Man arrested for two 1989 murders is held for trial

Posted: June 27, 2014

AFTER NEARLY 25 years of never being suspected in the strangulation deaths of two Philadelphia prostitutes, Rudolph Churchill was arrested in March after being tripped up by DNA evidence.

Yesterday, at his preliminary hearing, a jailhouse informant did the tripping, telling a judge that Churchill, 52, had confessed to him at the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

Municipal Judge David Shuter held Churchill, of Paulsboro, N.J., for trial on two counts of murder, two counts of rape and related charges. He's being held without bail.

Richard Simmons, 42, said he and Churchill were sitting together at a table this spring when the talk turned to why Churchill was in jail.

He said Churchill said his first victim, Ruby Ellis, 19, was "tricking," but he did not have the money or drugs to pay for the sex act. The woman became mad and scratched him, and he lost his temper, Simmons said Churchill told him.

Simmons said Churchill was only able to say he took his second victim, Cheryl Hanible, 33, "to the spot," before he stopped talking when another inmate walked over and sat at the table.

Simmons, who is jailed on a felony contraband charge, said Churchill also said "if he didn't have to give up his DNA, he wouldn't have gotten caught."

Churchill's DNA was taken in 2008 after he completed a short prison sentence for burglary in Georgia.

In October, Philadelphia police narrowed in on Churchill after the national DNA database system matched his Georgia DNA sample to genetic material found on a paper towel recovered from under Ellis' body and on one of Hanible's sneakers, Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik said.

She conceded that sperm was recovered from the victims' bodies but it was not Churchill's.

Ellis was found in March 1989, strangled in an abandoned car parked near Poplar Drive and Girard Avenue.

Five weeks later and about 1 1/2 miles away, the decomposing body of Hanible was found inside the shell of a burned-out bar. She had been strangled with her shoelaces, and a sock was stuffed in her mouth, Cujdik said.

Public defender Wendy Ramos said Simmons could not be trusted given that since 1986 he'd been arrested 20 times for charges including theft, robbery and drugs.

She said the DNA evidence failed to prove that Churchill had raped or killed the victims, whom she said were prostitutes who'd lived rough lives.

"I think my client is innocent," she said after the hearing.

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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