Questions Linger In Wake Of Apparent Murder-suicide

March 08, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Robert G. Smith has spent the past few days wondering what the family dog, Schatzi, saw or heard the day Barbara and Al Ellingham died.

Havre de Grace police say Ellingham shot his wife several times with a pistol, then turned a rifle on himself. Schatzi was in the house at the time.

"The hardest thing is, you want to know what happened, and why. I've even wondered what she's thinking," Smith said, patting Schatzi as he sat in his grandparents' home Friday afternoon.

"She had to have heard the shots. You have to wonder what she thinks of all this."

Family members became concerned Monday afternoon when Barbara Ellingham failed to pick up her other son, 13-year-old Ray Ellingham, from Mountain Christian School.

They checked the house after Ray phoned his maternal grandmother, Jean Neidlein, at 7 p.m.

"I knew something was wrong because both cars were there. My father works night shift, and he never misses work," Smith said. "He even told me on thephone that morning that he had to work that night.

"I found them,you know," he said over the telephone, his voice low. "I looked through the basement window and saw them lying there."

Havre de Grace police Sgt. John Van Gilder said the couple had been having "domesticproblems," but added "there was no clear-cut reason" for the deaths.

Although no suicide note was found, Van Gilder said a medical examiner's report confirmed the murder-suicide theory.

But family members, friends and co-workers say they have a hard time accepting thatverdict. They want the Ellinghams to be remembered for more than their violent deaths.

"Everybody's thinking the worst. Instead of my father being a hero, now he's a villain," said Smith, 25, Mrs. Ellingham's son by her first husband. "I have a lot of mixed feelings, but I loved him, my brother loved him, everybody loved him. He was a goodman."

Livingston Platt "Al" Ellingham, a 50-year-old retired Armystaff sergeant and Vietnam veteran, was known as an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

He met Barbara Jean Ellingham, who turned 45 on Feb. 9, more than 17 years ago. They married soon after.

Mr. Ellingham retired from the Army in 1983 and went to work as a security guard at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground. Mrs. Ellingham worked at APG's Kirk Army Medical Clinic for 14 years, most recently as a benefits counselor. She had taken Monday afternoon off to do some spring cleaning.

"The hardestthing is not to know," Smith said. "I go over to the house and look for things. You hope you'll find something that will tell you, but you don't."

To get through the viewing at the funeral home Friday and the funeral Saturday, family members kept busy focusing on happier times and sharing treasured memories of going to baseball games and shopping.

Smith said his mother had been busy lately helping her sister plan a surprise party for their parents' 50th wedding anniversary, which was Tuesday. The party was planned for yesterday.

"Mom was into ceramics. She made dishes, salad bowls, praying hands, and recently she made something she was really proud of. It was sort of an archway, with an angel standing under it," said Smith.

"She had been working on a lamp or something for my grandmother, but she didn't finish it. My landlady's going to finish it for her."

Family and friends described Mrs. Ellingham as deeply religious, "bubbly," and "vivacious." Co-workers say she was "the kind of gal you'd lean over thefence and gossip with, someone you could share private things with."

"She was more my friend than an employee," said 1st Lt. Carolyn Fota, chief of patient administration at the clinic and Mrs. Ellingham's supervisor.

"She worked very hard. She was very selfless. We would get letters from people she'd helped, saying how she bent over backward for them. I'll always remember her for her laughter."

She said the employees at the clinic took the news of the deaths hard, as did Mr. Ellingham's friends and co-workers.

"It just doesn't soundlike Al," said Earney Osborne, who met Mr. Ellingham 12 years ago ina hunting party.

The two had been friends ever since, and for thelast eight years had worked together as security guards at APG.

"I loved to work with him because he would keep you laughing. He had areally nice personality. I used to go over to the house to see him once a week," said Osborne.

"I hope they're not closing the investigation," he added.

Frank Grieve, another of Mr. Ellingham's co-workers, described Mr. Ellingham as "the most easygoing person on the guard."

"It doesn't make sense. I'll never figure it out," said Grieve.

The couple's pastor, James Burcham, at the First Baptist Church of Havre de Grace, was at a loss to explain the deaths.

"This has been devastating to the church, in part because of the extreme violence," said the pastor. "There was not the kind of trauma going on intheir lives that would give any indication of something like this.

"People are still wondering if a third party wasn't involved."

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