A private citizen in Florida who was investigating the controversial death of a young mother was discovered fatally shot at home earlier this year. Now authorities have ruled the amateur sleuth’s death a homicide.
The body of Ellie Marie Washtock, a 38-year-old parent of two who identified as both male and female, was found inside their residence at Laterra Condominiums in St. Augustine, News4Jax reported. Washtock’s 15-year-old son made the gruesome discovery on Jan. 31 around 7:30 a.m.
At the time, Washtock was looking into the 2010 shooting death of Michelle O’Connell—a 24-year-old single mom who was killed soon after breaking up with her boyfriend, Deputy Jeremy Banks of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
For nearly nine years, authorities have said O’Connell died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a fatal injury caused by Banks’ service weapon. But her relatives don’t believe that O’Connell would take her own life, and they’ve claimed that Banks was physically abusive toward her.
O’Connell’s mysterious case was featured on ABC’s 20/20 last year, and examined by Frontline on PBS and The New York Times.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and medical examiner ruled O’Connell’s death—at Banks’ suburban St. Augustine home—a suicide, as did multiple other medical examiners and one special prosecutor appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.
Banks, who called 911 on the night O’Connell allegedly shot herself, said he was in the garage when he heard a gunshot and rushed inside to find O’Connell.
The deputy maintains his innocence and remains an officer with the department. In the 20/20 episode, Banks’ attorney said O’Connell’s death has “ruined his life” and that his neighbors “walk up and down the street at 2:00 at night and will scream at him, ‘murderer.’”
Washtock had reportedly started looking into O’Connell’s case last year. After Washtock’s death, O’Connell’s mother, Patty, told Action News Jax she believed the researcher was closer to uncovering the truth about what happened to her daughter.
“[Washtock] said if that happened to me, I’d want someone to fight for me,” Patty told the local TV station in March of this year.
“In my mind, [Washtock] was just murdered,” Patty added. “I think they just busted in there and killed him.”
In February, Patty told First Coast News she believed Washtock was targeted over his investigation into O’Connell’s death.
“He was finished with his work, he was confident we would prove Michelle was murdered,” Patty told the local station.
According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the fact that Washtock identified as both male and female “delayed a positive identification from the medical examiner’s office.” The victim also went by the names Eli and Craig Washtock.
Washtock’s neighbor, Alec Laughlin, told Action News Jax that he knew the victim as “Eli.”
“He knew that somebody was coming for him, so he rented the place downstairs, didn’t tell anybody, let his kids stay there, and he stayed in his regular place,” Laughlin told the news outlet. “So, he knew it was coming.”
In August, Eli Washtock requested crime scene photos from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office via a public records request. The agency released a disk as part of that request, News4Jax reported.
A representative of the medical examiner’s office told The Daily Beast they would not release the autopsy report because the case is under investigation.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Allison Waters-Merritt told The St. Augustine Record, “There was a lot of speculation whether it was a suicide or a homicide, so we were waiting on that.”
“So we are moving forward with this as a homicide, and we’re just asking the public for any additional information,” she said.
According to previous reports, the medical examiner was waiting on dental records to positively identify Washtock as the victim.
Patty O’Connell, via Facebook, mourned Washtock as “another son.”
“My thoughts: This was a planned killing,” Patty wrote. “What caused him to be unrecognizable? The work of a brutal killer.”
In one Facebook comment, Patty said Washtock was tracking “every move Michelle O'Connell’s killer made.” She said Washtock told her the suspect, who was in a sheriff’s patrol car, once ran “Eli and son off the road.”