ASHTABULA — The passage of 23 years and few answers have done little to ease the pain of an Ashtabula County family’s grief over an unsolved attack that left a woman in a coma from which she would never wake.
Melanie Doyle, a clerk at S&B Floor Covering on Main Avenue, was struck in the back of the head with a blunt object on Nov. 15, 1996. She was 43.
To this day, police have never named a suspect, found the weapon used in the attack and have been unable to find substantial evidence to link it to a pair of robberies that occurred at a neighboring businesses about an hour before Doyle was attacked.
Her brother Chuck Doyle’s voice still cracks up and tears come when he talks about it.
“Even when I talk about it now, I get all broke up,” he said. “She was my only sister.”
He said he received the devastating call at work.
“[Lt. Detective] Joe Cellitti called me at work and said, ‘Your sister has been gravely injured. You have to go to the hospital,’” Chuck Doyle said. “At the hospital, they told us she was hit with such force that it exploded her skull.”
Chuck Doyle’s daughter Angela remembers when her father called the house just after she got home from school to tell them what happened.
“Somehow, [the perpetrator] is still walking the streets of Ashtabula and enjoying his life — something he robbed her of,” she said. “She was a wonderful person and an even better aunt. She deserved so much more than losing her life to a monster.”
Doyle was sitting at the front desk at S&B Floor Covering at 4:15 p.m. on Nov. 15, 1996, when she was hit in the back of the head with an undetermined heavy object, possibly a hammer, police said.
Her purse was missing and later found in a field across from Bonniewood Estates off Wade Avenue on the city’s west side.
At the time of the assault, then-Ashtabula Police Chief David Colucci said he didn’t have a suspect.
Police knew a business at West 38th Street had been robbed, followed by a robbery at New Century Foods on Main Avenue, just north of S&B Flooring.
Doyle was alone in the store at the time.
A customer found Doyle slumped over the desk. He ran to his car and drove to the police station to report a shooting
When police arrived, nothing in the store appeared to be missing except her purse, according to the Star Beacon’s news report printed Nov. 16, 1996.
Ray Mattson, who was on the police force at the time, was the first officer on the scene.
“It bothers me to this day,” he said.
Mattson recalls driving past the business on his way to the police station. He saw a man — who later became a suspect — walking south on Main Avenue. When he came out of the station, that man came up to his car and said a woman was on the floor of S&B Flooring and she had been shot.
“I found her and I thought, as did others, including Detective [Robert] Pouska, there was enough evidence to go to the grand jury but they wouldn’t go with it,” he said. “The system let her down and this guy walks.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation came to town to process the scene while a small army of local law enforcement followed up on every lead, said Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell, who also was on the force at the time.
Police rounded up three people from West 38th Street and took them to the police station for questioning.
Two of the suspects were arrested for their involvement in the aggravated robbery on West 38th Street, but they were not charged with any other crime, according to police reports.
There was no evidence that a weapon or any threat was used in the robbery of New Century Foods, according to news reports.
The thief netted only a bag of change that he grabbed out of a clerk’s hand, reports show. In fact, police later refer to it as a theft, not a robbery.
The incident on West 38th Street was “a strong-arm robbery,” meaning the robber brandished a weapon or used some sort of force.
Ward 5 City Council person Jane Haines, owner of Ultimate Appearance, 4702 Main Ave., said after hearing what happened to Doyle, she made certain at least two employees are working at the salon at all times.
Reportedly, just after the New Foods robbery, a suspect entered an apartment above S&B Flooring.
Witnesses said a man was seen in the store between 4 and 4:05 p.m., sitting at Doyle’s desk. At 4:15 p.m., Doyle was found at her desk unconscious, police said.
The suspect was described as a white male between 21 and 29 years old, medium build weighing between 125 and 150 pounds, standing about 5-foot-5. Police said he had short brown to black hair.
“We never found the weapon,” Stell said. “We did a very thorough investigation.”
The frustrating part of the case, Stell has said, is police believe they know who did it, but they can’t prove it. They need more information. Someone who knows something about Doyle’s attack must come forward; only then will justice be served.
Chuck Doyle said it would be easier to cope with his sister’s death if the perpetrator was behind bars, being punished for what he did.
“There’s no closure for us until then,” he said. “It was senseless murder for a little pocket change.”
Stell said the police department has revisited this case several times throughout the years. Every time, when they present it to the prosecutor’s office, it’s turned down for lack of evidence.
While her attacker remained free, Doyle was left in critical condition at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland with her family gathered around her. She survived a three-hour surgery but remained comatose and in critical condition.
“She was in a coma for a long, long time,” Chuck Doyle said. “She just laid there with her eyes open. It was terrible. I don’t even like talking about it.”
Angela Doyle said her aunt never came out of the coma.
“She had a feeding tube and everything,” she said. “But her mother [Georgia Doyle] never gave up, never lost hope until the end.”
But there was no hope.
Doyle died three years later of uterine cancer at a local nursing home. Her death was never ruled a homicide by the coroner’s office.
“It’s considered a felonious assault case,” Stell said. “She died of cancer.”
Chuck Doyle said his sister was brain dead and with her condition there was nothing the doctors could do.
Consequently, she was never treated for the cancer and the family chose to take her off life support at that point.
“It’s so sad. It was just a horrible time,” he said. “She may have beaten her cancer if she wasn’t in a coma.”