Police in Wisconsin have arrested a suspected serial killer who is believed to be responsible for the death of nine Milwaukee women over the last 21 years, police said on Monday.
Walter E. Ellis, a 49-year-old man from Milwaukee, was arrested after his DNA was found on the bodies of nine women, eight of them prostitutes and one girl who was a runaway. The homicides occurred between 1986 and 2007 on Milwaukee’s north side.
“This case was solved with shoe leather and science,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn at a news conference. “Continuing advances in DNA technology have enabled us to link these homicide cases, and it was good police work pursuing numerous leads that led to the arrest of a suspect.”
The first person believed to be murdered by Ellis was on October 10, 1986 when Deborah L. Harris was found dead at 144 North Emmber Lane. A day later, the body of Tanya L. Miller was found nearby, at 2123 North 28th Street.
So far, Ellis has not been linked to any homicides between 1986 and 1992 but the Milwaukee Police Department’s Homicide Task Force Cold Case Unit, which was formed in May of this year, believes it may be linking additional homicides to the suspect.
On November 28, 1992, the body of Irene Smith was found at 3028 North 7th Street. A month later, on October 13, the body of Carron D. Kilpatrick was found at 3025 North 6th Street. In 1995, Ellis is believed to be responsible for three more murders. Florence McCormick was found on April 24 at 618 West Locust Street, Sheila Farrior on June 27 at 1442 West Chambers Street, and Jessica Payne on August 30 at 3116 North 7th Street. In 1997, Ellis’ DNA was found on Joyce Mims’ body on June 20, who was found deceased at 2940 North 5th Street.
Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Police Department said Jessica Payne’s homicide did not fit the pattern of the others, although Ellis’ DNA was found on her body. At the time officials said that the suspect is not believed to be responsible for her death, although it was believed he had sex with her. It was not immediately clear if that position had changed.
In the late 90s, the Milwaukee Police Department submitted DNA, which was found on one of the bodies, for testing. Unfortunately, no link with DNA in the database was found and the case remained unsolved. As DNA testing continued to be improved, DNA found on two victims was resubmitted in 2003 and linked to the same suspect.
On April 27, 2007, the body of Ouithreaun C. Stokes was found at 3128 North 7th Street. Later, the DNA found on Stokes’ body and that of Mims, who was murdered in 1997, was also connected to the same suspect, who has now been identified as Ellis.
Ellis was first identified as the suspect on Friday, followed by his arrest on Saturday. “The Milwaukee Police Department’s Homicide Task Force Cold Case Unit was formed in May of this year but the MPD never forgot the victims whose brutal murders spanned 21 years,” a statement from police spokeswoman Anne Schwartz read. “Many tools were used to develop suspects including resources from the Wisconsin Regional Crime Lab and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The analysts sifted through years of evidence samples resubmitted by the Task Force. As the technology evolved, the results improved.”
“As evidence that Milwaukee Police have submitted and resubmitted to the Wisconsin Regional Crime Lab continues to be returned, the Task Force may be linking additional homicides to this DNA profile,” she added.
So far, Ellis has been charged with two counts of first degree intentional homicide.