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Walter E. ELLIS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Milwaukee North Side Strangler"
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: 1986 - 2007
Date of arrest: September 5, 2009
Date of birth: 1960
Victims profile: Deborah L. Harris (31) / Tanya L. Miller (19) / Florence McCormick (28) / Sheila Farrior (37) / Jessica Payne (16) / Joyce Mims (41) / Ouithreaun C. Stokes (28)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to seven life sentences without the possibility of parole on February 24, 2011. Died in prison on December 1, 2013
 
 

 
 

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The Milwaukee North Side Strangler is the name given to serial killer Walter E. Ellis who raped and strangled seven women in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA between 1986 and 2007

Investigation

The North Side Strangler victims were black women who ranged in age from 19 to 41. Milwaukee Police Department Homicide Detective Steven Spingola authored an e-magazine article, The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee's North Side Strangler, which chronicled his investigation of the homicides of Sheila Farrior and Florence McCormick.

Trained in criminal background analysis, Spingola also provided a detailed profile of the killer, which Milwaukee talk-radio host and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Wagner described as "eerily accurate." Spingola, however, retired before Detectives Gilbert Hernandez and Kathy Hein, of the Milwaukee Police Department's cold case homicide unit, reexamined DNA evidence that linked a suspect to the homicides.

On September 7, 2009 Walter E. Ellis, 49, was arrested on suspicion of being the notorious serial killer. Ellis had been arrested 12 times between 1981 and 1998, when he was sentenced to five years for reckless endangerment. Ellis was initially charged with two counts of first degree intentional homicide and held on $1 million bail. The Milwaukee County district attorney's office later filed five new murder charges against him: three of intentional homicide and two under the previous statute of first degree murder.

Initially represented by Attorney Russell Jones in defense of these claims, Ellis plead not guilty, and stood prepared to defend himself. Jones was withdrew from the case, and then on February 18, 2011, Ellis pleaded no contest to the seven murder charges and was therefore convicted despite not admitting his guilt.

On February 24, 2011, Ellis was given seven life sentences, to be served consecutively, without the possibility of parole.

Victims

Number Name Age Date of Discovery Charge
1  Deborah Harris 31  October 10, 1986  Murder
2  Tanya Miller 19  October 11, 1986  Murder
3  Irene Smith 25  November 28, 1992  Intentional homicide
4  Florence McCormick 28  April 24, 1995  Intentional homicide
5  Sheila Farrior 37  June 27, 1995  Intentional homicide
6  Joyce Mims 41  June 20, 1997  Intentional homicide
7  Quithreaun Stokes 28  April 27, 2007  Intentional homicide

Name

The use of the name "North Side Strangler" in reference to the case has been limited to one local news organization, WTMJ, Channel 4, which is believed to have coined the nickname, although it has been picked up by some bloggers and by British media as well. Use of the nickname, however, has also been a subject of criticism in other Milwaukee media.


Timeline of Strangler-Connected Murders

Milwaukee police released a timeline of killings linked by DNA testing to an unknown assailant.

Here are the dates, including background information from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel accounts:

1986

Oct. 10 -- Deborah L. Harris, 31. Strangled, found in a local river.

Oct. 11 -- Tanya L. Miller, 19. Strangled, found between a house and garage.

1995

April 24 -- Florence McCormick, 28. Strangled. Found in the basement of a vacant home by workers doing repairs. The home was boarded up but had a broken window.

June 27 -- Sheila Farrior, 37. Strangled. The owner of a vacant residence went to inspect remodeling work when he discovered her body in a bedroom.

Aug. 30 -- Jessica Payne, 16. Runaway from South Milwaukee, found with her throat slashed behind a vacant house. (Police said the homicide does not fit the pattern of the others, although the suspect DNA was found on her and he is believed to have had sex with her before she was slain. But police said they believe they know who killed her and it was someone else.)

1997

June 20 -- Joyce Mims, 41. Strangled. Building renovators went to a vacant home to perform renovations and found her dead on the second floor. She was last seen by family members two days earlier walking from her home.

2007

April 27 -- Ouithreaun C. Stokes, 28. Strangled. Two citizens and city inspectors found Stokes dead after going to inspect a vacant, boarded up residence, which had been used as a rooming house previously.


Wisconsin man gets life in slayings of 7 women

TheGrio.com

February 25, 2011

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A Milwaukee man convicted of choking the life out of seven women during a 21-year killing spree was sentenced Thursday to spend the rest of his life in prison, and prosecutors said they may yet tie Walter E. Ellis to two or more unsolved slayings.

Ellis, 50, was convicted last week after he pleaded no contest to charges of first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree murder. Although the charges carry a mandatory life sentence, Judge Dennis Cimpl had the option of allowing the possibility of parole.

However, Cimpl said the only factor in Ellis' favor -- that by pleading out he spared the victims' families from having to endure a trial -- was like weighing "a feather against thousands of pounds of bad things."

Cimpl sentenced Ellis on Thursday to seven consecutive life sentences for the slayings. Ellis sat impassive as the sentence was handed down, just as he had during the previous hour when a parade of victims' relatives, some angry, some tearful, called for justice.

Several remembered the victims as mothers of small children, as women who may have led troubled lives but who didn't deserve to suffer at Ellis' hands. Several called Ellis the devil, and one said he hoped Ellis' fellow inmates violate him and treat him with the same contempt that he showed his victims.

A few relatives lamented the fact that Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. However, the sister of victim Irene Smith said it wasn't for humankind to pass such judgment.

"I'm not one to judge," Virgie Smith said, her eyes red with tears after the hearing. "He's going to get the worst thing God can give him."

The sentencing brings a close to a deadly rampage that ran from 1986 to 2007. The subsequent investigations eventually forced a complete review of how the state maintains its DNA database.

All seven victims were strangled, either by hand or with a rope or clothing tied around their necks. One was also stabbed.

"Of any way to kill somebody, that's probably the most despicable way to do it," the judge told Ellis. "You look at them and you literally choke their lives away."

Ellis declined to speak before sentencing, continuing his silence that has frustrated and infuriated those desperate to know what motivated him to kill their loved ones and whether he felt any remorse. Ellis has long refused to cooperate with authorities and even with his own lawyers.

Defense attorney Patrick Earle also declined to speak at the hearing. A message left at his office afterward was not immediately returned.

Ellis was arrested in 2009 after police said his DNA matched semen samples found on six victims and a blood sample on a can of pepper spray discovered at the scene of the seventh slaying. Authorities have said they began to focus on Ellis after his name surfaced in connection with a number of unsolved homicides.

Ellis' case exposed flaws in the state's process for collecting DNA from convicted felons. Ellis' DNA was missing from a state database even though he should have submitted a sample during an earlier prison stint. Authorities said Ellis persuaded a fellow inmate submit a DNA sample in his place.

Police have said that if a sample had been taken from Ellis at that time, they may have been able to track him down before the last slaying, in 2007.

The discovery prompted a state audit, which found nearly 17,700 offender samples missing from the crime lab's database.

Authorities suspect Ellis in at least two other killings, but District Attorney John Chisholm said he hasn't brought charges in those cases because he wanted to focus on his strongest cases.

Chisholm, who told the judge Ellis was one of the few defendants he'd ever seen who truly deserves to be called evil, said the investigation continues in those two cases.

Chisholm said he was also concerned that Ellis' later crimes, along with his deceit in not submitting a DNA sample, showed that his understanding of DNA's role in crime investigations was growing more sophisticated. The prosecutor said investigators would also review other homicides in which no DNA was left to see if any more slayings could be tied to Ellis.

Outside the courtroom, victims' families and friends collapsed into each other's arms. They laughed and cried together, grateful that the sentencing finally brought closure to decades of uncertainty.

Mansa Miller, the brother of victim Tanya Miller, said Ellis got the sentence he deserved.

"I pray for him to do what he has to do with his life to make himself a better person," he said.


Police say man arrested in serial killer case linked to 8 deaths

By Ryan Haggerty - The Journal Sentinel

September 8, 2009

A 49-year-old man suspected in the killings of at least eight women over 21 years in Milwaukee has been charged in connection with two of the homicides, authorities announced Monday.

Walter E. Ellis of Milwaukee faces two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the killings of Joyce Mims, 41, and Ouithreaun Stokes, 28, who were strangled a decade apart.

Ellis was arrested around noon Saturday at a motel in Franklin, one day after authorities linked DNA from his toothbrush with samples found on Mims' and Stokes' bodies, according to a criminal complaint.

Ellis could be charged this week in connection with some of the other killings, Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm said.

Until a news conference Monday, police had not said publicly that Ellis had been linked to the 1992 killing of Irene Smith, 25, and the 1994 murder of Carron D. Kilpatrick, 32, whose bodies were found within a block of each other.

Both women were strangled and stabbed, police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said. Their murders were linked to Ellis' DNA in the past two weeks, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn said.

Ellis' DNA has been found on at least nine females killed between 1986 and 2007, Flynn said. Police officials have said they think someone else killed one of those victims, a white 16-year-old runaway whose throat was slashed. The other victims, all prostitutes and African-American, were strangled. And at least two were also stabbed.

The killings occurred in an area roughly bounded by N. King Drive, N. 27th St., W. North Ave. and W. Capitol Drive. One victim was found in the Menomonee River, but authorities believe she was killed elsewhere.

In two of the homicides linked to Ellis, other men had been charged in the slayings. Curtis McCoy was charged in October 1994 with killing Kilpatrick, his live-in girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, but he was later acquitted by a jury. Chaunte Ott was convicted of killing Jessica Payne, the 16-year-old runaway. Ott served 13 years in prison before he was released in January, after DNA analysis showed semen found on the girl's body was not his.

Authorities announced the link to a suspected serial killer in May after tests revealed DNA from the same person had been left at six homicide scenes dating from 1986 to 2007.

A task force of local, state and federal law enforcement officials dedicated to investigating the linked homicides received 193 tips in its first three months of operation, Flynn said last month. Some suspects were interviewed and ruled out, he said.

Investigators had run the DNA profile found on the murdered women against DNA databases nationally but did not get any hits. That meant the suspect was not in prison and had not provided law enforcement with a genetic sample in any state. Since 2000, Wisconsin has required all felons to provide DNA.

Investigators began to focus on Ellis after his name surfaced in connection with a number of unsolved homicides, Flynn said.

"Good police work and good police science have led us to Walter Ellis," Flynn said Monday.

Ellis was not home when police executed a search warrant at his duplex apartment in the 2800 block of W. Bobolink Ave. on Aug. 29, officials said Monday. Police took Ellis' toothbrush and razors, according to the complaint against him.

Tests conducted on the toothbrush at the State Crime Laboratory showed that the DNA found on Mims and Stokes belonged to Ellis, the complaint says.

A warrant for Ellis' arrest was issued Friday, and Milwaukee police sent out an alert notifying other police agencies of the vehicle Ellis was believed to be driving, Flynn said.

On Saturday, Franklin Police Officer Jason Fincel spotted the vehicle at the Park Motel, 7273 S. 27th St. in Franklin, Flynn said. A swarm of police officers descended on the motel. Ellis, who was not armed, was arrested after a struggle, Flynn said.

A woman living in the downstairs apartment at Ellis' duplex said she learned of his arrest over the weekend but was not certain of the reason until contacted by the Journal Sentinel.

"He didn't seem like that type of person," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "It's so scary now. I could have been a victim. I'm shaking right now."

She saw Ellis and a woman who lived with him nearly every day but did not know much about them, she said.

Ellis never caused a disturbance during the several months that he lived there, the woman said. The block of W. Bobolink Ave. contains a mix of duplexes and single family residences.

Ellis was criminally charged 12 times between 1981 and 1998 for violent and property crimes, according to online court records. Flynn noted that although all felons incarcerated in Wisconsin have had to submit DNA samples, Ellis was last convicted of a felony in 1998, two years before the samples were required.

Ellis was sentenced to five years in prison for recklessly endangering safety, according to court records. Further details of that case were not available. Of the nine victims who have been linked to Ellis, none was killed between 1998 and 2006.

Online records show Ellis was released from federal prison in 1992. Details about that case were not available.

Court records show that Ellis lived for a time near N. 6th and W. Chambers streets, within a few blocks of most of the killings.

Relatives of Mims said she lived a few blocks from Ellis and was dating Ellis' uncle when she was killed.

"He just seemed like a regular guy," Mims' son, Purvis Mims, said of Ellis. "It goes to show you never know what's going on behind closed doors."

Purvis Mims said he did not know Ellis well but had met him about six times before his mother was killed.

Joyce Mims "probably knew him much better than we did," Purvis Mims said. "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."

Mims, 30, said he was always optimistic that his mother's killer would be found, especially after authorities announced the DNA link earlier this year.

"I was pretty confident because a person who does those types of things, they don't stop," he said. "You don't just never do it again or never have any police interaction."

Joyce Mims' sister, Tara Noble, said Ellis' name did not sound familiar, but she said she was eager to view his photo to see if she recognized him.

Flynn on Monday requested that the media not make public Ellis' photo because investigators were still showing it to possible witnesses.

"I'm glad they got this man, because I just feel sorry for what my sister went through," Noble said. "We just think about how she was killed . . .  My sister was found beaten and strangled. Those are words you don't ever want to tell somebody."

The massive investigation into the killings linked by Ellis' DNA, which included retesting of DNA samples from dozens of unsolved murders, led to hits in at least 10 unrelated cases.

Suspects since have been charged in two of those cases.

David W. Lewis, 47, was charged in June with first-degree reckless homicide in connection with the 1990 strangulation of 45-year-old Vernell Jeter.

William W. Phillips, 37, was charged this month with first-degree intentional homicide in connection with the 1990 death of 26-year-old Rhonda Hartwright, who was killed by a shotgun blast to her face.

Prosecutors expect to file charges in a third cold case soon, Chisholm said last month.Police have identified suspects in five other homicides that occurred in Milwaukee from 1983 to 1994, Flynn said last month. Four of those suspects are already incarcerated in connection with other crimes, he said.

Finally, investigators have developed DNA profiles of suspects in two other unsolved killings but have not been able to match the DNA with suspects, Chisholm said last month.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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