Melendez and his family arrived in New York from Colombia when Melendez was 8 years old. Melendez purportedly became a drug dealer during the early 1990s after he met Peter Gatien, owner of the The Limelight and several other nightclubs in New York City, and became a regular dealer in Gatien's clubs. He was frequently seen at Manhattan clubs wearing his signature feathered wings.
Michael Alig, a night club party promoter, known as "King of the Club Kids", became an important customer, leading Melendez into the world of the Club Kids, which group included such members as Alig's mentor/rival James St. James, boyfriend DJ Keoki, and drug dealer/roommate Robert D. "Freeze" Riggs.
On Sunday, March 17, 1996, Melendez was killed by Alig and Alig's roommate, Robert D. "Freeze" Riggs, after going to their Riverbank West apartment (at 560 West 43 Street, Apartment 3K, at 11 Avenue) and engaging with Alig in an argument, purportedly about a delinquent debt. According to various statements made by Alig and Riggs, the confrontation became violent, and Melendez got the better of Alig, who cried out for help. Riggs then hit Melendez on the head with a hammer, three times (until Melendez "went down"), after which Alig smothered him (either with a pillow or sweatshirt, depending upon the source), next poured a "cleaner or chemical" into his mouth, and then wrapped duct tape around it.
The two then stripped Melendez's body and placed it in the bathtub, where it remained for 5–7 days. According to Riggs, he then purchased "2 chef knives and 1 cleaver" at Macy's, with which he said Alig dismembered Melendez's legs, which the roommates wrapped separately in garbage bags, placed into individual duffle bags, and dumped in the Hudson River.
The following day, they wrapped the upper body in a sheet and plastic garbage bag, placed it in a cardboard box from which Riggs had removed the UPC code, and together took the heavy box down the elevator and through the main lobby, and then placed it in the trunk of a Yellow Cab "that happened to be right outside the door." Riggs confessed: "We took the body to the Westside Highway around 25th Street. The taxi drive off, and we threw the box into the river."
However, Alig gave some conflicting details. For example, he stated he used liquid Drano (and baking soda) to combat the smell of the malodorous decomposition after the body had sat several days in the bathtub, and wrote in a May 12, 2014 New York Post article that the pair had successfully enjoined the cab driver to help them throw the box into the Hudson River, near Tunnel nightclub. At first, Alig claimed the killing was in self-defense, but he later admitted to having committed manslaughter. (See more details and references at Michael Alig#Killing of Angel Melendez.)
In the documentary film Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig (2015) the police recount the discovery, by a group of children at the beach at Miller Field, Staten Island, of a box containing the remains of Andre "Angel" Melendez, in March 1996. (American Justice reports the box was found in April 1996.) A tropical storm had helped propel the floating, cork-lined box to Staten Island.
Mainstream media began covering Melendez's disappearance when the victim's brother and father turned to the press for help and interest grew in rumors - first publicized to outsiders by Michael Musto as a blind item in his Village Voice column - that Alig and Riggs had murdered Melendez. The coincidental discovery, on Friday, September 8, 1996, of another dismembered body, fished out of the Harlem River at a pier near 134th Street by a homeless woman, sparked police to begin investigating the case in earnest. A police officer in Staten Island, who caught the Melendez media coverage, initiated an investigation of the John Doe found at Miller Field. The Staten Island Police Department used dental records to identify Melendez (whose body the coroner had mis-identified as that of an Asian male); on November 2, 1996 the mutilated corpse was positively identified as Melendez, and details of the rumors about how Melendez was killed were confirmed.
In the face of increasing police scrutiny, Alig fled to Toms River, New Jersey, where he moved in a motel room with his boyfriend, a drug dealer named Brian. On December 5, 1996, the police arrested Alig at the motel and hours later, Riggs in Manhattan. Alig insisted to the police he and Riggs had killed Melendez in self-defense, and disposed of the body in a panic. (This story contrasts sharply with the account Alig had given the victim's brother, John ("Johnny") Melendez, in an August 1996 conversation secretly taped by the District Attorney's office, implicating "Melendez and club czar Peter Gatien in a drug-dealing venture at Gatien's nightspots", and charging "that Riggs killed Melendez for Gatien because 'Peter is in trouble right now for drugs' and 'Angel knew everything and he was threatening to go to ... his friend at the Village Voice and tell him all this stuff".) Prosecutors were hesitant to charge Alig them first-degree murder, as they still hoped he would testify against his former boss, Peter Gatien, who had been arrested for allowing drugs to be sold in his nightclubs. They eventually offered both Alig and Riggs a plea deal: a sentence of 10 to 20 years if they accepted the lesser charge of manslaughter. On October 1, 1997, both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 10 to 20 years. (American Justice reports they pleaded and on September 10, 1997.) Because of their convictions, Alig and Riggs were not used as prosecution witnesses in Gatien's trial.
On October 1, 1997 Alig and Riggs were sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for Melendez's killing, after each pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter. Riggs was released on parole in 2010, Alig on May 5, 2014.Book
The events of Michael Alig's years as a club promoter up to his arrest for Melendez's murder are covered in James St. James's memoir, Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland (1999), reprinted with the title Party Monster after the release of the eponymous 2003 film.
St. James' memoir is the basis for two films:
The documentary film Party Monster: The Shockumentary (1998), based on the events leading up to and surrounding the killing.
The subsequent feature film Party Monster (2003), which stars Wilson Cruz as Melendez.
A prison interview with Alig is featured in the documentary Limelight (2011), directed by Billy Corben and co-produced by Peter Gatien's daughter, Jen Gatien.
The documentary film Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig (2015) reviews the creation, rise, and dispersion of the Club Kids phenomenon after Melendez's murder by Alig and Riggs.
Alig and Melendez's friend Screamin Rachael wrote the song "Give Me My Freedom/Murder in Clubland" after Alig and Gitsie took a road trip to visit her in Denver, Colorado, arriving five weeks after Melendez's "disappearance". The lyrics to a backward loop in the song include such lines as "Michael, where's Angel?", and "Did someone just cry wolf, or is he dead?"
Melendez's murder case has also been featured in multiple TV series, such as:American Justice: "Dancing, Drugs, and Murder" (2000) on A&E
Deadly Devotion: "Becoming Angel" (July 16, 2013) on Investigation Discovery
Clubland: The Monster Pop Party (2013), a musical adaptation of St. James' book Party Monster and its 2003 eponymous film adaptation, debuted April 11, 2013 at the American Repertory Theater's Club Oberon, with book, music, and lyrics by Andrew Barret Cox and produced by Jacob S. Porter