Posts tagged “Walter Ellis

Spingola Files, the Local News & Stocking Stuffers

Over the course of the past month, I have appeared on two Milwaukee news broadcasts to address a couple issues that I feel passionate about: homicide investigations and the vast overreach of government surveillance.

On November visit to to Milwaukee’s CBS 58 news, I spoke about the issue of biometrics.

On December 2, reporter Myra Sanchick, of Fox News 6 in Milwaukee, conducted an interview with me regarding the death of Walter Ellis, Milwaukee’s infamous north side strangler.

In Best of the Spingola Files, Volume I & II, I discussed the complicated deaths associated with Ellis and other suspects in a four part series entitled “The Detectives in the Rye.”

Christmas/Hanukkah Stocking Stuffers

When shopping for the holidays, please consider giving the gift of books.  My latest, Best of the Spingola Files, Volume I & II, is now available in print and audiobook format.

Mitchell Nevin’s first novel, The Cozen Protocol, is also available in audiobook format.  For a limited time, the e-book version of the novel is available for just 99 cents.

Nevin’s latest novel, Psychic Reprieve, is currently in the process of being formatted into a screen play.  The e-book version of this outstanding book has been discounted to $3.99 for the holidays.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

If your organization is on the lookout for an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

For more information, visit and click the “seminars & presentations” icon.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

The Winding Road of Homicide

The reliability of jailhouse informants suffered yet another blow with the tentative release of William Avery, a purported north side Milwaukee drug dealer.

Investigators questioned Avery after the body of 39-year-old Maryetta Griffin was located in a pile of garbage near N. 7th and W. Burleigh Streets on February 17, 1998.  Avery admitted “grabbing” Griffin inside his crack house, located near N. Palmer Street and W. Meinecke Avenue, although he blacked out and provided few additional details.  Absent a confession, police lacked the evidence needed to charge Avery, who, instead, was sent to prison for drug charges.

Six years later, two fellow inmates claimed that Avery confessed to killing Griffin.  Prosecutors then charged Avery with first-degree reckless homicide.  He was later convicted and subsequently received a 40-year prison sentence. 

Two months ago, Avery requested that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office take a fresh look at DNA found on Griffin’s body.  Tests showed that the DNA belonged to Walter E. Ellis; a man prosecutors believe is Milwaukee’s infamous North Side Strangler.  Ellis is set to stand trial for a string of slayings of primarily prostitutes and/or drug users, the first of which occurred in the mid-1980s.

In two additional homicides now linked to Ellis by DNA evidence, prosecutors charged different suspects. A jury acquitted Curtis McCoy of the 1994 strangling of Carron Kilpatrick.  However, another jury convicted Chaunte Ott of the 1995 homicide of 15-year-old runaway Jessica Payne.  Two young boys found Payne’s body under a discarded mattress less than a block from the Milwaukee Police Department’s Fifth Police District with her throat slit. A judge released Ott from prison in 2009.

Ironically, evidence against Ellis also consists of statements provided by jailhouse informants. 

The problem with jailhouse informants is creditability.  Most are convicted felons serving time for serious crimes.  In some instances, offenders game the system to seek reductions in their sentences or assignments to a correctional facility with better living conditions.  Ultimately, it is up to the jury to ascertain whether these inmates are telling the truth.  These surly individuals are generally not eagle scouts out to do the right thing by stepping forward as witnesses, although, in some cases, their motives are genuine.

As I mentioned in The Detectives in the Rye, a four-part post at my former blog, while critics of the Milwaukee Police Department’s homicide unit wasted little time lambasting detectives, these strangulation homicides were a complex string of cases with similarities and differences.  To the average neophyte, it appeared that the pattern of Ellis’ crimes, as well as some others, were obvious.

To visit From the Notebook of a Homicide Detective, visit

As cold case detectives revisit other strangulation homicides, they will likely find that up to a half-a-dozen suspects — all likely acting along — committed a number of these offenses. Furthermore, as the methods used to test DNA evidence continue to evolve, the probability of obtaining justifiable convictions will also improve.  Prosecutors and detectives make decisions based on the information they have at a particular point in time.  That being said, the technological advances of the future can come back to haunt not only the suspects who’ve escaped the grasp of law enforcement, but also those who’ve made a good faith effort to seek justice for those no longer with a voice.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010

Accused North Side Strangler is His Own Worst Enemy

As the state’s case against an accused serial killer proceeds through the Milwaukee County Court system, the suspect likely provided the proverbial rope needed to figuratively hang himself.

 Walter Ellis, the man prosecutors allege is Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler, fired his attorney, Russell J.A. Jones, earlier this month.

“Mr. Jones has not investigated. Mr. Jones has not asked for an extension to review 50,000 pages of documents intended to be used in this case,” Ellis told Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet.

Many consider Jones, who took the case at no cost, a rising star among the pool of Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys. From 2005 to 2007, Jones defended former Pewaukee Alderman Anthony Balistreri on sexual assault and child pornography charges that eventually went to trial.  The evidence against Balistreri was overwhelming, but Jones managed to chip away at the state’s case.  Although the disgraced alderman was later found guilty, a prominent Waukesha County official privately lauded Jones’ courtroom acumen.

“I know as a matter of fact I did everything I can [in Walter Ellis’ defense],” Jones told the court. 

Reading between the lines of Ellis’ statement, it appears as if the man prosecutors believe killed seven women is upset that his attorney has not spent more time investigating information contained in reams of police reports.  In reality, however, defense attorneys primarily react to the filings of prosecutors.  While the state needs to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, the goal of defense counsel is to suppress prejudicial information and then marginalize the evidence presented to a jury in order to create enough doubt to justify an acquittal of charges. 

Since the only statement Ellis allegedly made is to a jailhouse informant—the character of which a competent defense attorney should rip to shreds—the primary evidence in the North Side Strangler case is DNA collected from the crime scenes.  Prior to being relieved on his duties by the court, Jones filed a motion requesting that the state pay for additional DNA testing that he argued would show that the victims had contact with multiple men. At a hearing in late December, Judge Dallet, citing costs, denied this motion.

Here lie the pitfalls of DNA, which can include numerous suspects.  Moreover, on appeal, the courts may reasonably conclude that the state should provide all exculpatory DNA data retrieved from crime scenes to the defense at the expense of taxpayers.  In all fairness, defendants on trial for serious crimes are entitled to evidence that may shine light on their innocence.

Without Russell J.A. Jones at the helm, the state’s case against Ellis now becomes stronger.  The accused North Side Strangler may not realize it, but I am willing to bet — somewhere in the offices of the Milwaukee County DA’s office — a collect sigh of relief occurred.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010