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tv   Forensic Files  CNN  March 6, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST

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his mother knew he was guilty. she knew. and she held back on that. >> he's a pathological, maniacal liar, and i don't like him, but he received a fair trial. he was obsessed with an exotic dancer. >> he kidded that he spent approximately several hundred thousand dollars over the course of several months. >> must have been pretty bad that he had to buy love. >> but the money couldn't last forever. >> thus, he hatched a plot. >> and he didn't care what price he paid to get it. >> when i said, did you plan to kill him? oh, yeah, oh, yeah, i planned to kill him, but i wasn't going to let them know that. >> he just wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone. >> residential real estate in medford, oregon, is an extremely competitive business. so, when roxanne ellis got a
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last-minute appointment to show a vacant apartment, she was happy to oblige. >> i did not know who she was showing the property to. she just wrote, 11:00 and then the address. usually, our routine would be to write down who it's with, the phone number and the address, but that day, it just didn't get done. >> a few hours later roxanne called her business partner michelle abdill and asked her to come pick her up. she said her car battery was dead. >> in response to the call and not knowing exactly what was said, but i'm sure, you know, something to the effect that i need of, and that's all it took and she was on her way. >> no one heard from either woman after that call. >> i probably called 30 times on her cell phone. she had a cell phone and a pager. and i paged her probably the same amount of times. >> friends and family called police to report the two women missing. police found michelle abdill's
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car in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she went to pick up roxanne. >> i knew something awful had happened. she always locked her car. and to have it open and a nice leather coat laying there on the seat, you know, camcorder in the car, her purse. i knew something was definitely wrong. >> the whole thing just stunk. it stunk big time. and we actually put detectives on that case that night. >> roxanne ellis's vehicle, a silver toyota pickup truck, was nowhere to be found. inside the rental property police found no signs of a struggle and no evidence of violence. >> there was no biological evidence. there was no blood. there wasn't anything to the visible eye that we really had to go on. >> several days passed without any word from either woman. their church held a vigil to keep attention focused on the case. >> it all started to be almost surreal. they were gone.
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very unlike them. so, it was panic, i guess, you know. it started to feel a little bit panicky. didn't know where they were. >> they're out there somewhere. if they're out there and they're safe, just somebody to call and let us know, you know. we don't know where they are. >> the two women were not just business partners. roxanne ellis and michelle abdill also have a personal relationship which led police to consider another possibility. >> they were domestic partners. they were outspoken about gay issues. they were active in that area, trying to make changes that would positively impact gay rights issues. >> was it possible that their disappearance had something to do with their lifestyle or political views? three days after they went missing, a cable tv repairman found roxanne ellis's truck in a
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parking lot about three miles from the rental property. >> when i went out on my first service call on mariposa on state street, i just happened to see the vehicle. >> we realized that there was blood dripping out of the bottom of the undercarriage of the vehicle. we could see a head of one of the victims up near the front cab area of the pickup bed. >> the bodies of both women were found inside covered with some cardboard boxes. >> it was an extremely brutal way to die. they both had two gunshot wounds to the head. they both were bound and gagged and hogtied. their eyes were covered, their mouths were covered. their hands were duct taped behind their backs and their ankles were duct taped. >> but who would not only kill these two women, but execute them? and what message was the killer sending?
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no one knew why roxanne ellis and michelle abdill were murdered. the motive didn't appear to be robbery. blood patterns indicated the women had been shot inside the truck. four shell casing from a .25
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caliber pistol were found near the bodies. there were no foreign fingerprints inside the truck but there were several overlapping shoe prints from a man's shoe. >> this was on kind of the chrome-plated bumper area that had kind of a dirty grime, kind of oxidized layer on it. and when the individual stepped on the bumper, he left a negative impression. >> the autopsies revealed the women were killed the day they went missing, and there were no signs of sexual assault. the medical examiner found bluish-green polyester fibers in and around the fatal wounds. >> either the gun was fired through an item like a blanket or some intermediate object or intermediate target and then fired into the victims' heads. >> and there was a gash in roxanne's calf near the taped bindings, which suggested the
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killer bound the women inside the apartment, led them down to garage, then cut the binding so they could get into the truck. >> it just really was something really out of the ordinary. this really was something that we didn't know the whole story yet, but now we're thinking this was kidnap, this was almost torture-like, this was something really out there. >> on the day of the murders, roxanne ellis had an 11:00 a.m. appointment to show a rental property to a man whose name was not listed in her appointment book. residents of the building saw a man going in and out of the vacant apartment and were able to provide a general description detailed enough for police to create a composite sketch. incredibly, the sketch resembled the man who found roxanne's truck. >> when we started interviewing the cable man, and we had seen the composite sketch, all of us started talking, you know, this guy looks a lot like the
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composite. >> investigators suspected that the killer might have left fingerprints on the duct tape he used to bind the murder victims. it's difficult to handle tape without touching the sticky side. so analysts treated the tape with gentian violet, a chemical dye. >> when the tape is immersed in the gentian violet, the dead skin cells that are pulled from the fingers of palms of the hand will then react with the gentian violet and you get a nice, dark image of the latent prints. >> just as they suspected, the killer left behind two clear prints. >> when he was binding the ladies, he was touching the sticky side of the tape. >> the prints did not match the cable repairman, and he was eliminated as a suspect.
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next, investigators tried to identify roxanne's 11:00 a.m. appointment. they checked the caller log on her office phone and traced the call to the tiki lodge, a low-rent motel in downtown medford, oregon. >> i entertained the thought that maybe one of tenants could be in town looking for an apartment to rent or something like that. >> but finding that tenant would be a problem. >> they couldn't track the room calls at this time because they were having problems with their phone equipment. so i've got a phone call from the tiki lodge. i can't identify what room it came from. >> the motel had 30 rooms. almost all were occupied on the day of the murders. detectives began the painstaking task of trying to identify all of the tenants. >> for the most part, it was people just passing through. the registration cards didn't have date of births, so you're looking at very common names.
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>> and most of the hotel guests paid in cash. another dead end. so investigators had to return to the scene of the crime in the hopes they might have missed something. it doesn't operate out of basements or back alleys.
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based on the evidence, police suspected that their killer called real estate agent roxanne ellis from the tiki lodge motel and asked her to show him the vacant unit at the sheraton court apartments. this meant the killer was familiar with the building and knew the apartment was vacant. he didn't give his name, and roxanne either knew him or didn't ask for it. around 11:00 a.m., roxanne showed the apartment to the killer. what happened during that time was unclear, but roxanne was still alive at 5:00 p.m. when she called her domestic partner, michelle abdill, probably at gunpoint, with the false story that her car battery was dead and that she needed a ride home. >> roxanne? where are you? >> both women were probably in
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the apartment where they were bound with duct tape. the killer left his prints on the sticky side of the tape. the garage was attached to the living area, so the killer could have put them into the truck without being seen. there was a gash on the calf of roxanne ellis's leg, suggesting the killer cut her binding so she could get into the truck. he most likely killed them in the garage with a .25-caliber weapon, using something with blueish-green fibers as a silencer. he also left his shoe impressions on the bumper. he left roxanne's truck in a parking lot about three miles away, and it wasn't found until three days later. all police had were the killer's
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fingerprints, a shoe impression and a composite sketch. several days passed with no leads. then a woman called police to say the composite sketch looked remarkably similar to her son. >> it makes me ill, and i can't believe my son would do anything like this. >> she makes the call. we get that information. she's got an address that is very close to where the truck was recovered, so we're convinced that she's not leading us down the wrong road. >> the woman's 29-year-old son, robert acremant, had just moved to oregon. she said her son was familiar with the vacant apartment where the murders took place. >> she had been to that sheraton court address previously with her son, and that was shown to them by roxanne ellis. >> and there was another possible connection to the murders. robert acremant's brother was the manager of the tiki lodge motel.
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the call made to roxanne ellis before her murder originated from the tiki lodge. however, robert acremant had no motive to kill roxanne ellis or her partner, michelle, and he had no criminal record. >> he'd never been charged with any criminal activity. in fact, he ended up going into the air force. he served honorably in the air force. he went on to get a master's degree, and he had a good job, really, working for roadway trucking in california. >> a credit card check revealed that acremant had been spending a lot of time and money at a strip club in las vegas. >> he had some money. he headed for vegas and fell for this stripper who he envisioned as his girlfriend. >> he had run himself into debt, obviously had an addiction to her and to that lifestyle. >> the stripper's stage name was
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ecstasy. >> she said that she was spending up to 3,000 bucks on a weekend. he ended up running through, i think it was about $80,000 worth of credit card debt. he had a retirement fund that he managed to max out. so, he spent a ton of money on that woman. >> the stripper said acremant was obsessed with her and insisted on calling her his girlfriend. >> his family reportedly encouraged him to break off this relationship because they felt that he was being used. >> eventually, the money ran out. >> well, then she dumps him. you can't pay for what you're asking me to do, and therefore, we're done. >> but robbery didn't appear to be the motive in roxanne ellis and michelle abdill's murders. robert acremant's mother said he left oregon after the murders and was headed to california, but she didn't know where. fortunately, police knew exactly
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how to find out.
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the prime suspect in the murders of real estate agents roxanne ellis and michelle abdill was 29-year-old robert acremant, whose own mother called police to say he resembled the composite drawing of the killer.
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>> i'm so sorry. that's all i can say. i'm so sorry. >> she probably had made the hardest phone call a person can make in their life because she suspected that he was involved in these horrible crimes, and i believe it really took some moral fiber for her in order to step up and make that phone call. >> lieutenant tim doney left oregon and followed bob acremant through his credit card activity to stockton, california. >> we thought that he was desperate. we felt that his behavior was escalating and we felt he was a danger to the public. >> a s.w.a.t. team apprehended acremant in a motel room in stockton without incident. in the motel room, he had a canvas bag with books about murder, a taser, handcuffs, a roll of duct tape and a .25-caliber handgun with a homemade silencer with blueish-green fibers like those
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found on roxanne and michelle. >> there was blood on the interior portion of it right at the muzzle end where the bullet would come out, heavily caked blood. >> dna analysis showed this was a combination of blood from both roxanne ellis and michelle abdill. acremant's fingerprints matched the fingerprints on the duct tape used to bind the victims. his shoes were compared to the impressions found on the bumper of roxanne's truck and were consistent. >> we had the eyewitness evidence placing him at the scene. we clearly felt that we had plenty of evidence to try this case, a very solid case. >> as soon as i got caught, i knew with all the evidence they got, it ain't worth fighting this one. it's over. game done. >> acremant not only confessed to the murders, but he confirmed
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that the motive was robbery. he said he spent all his money on the las vegas stripper and needed more. >> and thus, he hatched a plot to obtain more money so he could have that contact again. >> this was so ridiculous. he must have been pretty bad that he had to buy love. >> he said he met roxanne ellis a few days before the murders when roxanne showed his mother the sheraton court apartment. acremant said he planned to force roxanne to write him a business check for $50,000. he had roxanne lure her partner michelle abdill over to the apartment, too, because a business check that size requires both of their signatures. eventually, acremant realized that he wouldn't get away with it and didn't go to the bank.
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>> bob acremant hates a lot of things, he hates a lot of people. i think he hates himself. and i think that's about as close to the devil as you'll get is bob acremant. >> while talking to police, acremant also admitted killing a friend of his, scott george, seven weeks earlier. >> what he said about that was that he just wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone. >> i'm not a psychotic in any means. maybe a sociopath. i would admit that 100%. >> during our interviews he would joke, he would laugh in reference to his victims and really showed no sense of feeling sorry or remorseful for what he had done. i think probably the only thing he was sorry for was that he got caught. >> he also confessed during a telephone interview with reporter libby doucett. >> it was an experience i'll never forget.
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that's for sure. he came off like talking about a football game. >> i told them -- i never told them about the intent to kill. you see, the perfect murder has no bodies, no evidence. that got all fouled up because michelle told a co-worker where she was going. so that's why i left the bodies. otherwise, they'd be down that mine shaft with that other guy down there, stockton. >> you know, just laughing and joking and talking about, you know, when i said did you plan to kill them? oh, yeah. oh, yeah, i planned to kill them but i wasn't going to let them know that. >> i just told them i was after the money and i would leave them both tied up, and in a day or two, somebody would find them there at the apartment. >> in october of 1997, robert acremant was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, first-degree kidnapping and robbery and was sentenced to death. >> you'd better believe when he gets that needle put in his arm, i'm going to be right there.
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>> the forensic evidence in this case was important in securing his identity and making this case, and the forensic evidence also helped us prove the enormity of the horrible crimes that he committed. up next -- a human skeleton is found in the marshlands of north carolina. >> the longer a body's been dead, the harder it is to determine how long it's been dead. >> we don't know who she is or why she was killed. >> but it tells a story all its own. >> whatever happened to precede death, it probably was sexual. >> a story of anger and hatred. >> at what point does a person realize that, you know, they're dying? >> and a violent end. >> had this person remained anonymous, we would have had nowhere to go. on a cold, spring afternoon in 2004, ree


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