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Last updated on Monday, September 17, 2012
(BLOOMINGTON) - Robert Lee was 31 when he stabbed Ellen Marks to death, cut her body into pieces and stuffed her remains into trash bags 26 years ago.
Laura Lane of the Herald Times reports that the crime closely matched a one-page description of how to kill and mutilate a woman that Lee had written in tiny print in a spiral-bound notebook.
After a two-week trial, and 8 hours of deliberation jurors found Lee guilty of murder, and a judge sentenced him to the maximum time allowed. Lee went off to the Pendleton Correctional Facility.
Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd called for a change in the law that would give Indiana judges an option in sentencing killers other than the two he had: 60 years or the death penalty. On July 1, 1993 -- nearly six years after Lee's conviction -- legislation allowing life in prison without the possibility of parole took effect in Indiana.
Lee is being release early because under state law, prison inmates receive two days of credit for each one served on good behavior and because he took advantage of education opportunities which also shaved time off his sentence.
Lee got one year taken off his sentence for receiving two vocational degrees, one this year as an assembly technician and the other in 2010 in commercial housekeeping. He got another year off his sentence for a 2011 associate's degree in business management, and another two years off after receiving a bachelors' degree in the same field in January.
So after spending 25 years in prison, Lee is getting out.
And according to prison officials, Lee is headed back to Bloomington, where he will be on parole for one year. Prison officials likely will deliver him to Backstreet Missions on West Third Street, where he will be staying. It's less than a mile from where the original crime was committed.
Lee lived in Ohio with his father until he was a junior in high school, when he moved to New York to live with his mother. The 5-foot-4 man was convicted in 1973, at the age of 18, of attempting to rape a woman at knifepoint in Tonawanda, N.Y. He served five years in prison.
In 1979, Lee s moved to Spencer, Indiana, to live with his mother and stepfather. He secured a job through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which schooled workers and found jobs for them. He worked at Cable Converter Corp. in Spencer, but was fired.
From January through May 1980, Lee was employed as a janitor at Indiana University's Memorial Union, then was fired.
Lee was arrested in 1980, and harged with attempted theft after a police officer found him trying to siphon gasoline from a school bus in Spencer. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in jail.
In June 1983, Owen County Sheriff Harley Melton arrested Lee for driving while intoxicated and furnishing alcohol to minors. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but most of the sentence was suspened.
Lee then moved to a boarding house at 506 N. Adams St. in Bloomington. In 1985, the prosecutor's office charged him with illegally receiving $72 in food stamps from the Monroe County Welfare Department. He was assigned to work 10 days on the county road crew and was ordered to repay the money.
Ellen Sears Marks
Marks, called Ellie by her family, graduated in 1974 from Ohio's Columbus School for Girls, where she played the flute in the marching band.
She traveled to Europe after graduation, then majored in English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Marks came to Bloomington in 1978 after being awarded a fellowship to study old English literature. She excelled at writing, but left the program in 1980 without finishing.
She lived a simple existence in a wooden shanty on an overgrown lot 100 yards from Lee's residence.
Inside her dilapidated shack was a flute Marks had carved from wood and a loom she had constructed by hand. The 31-year-old woman shied away from strangers and depended on the kindness of people in her neighborhood for water, meals and shelter in harsh weather.
She ate meals at the Community Kitchen, and volunteered there as well. She also hung out at the old Gathering Place, a coffee shop.
Marks had been estranged five years from her family, who suspected she was suffering from schizophrenia. Her parents have since died; her father, Bernard Marks, founded the Department of Pharmacology at Ohio's Wayne State University in 1974. Her sister Martha lives near Detroit.
Marks' cousin, John Stein, retired 10 years ago as deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance in Virginia. He attended Lee's trial and called the murder "an act of barbarism."
Stein and his family oppose the death penalty and did not want it pursued. On the day Lee was sentenced to 60 years in prison, Stein said a long jail term would not avenge his cousin's death.
He got notice from the Indiana Department of Correction that Lee is being released. "It's horrible," he said.
Indiana has a violent offender registry, a public site where pictures and addresses of murderers released from prison are kept.
But since Lee was convicted before the registry was established, his information will not be included.
Marks was stabbed to death between Sept. 16 and 19. 1986. inside the shanty where she lived. Friends, worried they had not seen her for a few days, conducted a search on Sunday, Sept. 21.
They found - decomposing body parts, buried, shallow in the dirt, near a woodpile on the property where Marks lived.
Police never found her head, or her hands. Internal organs, including her heart, had been cut from her body. Detectives spent days searching through trash bags at the old Monroe County Landfill on Anderson Road.
Investigators seeking a suspect did not have to look far. Now-retired Bloomington Police Department Detective Dick McMurry remembered interrogating Lee years before, in 1983, after a police informant discovered what then-coroner Dennis Troy later called "almost a blueprint" of Marks' brutal killing. The informant copied the words onto another piece of paper, and took it to police, who were so disturbed by the content that they paid Lee a visit at the rooming house.
Lee took a spiral notebook from a dresser drawer and showed it to the two officers, who thumbed through it and found the page the informant had copied. Lee admitted writing it, but he had committed no crime.
Police took him to the station, made a copy of their own and kept it on file. Full of misspellings and grammatical errors, it detailed the gruesome torture, killing and dismemberment of a woman.
"Girl or woman must be abducted, or killed in a reletivly isolated zone. If killed corpse is to be imediately moved to a place of shelter that is well screened and not traveled normally (woods, abandoned building). If abducted, girl or woman is to be tied, gagged and leg hobbled and moved to a safe area."
Police, using a mixture of chemicals that makes bloodstains glow, police detected a trail of blood along a trail that led through overgrown brush from Marks' shack to the back door into Lee's rooming house.
They detected a substantial amount of blood, they said, on the concrete steps outside the door.
That led to a search warrant for Lee's 10-by-10-foot room. Police confiscated multiple knives, a saw, a hatchet, a stack of pornographic magazines, 15 videotapes and a box containing Hefty trash bags. They interrogated him for six hours, then arrested Lee on a charge of murder.
Lee Appears In Court
During his initial court hearing before Todd, Lee shook his head and appeared puzzled as the judge explained the charge against him and said he could spend the next 30 to 60 years in prison if convicted.
Lee told the judge he had been working full time, making $3.50 an hour, as a clerk at the 7-Eleven store on West 11th Street. His possessions of value were a small color television and a microwave oven. He had $26 in a savings account and $71 in cash.
Todd declared him to be indigent, and assigned Stephen Galvin, now a Monroe Circuit Court judge overseeing juvenile cases, as Lee's public defender.
One of his first acts on behalf of his client was to seek a gag order to prohibit those involved in the case from speaking about it. Todd granted the order, and the investigation continued with no release of information.
But pretrial hearings, open to the press and public, revealed problems with the investigation. The BPD captain in charge of the investigation admitted erasing several cassette tapes recording Lee's interrogation, claiming police questioning techniques would have embarrassed the department. He was demoted to sergeant, and three other officers involved in the investigation were suspended for several days without pay.
And evidence substantiating the trail of blood police said they detected with Luminol was excluded from the trial because of questions about how it was applied. The chemical mix was new to law enforcement, and BPD had not used it before the Marks murder investigation.
Because of the police missteps, a special prosecutor was sought to avoid a conflict of interest. Tapped was Stanley Levco, who was then a deputy prosecutor in Vanderburgh County.
Levco recalls reviewing the evidence and deciding against seeking the death penalty.
Monroe County Public Defender Michael Hunt suggested that others may have killed Marks.
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