In the late 1980s, new parents, Robert and Becky McGuinn moved to Trenton, New Jersey, with their baby daughter, Melissa. The couple quickly found the perfect house to watch their child grow up in. Sadly, they would never get that chance. Less than a year later, Melissa vanished.

The Roommate With a Disturbing Past

The McGuinns rented a house with their best friend, Larry, and another couple, Robert Ashley and his common-law wife, Wanda Faye Reed. Robert Ashley and Wanda had a 2-month-old baby boy named Jimmy.

Wanda was 30 but she had the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. She was unable to read or write and had difficulty speaking. Although she couldn’t legally consent to any intimate relationships at all, Wanda had been married twice before, and had two other children; both were reportedly removed from Wanda’s custody due to allegations of abuse.

Becky, 19, taught Wanda how to look after an infant and do chores and they became close. They stayed home with the kids while Robert McGuinn, Larry, and Robert Ashley all worked at the same construction company.

Despite Wanda’s developmental disabilities, Becky often allowed her to play with Melissa and take her out on walks unsupervised— a decision Becky faced severe criticism for and one she has spent decades regretting.

The Night Before Melissa Disappeared

The night before Melissa disappeared, the McGuinns, Larry, Robert Ashley, and Wanda all attended a party down the street from their home. They brought their children along and several others from the neighborhood came as well. What was supposed to be a fun evening, turned hostile.

At some point, Wanda became upset that the other children were only playing with Melissa, and ignoring her son, Jimmy. Larry tried to explain that at two months old, Jimmy was too young to play with but Wanda got up and angrily walked out.

A few hours later, Melissa vanished.

Becky Wakes Up To Find Baby Melissa Gone

Early the next morning, March 6, 1988, Robert McGuinn and Robert Ashley left for work. Larry was off for the day and had fallen asleep on the couch.

Wanda walked upstairs to Becky’s room and asked whether she could take Melissa to the living room to play. This was routine, so Becky didn’t think anything of it and agreed. 8 minutes later, Becky came downstairs but Melissa wasn’t in the living room, and neither was Wanda. On this occasion, Wanda had not asked Becky for permission to take Melissa out.

Seconds later, Becky’s neighbor, Linda, and Linda’s husband, frantically rushed over and told the young mom something that would shatter her entire universe. The couple claimed Wanda knocked on their door and told them an African-American man pushed her down and stole baby Melissa.

The last photo of Robert with his daughter, Melissa, taken at a party hours before she vanished

Becky ran outside, screaming at the top of her lungs. She immediately reported Melissa missing and within minutes, the entire street was lined with police cars. Larry got into his truck and sped down to the construction site to let Robert McGuinn and Robert Ashley know that Melissa was gone.

Wanda Gave The Police 3 Different Stories

Wanda was immediately arrested and taken into custody for questioning. Enraged, Becky lunged at her with a stapler, threatening to ki*ll her.

Wanda Faye Reed

Wanda gave investigators three different stories regarding with happened to Melissa. At first, Wanda said a man knocked her down and took Melissa. Then, she said she sold Melissa to Linda in exchange for $200 worth of drugs. Lastly, Wanda claimed she threw the baby into the Delaware River.

The river was extensively searched, however, nothing was ever found. The authorities didn’t believe that Wanda had thrown Melissa into the river considering it was a 10-minute walk there and back, and Wanda had returned to the home within 8 minutes of taking Melissa from Becky.

Linda and her husband denied buying Melissa. They were both cooperative and were ultimately ruled out. Larry was also questioned and accused of being involved in Melissa’s disappearance, but he too was cleared.

Robert and Becky McGuinn

Investigators also interrogated the McGuinns and accused them of selling or harming their own baby, while the public ostracized the couple for allowing someone with the mental capacity of a child to look after her. Ultimately, however, they determined that Wanda was the sole suspect and that she took Melissa out of jealousy from the party the night before.

Wanda was found unfit to stand trial for charges of kidnapping and they were dropped. Prosecutors concluded she would have said anything if coerced and that her statements weren’t credible. Instead of prison, Wanda was admitted to the Vineland Developmental Center. Baby Jimmy was removed from her custody and he was adopted by a family in Texas.

Not long after, Robert Ashley called the center and told Wanda he was heading back to their home state of Louisiana. Distraught, Wanda pushed a 57-year-old supervisor to the ground while on a walk to a convenience store and escaped. She was found five hours later, wandering at a nearby mall. Today, Wanda is 75 years old and lives in Louisiana with relatives.

Investigators Believe Melissa Is Still Alive

Investigators believe Melissa was likely sold and they hold out hope that she is still alive today, unaware she is a missing person.

The McGuinns moved to Arkansas and went on to have three boys. All are fully grown adults now, some married with children of their own. Robert passed away in 2008 and in 2012, Becky returned to New Jersey to hand out flyers in search of Melissa. While there, she took and passed a polygraph test and was officially ruled out as having any involvement in Melissa’s disappearance. She continues to search for her only daughter.

“I felt like somebody had ripped my heart out…The hardest part is not knowing if there’s a beautiful young lady out there somewhere that is mine. — Becky McGuinn

If alive today, Melissa McGuinn would be 35 years old. If you have any information, contact Trenton Police Department at 609-989-4144.

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