Around 5:20 p.m. on Monday, November 2, 1992, John Matranga knew right away that something was wrong when he got home to Vero Beach, Florida. The woman John lived with, Mary Ellen Wise, wasn’t there when he got there. He found Mary Ellen’s reading glasses and a torn red robe in their mailbox. There was also blood on the garage floor. John called the police and said that his 39-year-old girlfriend was missing because he thought the worst.
Detectives looked through the couple’s home for any clues about where Mary Ellen was and took samples of the blood they found in the garage, but they still couldn’t figure out what happened to the missing woman. There were no signs of a fight inside the house, but Mary Ellen’s red Honda CRX wasn’t in the garage, and blood on the floor there showed that she hadn’t left the property on her own. She looked like she was doing laundry when someone came in and stopped her. They then took her away.
John told the police that the last time he saw his girlfriend was Monday morning, around 7:30 am, when he left for work. They hadn’t fought or disagreed, and Mary Ellen hadn’t said she was planning to take a trip. Friends and family of Mary Ellen confirmed that she had been content with her life and wasn’t likely to leave on her own.
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office found out the next afternoon that Mary Ellen had done a few banking transactions the day she went missing. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, Theresa Woodson, said that the transactions “indicated a possibility that Mary Ellen’s disappearance may not be voluntary.” At 11:46 a.m., Mary Ellen took out cash from an ATM in Melbourne, Florida. At 1:30 p.m., she did the same thing at a drive-thru in Vero Beach. Surveillance photos showed that Mary Ellen was by herself when she made the withdrawals, but detectives said they didn’t think she did it on purpose.
A police officer in Fort Pierce, Florida, found Mary Ellen’s car left behind in the parking lot of Ramp Raw Bar & Diner on Seaway Drive early Wednesday morning. This was about 20 minutes away from the last place the woman was seen. A window in the car was broken, and there was broken glass on the ground next to it. But Mary Ellen wasn’t there. The car was towed to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, where it will be looked over for evidence.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office sent their helicopter early Thursday morning to help look for Mary Ellen. The Highlands area was searched from the air for about an hour, but investigators couldn’t find any signs of Mary Ellen. Over the course of the day, volunteers went around the area where the Honda was found handing out missing person flyers and talking to people.
The search for Mary Ellen ended in a sad way on November 8, 1992, when her body was found by a family having a picnic in the woods near Fort Pierce. Robert Ritten told the police that he and his family had a picnic lunch every week in the same place near Peanut Lake. They went into the woods and found the body because they could smell something bad as soon as they got there on Sunday. “That was really gross. It was awful.”
Because the body was breaking down, investigators couldn’t immediately tell who it was, but they thought it was probably Mary Ellen. She was fully dressed when she was found, and it wasn’t clear what k*illed her. “The body was way off the beaten path,” said Mark Weinberg, who is in charge of public information for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department. There wasn’t a road right next to it. The place wasn’t hidden; it was out in the open.
The body of Mary Ellen was identified through an autopsy. She was hit in the head with something blunt and had died. It was likely the same day she was reported missing. Police detective Larry Smetzer of Indian River County said, “There’s no way to tell if this is random or not.” We have six theories, and any of them makes sense.
It was a terrible car accident for Mary Ellen in 1986, and she broke almost every bone in her body. Paula Guerriri, her cousin, said, “We didn’t think she would live.” It kept her from working for years, so the fact that she got better was a miracle. Following years of very hard physical therapy, Mary Ellen was finally able to get better from her injuries. Friends and family said she was always bubbly and happy, even though she walked with a limp and had scars on her arms and legs.
Sister of Mary Ellen Correa said that her sister had moved to Florida in 1981 and quickly found work at a daycare. She really liked her job, but she had to quit because of the car accident. “After the accident, she couldn’t walk or move her hands.” She fought back, though. That’s why this is such a double tragedy.
In the wake of the car accident, Mary Ellen was given a $1,000,000 settlement. Each month, $1,500 was deposited into her bank account from an annuity. Police weren’t sure if this money had anything to do with her being kidnapped and ki*lled.
While detectives started talking to everyone who knew Mary Ellen, the government asked the public for help. Someone put out a picture of Mary Ellen’s car and asked anyone who saw it on Monday or Tuesday to call them.
Investigators went through the Vero Highlands neighborhood where Mary Ellen lived and asked people who lived there if they had seen anything strange around the time she went missing. There weren’t many violent crimes in Vero Highlands, which had about 1,000 homes and 4,000 people living there. Most of the people who lived there were scared that someone was out to k*ill someone, but none of them knew anything about what might have happened to Mary Ellen.
Someone sent an anonymous letter to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office a week after the murd*er. In it, they said, “[The kil*ler] had to be someone who lived where they could see her coming and going…”I saw a young boxer who I thought you might be interested in. Detectives never found out who wrote the letter, even though they asked the person several times to come forward and talk to them.
With the help of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Mary Ellen’s family set up a fund to collect donations so they could offer a reward for information that led to the k*iller. The police didn’t have any suspects in the case yet, so they hoped this would lead to some interesting leads.
Robert Parenti, the lawyer who helped Mary Ellen after her car accident, said that his firm would give $1,000 to the reward fund to help it get started. “We need to find this guy. She looked so happy.” “Everyone who met her will never forget her.”
It was printed in a local newspaper on November 29, 1992. Robert wrote a letter to the editor. He said Mary Ellen was a wonderful woman that he was honored to meet. Even though she had terrible injuries, he wrote, “She showed no anger or vengeance against those who hurt her, and she maintained a positive attitude. Her hand was always extended to those in need.” He begged people to help him figure out who kil*led Mary Ellen.
About a month after Mary Ellen went missing, not much was known about the investigation into her mur*der. Sharon said that her family still couldn’t figure out who would have wanted to hurt her sister. “We don’t know…you think about things a million times.”
Sharon understood that detectives couldn’t say too much about the case, but she thought the deputies were great for being kind to the family. It was also important to her that they found the kil*ler or k*illers. “These people will be punished no matter how long it takes.”
As Mary Ellen’s family and friends got ready for their first Christmas without her, detectives said they had nothing new to report. An Indian River County Sheriff’s Office representative said, “It’s pretty much like there are still pieces missing from the puzzle.”
Eva Sleigher, Mary Ellen’s mother, was sure that someone in the community knew what the police needed to know to make an arrest. “Being a mom makes me feel poor but not hopeless.” I think someone knows something…I hope we can catch the person who k*illed Mary Ellen before he or she k*ills someone else.
The mu*rder of Mary Ellen was talked about on Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers in late January 1993, but it didn’t lead to any solid leads. There was a reward of up to $2,500 for information about the crime. Mary Ellen’s family stayed hopeful that the reward would bring someone who knew about the crime to them.
Detectives were still having a hard time finding Mary Ellen’s k*iller as the eighth month of the investigation began. Detective Phil Williams of Indian River County said that the job was hard because Mary Ellen knew a lot of people. “So many people could have had access to information or knew something that made them want to ki*ll her.” Because he had a good alibi for the time of the crime, Mary Ellen’s boyfriend was ruled out as a possible suspect. However, they were unable to come up with any other solid persons of interest.
The case of Mary Ellen went cold over the years. In November 1998, her dad, Lewis Sleigher, gave the $2,800 reward fund to the Highland Owl Patrol, which is the neighborhood watch group in the area. “They were very helpful to me when things went wrong. The money should go to them.
In November 2019, police sent some of the evidence from Mary Ellen’s case again for more advanced forensic testing in the hopes that it would finally help them figure out who ki*lled her. As of July 2023, nothing new has happened, and justice is still being sought for Mary Ellen’s friends and family.
In November 1992, Mary Ellen Wise was 39 years old when she was taken from her home and k*illed in Indian River County, Florida. Detectives think that someone ki*lled her while she was doing laundry in her garage and made her drive to two different banks to get cash before k*illing her, but they have never been able to figure out who this person was. Please call the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office at 772–569–6700 if you know anything about Mary Ellen’s death.