January 4, 2010 in Nation/World

Suspect hid out in Florida motel

TV show promo led to Merhige’s arrest
Mike Clary South Florida Sun Sentinel

(Full-size photo)

LONG KEY, Fla. – The man in room No. 14 did not come out much. He washed his own sheets and towels, kept his car covered in the parking lot, and Edgewater Lodge owner Melinda Pfaff could not figure out where he got his food.

Still, as Pfaff said Sunday, “After 15 years in the motel business, I’ve seen unusual. He was not unusual.”

But Paul Michael Merhige is unusual, police say. They say he is a killer who carried out a point-blank massacre of four family members, including his twin sisters, on Thanksgiving Day before fleeing from Jupiter, Fla., to the Florida Keys with a wad of cash and a plan to live as quietly as possible.

That plan came to an explosive climax Saturday night when a squad of heavily armed federal and local law officers blew off the sliding-glass door of room No. 14, hit Merhige with a stun gun and took him into custody without a struggle.

Held without bond in Palm Beach County, Fla., Merhige faces four counts of premeditated murder and attempted first-degree murder.

The capture of one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives came at 10 p.m. EST Saturday, about four hours after Melinda Pfaff’s husband Paul, 56, saw a promotional spot for Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted” television show.

Recognizing the similarity between Merhige’s face on the wanted poster and that of the reclusive guest who called himself John Baca and had been paying cash for the room since Dec. 2, Paul Pfaff asked his wife to check the TV show’s Web site. “He came in and saw the picture, and said, ‘That’s him. I’m freaking out.’ ”

Melinda Pfaff, 53, said she phoned the program’s hot line. “They asked me, ‘On a scale of 10, how sure are you?’ I said, ‘Ten.’ ”

Within the hour officers from the U.S. Marshal’s Service arrived and quietly surrounded Merhige’s room.

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