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On July 4, 1998, two women invited anti-racist skinhead pals, Lin “Spit” Newborn, 25, and Dan Shersty, 21, to a late-night party in the desert outside of Las Vegas. But there was no party: Newborn and Shersty were shot to death in what police and prosecutors called a planned execution by the leader of a rival, neo-Nazi racist skinhead group.
One man, John Edward “Polar Bear” Butler, identified as a leader of the Independent Nazi Skins, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death (the sentence was later reduced to four life terms). But investigators were never able to amass enough evidence to bring charges against Butler’s girlfriend at the time, Melissa Hack, who they believed was one of the women (the other has not been identified) who lured the victims to their deaths that night.
That is, until now. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, federal cold-case investigators have charged Hack with one count of making a false statement in connection with the 1998 case, and are pursuing new evidence against her.
“The investigation identified several subjects who were suspected of luring the victims into the desert the night they were killed,” according to the complaint, which was prepared by Fred Merrick, a Las Vegas police violent crimes section detective who was deputized as a temporary federal agent to work with the FBI on the 1998 cold case, which occurred on federal land.
The new complaint asserts that Hack associated with the Independent Nazi Skins, and that Hack’s brother Ross, also a neo-Nazi skinhead, and others in the group were feuding with Newborn. “Based upon the investigation into the murders, (Melissa) Hack is considered to be a subject.”
According to a 1999 article by Jason Gay in the Boston Phoenix, and other reports, Newborn and Shersty were active in Las Vegas’s underground punk rock and ska scene, “and shared a passionate disdain for the neo-Nazi skinheads who occasionally crashed local concerts and parties.” Newborn, who was black and worked at a body-piercing salon, was a gregarious and engaging man who became a leader in the city’s newly formed chapter of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), a national organization that confronts hate groups around the country. Shersty, who was white and worked as a jet mechanic at Nellis Air Force Base, also joined and became close friends with Newborn.
ARA, which says it has been “fighting fascism in the streets since 1988,” believes in direct action against racist hate groups. Its website banner states, “We go where they go. We don’t rely on the cops or courts to do our work for us.” The group asserts that it aims to build “a broad, strong movement against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination against the disabled, the oldest, the youngest, and the most oppressed people. We want a classless, free society.” The group has engendered controversy over the years for its willingness to meet force with force.
Newborn and Shersty’s ARA membership put them in polar opposition to the racist, neo-Nazi skinhead organizations also active in Las Vegas at the time. Authorities believe Butler engineered the murders to eliminate two prominent non-racist skinhead critics.
According to investigators, on July 3, 1998, two women entered the Tribal Body Piercing shop where Newborn worked, and one had her navel pieced. The women – one believed to be Hack – invited Newborn to a party in the desert northwest of the city. Newborn told Shersty, and both decided to go. Eyewitness accounts, and a convenience store surveillance video, showed Newborn and Shersty with Hack not long before the murders.
Early the next morning, a group of ATV riders discovered Shersty’s bullet-riddled body near his car, and three people – Butler, Hack and 19-year-old Joseph Justin – nearby. The trio told the riders they had just discovered the body and to call police. They then left the scene, but the riders noted their car’s license number; it belonged to Hack’s mother.
Two days later, Newborn’s body was found about 150 yards away. Less than two weeks later, police went to question Butler, who fled. During the chase, police recovered a .32 caliber handgun that matched bullets that struck Shersty. Eventually, Justin admitted that Butler had asked him to help remove evidence from the crime scene the next morning. He testified against Butler, who was convicted in December 2000.
Justin also testified that Butler told him Ross Hack was the other gunman the night the two men were killed. But charges were never brought against either Melissa or Ross Hack.
According to the new federal complaint, Hack met June 16 with a Nevada parole officer supervising her on unrelated narcotics charges. Merrick and FBI Special Agent Kevin Sheehan, who were present to further question Hack about the murders, seized Hack’s cell phone and found on it photos of Hack and “numerous additional individuals she visibly appeared to associate with. Some of the individuals bore tattoos or signs and symbols that could be relevant to the 1998 murder investigation,” according to the Review Journal report.
Hack’s attorney, Brent Bryson said the federal charge against his client, is a “thin case” filed in retaliation for her perceived lack of cooperation during the murder investigation.
“What’s happening here is they have been unable to piece the case together, because we all know if they had enough evidence against her, they’d charge her,” Bryson told the Review Journal. “They don’t, so they’re putting the squeeze on her in other ways, trying to make her feel the pressure.”