Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, lesbian activists and property managers, were brutally murdered in what most consider a hate crime. GLBT rights organizations subsequently demanded a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the link between hate crimes and antigay ballot initiatives, which had been proliferating in the state of Oregon, where the murders occurred. Furthermore, there was a national push to have sexual orientation covered by federal hate-crime legislation.

Summary of Event

Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, along with Ellis’s daughter and granddaughter, had left Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1990 to relocate to Medford, Oregon. Oregon;and murder of lesbian couple[murder] The women, who in 1995 (the year of their deaths) had been partners for twelve years, were very active in their new community. They set up a property management company, worked rigorously to defeat the 1992 and 1994 antigay ballot initiatives in Oregon, spoke at schools and churches about their experiences as lesbians, appeared on television to talk about local GLBT rights causes, and served on the board of their local church. [kw]Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon (Dec. 4, 1995) [kw]Murdered in Oregon, Lesbian Couple (Dec. 4, 1995) [kw]Oregon, Lesbian Couple Murdered in (Dec. 4, 1995) Hate crime;murder Antigay violence;murder of lesbian couple [c]Crime;Dec. 4, 1995: Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon[2440] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 4, 1995: Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon[2440] [c]Civil rights;Dec. 4, 1995: Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon[2440] Ellis, Roxanne Abdill, Michelle Acremant, Robert

At 11:00 a.m. on December 4, 1995, Ellis had been showing a rental property to a prospective client. As the day progressed, Ellis failed to respond to several calls from her daughter, Lori Ellis. At 4:00 p.m., Lori received what she called a “strange” phone call from her mother saying she was going shopping. Roxanne Ellis then called her partner, Michelle Abdill, saying that her car battery had died. At around 5:00 p.m., Abdill left the office to help Ellis with her car. Later in the day, Lori drove to the apartment where her mother had the morning appointment and saw her mother’s pickup truck. As Lori pulled into the complex, the pickup drove off, but Lori could not catch up. The truck was discovered in the parking lot of an apartment complex across town by a cable television installer on December 7. Police found the bodies of Ellis and Abdill in the bed of the truck. Both women were bound, gagged, and blindfolded with duct tape, and each had been fatally shot twice in the head.

The mother of Robert Acremant, the convicted killer of Ellis and Abdill, had contacted police after hearing about the case, saying she believed her son was involved in the murders. Police tracked Acremant and found him in Stockton, California, and arrested him there on December 13, 1995. Acremant had worked as a trucking company efficiency expert and in computer software development, and had served in the U.S. Air Force for four years.

Acremant told police first that he had intended to rob Ellis and Abdill and win back his estranged former girlfriend with the money. Acremant claimed that when the women refused to write him a $50,000 check, he tied them up, put them in the truck, and shot them. In this first account, Acremant said that since he knew the two women were lesbians, it was easier to kill them.

While awaiting trial, Acremant sent a letter to the Stockton Record, his hometown newspaper, claiming he killed Ellis and Abdill because he hated homosexuals. He admitted to making up the robbery story because he was afraid he would be mistreated by fellow inmates if he were sent to prison. Despite this admission, much of the news media maintained the robbery story, mostly neglecting to mention Acremant’s reaction to Ellis’s and Abdill’s sexual orientation. The women’s purses, wallets, jewelry, cell phones, and money were all found with their bodies in the truck.

On October 27, 1997, Robert Acremant was sentenced to death for the murders of Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill. Acremant then stood trial in California for the murder of his twenty-three-year-old friend, Scott George. On October 4, 2002, Acremant was given a second death sentence. He is on death row at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He has appealed his death sentence for Ellis’s and Abdill’s murders and is awaiting trial.

Significance

Nationally, the women’s murders came at a time when hate crimes against lesbians and gays—and those perceived to be lesbian or gay—were on the rise. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there were 151 murders between 1992 and 1994 of persons assumed to be lesbian or gay. The same time period saw antigay ballot initiatives surfacing in Oregon, Colorado, Idaho, and Maine. Lesbian and gay rights organizations asserted that the push to limit legal protections for lesbians and gays had caused a surge in antigay violence.

The murder of Ellis and Abdill impelled GLBT rights organizations to demand a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the link between the rise in hate crimes and antigay ballot initiatives. There also was a national push to have sexuality covered by federal hate-crime legislation. In 1999, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act Hate Crimes Prevention Act (proposed 1999) was introduced into Congress with the support of President Bill Clinton. Clinton, Bill The bill passed in the Senate but was defeated by the House of Representatives. The administration of President George W. Bush Bush, George W. has not supported the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, arguing that all murders are hateful, so therefore women, homosexuals, and the disabled (those excluded from existing federal hate crime legislation) do not need “special status.”

Locally, Oregon’s lesbian and gay community and its supporters were outraged and terrified by the murders of Ellis and Abdill. In both 1992 and 1994, the community narrowly defeated two statewide ballot measures prohibiting legal protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual residents of the state. Ellis and Abdill were very active in helping to defeat these statewide measures, and their murders came as a blow to the entire community.

Additionally, Medford is home to several ultraconservative hate groups, including the Aryan Nations, Christian Identity, and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as two citizens’ militias. Two years before the murders, Medford and surrounding counties approved local antigay rights ordinances. The murders sparked a split and debate within the local community. Some voiced their concerns about what they saw as growing violence directed toward lesbian and gay people, while others insisted that the murders were not in any way motivated by the women’s sexual orientation.

In 1996, community members opened the Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center, which offers programs that range from support groups to HIV education to a hotline. The center, always seeking funds and other support, remains a vital local resource, and it serves as a memorial to Abdill and Ellis. Their deaths—and their lives—have left an everlasting impression, both locally and nationally. Hate crime;murder Antigay violence;murder of lesbian couple

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abdill-Ellis Lambda Community Center. http://www.abdellis.org.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bright, Susie. Susie Bright’s Sexual State of the Union. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphy, Kim. “No Place to Rest.” Los Angeles Times, December 20, 1995, p. E1.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Neff, Lisa. “When Lesbians Are Targets.” The Advocate, September 12, 2000, 36-37.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Suspect Says He Killed Couple Because They Were Homosexual.” Associated Press, August 21, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tuller, David. “An End to Innocence: Killing of Lesbians Rattles Oregon Town.” San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 1995, p. A1.

November 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk

1981: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Is Founded

November 8, 1988: Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination

November 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives

December 24, 1993-December 31, 1993: Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered

October 6-7, 1998: Gay College Student Shepard Is Beaten and Murdered

October 4, 2002: Transgender Teen Gwen Araujo Is Murdered in California

Categories: History Content