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No Place to Rest : They wanted the charm--and the security--of life in a small town. But it all went tragically wrong for Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, killed, perhaps, because they were in love.

December 20, 1995|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Neither woman was ever seen alive again. Ellis' truck with the two bodies in the back of it was found in a parking lot on the other side of town three days later.

Police now believe Ellis was with the suspect all afternoon. There was nothing wrong with her car, they said.

After widespread publicity about the case, a woman who had moved to Medford from California three weeks earlier with her son phoned a police tip line to say she believed her son, Acremant--an MBA graduate from San Francisco's Golden Gate University and an employee at a trucking company in Los Angeles until May--might have committed the murders.

Police contacted authorities in Visalia, where Acremant had also lived earlier this year, and found he was also under investigation there in the Oct. 3 disappearance and suspected homicide of one of his friends. He was tracked down to a Stockton motel room a week ago and arrested.

In a jailhouse interview with the San Francisco Examiner in Stockton, Acremant said he tried to rob the women because of his frustration when he couldn't find another position after quitting his job at Roadway Trucking in Los Angeles. He said not having money became "a major stressor," and he broke up with his girlfriend because he didn't have enough money to visit her in Las Vegas.

He told the newspaper that he planned to get money from the property management firm by luring Abdill and Ellis to a vacant apartment. Killing them was simply a sudden impulse, he said, but he also admitted he knew and didn't like the fact that they were lesbians.

"I don't care for lesbians," he said. "I couldn't help but think that she's 54 years old and had been dating that woman for 12 years: Isn't that sick?" He added, "That's someone's grandma, for God's sake. Could you imagine my grandma a lesbian with another woman? I couldn't believe that. It crossed my mind a couple times, lesbo grandma, what a thing, huh?"

In a subsequent interview with the Oregonian, Acremant said there was a common thread to the killings of the two women and his friend, Scott George, who police believe Acremant shot before coming to Oregon. After Acremant told his father where he had hidden George's body, police Monday morning found a body believed to be his at the bottom of a mine shaft on the father's ranch outside Stockton.

"You have to know something about pathology, something about signatures," Acremant told the Oregonian. "The definition of a mass murder is more than two murders as part of the same act. What was the act? That's the big question."

Authorities in Tulare County believe Acremant also burst into the home of a 20-year-old family friend there the day before his arrest last week, handcuffing her, holding her at gunpoint and demanding money.

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Leaders of Medford's gay community say they still aren't convinced the killing of Abdill and Ellis was simply a robbery.

"We know the killer enacted a deliberate, calculated process of entrapment. We know the killer wanted both victims. We know that money and credit cards were left at the scene. We know that the murderer killed the victims execution-style--bound at the hands and feet, gagged and blindfolded before being shot twice in the head at close range," community leaders said at a news conference last week. "We want our suspicions to be addressed, and we need our concerns to be laid to rest so we can move on in peace."

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. John Bondurant said he is less inclined than he was to consider the killings a hate crime. But he also said he does not believe the intent was simply a robbery.

"I can't say for sure, but I personally don't believe that robbery was the motive," he said. "It may have been part of it, but there's just too much evidence there that doesn't point to a robbery. There's no property of theirs that he took. There were purses, wallets, jewelry, cell phones and money that was not taken. So that to me does not point to a robbery."

The arrest, meanwhile, has done little to ease the fears of lesbians in Medford, who wonder whether the small town haven they longed for is as safe as they believed.

"There's a tremendous sense of fear, and I don't think it's ended because of this arrest. [Acremant] represents a faction we all know is in this community and in this country. For me personally, he's just one of many people out there who mean me harm, and that's something I go through my day with consciously," Hamilton said.

She added that she often gets "weird looks" when she pulls into a convenience store, and then realizes it's because of her bumper sticker, which says, "We Are Everywhere."

"There are people out there who are aggressively threatened by me driving around with that bumper sticker," she said. "I came from the Bay Area, where there was more vocalized outrage. Here, it's more subtle."

Robert Bray, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in San Francisco and a friend of Abdill and Ellis, said the case reflects the kind of problems typical in conservative small towns.

When the two women moved to Medford, "I remember wondering why would they do something like that, move to a place like Medford? But I realized they appreciated those same small-town values that everybody else does--a close-knit community, everybody takes care of each other," he said. "Until the time comes when we know that gay people can live safely in small towns, then our souls will never rest easily."

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