Terrance Heath

Hate Crimes on Wikipedia: Michelle Ellis & Roxanne Abdill

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 01, 2007 3:30 PM | comments

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The dual murder of Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill is one of the stories I had in mind when I started this project. I think it's because it happened not long after I moved to Washington, D.C. I was working at the Human Rights Campaign then, and my job was actually to support the state campaign to defeat Measure 19 in Oregon and Idaho. I think that's why I was so deeply affected by the murders of Ellis and Abdill a year after the Oregon measure was defeated. It's hard to believe that more than 10 years later we're still debating hate crimes legislation.

I'd blocked out or forgotten many of the details, but researching their story brought them all back to me. I think it impacted me in a different way this time. When I read that Ellis met with her killer at 11:00 a.m. and spend most of what would be her last day with him, I felt I knew what she would be thinking about as she sat there in handcuffs with a man who was demanding money, and whom she probably guess would very likely kill her and probably posed a danger to her family: her partner, her daughter, and her granddaughter. He left her call her family at some point, to explain her absence long from the office, and again to lure Abdill He asked her if she and Abdill were lesbians, and she said yes. In later interviews, the killer revealed that he knew Ellis and Abdill had been together for 12 years, that she was 54 years old, and that she had a granddaughter. I imagine she told him about her life in hopes of humanizing herself to him, and saving her life, probably not realizing that doing so probably sealed her fate.

And the killer? He told so many different stories that it's difficult to know what to believe. At first, he said that their "lifestyle" was "sick," and that knowing they were lesbians made it "easier" to kill them. Then he confessed to murdering a friend in California, who was said to have been bisexual, and whom he claims made a pass at him after night of partying. (Gay panic defense, anyone?) He said he liked bisexual women, but had "no compassion" for lesbians or gay/bisexual men. Then he said that he invented the anti-gay motive, and that his real intention was to rob the couple. But he left behind their purses, money, wallets, credit cards, jewelry and cell phones at the scene. So, was it a robbery? A hate crime? Or a little from column A and a little from column B?

This was a man who spent $3,000 every weekend on a Las Vegas stripper (who would later become a successful business entrepreneur and a contestant on "The Apprentice"), paying for lap-dances and company in the private lounge, buying her diamond earrings and taking her out to dinner because he thought she was his girlfriend. But they never had sex. And when he ran out of money, she dumped him. When he returned to Las Vegas after the murders, he spent the $5,000 he got from selling his car paying other dancers to give her lap-dances while he watched. Something she said had always been a fantasy for him. And then she dumped him; after taking money from "Inside Edition" to go visit him in prison.

So, this was a man who spent every dime he had on a woman who didn't want him, let himself believe she cared only to learn she didn't once he was broke. And she didn't want him. Throw in the" lesbian fantasy" — which I don't get, but I think is exciting to straight men who fantasize that the women are there for him, want him, and are performing for him — and the murder of two actual lesbians; two women who really didn't want him. I think it's no stretch to say that Ellis and Abdil being lesbians was at least a partial motivation for his murdering them.

Just read what happened to Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, and decide for yourself.

Roxanne Ellis (November 4, 1942 - December 4, 1995) and Michelle Abdill (July 8, 1953 - December 4, 1995) were a lesbian couple, murdered in Medford, Oregon by Robert Acremant. Before and during his trial, Acremant stated that the crime was partially motivated by couple's lesbianism.

Background

In 1990 Michelle Abdill and Rhonda Ellis moved from Colorado Springs, Colorado, which they felt was becoming increasingly hostile to gays and lesbians, to Medford, Oregon where they hoped the small town setting would give them a chance to start over and find acceptance. The couple met Colorado, where Ellis -- divorced with two children -- worked as an obstetrics nurse. Abdill got a job in the same doctors office, and they eventually became life-partners. [1]

The couple started a successful property management business, and were elected to the board of their church. They spent their spare time restoring their old Craftsman-style house, visiting Ellis' 3-year-old granddaughter. They also worked as activists, fighting two Oregon state ballot initiatives in 1992 and 1993; Measure 9 intended to amend the state constitution to declare homosexuality "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse," and Measure 19 intended to restrict library access to materials related to homosexuality.

At the time of their murders, Ellis and Abdill had been together for 12 years.

The Murders

On December 4, 1995, Ellis went to an appointment with 27-year-old Robert Acremant. to show him an apartment. Police believed the appointment was made earlier that day. Ellis failed to return several pages from her daughter, Lorri, during the day, and allegedly called at 4:00 p.m. to tell Lorri she was going shopping.

Abdill left the office a 5:00 p.m. saying that she was leaving to help Ellis jump start car, after receiving a call that the car would not start. Later, Ellis' daughter drove over to the apartment complex where her mother was going to show the apartment, and saw her mother's pickup, but said it pulled away from her when she tried to follow it.[1]

Ellis and Abdill were not seen again until their bodies were discovered four days later in the back of Ellis' pickup truck by a cable TV worker who reported the vehicle to police.[2] The women were bound and gagged. Both had been shot in the head. Their bodies were wrapped in drapes and covered by cardboard boxes.[3]

Publicity & Arrest

The discovery of Ellis' and Abdill's bodies caused concern in the local gay community. The couple's activism on gay rights issues, and records of an earlier threat against them, roused suspicion that they had fallen victim to a hate crime. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno to request that the Department of Justice assist local authorities in their investigation. The letter cited the Justice Department's guidelines, which said a crime motivated by bias "in whole or in part" should be considred a hate crime.[4]

The nature of the crime, and the couple's activism, led to widespread publicity about the case. Police publicized a composite sketch of the suspect, based on a description of a witness who'd seen a man -- Acremant -- park Ellis' truck and walk away.[3]

The media coverage of the murders reach Acremant's mother, who had moved to Medford three weeks earlier with her son. Believing her son had committed the murders, Acremant's mother called a police tip line and told police of her suspicion, based on her son's behavior and his resemblance to the composite sketch.[5] She also showed police the labels of cardboard boxes used during her move to Medford with Acremant. Police matched the address labels to those on the boxes used to cover the bodies of Ellis and Abdill.[3]

She later told The Oregonian, "I called the police because I have to look God in the face. I will do anything in my power to make sure other people aren't hurt. But right now, he's sick."[6]

Police contacted California authorities and found that Acremant was under investigation there in the October 3 disappearance of one of his friends. Acremant was then tracked down to a Stockton motel room and arrested on December 13, 1995

Upon arrest, Acremant confessed to the Ellis and Abdill murders, claiming his motive was robbery. After they refused to write checks off their property management business, Acremant shot both women execution-style, each in the back of her head, after binding and gagging them with duct tape, and forcing them to lie down in the back of Ellis' pickup. <ref='Court' />

Acremant also confessed to killing Scott George of Visalia, California, on October 3, 1995, and dumping his body down a mineshafton his father's property. After Acremant told his father where he'd hidden the body, police found what was believed to be George's body at the bottom of a mineshaft outside Acremant's father's ranch in Stockton.[5]

Robert Acremant

Robert Acremant served in the Air Force and earned a Masters Degree in Business Administration from San Francisco's Golden Gate University, in half the time usually required. Later, he worked as a district operations manager at Roadway Trucking in Los Angeles.[7]

Acremant left his job at Roadway Trucking, to start his own software business, because he felt he would not get ahead at Roadway. He became frustrated by the failure of his software company[8], and his own failure to find a job and achieve financial security.[7]

His money frustrations were compounded by depression when he was rejected by a Las Vegas stripper named Alla Kosova, whom he considered to be his girlfriend, because he didn't have enough money to visit here in Las Vegas.[5]

Motives

Robbery

Acremant's statements about his motive have shifted over time. He has said that his intention was to rob Ellis and Abdill. Media reports said the robbery scheme was part of plan get enough money to win back Kosova.

However, the district attorney in the case noted that some of the evidence undermines robbery as the only motive, as Acremont left the victims' purses, wallets, jewelry, cell phones and money at the scene. When Ellis' daughter arrived at the complex, she and Abdill's brother -- Dan Abdil -- spotted Abdill's unlocked vehicle at the scene, with her purse in plain view, which prompted them to call the police.[5]

Homophobia

In August 1996 Acremant wrote a letter his hometown newspaper the Stockton Record stating that he had intended to rob Ellis and Abdill, and that knowing they were lesbians made it easier to kill them. He also wrote that he had killed Scott Gordon, who was reportedly bisexual, made a pass at him. Acremant also claimed tobe a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

In his three page letter, Acremant claimed he invented the robbery motive because he feared reactions from inmates who might learn that his murders were "hate crimes against bi- and homosexuals."

In an interview with the Stockton Record from his jail cell Acremant said he had no problem with bisexual women but had "no compassion" for lesbians, bisexual or gay men."[1]

Interviews and media reports confirm that Acremant knew the couple were lesbians. He had previous contact with with Ellis two weeks before the murders, when he had been shown the same apartment where hem met Ellis on December 4, 1995.[6]

Acremant also acknowledged that he had asked Ellis -- the victim with whom he spend the most time -- if they were lesbians and she said they were.[4]

Interviews indicated he may have spent some of the time before Abdill's arrival asking Ellis about details of their life. In an interview with The Oregonian he said it made him "sick to my stomach" to learn that she was "someone's grandma." In an interview with The San Francisco Examiner he revealed that he knew Acremant was 54 years old, and that she and Ellis had been together for 12 years.[5]

Acremant also told the Oregonian that there was a common thread to the Ellis and Abdill murders, and that of Scott George.[5]

Acremant later recanted his earlier claim to have killed Ellis and Abdill because of their sexual orientation. He attributed his murders of Abdill and Ellis, as well as George, to a "sudden urge, claiming that he he hadn't felt like killing Ellis and Abdill until he'd bound and gagged them and forced them to lie down in the back of Ellis' truck. He also claimed to have killed George because he wanted to test the silencer he'd just built for his handgun.[7]

Alla Kosova

At Acremant's trial in 2997, 24-year--old Kosova testified at Acremant's trial that she had indeed cut off their relationship, which began in April 1995, in August of the same year. She confirmed that they had a relationship, but said that it was purely financial in nature as far as she was concerned.

Kosova said that Acremant spent up to $3000 a weekend on her at the club where she worked, had bought her two pairs of diamond earrings, and occasionally took her out to dinner. But they never had sex.

Their relationship ended when Acremant, who was not working, spent his savings, used up his retirement fund, and maxed-out his credit cards. When Acremant called her and claimed that a man in New York had stolen his money and he had none left, Kosova said she changed her number and severed ties with Acremant.

Aremant surfaced again in Kosova's life when he returned to Las Vegas after the murders of Ellis and Abdill. Acremant spent $5000 from the sale of his car paying women to dance for Kosova, which she said was a fantasy of his.

After taking her to dinner on December 10, Kosova said Acremant pulled out a gun and a stun gun as they sat in her truck, and told her he had killed three people; two just that week. He unscrewed the silencer on the gun and showed her the blood inside.

Later, Kosova told a police officer who was a customer at the club what Acremant told her about the murders, but said he didn't take her seriously.

Afterward, she told Acremant they were through. But after his arrest, the television program Inside Edition paid for Kosova to visit Acremant in the Jackson County jail, for what she told him was "the final time." [9]

Kosova would return to television in September 2005 as Alla Wartenberg, a successful business woman and contestant during the fourth season of the television show The Apprentice.[10]

Guilty Plea & Death Penalty

Upon his arrest, Acremant declared that he wished to be executed by lethal injection. One month later he entered a not guilty plea and his lawyers filed motions to overturn Oregon's death penalty.[1]

On September 11, 1996, Acremant pleaded guilty to the murders of Ellis and Abdill.

On October 27, 1997, an Oregon jury sentenced Acremant to death by lethal injection for the murders of Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill.[3]

On March 15, 2005 Oregon's high court upheld Acreamant's death sentence. [11]

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Hannah M. Ellis | March 10, 2009 6:55 PM

My grandmother was the most respectfull peacefull person ive ever met and for someone to come into our life and Fuck up our family is so cruel. I was 3 yrs. old at the time now im raising my own family unfortinatly my daughter doesnt have a great grandmother.THANKS TO ROBERT ACERMONT