Motel owners’ recognition of suspect leads to arrestA secretive motel guest in the Florida Keys checked in under a fake name, paid in cash, stockpiled canned food and insisted on cleaning his own room. He even covered his car — all an attempt, authorities said, to elude police after he was accused of gunning down four relatives at Thanksgiving dinner.
MIAMI (AP) — A secretive motel guest in the Florida Keys checked in under a fake name, paid in cash, stockpiled canned food and insisted on cleaning his own room. He even covered his car — all an attempt, authorities said, to elude police after he was accused of gunning down four relatives at Thanksgiving dinner.
But Paul Merhige’s cover was blown when the motel owners recognized him in a preview for the television show “America’s Most Wanted” on Saturday night.
Melinda Pfaff told The Associated Press on Sunday that she and her husband, Paul, rarely saw Merhige during his four-week stay at their Edgewater Lodge on Long Key. He had checked in Dec. 2, a few days after the shootings, using the name “John Baca” and a false address.
His request for privacy didn’t seem odd on an island chain known for its eccentric residents, she said.
“He said he would wash all his own sheets and towels. He said I didn’t need to go in there,” she said. “That’s happened before.”
Merhige was booked early Sunday at the Palm Beach County jail without bond on four charges of murder. He was accused of gunning down his twin sisters, a 79-year-old aunt and a 6-year-old cousin at a home where 16 relatives had gathered for the holiday in Jupiter, an affluent community about 90 miles north of Miami.
Merhige’s arrest late Saturday ended a monthlong manhunt that included billboards and flyers with his image. Police at one point thought he may have fled to Michigan, where he had been treated by a psychiatrist.
The Palm Beach Post reported that Merhige remained silent at his first court appearance Sunday. He was appointed a public defender, and an arraignment is set for Feb. 1.
“I’m elated that the monster is in the cage,” Jim Sitton, the father of the 6-year-old victim Makayla Sitton, told The Palm Beach Post. “... It doesn’t bring my daughter back, but at least this chapter is over.”