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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Nationwide alert issued for man connected with woman's death

Andy Prutsok • Feb 1, 2015 at 12:07 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's a round-up of Norwalk Reflector-Herald accounts in the ensuing weeks on the mysterious, bizarre death of Laura Downing, 27, whose body was found earlier in this week of 1947 completely frozen behind the wheel of her car parked in Milan Square:

Jan. 31, 1947: Investigation of woman's death still lags

Reports on the autopsy performed on the body of Laura Downing, who was found dead in her car at Milan early Wednesday morning were still awaited today by Erie County Coroner James Walker.

Mr. Walker informed reporters that he had phoned the Cuyahoga County morgue earlier today and that no report was yet forthcoming.

Meanwhile, members of the Erie County Sheriff's Department are continuing their investigation of the dead woman's whereabouts from the time she left home Monday evening until her body was found.

Based on reports that she had been seen Tuesday evening in her car accompanied by a man, authorities are investigating possible companions and it is expected after an autopsy report is received a more intensive search will be launched for several persons for questioning.

Reports are persistent that a very crude operation had been attempted on the woman and that her death was probably indirectly due to this. However, no definite conclusions can be formed until the official autopsy report is received.

Feb. 2, 1948: See missing man in Downing death

Erie County Sheriff William S. Souter announced this afternoon that he had sent out a nationwide police broadcast for the apprehension of a man wanted for questioning in the death of Laura Downing, whose body was found in her parked car near the Milan square last week.

The name of the man who is being sought is being withheld at this time pending further investigation, Souter stated.

Souter also said that a report of the autopsy on Miss Downing's body performed in Cleveland, is expected shortly.

Erie County Coroner James Walker over the weekend received an inquiry from the office of they Cuyahoga county coroner for more details on the life of the late Laura Downing, it was reported this morning by Erie County Sheriff William S. Souter.

The sheriff's office could advance no details on the reasons for the additional data requested but stated the fullest possible report would be given the Cuyahoga County authorities.

Sheriff Souter and Coroner Walker have issued no details on Miss Downing's death since her frozen body was found at Milan in her small sedan last Wednesday.

Although the name of a Norwalkian is constantly associated as having been an intimate friend of the dead woman, efforts by authorities to locate him for questioning have been unsuccessful so far.

Authoritative reports from Sandusky state that thus far no warrant for his apprehension has yet been issued.

His disappearance, according to persistent rumors, coincides with that of Miss Downing's last Monday night when she told members of her family she was leaving for a visit with her brother in Milan.

Feb. 3, 1945: Dragnet spread for James E. Ellis in probe of Laura Downing's death

SANDUSKY, O. (UP) -- Sheriff William S. Souter today issued a nation-wide radio appeal for police to pick up a prominent Norwalk, O. businessman, James E. Ellis, 55, for questioning in the strange death of a former young woman employee.

The body of the attractive young woman, Miss Laura Downing, 27, was found frozen and half nude in her parked car on a Milan, O., street last Wednesday. Souter and Ellis, owner and president of the Dawson Woodworks Co., had been missing form his Norwalk home since last Monday, the day the girl first disappeared.

Souter also announced that Coroner Samuel Gerber in Cleveland, where the girl's body was taken for autopsy, had discovered the young woman was four months pregnant.

Ellis' wife, Souter said, had sued him for divorce last Friday, charging cruelty. "I simply want to ask Ellis some questions," Souter said. "Once we know the cause of the girl's death, I will know where to turn."

Coroner Gerber said he was not satisfied that the girl had frozen to death and eliminated the possibility of carbon monoxide or any obvious poisons. He said it was possible that an abortion compound of some sort had been used and that poison elements in it might have caused death.

Deputy Sheriff A.A. Killian said a Milan barber, Norman Widemeier, told him of seeing the car, with both a man and a woman in it, parked near his shop the night the girl disappeared. He said the auto was still there the next morning but that he thought it was empty because the girl was slumped down in the seat out of his sight.

He said the girl's clothing was disarranged and her dress was pushed above her knees.

Ellis disappeared from Norwalk with his 1941 blue Buick sedan with license number XL-372.

Police described the missing man as being gray-haired, heavy set, and very hard of hearing. Except for his immediate family here, it is believed he has no relationship residing elsewhere in the county. Originally it was thought he came here from Canada.

Feb. 4, 1948: Coroner's verdict still pending in Downing death

Cuyahoga County Coroner Samuel Gerber this morning disclosed that a coroner's verdict in the mysterious death of Laura Downing, whose body was found frozen in her car at Milan a week ago today, may not be returned until he end of the week...

...Meanwhile the search for James E. Ellis, prominent Norwalk businessman, is being intensified for questioning in connection with the young woman's death. Reports by citizens in the community here have verified the fact that he had been seen repeatedly in the company of the young woman in recent months.

February 7, 1948: Sought in death probe

(Photo caption) Police in 48 states have been alerted to pick up James E. Ellis, missing Norwalk Businessman, for questioning in clearing up the mysterious death of Miss Laura Downing. He disappeared from his home Jan. 26, two days before her frozen body was found slumped down in her parked car at Milan.

Feb. 11, 1948: Downing girl's death still a mystery

Although it is two weeks today since the frozen body of Laura Downing was found in her car at Milan under extremely mysterious circumstances, Erie County officials today stated they still have no news of James E. Ellis, whom they seek for questioning in connection with the young woman's death.

Reporters also were told that authorities were still awaiting the official autopsy report from Cleveland.

During the past week or so several reports were circulated that Ellis had been apprehended but these proved to be unfounded. Sheriff William S. Souter stated that he also had a report on Ellis from Woodville, O., but this lead proved false.

Feb. 12, 1948: Souter may issue rebroadcast for James Ellis soon

Erie County Sheriff William S. Souter today stated that unless James E. Ellis is apprehended for questioning in the mysterious death of Laura Downing before the weekend, he will order a rebroadcast of the nationwide call for the Norwalk businessman.

New light can be shed on the local girl's death only by Ellis' apprehension, Souter stated.

Feb. 18, 1948: Autopsy heightens strange death of Norwalk Downing girl

The mysterious death of Laura Downing, 27, whose frozen body was found three weeks ago in her car at Milan, was heightened today by the delayed release of the findings of an autopsy.

Erie County Coroner James Walker said the examination revealed that the four months pregnant woman died "apparently by freezing" and show no traces of alcohol or known poisons or drugs in her body.

Furthermore he said the autopsy revealed no marks of violence on the body.

Meanwhile the search for James E. Ellis, prominent local businessman and former employer of the deceased woman at the Dawson Wood Words, was intensified, it was announced by Sheriff William Souter.

Ellis' strange disappearance occurred the same night Miss Downing was reported missing by her family, two days before her body was found near Milan's village square.

Authorities had since learned that Ellis was originally from Boxwell, Ontario, Canada, where his mother, Mrs. Mary Ellis, and a brother, Tillman, still reside. Police in that community have been contacted to question members of the family, Sheriff Souter stated.

It has also been learned since the Norwalk man's disappearance that approximately one week before his sudden departure he had withdrawn a sizable sum of money from the account of the firm which he headed. A personal bank account was untouched, the investigation revealed.

In certain quarters it is believed that the search for Ellis would be carried on with greater vigor in the Untied States and Canada if a warrant for his arrest was issued rather than just for his apprehension for questioning.

Coroner Walker, in announcing the "apparently by freezing" finding, said he could not see why Miss Downing remained in her car for two days to freeze to death. He added that if she had fainted the cold would have revived her.

Despite the autopsy findings, Coroner Walker announced that no verdict would be issued until Ellis is found and questioned.

Feb. 19-March 29, 1949: No further reports on the case appeared in the Reflector-Herald.

COMING MONDAY: Part II, Ellis surrenders to Sheriff

-- Compiled by Andy Prutsok

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