Medical Examiner says this is no suicide — Washtock death ruled homicide

Ellie Marie (Eli) Washtock, whose non-binary sexual preference has overshadowed the investigation of his murder, is on the road to justice; as the district Medical Examiner has ruled his death a homicide.  The murder was discovered by Washtock’s 15-year-old son about 7:30 a.m. on January 31, 2019, in a third-floor unit at Laterra Condominiums inside the gated World Golf Village community.

Investigators said Washtock identified as a man and a woman.  There was some speculation that his death was a suicide by gunshot, although that has been disproven.

“I think it’s bizarre. It’s a very quiet neighborhood. Everyone is happy here. It’s friendly. It’s gated. It’s very safe,” neighbor Adam Hankers said of the New Year’s Eve shooting. “It was really weird the fact that someone could even get in the community to perform this violent act. It’s a little scary.”

The St Johns County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have each declined to investigate the finding after it was learned that 38-year-old Washtock was researching the September 2010 death of Michelle O’Connell; who many believe was also murdered.

The announcement came Monday May 6th from the sheriff’s office of neighboring Putnam County who oversees the Washtock case.  An FDLE spokesman said that although the state law enforcement agency was not involved in the evidence collection or preservation and processing of the shooting scene, the state crime lab was available to Putnam County as they work through their investigation.

Maj. Steve Rose with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office previously described Washtock as a private citizen and parent of two who was researching the O’Connell case, which has been a source of controversy for years in St. Johns County because of the circumstances surrounding her death.

At 24-years-of-age, Michelle O’Connell died in September 2010 of a gunshot wound inflicted by the service weapon belonging to her boyfriend, St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks. Her death was ultimately ruled suicide, but members of her family have long held onto the belief that she did not take her own life.

The polarizing case has since attracted national attention, resulting in a PBS “Frontline” documentary and an ABC News’ “20/20” report detailing competing investigations into O’Connell’s death, in addition to an in-depth report by Pulitzer Prize winning author Walk Bogdanich and published in The New York Times.

St Johns County Sheriff David Shoar found himself at cross-purposes with FDLE during the O’Connell investigation; Shoar calling for termination of FDLE Agent Rusty Rodgers and his boss, Special Agent In Charge of the Jacksonville Regional Center, Dominic Pape, after Rodgers intimated that Shoar’s deputy, Jeremy Banks, in fact murdered Michelle O’Connell.

Banks ended up in Federal District Court in a civil lawsuit against Rodgers over Rodgers’ methods in handling the investigation into Banks’ involvement with O’Connell’s death; a case which ended with the court ruling that Banks was not entitled to any financial compensation from Rodgers or the FDLE, who was an early defendant in the suit.  Banks was represented by local personal injury attorney, Mac McLeod.

Even though he was never cleared by a polygraph examiner or called to answer questions in an independent coroner’s inquest given the sheriff’s admission that mistakes were made in the O’Connell death investigation, Banks is still employed by Shoar as a deputy sheriff.  He still carries a firearm.  Shoar has since hired Banks’ step-father in the same division in violation of the department’s anti-nepotism policy.

Washtock, in e-mail correspondence with O’Connell’s mother, indicated that he believed Banks murdered Michelle.  Even though he was not a licensed investigator, he offered to help. 

Availing himself of a public records request, he asked the sheriff to turn over the crime scene photographs in the O’Connell case on August 22nd of last year.  Patty O’Connell allowed Washtock access to some of her personal collection of documents, including evidence that the medical examiner, under duress, changed her daughter’s death certificate from “homicide” to “suicide”.  Washtock picked up one disk of photographs from the sheriff’s office on August 30th and was charged $7.50.

Patty O’Connell told Historic City News in an e-mail that she is heartbroken over the death of Washtock, who she knew as Eli, saying she feels strongly Washtock was killed for investigating her daughter’s death.

Washtock’s family, who also refers to Washtock as Eli, did not wish to go into detail publicly, but did say that they are hoping that law enforcement investigators can track down whoever killed Eli.

No arrests have been made in the case. The Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information on the Washtock murder to contact CrimeStoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-8477.