Monday, September 7, 2009

Milwaukee serial killer taskforce announces arrest in prostitute murders

A 49 year old man was arrested by Milwaukee detectives Saturday for the murders and strangulation of 8 women over a 21 year period. Currently charged with the 1st degree murders of 2 women, more 1st degree murder charges are expected against 49 year old Walter E. Ellis, according to officials. Ellis is suspected in murders dating back to 1986, with the victims ranging from age 16 to 41. All eight of these victims were prostitutes. According to Milwaukee Police. A ninth victim was thought to have been killed by someone else after Ellis had sex with her.

Ellis was arrested in a Franklin, WI motel after DNA taken from a toothbrush linked him to the murders. he fled his Northwest Side residence, where he lived with a woman. Having caught wind of the investigation, Ellis struggled before his arrest by Franklin police. Franklin is a suburb about 10 miles south of downtown Milwaukee.

Ellis was caught four months after a taskforce was started after realizing that the same DNA profile was involved in the deaths of 7 women. The taskforce's investigative work is also responsible for progress on other cold cases involving prostitute murders, and has led to arrests in other, unrelated cases.

Terry Williams, the brother of the 41 year old victim, Joyce Mims, murdered on June 20, 1997, said that "We just hated that it had taken so long for them to find her killer, those women's killer. But you know, justice one day is better than no justice at all."

Mims' son, Purvis Mims, now 30, stated that his mother dated Ellis' uncle at the time of her death and that she "probably knew him much better than we did. I always thought that she did know the (killer), because of the environment they found her in. I know she wouldn't have gone in an abandoned house with a stranger, regardless of the circumstances. She probably had a rapport of some fashion with him."

The criminal complaint states that Mims was found nude and dead on June 20, 1997 in a residence on Milwaukee's north side. An autopsy confirmed that Mims was choked to death, and that bruising on her neck showed that there had been a struggle.

Besides Mims, a second victim, 28 year old Ouithreaun Stokes, was found strangled and injured in a way similar to Mims. There was more of a struggle, as blood on a pepper spray can beling to the suspect in the murder. The victim's jacket and shirt was pulled up, and there was blood on the floor near the victim's legs. Stokes was killed on April 27, 2007, barely a half a mile away from where Mims was murdered. DNA from both murders were linked to each other a few months after Stokes' murder.

Police officials have said they think someone else killed one of those victims, Jessica Payne, a white 16-year-old runaway whose throat was slashed. The other victims, all prostitutes and African-American, were strangled.

The State Crime Laboratory processed DNA found on two dozen slain prostitutes to see if there is a match with Ellis and discovered two other hits - on Irene Smith, 25, killed in 1992, and Carron D. Kilpatrick, 32, killed 1994, authorities said Monday. Both women were strangled.

Other victims linked to Ellis are Shelia Farrior, 37, strangled in 1995; Tanya L. Miller, 19, killed in 1986; Deborah L. Harris, 31, killed in 1986, and Florence McCormick, 28, strangled in 1995.

A task force of local, state and federal law enforcement was convened and in three months it received 193 tips, Flynn said last month. Some suspects were interviewed and ruled out.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said Monday evening he anticipates more homicide charges to be filed against Ellis in the other slayings in the next day or so.

"We intend to bring justice to these victims and their families," said Chisholm.

Ellis has a criminal record consisting of violent and property offenses. Though all Wisconsin felons must submit DNA samples, the law requiring this was not in effect in 1998, when Ellis went to prison for recklessly endangering safety, serving three out of five years. No victims from the serial killer were killed between 1998 and 2006.

(Update 9-9-09) Ellis was being held on $1 million bond after being arraigned earlier today. Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm requested such a high bond based on the severity of the criminal charges and Ellis' prior record. Alejandro Lockwood stated that he wanted his client to have a $50,000 bail because "there's no way on this planet that (Ellis) can raise that amount of bail."

Ellis' preliminary hearing is set for September 23.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an article about mistakes made that kept Ellis' DNA off of DNA databases even though it was taken from him back in 2001 when he was in the Oshkosh Correctional Center for the recklessly endangering safety conviction. While state records show that the DNA sample was taken, Justice Department records do not show receipt of Ellis' DNA samples, and neither did a Texas contractor.

Staff did collect the sample, and the samples were mailed out for processing," [Wisconsin Corrections spokesman John]Dipko said. "In terms of documentation, there is nothing inconsistent about it."

"In our institutional experience, this is the first time we've seen something like this," [Special Assistant Attorney General Kevin]St. John said of the confusion over Ellis' sample. "If it was happening more often, it would be concerning."

The Journal-Sentinel article also has more information on Ellis' past criminal convictions and contacts with authorities.

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