DNA leads to arrest in 1989 murders

Churchill's DNA was submitted after his release from prison.
Churchill's DNA was submitted after his release from prison.
Posted: March 21, 2014

LONG DORMANT hopes for justice were revived for two families yesterday, nearly three decades after two young women were slain weeks apart in North Philadelphia.

Police arrested Rudolph Churchill, 51, early yesterday at a home on Fairmount Avenue near Ridge, not far from where Ruby Ellis and Cheryl Hanible were slain in spring 1989. He was charged with two counts of murder in those incidents.

If not for decades-old DNA evidence, Churchill would still be free.

"It's a great feeling, when you can put a case together in terms of getting that missing link, and bringing some sense of closure to the victim's family," police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said last night.

Ellis, 19, was found strangled in an Oldsmobile parked in a lot on Girard Avenue near College on March 17, 1989. Five weeks later, about 1 1/2 miles away, the decomposing body of Hanible, 33, was found inside the shell of a burned-out bar. She also had been strangled.

No arrests were made in either case, and the motive in both was unknown. At the time, the slayings weren't considered to be related, Stanford said.

Investigators entered DNA from both crime scenes into the Combined DNA Index System, a national database of evidence. For years, no matches were found, but the system recently picked up Churchill's name after his DNA was submitted upon his release from prison in Georgia, Stanford said.

"DNA is constantly being placed into the system, and it's constantly running to make connections," Stanford said. "Once that's made, there's still a little bit of legwork to be done."

In this case, that legwork involved investigators tracking Churchill to an address in Paulsboro, Gloucester County, N.J. Police contacted him there and obtained a fresh DNA sample from him. Once a positive match came back from that test, the District Attorney's Office approved Churchill's arrest, Stanford said.

"This is definitely a great tool for law enforcement, and one that we will hopefully have continued success with in the future," Stanford said.


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