Kelly, now a local defense attorney, said of the autopsy results.

Titus and Ryan and a co-defendant, Anthony Gross, were in District Court on Friday to face charges stemming from James' death in December.

The indictment, unsealed in the courtroom of District Judge David Wall, charges Titus and Ryan with murder with use of a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping and third-degree arson.

The indictment charges Gross with accessory to murder and arson in connection with allegations he helped the fitness champions dispose of James' body.

Titus, 40, is a past place-winner of international Mr. Olympia competitions. Ryan, 33, is a past Ms. Fitness America and Ms. Olympia runner-up.

James was found dead Dec. 14 in the back of Ryan's torched Jaguar in the desert off state Route 160. Titus and Ryan first told police they didn't know how James ended up dead in the car.

Authorities said the couple then fled Las Vegas and were arrested Dec. 23 outside Boston, where they told police James died of a drug overdose in Ryan's car in their garage before they disposed of her body, burning it in the process.

In a third scenario regarding the death, authorities said, Titus later agreed with an FBI agent's premise that perhaps he was having rough sex with James and she died.

The autopsy report notes that "opiate intoxicants" were in James' system. The Review-Journal was unable to access documents detailing the exact levels of the metabolites of the drugs in her system.

However, other documents show there are a number of other clues garnered from the autopsy and crime scene that would seem to contradict the premise that she somehow died of a drug overdose.

Namely, a coroner's report details that a ligature was found around James' neck.

"Head was wrapped in an apparent blanket," the report said. "Beneath the burned blanket, there was apparent duct tape around her head and face, and a cloth strip and wires around her neck."

James' body was badly burned with an accelerant. Ryan was captured on a Wal-Mart surveillance video buying accelerant shortly before the body was found.

In his statement to police claiming James died of an accidental drug overdose, Titus told authorities he had, in fact, duct-taped James' face while her body was on the floor of his home.

"Put a blanket on the ground, grabbed another blanket and I taped up her head," Titus said. "I didn't want to see her face. I didn't want to see her face.

"I took the tie off one of my robes, and I put it on the back of her neck and pushed her knees up and tied her knees to her chest," Titus said. "Then we wrapped her up in a blanket and taped it up and put her in the trunk.

"Then I put her in the trunk and dropped her a couple times," Titus said. "Kelly was crying hysterically.

"She's my (expletive) friend man," Titus said. "So (expletived) up. Now it's worse."

When asked by police to explain the wires around James' neck, which Titus originally didn't mention, Titus said: "You know, honestly, this is the honest to God truth, when I, when I was tying her up in the cocoon-like position ... I used duct tape and I used the robe ties ... but there was something else I used that broke. I can't remember what it was. A phone cord maybe."

Titus also addressed James' drug use in his statement to police, which reads:

"Crystal methamphetamines ... Oxycontins, crystal methamphetamine, Nubane, cocaine, morphine, which I didn't know till the end."

Kelly said the autopsy results will be somewhat helpful to defense attorneys in the case, but prosecutors will try to argue that burning someone in the trunk of a car isn't consistent with a reaction to a drug overdose.

Kelly said perhaps the biggest challenge defense attorneys face is explaining the defendants' multiple versions of James' death.

"Which one do you want us to believe?" Kelly said.


Body in burned car: Conflicting statements

Pair accused of killing personal assistant told different stories about sex, drugs

By Glenn Puitt -

February 15, 2006

In their first statements to police, slaying suspects Craig Titus and Kelly Ryan said they didn't know how the charred body of their personal assistant, Melissa James, ended up in the trunk of Ryan's car.

But in two subsequent statements to authorities, the fitness champions changed their story, saying James died of a drug overdose at their house, and that they burned James' body to avoid negative publicity from the accidental death.

"Found her (James) in the (expletive) car dead, stinking up my (expletive) car," Titus told detectives in a Dec. 24 taped interview in Boston.

"I panicked. That gets in the newspaper, we're ruined. Dead girl, car, OD'd, Craig Titus, Kelly Ryan. We're (expletive) ruined," Titus said.

"Plus, not to mention that my car's ruined ... so I think OK, let's put her in the trunk and burn it and play stupid. That's what we did. Period. Finito. End of story."

In a third statement, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, Titus agreed with an FBI agent's suggestion that perhaps he was having rough sex with James and she died.

"Yeah, we were having sex and she OD'd," the FBI agent quoted Titus as saying. "Let's go with that. That's a good story."

The conflicting statements about James' death are contained in nearly 500 pages of voluntary statements given by Titus and Ryan to Las Vegas homicide detectives. Titus and Ryan are charged with murder in the December death of James, and copies of the couple's statements were obtained by the Review-Journal this week.

Titus' attorney, Richard Schonfeld, wouldn't discuss specifics of his client's statements. But he said the statements Titus and Ryan gave to police in Massachusetts will be suppressed because police never notified Titus or Ryan they were recording them, as required by law in that state.

"No doubt in my mind it will be suppressed," Schonfeld said. "It was illegal what they did."

Ryan's attorney, Thomas Pitaro, could not be reached for comment.

Louis Palazzo, a defense attorney for a third defendant charged in the case, Anthony Gross, wouldn't comment.

Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas also wouldn't comment on this story.

Titus is a past place-winner of the international Mr. Olympia competitions, and Ryan is a past Ms. Fitness America and Ms. Olympia runner-up.

Hours after James' body was found burning in the desert in Ryan's car on Dec. 14, Titus and Ryan each gave police lengthy taped statements. In their first statements, the couple said they suspected James might be stealing from them and perhaps was planning to steal their identities.

"OK, one example, she went online and changed my pass codes," Ryan said. "OK. She requested new security information be sent to her and new banking cards sent to her."

Ryan said she confronted James about her suspicions that James was stealing, and James decided she was going to leave and head home to New Jersey for Christmas. The day before James was found murdered, Ryan said, she gave James a ride to a convenience store and dropped her off.

Ryan and Titus then speculated to police that James somehow returned to their house, snuck into their garage and stole Ryan's car.

Titus and Ryan said they didn't know what happened to James after that. But Titus suggested James was using methamphetamine and that a drug dealer named Eddie could be responsible for her death.

"He's real cool, drug dealer, you know, 'Pay me, I'll kill ya' type, (expletive) idiot," Titus told police.

Titus told police that if he found out who killed James before the detectives did, he would hunt the person down and harm them.

"I'll tell ya something right now," Titus said. "If I find this (expletive) guy before you guys do, I'm gonna (expletive) him up. I'll call you when I do."

After their statements were given, authorities said, Titus and Ryan fled across country.

They were arrested outside Boston and, on Dec. 24, gave more statements to the FBI and Las Vegas police.

This time, Titus and Ryan said they had found James dead of an overdose in Ryan's car, a needle sticking out of her arm, and, instead of simply calling police, they panicked.

"Craig and I started thinking, ah, she's got drugs in the house, ah, he (Titus is) a felon," Ryan said. "Well, there's steroids."

Ryan and Titus said they dragged James' body into their house, wrapped James' face with duct tape and put her body in blankets, and then put her in the trunk of Ryan's Jaguar.

"She wasn't stiff," Ryan said. "She was very heavy. Very heavy. Very, very. And I remember that she, she was (a) mess, and so heavy I think I probably ended up dropping her."

"So, ah, it's real simple, guys," Titus told detectives. "We took her out of the car and put her in the fetal positionand put her in the trunk of my car and we burned it.

"Drug her in the house," Titus said. "This is (expletive) gross, man. Put her in a fetal position, wrapped her up, put her in the trunk."

Titus said they decided to dispose of James' body to avoid negative publicity that could ruin their fitness careers.

"She (Ryan) is the number one fitness athlete in the world," Titus said. "Highly respected in the sport, and if you think of fitness, Kelly Ryan. Period. ... And here we walk in our garage and our friend's OD'd in our (expletive) car. So if that gets out to the public, we're ruined."

Ryan said she bought lighter fluid at a Wal-Mart, and her husband called Gross. The trio then went to the desert off state Route 160, where Ryan said Titus set Ryan's car on fire with James' body in the trunk.

"We just basically got rid of a body, and how we gonna explain it," Ryan said. "Um, you know, obviously if we thought that, you know, by burning the car it would get rid of ah, of the person completely. Um, I don't know, I don't know why."

At one point during the interview, Titus said he and Ryan couldn't have murdered James because if they had, they wouldn't be dumb enough to burn the body in a car registered to Ryan.

"If I really wanted to ... burn her and it was a murder, I would of dug a hole out in the desert and dumped her in the hole, and burned my car myself," Titus said. "You know what I mean?

"It's that simple," Titus said. "Nobody ever found her. My car would be burned and stolen. End of story.

"So I mean ... it doesn't take a (expletive) genius to know, well, you know, if you're gonna murder somebody, you don't put her in your car and burn her," Titus said.

"Unless somebody panics," a detective tells Titus.

"Yeah, well, unless they're really stupid," Titus said.

At another point in the interview, Titus asks police if they found steroids in his house.

"Did you guys find my steroids?" Titus asks the detectives.

"Yeah," a detective responds.

"You did find it?" Titus said. "(Expletive,) man. That's pretty good investigation."

Ryan acknowledges to police that she once used methamphetamine with James. And Titus tells police he, his wife and James also used a painkiller called Nubane, which is commonly used by fitness athletes.

Titus denied he was having an affair with James, although he acknowledged having sex with her years ago.

But in yet another statement to authorities, an FBI agent said Titus told him that, he, James and Ryan had all had sex together in the past.

The FBI agent then poses a possible scenario of Titus having rough sex with James and her dying.

"You admitted to placing a ligature around (James') neck and placing duct tape around her face," the FBI agent said he told Titus. "You'd previously admitted that the three of you had sex together. Also, you did drugs together. Could this have been a sex act gone bad?

"You were having kinky sex together and something went wrong," the agent said he told Titus. "You were having sex. You had her tied up. You were using drugs and maybe she OD'd."

The FBI agent then summarized in a report Titus's response to the scenario.

"Titus responded words to the effect, 'Yeah, we were having sex and she OD'd. Let's go with that. That's a good story.' "

"After making this statement, Titus paused for a moment and then stated 'No more questions.'"



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