Murder Suspect Blackmailed University of Utah Student Before Killing Her, Police Say

October 26, 2018 Updated: October 26, 2018

A University of Utah student allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend told police she was being blackmailed by the man over “compromising pictures” of the pair.

Investigators said on Thursday, Oct. 25, that 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey had wired $1,000 to an account earlier this month to prevent the release of the embarrassing photographs, according to Fox.

McCluskey, a student-athlete at the university, contacted the police on Oct. 13, about the alleged extortion, according to University Police Chief Dale Brophy.

She was shot to death nine days later outside an on-campus dormitory.

murder victim Lauren McCluskey
This Aug. 21, 2018, photo provided by the University of Utah shows Lauren McCluskey, a member of the University of Utah cross country and track and field team. McCluskey was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 23, 2018. (Steve C. Wilson/University of Utah via AP)

Police believe the man who shot her was 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, a convicted sex offender. They said Rowland had stalked her for days and spent the hours before the fatal shooting inside McCluskey’s dorm building, socializing with some of her friends.

He later confronted her in the parking lot, dragged her into a car and shot her multiple times in the back seat, Brophy said at a news conference.

Rowland was found dead that same evening of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a Salt Lake City church.

sex offender and murder suspect Melvin Rowland
This undated photo provided by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office shows convicted sex offender Melvin Rowland. Authorities suspect he shot and killed Lauren McCluskey before committing suicide on Oct. 23, 2018. (Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The murder victim had earlier been in a relationship with Rowland, but broke it off on Oct. 9, after finding out he had deceived her about his age and that he was a registered sex offender.

Police offered to assist McCluskey in dealing with Rowland, but she declined. Brophy said that there were no indications from McCluskey that Rowland was threatening physical violence.

Besides being blackmailed, McCluskey told police she had received numerous emails and messages from different names in an attempt to lure her to various locations.

Detectives believe all the messages came from Rowland, and were investigating the case as sexual extortion. Brophy said he considered Rowland to be compulsively deceptive.

“If his lips were moving, he was lying,” Brophy said of Rowland. “I don’t think he told the truth to anybody based on our investigation.”

Brophy called Rowland a master manipulator.

“He was very, very good at getting people to trust him,” Brophy said. “Lauren was no different.”

Rowland, a native of New York, was on parole when he allegedly shot McCluskey. He was twice sent back to prison for parole violations that included possessing pornography and failure to complete therapy.

He blamed his “thinking errors” for the actions that kept sending him back in prison, according to recordings of parole hearings from 2010 to 2018 released this week by the Utah Board of Parole and Pardons.

Rowland said at a hearing in 2012 that he was a womanizer who manipulated women to get what he wanted.

Kaitlin Felsted, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections, said police didn’t make parole officers aware of the complaint filed by McCluskey.

University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said outside investigations are being launched to assess campus security and police protocols to determine if improvements can be made to prevent future shootings.

Watkins said so far she has found no mistakes in how police handled the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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