48 Hours Mystery: Vegas Heat

Trapped Inside a World of Glamour, Fitness and Fury, a Vegas Dancer is Found Dead

This story originally aired on Nov. 6, 2008. It was updated on Sept. 18, 2010.

Produced by Chuck Stevenson and Chris O'Connell

On an early December morning outside Las Vegas, firefighters responded to a report of a possible brushfire. But what they found instead was a burning car, with the body of a woman inside.

Who was this woman and what led to her murder? Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports for "48 Hours Mystery."

The Clark County Coroner's Office had a mystery on his hands: a charred corpse with an unrecognizable face, discovered inside a car on Sandy Valley Road.

Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said medical examiners could tell the victim was female, but they had little else to identify her. "Fingerprints were not a possibility because of the burning of the body, facial recognition was not a possibility."

He named the body "Sandy Valley Jane Doe" after the desert area where it was found. It would take weeks to make a positive identification.

"It was found the face was covered with duct tape…so the next question why would that occur?" Murphy says. "I can tell you there was evidence of some type of an accelerant being used."

To investigators, it appeared that an accelerant, like lighter fluid, had been used to start and spread the fire.

It was dawn on Dec. 14, 2005, that Las Vegas Homicide Detectives Robert Wilson and Dean O'Kelley came upon the smoldering car.

"This is as it was. The whole dash was burned away. The steering wheel was completely consumed. Fire investigators that came out to the scene told us that we were lookin' at a fire in excess of 1,200 degrees," O'Kelley explains, looking at the burnt-out car. "I certainly believe that the objective is not to destroy the vehicle, but to destroy the body in the trunk."

The plates checked back to a Kelly Ryan. Detectives headed to her house expecting to find out that the body in the car was Kelly Ryan's, and that's when Detective Wilson got his first surprise: "So I just went ahead and knocked on the door. She says, 'Well I'm Kelly Ryan,'" he recalls.

Kelly Ryan is one of the most famous fitness athletes in the world, whose nickname was "Flyin' Ryan."

Megan Foley trained with Kelly and was her best friend. "She was 'Flyin' Ryan.' She would fly through the air, do crazy different things in the air that nobody else could do," Megan remembers.

Kelly was born to be a star. She had once been on the U.S. gymnastics team, trained by legendary Olympics coach Bela Karolyi.

In a 1996 interview, Kelly described what helped make her a champion in her sport. "You can be athletic," she said. "And there's a lot of passion in this sport. I think that comes through in our routines and the way we carry ourselves on stage."

Back at Kelly's house - still trying to figure out who was in that trunk - Det. Wilson was in for another surprise: Craig Titus, Kelly's muscle-bound husband.

A champion in his own right, Craig Titus was known as the bad boy of bodybuilding. Craig was such a star, he was hired by Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil to whip the hard-partying rock star back into shape for a special that aired on VH-1.

After meeting Craig, Wilson asked Kelly if she knew where her car was. "And she said, 'No, I don't. I think maybe our assistant took it,'" Wilson remembers. "And that was the first time that we heard anything about someone named Melissa."

"Melissa" was Melissa James, Kelly and Craig's 28-year-old live-in assistant.

Kelly told detectives that Melissa had just left Las Vegas the day before, heading to New Jersey to spend Christmas with her mother.

Maura James, Melissa's mom, went to Newark Airport to pick up her daughter, but she wasn't there when the plane landed on the morning of Dec. 14.

Meanwhile, Melissa's friend Samantha Anderson was trying to reach her best friend. Desperate, she called Maura. "And she [Maura} said, 'She [Melissa] didn't get off the airplane!'" Samantha remembers.

Melissa was missing.

Three days had passed and Maura was growing frantic. She'd been told about the body in the car, but it still had not been identified. Then, Craig Titus called. "He said that the police had come and talked to him and that he didn't even think it was her in the trunk," Maura remembers.

Craig told Maura he was sure Melissa was alive. "But then I thought, 'Who's in the trunk then? And where's Melissa?'" she remembers.