When 41-year old Christina Parcell was brutally murdered on the morning of October 13, 2021, it stunned the quiet suburban community of Greer, South Carolina. The mystery deepened when we reported on the staged crime scene – complete with the ritualistic sprinkling of roses around Parcell’s body. When news broke shortly after Parcell’s murder of the arrest of her boyfriend, Bradly Post – as well as the father of her young daughter, a self-styled music producer named John Mello — the community breathed a small sigh of relief.
It appeared as though her savage slaying wasn’t a random act of violence by a madman who was still on the loose – but rather someone Parcell knew. Was it a scorned lover? Or an angry, jealous father?
These are some of the questions we addressed in the latest episode of FITSFiles, our brand new true crime (and corruption) podcast available on Apple, Spotify, Google and wherever you download podcasts. Our first three episodes have focused on the gruesome Rose Petal Murder – the savage slaying of Parcell and the sordid labyrinth of intrigue accompanying it.
When the charges against Post and Mello were filed, neither man was charged with murder. Post was arrested on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor tied to a child porn and abuse investigation. Mello? He was charged with custodial interference after taking his daughter out of the country in violation of a court order.
There were no murder charges … at least not until the arrest of Zachary Hughes on November 3, 2021. Deputies from the Greenville County sheriff’s office charged Hughes with murder and the use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with Parcell’s stabbing. He has been held at the Greenville County detention center ever since.
The case against Hughes certainly seems strong. During an April 2022 bond hearing before S.C. circuit court judge Edward W. Miller, S.C. thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins told the court a Ring camera from a home across the street showed “the defendant dressed in a black hoodie and a backpack entering the front door” of Parcell’s home just before she was killed.
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Other cameras captured Hughes on a bicycle in the neighborhood in the aftermath of the murder – a bike which was later linked to him.
Hughes’ DNA was also found underneath Parcell’s fingernails.
With the question of “who” seemingly answered, a new question emerged: What could have possibly motivated Hughes to commit such a gruesome murder?
A California native and graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, Hughes is a classically trained concert pianist who studied and performed piano sonatas and concertos written by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven. We published this expansive piece on Hughes’ background in late March – and focused on him extensively in the last episode of our podcast.
THE WORKING THEORY …
Wilkins told the court Parcell was involved in “an extremely contentious custody battle” with Mello – her ex-boyfriend and the father of her young daughter.
Mello and Hughes “are very close friends,” Wilkins added, noting that the two routinely used the encrypted smartphone application WhatsApp to communicate with each other. In one conversation via WhatsApp on April 17, 2021, Mello indicated he had obtained Christina’s private number and instructed Hughes to use it to “harass the shit out of her.”
Authorities also uncovered numerous conversations between Mello and Zachary Hughes via WhatsApp between October 8 and October 13, 2021 – the day of Christina Parcell’s murder.
“How did the music research go?” Mello asked Hughes on the day of the murder.
“Good,” Hughes responded. “I’ll tell you over the phone.”
Despite having the phone, investigators have struggled to obtain information from it. A court order compelling Hughes to supply the device’s passcode was issued on September 20, 2022, but despite the order, Hughes is accused of repeatedly failing to provide it. In a motion filed in April of 2023, prosecutors claim Hughes “intentionally attempted to mislead investigators by providing a bogus iPhone passcode with an accompanying fraudulent backstory for the creation of the bogus passcode.”
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Despite the alleged lack of cooperation from Hughes, his iPhone was unlocked on February 8, 2023 after nearly 700,000 attempts to crack its code, according to an affidavit from Greenville County sheriff’s investigator Charlie Cunningham.
A source familiar with the ongoing extraction efforts from Hughes’ iPhone indicated investigators are making steady progress recovering its contents.
“Every time we download we find something new,” the source said.
Still, there are hundreds of WhatsApp messages that cannot currently be accessed due to encryption. Hughes’ iPhone is reportedly in the hands of a forensic expert who is attempting to access those messages, although it is believed many of the relevant communications “were deleted off the app in the phone.” A hearing on the state’s contempt motion is likely to be scheduled sometime next month.
As we continue to try and determine what could have possibly motivated Hughes to commit such a horrific crime against someone he barely knew, a key question is emerging: How, exactly, was Hughes connected to John Mello?
And more importantly … who is John Mello?
THE PRODUCER …
Sixty-three-year-old John Mello is a music producer, lyricist, songwriter and vocalist living in Greenville, South Carolina. On his LinkedIn profile page, he claims to have worked with artists including Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page, Christine McVie, Neil Young, Little Richard and Jimmy Cliff.
His resume is certainly impressive when it comes to music – assuming it’s all legit. Mello’s credits on records are difficult to pin down, but there is evidence he at the very least knows several internationally famous musicians.
According to a name change petition filed in Greenville County court in 2019, John Joseph Mello – now known as John Joey Mello – was born on August 8, 1960 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His social security card was issued in 1973 – when he was 13 years old – in California.
A 1999 article in the Los Angeles Times about his ex-wife, Linda Jemison, provided quite a bit of insight into his Mello’s earlier years. According to the story, he met and began dating Jemison in 1983. Six years later, the couple decided to open a bar that would be a musicians’ hangout. They found a place called the Doll Hut that was on the market – and bought it for $32,500. The money for the Doll Hut came from Linda Jemison’s mother and her stepfather, who was a physician.
A week before the bar opened – on August 4, 1989 – John Mello and Linda Jemison married. Just nine months later, though, the two separated – beginning a drawn out, bitter divorce.
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For a while, John and Linda ran the bar together … but separately. John would run the bar on certain nights and when he wasn’t there, Linda would manage it. This arrangement obviously wasn’t a viable long term solution – especially as the relationship between John and Linda continued to deteriorate.
On November 18, 1991, the situation came to a head when Linda filed a motion for a restraining order in California court. According to that filing, her soon to be ex-husband was coming unhinged – and she was becoming afraid for her safety. The petition (and nine supporting affidavits) painted the picture of an escalating pattern of threats – and a scared woman on their receiving end.
John and Linda’s divorce was eventually finalized and in September of 1992, Linda took control of the club – assuming $20,000 in debts and repair expenses. She renamed it Linda’s Doll Hut – sending a clear message to the patrons she had lost due to her now ex-husband’s erratic behavior.
At some point between 1992 and 1995, John Mello found love again – marrying a woman named Kasandra. In another bizarre side note to this story, Kasandra Mello was also involved in a murder case. She testified against her ex-husband – Kenneth Raymond – who was facing murder charges in the slaying of his half-brother in Lake Elsinore, California. Kasandra testified against Raymond – and he was ultimately found guilty based in large part on her testimony.
From there, John Mello and his new wife moved to Oregon … then to Savannah …and then finally to Greenville, South Carolina in 2004.
THE GREENVILLE MELLOS …
A slew of police reports documented the Mello family’s move to the Palmetto State. In 2005, Kasandra Mello called Greenville sheriff’s deputies – saying a real estate deal involving her husband and an acquaintance named “Jason” had fallen through. According to Kasandra, Jason had kept the money and they had hired an attorney to get it back.
During this process, the Mellos claimed Jason was harassing them – allegedly sitting in front of their mailbox and glaring menacingly at them. At one point during this dust-up, Mello was accused of unlawfully using a telephone – but no charges were filed.
In 2007, another complaint was filed against Mello for unlawful phone usage. This time, an employee with Piedmont Natural Gas of Greenville claimed Mello had called the company in a rage after his service had been discontinued for nonpayment.
Mello wanted the gas technician fired – immediately. He told the supervisor he had a multi-million dollar business in the city, was from Brooklyn and had friends in high places in the government. He further stated if his gas wasn’t turned back on that instant, “it won’t be a pretty sight” and that “he would make life so miserable the company they would not know what happened to them.”
According to the report, Mello went to so far as to say he would “disrupt Piedmont Natural Gas’s main facility.”
Despite the threatening nature of these comments, no charges were filed against Mello – and the complaint against him was eventually dismissed.
In August of 2014, a man named Bobby Dorn walked into the Greenville County sheriff’s office and filed a harassment complaint against John Mello. According to Dorn, a year earlier Mello had inquired about a job as a music producer at Dorn’s recording studio in Greenville.
He didn’t get the gig …
Shortly thereafter, posts containing negative information about the studio began appearing from Mello and others on Facebook. Then harassing Facebook messages and emails allegedly began pouring in.
The officer who took the complaint reviewed these messages and determined they contained threats of bodily harm and attempted blackmail. He also noted that while they came from a variety of different names, they all appeared to originate from the same source … John Mello. In fact, according to the report, the harassment of businesses and individuals by Mello was so widespread and well-known in Greenville there was a facebook group dedicated to exposing it.
The name of the page? Operation MelloDrama.
In this case, though, Mello had chosen an easy target. After determining that much of the negative information being spread about Dorn was tied to his status as a registered sex offender, Greenville deputies told him they were unable to press charges.
In May of 2015, Kasandra Mello filed for divorce from John Mello. Their divorce was finalized in August of that same year. And while it’s unknown when or how Mello met Christina Parcell, in 2016, the first of many incident reports listing both of their names was filed with the local sheriff’s office. In that report, Mello accused Parcell of domestic violence.
At the time of this incident report, Mello reported that he and Parcell had a four-year-old daughter together – meaning she was born at least a couple of years prior to his divorce from Kasandra. After the 2016 domestic violence report, things continued to go downhill between Mello and Parcell and the drama centered around the same topic – their young daughter.
Want to learn more about Mello? About Parcell? About the accused murderer Zachary Hughes? Check out FITSFiles today …
FITSFiles is written, produced by me, Jenn Wood, special projects director Dylan Nolan, researcher Callie Lyons and FITS founding editor Will Folks. New episodes drop every Wednesday morning. Be sure to subscribe to FITSFiles on your podcast platform of choice (including Apple, Spotify, Google and others) so you won’t miss a single installment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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