By Bob Meadows
Updated November 14, 2005 12:00 PM

In the days before William McGuire’s July 2004 funeral, his friend Susan Rice thought his widow, Melanie, was acting strangely. William’s dismembered body had been found floating in Chesapeake Bay off Virginia, but Melanie seemed totally relaxed about the crime—or whether she and her two young sons might be in danger. “The very first thing I was thinking was, ‘Was it Mafia? Melanie, are you safe?’ ” Rice says. “She was not concerned. She never said, ‘I wonder who did this.'”

For good reason, New Jersey investigators believe. On Oct. 11 Melanie was indicted for killing her husband. “The investigation has woven a very strange tale of lies, deceit, infidelity and murder,” says New Jersey State Police Supt. Col. Joseph Fuentes of the case, which has shocked many of the couple’s friends. And it could get even stranger. Because of the way William’s body was butchered and disposed of, investigators believe that Melanie, 33—who never reported William, 39, missing after his April 29 disappearance and who was having an affair—had help. They decline to name other suspects but have searched the home of Melanie’s mother and stepfather and say their probe is continuing. Says State Attorney General Peter Harvey: “This somebody who was cutting the body knew how to cut it without making too much of a mess.”

Such a grisly denouement was the last thing anyone would have expected when William, a Navy veteran in an unhappy marriage, met Melanie in the early ’90s at a New Jersey Red Lobster where both were waiters. “They seemed like two peas in a pod,” says Jon Rice, a shipmate of William’s who served as his best man at the 1999 wedding. So tight was their apparent bond that when William’s remains were found, Rice’s initial thought was, “There’s no way Melanie could have been involved.”

But while friends regarded them as the perfect couple, trouble had been brewing. William, whose driver’s license had been suspended 33 times and who loved to gamble, filed for bankruptcy three days before his June 1999 wedding—eight months before Melanie did the same. Slowly the couple built a firmer financial foundation. Melanie got a well-paying job as a nurse at a fertility clinic in Morristown, N.J., and William worked as a computer analyst. After William spent a year and a half hunting for a house with a big backyard for their sons Jack, 5, and J.T., 3, on April 28 the couple closed on a $500,000 Colonial in rural Franklin Township.

By then, however, the marriage seemed to have fizzled for Melanie. She had been having an ongoing affair with a married coworker, Dr. Bradley Miller. And in the divorce complaint she filed after William vanished, she claimed he called her stupid and even threatened to kill her—though she didn’t seek a restraining order until two days after he disappeared. (Following William’s disappearance, Miller helped Melanie move, and he has testified before a grand jury.)

On April 26 Melanie allegedly used a fake Pennsylvania driver’s license to buy a .38-cal. gun and bullets in Easton, Pa. She was indicted for shooting William between April 28 and May 5, once each in the head and chest, then, likely with help, dismembering him, placing the remains in trash bags that were zipped into three suitcases and dumping everything into the water.

In the days that followed, Melanie told friends that William had hit her and stormed out of the house, saying she would never see him again. But then his remains surfaced in Chesapeake Bay and were identified on May 22. Within months New Jersey investigators focused on Melanie. Ballistics tests showed that the .38-cal. slugs in William’s body could have been fired by her gun, and the trash bags containing the remains matched ones in her home. Her lawyer Henry Klingeman flatly denies Melanie’s involvement, saying, “She has not done what they are accusing her of doing.” At her indictment prosecutors disclosed they had received two anonymous letters—which they believe Melanie wrote—that paint William as a philandering braggart and point the finger at others, including his sister Cindy Ligosh. According to one of the letters, William “was a victim all right. Of his greed, his big ego and his even bigger mouth.”

Currently Melanie remains in jail while her family tries to raise $2 million in bail. Ligosh, who is caring for the boys and is not a suspect, harbored suspicions about her sister-in-law for some time. “Melanie is very intelligent,” she says. “I really didn’t think she’d get caught.”

Bob Meadows. Diane Herbst in New Jersey and Ellen Shapiro in Washington, D.C.