Dead Man Waiting

Billy Elledge brutally raped and murdered a woman in Hollywood 25 years ago. He has sat in prison since then, evidence that Florida's death penalty isn't working.

The next afternoon, dressed in flared jeans and a gray tank top, he went to a nearby bar to drown his sorrows. There he met Margaret Anne Strack, a 20-year-old waitress with brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. Elledge drank Seagram's and 7 Up -- no ice; she drank cans of Budweiser.

The two fast friends eventually reposed to Elledge's room to smoke some dope. What started as consensual hanky-panky, according to Elledge's statements to the police at the time, quickly turned into violence. When Strack refused to have sex with him, Elledge began choking her. She relented momentarily but then screamed and threatened to call the police as he mounted her. He began choking her again with both hands while raping her. Elledge strangled Strack for perhaps 15 minutes. Until "her face was the color of a plum."

Elledge hauled the corpse into the bathroom and waited for nightfall. Pulling Strack's body by the feet, Elledge dragged her down the back stairs of the building, the corpse banging against each step. He tossed the body into the back of Strack's blue '68 convertible Camaro and drove north on Ocean Drive. In the parking lot of the Resurrection Church in Dania, he dumped her body. Strack's torn shirt was pulled up above her chest. Her panties were around her right ankle. A white extension cord bound her ankles together. Semen was found in her vagina. On her right hand was a silver-colored ring with a Girl Scout emblem.

Elledge kept the Camaro. He returned to the motel room for his gun, a blue Colt .38 special with a wooden grip. Sometime around 11:30 that night, coming around a corner, Elledge clipped another vehicle and plowed into a fence surrounding a trailer park. He fled on foot.

Elledge ended up around Hollywood Boulevard and 60th Avenue, where he scaled the roof of a Pantry Pride grocery store and climbed inside through an air vent. He wandered around, looking for money, thinking he was alone. At the end of an aisle, someone swung at him with a mop. Elledge kicked the man in the ribs. Then Elledge pulled his gun from his waistband and ordered the man, 47-year-old janitor Edward Lawrence Gaffney, to a back room where he was instructed to lie on the floor. When Gaffney appeared to rise, Elledge killed for the second time in about six hours. He shot the man twice, once in the left side of the chest and once in the back.

Elledge recovered 35 or 40 cents and a package of Viceroy cigarettes from Gaffney's pants pockets. He found a muscular dystrophy donation box and smashed it on the counter. The take: about $1.40. For his looting and murder, Elledge ended up with a grand total of less than $2.00. He ate a candy bar and departed.

It was just starting to get light out. Margaret Anne Strack's body would soon be discovered by parishioners arriving at Resurrection Church. Elledge walked back to Ocean Drive and crashed at the Normandie. When he woke up, it was early afternoon. He went to the House of Foam and had a beer. Elledge knew he had to get out of town. He had vague ideas about escaping to Canada, so he hopped a bus north to Jacksonville Beach.

It didn't take Elledge long to kill again. About 2 a.m., on a clear, still Monday morning, Elledge knocked on the door of the Beacon Motel and asked for a room. Katherine Nelson, who ran the motel with her husband, let him in. Once inside, Elledge brandished the revolver and demanded money. He tied 53-year-old Paul Nelson to a chair and gagged him. He had Katherine Nelson lie face down on the bed and tied her up as well.

Elledge wandered the motel looking for loot. In one of the rooms was the Nelson's grandson, 17-year-old David McBride. The teenager brandished a rifle, but Elledge somehow took it away from him and put McBride into the room with his grandparents. While Elledge continued looking for money, the Nelsons got free from their bonds. Mr. Nelson grabbed his pistol and had his wife close the door. When she reopened it, he confronted Elledge with the unloaded gun. Elledge shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the right shoulder. For the third time in 36 hours, he had committed murder.

Elledge fled on foot. He got rid of the gun, took a cab to the bus station, and was about to head north when the cops arrived. He confessed almost immediately, after a telephone conversation with his dad.

Kenneth Roach, now an Episcopal priest in Jacksonville, was one of the homicide detectives who interrogated Elledge. "It really went down, from a detective point of view, very clean," he recalls. "He was a very frightened and scared boy. As soon as he made the confession, you could just see the burden lifted from him."

The scope and brutality of Elledge's crimes made him an obvious choice in 1975 for the recently reinstated death penalty. Florida has always been enthusiastic about capital punishment. Before Texas and Virginia became so proficient at killing felons in the last decade, Florida was often seen as the standard bearer for capital punishment.

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