PEORIA — A stranger conned his way into the home of a retired Peoria surgeon prior to his stabbing death, State's Attorney Jodi Hoos told the Journal Star.
Robert Ely, 54, was arrested Wednesday in the St. Louis area and charged with murder in the death of 92-year-old William Marshall in early January. Ely, who is from the St. Louis area, is part of a group of people who travel around the region and "target the elderly," Hoos said.
"They start with individuals who usually live alone, are older and have a very distinct scam that they do and, unfortunately, Dr. Marshall was a victim to this," Hoos told the Journal Star. "They are very good at conning their way into the house. They are good at getting entry into people's homes. This person, Ely, he pretended that he knew Dr. Marshall and was able to get inside the home."
Ely is charged with a single count of first-degree murder in connection with Marshall's death. A bond of $5 million has been assigned to the case. It wasn't clear when Ely would return to Peoria County. He is in Missouri and will have to undergo the extradition process in that state.
Hoos said an eyewitness was able to give police a description of a man resembling Ely and a vehicle that was linked to him.
According to a search warrant filed in Peoria County Circuit Court in January, detectives learned that a white F-series truck was involved. The truck seemed suspicious because it indicated it was a "contractor for hire" for home improvement but the "nature of the wording on the truck and the lack of owner/business information displayed upon it" made police think it was involved in home-repair scams, according to the warrant.
Keying in on that vehicle was important.
"We were able to track that vehicle to Ely and once we located that vehicle, we located the murder weapon inside the vehicle," Hoos said.
Later, she said, they were able to find a storage locker in the St. Louis area that had several items taken from the Marshall home at some point.
"That storage unit has ties to Ely as well," Hoos said, adding that several very valuable paintings were found in the unit.
A surgeon, Marshall had retired in the late 1990s but was well known throughout the area for not just his medical prowess but also for his love of the arts.
Peoria police were called to the 500 block of East High Point Place about 9:34 a.m. Jan. 6 on a report of a man injured inside one of the houses.
According to the affidavit attached to the search warrant, a home health care worker, who was assigned to help Marshall's wife, who has since died, grew concerned when Marshall did not greet her at the door as he normally did.
She contacted another employee of her home health care firm and the two began to look for the doctor. They found Marshall "cold to the touch" and "pulseless" in the home's basement.
When they arrived, officers found a man with "obvious trauma to his body," police said at the time. An autopsy indicated he had been stabbed multiple times. Until Wednesday, little information had been released about his death, which was the city's first homicide of the year.
Hoos said the investigation isn't finished and that police are looking at other individuals who could be involved. She wanted to stress that there was an overriding factor regarding the tragic circumstances of Marshall's death.
"I say this all the time when I talk to different groups: Do not let people inside your house whom you don't know. Don't let random strangers into your house," she said.