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
USA between 1986 and 2007
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
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
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
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.
Date of Discovery
October 10, 1986
October 11, 1986
November 28, 1992
April 24, 1995
June 27, 1995
June 20, 1997
April 27, 2007
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:
Oct. 10 -- Deborah L. Harris, 31. Strangled, found in a local
Oct. 11 -- Tanya L. Miller, 19. Strangled, found between a house
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.)
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.
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
Wisconsin man gets life in slayings of 7 women
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
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
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
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
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
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
Ellis could be charged this week in connection with
some of the other killings, Milwaukee County District Attorney John T.
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.