“This is no joke. It is absolutely a living hell” — Target of murder for hire plot shares his story

Melanie Schrader offered a $200 down payment to an undercover police officer to kill her daughter's father
Schrader Melanie S 10 23 71
Melanie Schrader

CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT) – A Wisconsin mom will spend seven years behind bars for hiring a man to kill her daughter’s father. 

Melanie Schrader paid just $200 to an undercover agent she thought was a hitman. Seconds later, she was under arrest as a nine-year custody battle took a near-deadly turn. 

News 8 Now obtained information through an open-records request into the investigation of 39-year old Schrader. The Chippewa County woman offered $200 down payment to an undercover agent to kill her daughter’s father, Derek Gerke. 

Law enforcement set up a meeting in a local park. Security video shows Schrader getting into the an undercover officer’s vehicle. Here is a part of the transcript from their conversation, which the agent recorded:

Agent: Bring the money?

Schrader: I did.

Agent: Bring a picture?

Schrader: Yes. I have a little girl in my car.

Agent: Okay, we’ll make it fast. Do you want it clean? I can shoot him with my gun or I can choke him out and kill him. 

Schrader: I want it fast.

Agent: Okay.

Schrader: Whatever it takes to do it fast.

After Schrader handed over the cash, two pictures of  Gerke and a map to his house, a team of officers waiting nearby arrested Schrader before she could drive away.

“This is no joke. It is absolutely a living hell,” Gerke said.

Prosecutors charged Schrader with conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide. But just before her trial was to start, prosecutors offered Schrader a plea deal to drop her prison time by more than half.

“It came back, and it was a get out of jail free card,” said Gerke’s wife, Melinda.

During the course of the couple’s custody battle, Schrader accused Gerke of sexually abusing their daughter.  Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell said none of the allegations was substantiated. There was no proof, but Newell was afraid a parent on the jury would see things differently.

“Her argument would be I talked to law enforcement, they didn’t help me. The system let me know and didn’t help my daughter so I was the one who had to save my daughter.” Newell said.

Schrader accepted the plea and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

“We’re not happy with it. I think Ms. Schrader needs more time,” Gerke said. Even after she’s released, Schrader cannot have contact with her daughter until the girl turns 19.

I am grateful for that, that the courts are protecting Grace. That’s hard on her, too,” Gerke said. Hard for a little girl who loves both her parents and almost lost them both. 

Gerke’s fight for justice is not over.  He’s working with parenting groups in La Crosse and statewide, and with Wisconsin lawmakers to change custody laws and enforce civil penalties on parents who make false allegations during custody battles.