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Bodybuilders accused of murder

Musclebound couple charged with killing their assistant

Craig Titus and his wife Kelly Ryan are accused of killing their personal assistant Melissa James and lighting her body on fire in the couple's Jaguar, then skipping town, leading to a nationwide manhunt.  They were arrested on Friday far away from the gruesome Las Vegas crime scene in Canton, Mass.

Ryan was in a salon getting a pedicure and Titus was waiting in their truck drinking a root beer.  James was living with the couple and Titus told police he was having an affair with her, an affair he says his wife didn't know about.  The couple was questioned after James' body was found almost two weeks ago, but let go after telling police they kicked James out of the house because she was stealing money from them. 

Frank Curreri, a reporter with the “Las Vegas Review Journal,” joined Lisa Daniels Tuesday to discuss the case.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST: Is that report true, that he was arrested while she was getting her nails done? 

FRANK CURRERI, “LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL”:  That is correct.  She had went in for a pedicure, he was out there waiting.  I guess that it's possible that authorities were aware he had made some calls to some other friends, perhaps they traced those calls, and they I guess, SWAT came and surrounded him shortly thereafter. 

DANIELS:  Well it certainly doesn't seem like she was in a rush.  What was the tip here?

CURRERI:  Well, I guess there had been a lot of people talking apparently.  I talked with his attorney, and his attorney says that the couple did not know until about an hour before the SWAT team got there that they were even wanted, that there was a manhunt for them, which I find hard to believe.  Apparently they were making some phone calls, the authorities found out they're there, and then they surround them.

DANIELS:  I mean it does seem a little unlikely, given that it's been all over the news, even on Friday, but who knows if they saw that.  How disguisable were these people?  Obviously looking at the pictures, it is hard to disguise Craig Titus, especially if you're familiar at all with bodybuilding.  I mean shaving you know some facial hair here and there doesn't seem to do the trick. 

CURRERI:  Well Kelly Ryan, in some of the photos we've seen of her, she's had much lighter hair.  It looks like her hair had been dyed.  Of course, he doesn't have any hair.  It's interesting to see photos from them maybe going back 10 or 12 years to now.  They both seem to have aged considerably.

I don't know if it's just stress or what.  Of course Titus is now 40 years old.  He used to be a 250-pound guy.  He was known as the bad boy of bodybuilding and he was very flamboyant, ruffled a lot of feathers, criticized a lot of his opponents, and people either loved him or hated him.  Now I'm told that since he's 40, his best years are behind him, that now he's down to about 225 and in the photo, he obviously looks a little bit disheveled. 

DANIELS:  Yes.  What's the connection with Melissa Jones?  A lot of theories out there that there was a love triangle.  That she was stealing from them.  That she might have witnessed the couple taking steroids.  Do we have any evidence to support any of those theories?

CURRERI:  Well I think part of what makes this an interesting case is that there are so many possible motives for the murder of Melissa James.  One is that the couple claims that she was embezzling from them, another is that she was Craig Titus' secret mistress.  Another is that according to Laura James the mother of the victim, Kelly Ryan and Melissa James did not get along well.  They were always fighting. 

And in the days right before Melissa James was discovered dead in that  in the trunk of that vehicle, a burning vehicle, she had told her mother that she would be coming back to New Jersey and might be not only coming home for the holidays, but for good.  That opens up the possibility did Craig Titus not want her to leave him? 

Because she had been with him for a number of years.  She had only been out here to Las Vegas for about two months.  She had lived with them in southern California, she'd went home, and then Craig Titus called her about three months ago and said hey can you come back and live with us, help us out, and she did come back.  And then the indications were that she might be going back for good.

And he apparently knew that, because he bought her ticket, he bought her plane ticket back to New Jersey, but it was a return flight.  But the mother said she didn't know if her daughter would be returning. 

DANIELS:  Was there any evidence that you've seen that shows that the couple might have been trying to go to a country that won't extradite them back to the U.S.? 

CURRERI:  Well there's information in the police report and there's also information from the FBI that there was intelligence that they might be trying to get to Greece.  Craig Titus is of Greek descent and so he had expressed an interest in going somewhere where they wouldn't extradite him. 

DANIELS:  And in terms of how James' mother is doing, did you actually speak to her? 

CURRERI:  I did and I've interviewed many people unfortunately who have had someone killed and I would say that she's remarkably calm and composed.  A very loving mother and just sort of in disbelief that her daughter trusted both Kelly and Craig, and she's just still trying to grasp the gravity of what happened and the fact that she's particularly concerned, because her daughter was burned.  And in American culture, of course, a lot of people, the final time they see someone is in the casket and she doesn't have that privilege. 

DANIELS:  But does she believe that this couple had some responsibility in her daughter's murder? 

CURRERI:  Oh absolutely.  Absolutely.  Well, let me say this.  I've read many police reports.  There's an avalanche of evidence against Kelly and Craig Titus.  They have a real uphill battle, absent of the police lying in the reports, it's a pretty strong case against them. 

I mean you flee.  That never looks good.  You go at 3:30 in the morning the body's found you go at 3:30 in the morning to Wal-Mart to buy seven bottles of lighter fluid.  That doesn't look good.  You've got a lot of cell phone records, you've got them, you know, contradicting themselves throughout the police actually interviewed them within hours after Melissa James' body was discovered in the trunk.

The vehicle had been burned, but they got a license plate.  Within hours of finding that body in the trunk, they're knocking on Kelly and Craig's door saying hey what's up?  We found a dead body in your car.

Watch the for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.