A Milwaukee man authorities say is linked by DNA to the slayings of nine women since 1986 was captured by police after an alert officer spotted his car at a motel, authorities said.
Walter E. Ellis, 49, has been charged in the deaths of two of the nine victims, and more charges are expected this week, prosecutors said Monday.
Police said a DNA sample from Ellis’ toothbrush matched samples from the bodies of nine women aged 16 to 41 who were killed between 1986 and 2007. Investigators believe eight of the women were prostitutes and one was a runaway.
Authorities began to focus on Ellis after his name surfaced in connection with a number of unsolved homicides, police Chief Edward Flynn said. He would not be more specific. A warrant was issued Friday, and Ellis was arrested Saturday after the officer in suburban Franklin saw his car.
A Wisconsin law enacted in 2000 requires people to provide DNA samples when they are convicted of a felony. It also required corrections officials to take samples from anyone in prison on or after Jan. 1, 2000 for a felony committed in the state.
That should have applied to Ellis, who was in prison from 1998 to 2001. A representative of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections did not immediately return a call Tuesday.
Ellis had pleaded no contest in 1998 to a reduced charge of second-degree reckless injury and served three years of a five-year sentence, Flynn said. That wasn’t enough to raise red flags, Flynn added, and it was only in recent years that DNA technology evolved enough to connect the cases to the suspect, the chief said.
“Yes, he does have a criminal history,” Flynn said. “His criminal history, however, does not lend one to immediately say, you know, ‘prime suspect.'”
Authorities previously have speculated that the person whose DNA they recovered on the runaway had sex with that girl but that someone else killed her.
Ellis is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, charges that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said additional charges will be filed after prosecutors have a chance to review more evidence.
The state public defender’s office said Tuesday that no attorney had been assigned to Ellis.
Flynn and Chisholm announced the arrest and charges at a brief news conference Monday but a number of questions remained unanswered. Chisholm would not say whether anyone else would be charged. Flynn declined to speculate on a motive, characterize Ellis’ childhood or describe a possible relationship to the victims.
“I don’t think it’s possible for me to speculate what would cause someone to engage in these horrific acts,” Flynn said.
The brother of Joyce Mims, who was strangled in 1997 at the age of 41, said Monday that his family has carried a great burden since then.
“We just hated that it had taken so long for them to find her killer, those women’s killer,” said Terry Williams, 49, of Madison. “But you know, justice one day is better than no justice at all.”
The investigation produced breaks in other unsolved cases after detectives resubmitted numerous DNA samples to the state crime lab. The work led to progress in at least 10 unrelated killings, authorities said.