Police: Bodybuilders murdered West Amwell woman’s daughter

Craig Titus and his wife, Kelly Ryan, are fighting extradition from Massachusetts, where they were arrested, to Las Vegas, where the murder of Melissa James, 28, daughter of Maura James of Rocktown Road, was discovered.

By: Linda Seida
   The husband-and-wife bodybuilders who are accused of murdering the daughter of a West Amwell Township woman in Las Vegas are fighting their return to Nevada from Massachusetts, where police contend they fled to avoid prosecution.
   "They’re fighting extradition so it’s likely to be a while," Lt. Tom Monahan, a homicide detective with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, said Dec. 29.
   The FBI last week arrested Craig Titus, 40, and his wife, Kelly Ryan, 33, in Massachusetts on fugitive warrants in connection with the death of their live-in personal aide, Melissa James, 28.
   An autopsy concluded the cause of death was asphyxiation, but the Clark County coroner’s office is awaiting the results of laboratory tests to make a final determination, according to information in warrants issued by Las Vegas police.
   Las Vegas police questioned the bodybuilding couple after the victim was found Dec. 14 in the trunk of Ms. Ryan’s red 2003 Jaguar, which had been set afire on a remote roadside.
   After the police interview, the couple left Nevada. When Massachusetts police found them last week, Ms. Ryan was in the middle of a pedicure, and Mr. Titus was waiting for her in the shop’s parking lot.
   Authorities believe the pair had planned to run to a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States. The couple have claimed they were not running away and did not know they were wanted in connection with Ms. James’ death.
   Las Vegas police allege Mr. Titus killed Ms. James and then tried to cover up the murder with the aid of his wife and another man.
   Police have charged Mr. Titus with murder, accessory to murder and third-degree arson. Ms. Ryan and the man police allege helped the couple, Anthony Gross, 23, also of Las Vegas, has each been charged with accessory to murder and third-degree arson.
   Ms. James was expected to visit her mother, Maura James of Rocktown Road, in New Jersey on Dec. 14, but she never arrived at Newark International Airport, according to police. Instead, police found her that morning in the trunk of Ms. Ryan’s Jaguar, a cloth binding her neck and duct tape binding her face.
   Despite the use of an accelerant to set the Jaguar afire, enough evidence remained after firefighters extinguished the blaze to identify the victim as the couple’s personal aide and also to trace the car to Ms. Ryan, records say.
   The couple claimed Ms. James had taken the Jaguar without their permission, but they had not filed a complaint with the police.
   Mr. Titus also told investigators he’d had an affair with Ms. James, which he said his wife did not know about. The couple also claimed Ms. James had embezzled funds from them. The alleged embezzlement also was not reported to police.
   Mr. Titus is considered one of the elite in the bodybuilding world and sometimes referred to as one of the "bad boys of bodybuilding." Ms. Ryan is a former cheerleader.
   He competed for the title of Mr. Olympia and took home a title from the 1996 National Physique Committee USA Championships. Articles about Mr. Titus’ bodybuilding career place his weight at about 240 or 250 pounds and his height at 5 feet 9 inches.
   Ms. James, a fitness trainer, was 5 feet 5 inches tall and 120 pounds, according to police.
   According to Mr. Titus’ Web site, this is not his first brush with the law.
   "In 1995, he was implicated in a drug crime and forfeited a year of his life as a result. More determined than ever, Craig came back full force," the Web site states.
   Ms. Ryan’s Web site, where she is referred to as "Flyin’ Ryan," touts her fitness expertise and says she writes a monthly column for Oxygen magazine. The blurb for one of her fitness columns at the Oxygen Web site says, "Fitness pro Kelly Ryan shows you how to build a back to die for."