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Russell ELLWOOD

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Taxi driver
Number of victims: 1 -20 +
Date of murders: 1991 - 1997
Date of arrest: March 4, 1998
Date of birth: 1951
Victims profile: Women (prostitutes)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison August 17, 1999
 
 
 
 
 
 

Once Accused Serial Killer Sentenced for Murder

August 18, 1999

HAHNVILLE, La. (AP) -- A former taxi driver once suspected of killing as many as 15 women was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for the only murder authorities could pin on him.

Russell Ellwood was convicted of murdering Cheryl Lewis, 30, who was one of 26 women, most of them prostitutes, found dead in swampy areas around New Orleans from 1991 through 1996.

At the time of Ellwood's arrest in 1997, authorities said they suspected him in as many as 15 killings, and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee claimed authorities were searching for at least four other suspects.

But no other arrests or charges ever were made, despite four years of efforts by a task force made up of the FBI, New Orleans police and four sheriff's departments. A second murder charge against Ellwood was dismissed when prosecutors learned he had an alibi that put him in Ohio at the time of a woman's death.

Told prostitute he kills women

At one point, the FBI cut its ties to the task force and then began investigating its former leader, Lt. Sue Rushing of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department, who was accused of hiding or destroying evidence that helped convict Ellwood. The FBI said the probe was over but would not disclose details.

The task force is dissolved, and the sheriff's departments involved said they will re-examine the case only if new information is presented.

Most of the 26 victims were women with histories of drug abuse and prostitution. Some were transsexuals. Some were strangled, and others apparently died of drug overdoses.

An inmate who had served time with Ellwood, 48, told deputies that Ellwood had bragged about killing people and that he "enjoyed the fun of having sex with people who were not in control of their bodies."

And a prostitute testified that she sold drugs to Ellwood and got in his car. She said Ellwood suddenly became very angry and said to her: "You know what I do to bitches like you? I kill them."

 
 

Russell Ellwood

February 24, 1999

Authorities in New Orleans say they'll drop one of two murder charges against Russell Ellwood. Investigators now say he could not have committed the crime. Though originally accused of killing seventeen women, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said a continuing investigation revealed that Ellwood was in Ohio when Dolores Mack, 40, of Metairie, was murdered.

Ellwood will only be charged in the case of a 1993 murder where a woman's body was dumped in a canal in Hahnville.

Prosecutors have admitted they have no physical evidence to place Ellwood, now 48, at the crime scenes. Ellwood, in a telephone interview from jail, predicted that the second murder charge would also be dismissed. "It's obvious that these charges are fraudulent," Ellwood said. "This is the biggest railroad case ever in the state of Louisiana."

 
 

Russell Ellwood (1-18)

On March 2, 1998, Russell Ellwood was arrested in connection with to two of the 24+ killings. Ellwood, a former cab driver, is suspected in fifteen more murders. However, authorities still believe more than one suspect is responsible for the string of slayings. "We never thought, from the beginning, that this was the work of one person."

On November, 1998, sheriff's Lt. Sue Rushing, the leader of the serial killer task force targeting Ellwood, failed a lie detector test asking if she destroyed or lost receipts that could place Ellwood in Ohio with relatives when the two 1993 murders happened. The test also indicated Rushing was "not telling the truth" when she denied coaching a witness who claimed Ellwood showed her the two bodies in a canal 20 miles west of New Orleans.

The allegations were made by other task force members, prompting the FBI to investigate Rushing and the task force. Ellwood has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against task force investigators, asserting that police lied when they said he confessed under relentless interrogation. "It's clear they have deprived him of his right to a fair trial," said Maria Chaisson, one of Ellwood's lawyers. Prosecutors admit they have no physical evidence to put Ellwood where the bodies of Cheryl Lewis and Delores Mack were found Feb. 21 and Feb. 22, 1993. But they say Ellwood's own statements and other evidence they won't describe points to him as the killer.

Lewis drowned in the canal while under the influence of cocaine and amphetamines. Mack was found strangled and suffocated one-fifth of a mile away. Cocaine was also found in her blood.

A year later, Ellwood was at the remote crime scene in the middle of the night, hanging out in his taxi cab alongside the deserted state highway next to the canal. Questioned by two off-duty sheriff's deputies, Ellwood said he wanted to change the oil in his cab in a place where he wouldn't be caught dumping the dirty oil outside.

Because serial killers often return to the sites of their crimes, Ellwood became a suspect in 1997, two years after the task force was formed and a year after the last known victim was killed. When detectives first approached Ellwood in Florida last year, he was cooperative and told them he had "dreamed" the serial killer task force wanted to interview him.

Then an inmate in a Florida jail where Ellwood spent time on a cocaine conviction told investigators Ellwood had told him he enjoyed sex with people on drugs who were not in control of their bodies. Months later, after Ellwood went to Ohio to stay with relatives, he was questioned for days by police. It was then that Ellwood allegedly told Rushing and a former Cincinnati homicide detective that he dumped the body of a woman in water off a rural road.

Ellwood, in a telephone interview from the St. Charles Parish jail, at first denied his admission, then said anything he may have told police came only after he was badgered and promised a flight to New Orleans so he could meet with his longtime lawyer, Ross Scaccia. "My only thought was that if I can get to Mr. Scaccia, everything would be all right," Ellwood said. "I told the task force anything, almost anything, to get to Scaccia." Scaccia first represented Ellwood in a marijuana possession case three decades ago.

Ellwood, a serial loser, grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and moved to New Orleans 30 years after high school. He worked as a free-lance photographer then turned to driving a cab, Scaccia said. Ellwood had few friends, never had a girlfriend and constantly thought of get-rich-quick schemes that didn't work. He inherited $15,000 from his mother but lost it all investing in penny stocks. He slept in his cab when he couldn't afford a boarding house, Scaccia said.

Ellwood helped police at first because he craved the attention of detectives who told him he could help them solve the case, Scaccia said. "He's just an unswift, lonely man who's always trying to be a success and has never succeeded at anything," Scaccia said.

Scaccia claims in the lawsuit that Rushing persuaded a key witness, Sharon Jones, to make up the story that Ellwood took her to the canal to smoke crack and see a "surprise." According to a police affidavit, Ellwood showed Jones one body in the canal with an arm and hand showing and another body that was almost submerged.

Ellwood and his lawyers maintain he was in Ohio at the time but say that receipts which could prove it were destroyed or concealed by Rushing. Ellwood was a meticulous record keeper; authorities tracked his activities for years through receipts. But 1993 receipts seized by police have a mysterious two-week gap in February, Chaisson said.

She theorizes police were desperate to prove they'd captured the serial killer. "They wanted to get a conviction," Chaisson said. "But whoever did this is certainly still out there."

Chaisson contends that a key prosecution witness, Ellwood's former girlfriend Sharon Jones, cannot be put on the stand now that the Mack charge has been dropped. Earlier, Jones testified that Ellwood took her to the swamps and showed her both bodies. "It would be illegal to put perjurious testimony on the stand," Chaisson said. "Our allegation for months has said she was coached and given gifts in order to give that testimony. The bottom line is that their entire case is based on the testimony of jailhouse snitches," she said, talking about two of Ellwood's fellow inmates who have testified that he confessed to them about killing some of the 26 people whose bodies were found across south Louisiana between 1991 and 1996.

On February 24, 1999, authorities announced they dropped one of two murder charges against Ellwood. Investigators now say he could not have committed the crime. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said a continuing investigation revealed that Ellwood was in Ohio when Dolores Mack was murdered. Ellwood, in a telephone interview from jail, predicted that the second murder charge would also be dismissed. "It's obvious that these charges are fraudulent," he said. "This is the biggest railroad case ever in the state of Louisiana."

Chaisson thinks the remaining second-degree murder charge against Ellwood will be dropped. "But they need to face the fact that the evidence they have is insufficient to get a conviction," Chaisson said. At least one other well-known defense attorney agrees. "Any honest prosecutor would face the facts and drop this thing now unless he has some positive evidence," said Sam Dalton, former head of the Jefferson Parish Indigent Defender Board. "Unless the attorney general has the definitive DNA that would connect him definitively to the murder, the state cannot go forward. They cannot do it by testimony."

At the time of Ellwood's arrest in 1997, authorities said they suspected him in as many as 15 killings, and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Henry Lee claimed authorities were searching for at least four other suspects. But no other arrests or charges ever were made, despite four years of efforts by a task force made up of the FBI, New Orleans police and four sheriff's departments. A second murder charge against Ellwood was dismissed when prosecutors learned he had an alibi that put him in Ohio at the time of a woman's death.

At one point, the FBI cut its ties to the task force and then began investigating its former leader, Lt. Sue Rushing of the Jefferson Parish sheriff's department, who was accused of hiding or destroying evidence that helped convict Ellwood.

The task force is dissolved, and the sheriff's departments involved said they will re-examine the case only if new information is presented. Most of the 26 victims were women with histories of drug abuse and prostitution. Some were transsexuals. Some were strangled, and others apparently died of drug overdoses.

An inmate who had served time with Ellwood, 48, told deputies that Ellwood had bragged about killing people and that he "enjoyed the fun of having sex with people who were not in control of their bodies."

And a prostitute testified that she sold drugs to Ellwood and got in his car. She said Ellwood suddenly became very angry and said to her: "You know what I do to bitches like you? I kill them."

 

 

 
 
 
 
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