Police believe Dan O’Connell and James Ellison were murdered by priest Ryan Erickson: A Time To Kill investigates

Police tape

A Time To Kill is investigating the murders of Daniel “Dan” O’Connell and James Ellison, who were gunned down in the office of the funeral home where they worked in Hudson, Wisconsin.

The police suspect that the killer was a Catholic priest, Father Ryan Erickson. They believe that he shot dead the 39-year-old funeral director, O’Connell, because he may have had information that the priest had been involved in child sex abuse. They also believe that James Ellison, a 22-year-old student intern, was killed because he was a witness.

However, Erickson managed to escape justice as he committed suicide just as the police began to suspect his involvement.

On February 5, 2002, a county medical examiner went to the funeral home to collect a death certificate when they found the dead bodies. O’Connell had been shot at his desk, but Ellison was shot in the back as he tried to flee the office.

Ryan Erickson was not a suspect at beginning of murder case

The case lay dormant for two years as the police had no solid leads; however, in November 2004, an interview with Erickson led the police to become suspicious of the priest; he had reportedly revealed information about the crime scene that had not been made public.

The police returned in December to chat a bit more about the case with Erickson, and three days after that encounter, he hanged himself in St. Mary’s Church in Hurley, Wisconsin. Erickson had been relocated to Hurley after the murders in Hudson.

Deacon Russell Lundgren from St. Mary’s later testified against the priest; he recanted a conversation with Erickson shortly after the police interview when he told the Deacon, “I done it, and they were going to catch me.” He’d also asked Lundgren: “Do you know what they do with young guys in prison, especially priests?”

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A friend of O’Connell, Mary Pagel, informed the police that she had had coffee with her friend on the morning of the murders. She said that O’Connell had asked her if she’d ever seen Erickson inappropriately touch a child.

He told her that he would be meeting with Erickson later that day. Pagel had warned him to go to the police but O’Connell had insisted that he could “handle it.”

In October 2005, St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell ruled that Father Ryan Erickson had probably been responsible for the murders. He concluded “that Ryan Erickson probably committed these crimes in question. On a scale of 1 to 10 as far as strength of evidence, I’d consider this a 10.”

St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson said: “I think Ryan Erickson, his life was to be a priest. And I think what happened is, he could see that crumbling, and if Dan would have went public with that, or if it had been revealed, his life would have been ruined, and I think he had to stop that.”

More from A Time To Kill

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on A Time To Kill.

Doug Carlile organized the death of his business partner James Henrikson because he wanted sole ownership of an oil company they had both invested in. Carlile paid Timothy Suckow to shoot Henrikson in his Spokane, Washington home.

When Karen Pannell tried to break up with boyfriend Timothy Permenter he reacted by stabbing her 16 times. He then tried to frame one of her ex-boyfriends.

A Time To Kill airs at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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