A Crooked Odyssey

Convicted killer Robert E. Lee's case has been a protracted journey

When the phone rang, Dana Jones was at his desk at the mission. The caller was from Indiana parole.

“Do you take murderers?” the man asked, off-hand.“Yes,” Jones said. “We have before.”

Jones often worked with parole officials. He’s a director at Backstreet Missions, a Bloomington shelter for the poor and homeless. It also helps parolees. Sometimes, parolees struggle with bitterness and have forgotten how to relate to other people. Backstreet uses scripture to teach them forgiveness and patience. In the stairwell outside Jones’ office, a painting of Jesus hangs on the wall.

The caller from parole didn’t talk with Jones about any specific parolees who needed placement, murderers or otherwise. The two talked about Backstreet’s programs, then hung up.

Two weeks later, a chaplain told Jones some of the men at the mission were worried. They’d read a front-page article in the Herald-Times about a man who had been convicted of murdering a local woman in 1986. The man was being released from prison and returned to Bloomington at the end of the week.

Jones read the man’s name, Robert Evan Lee. He read details of the crime for which Lee been locked away. And he read that parole officials were likely to bring Lee to Backstreet.

“Really?” Jones thought.

* * *

The call to Backstreet was the prologue to Indiana’s protracted and torturous attempt to free one of its most notorious citizens. After he was escorted from prison, Robert E. Lee was hounded, demonized and dragged from one end of the state to the other. After two months of stops and starts, his story sputtered to a conclusion that seemed, in some ways, the only possible ending.

Lee’s crooked odyssey tapped into our most primal fears, revealing our confusion about punishment, forgiveness and the limits of freedom.

The fear was understandable. Twenty-five years ago, Lee was convicted of stabbing a neighbor to death, cutting her body into pieces and burying parts of her in a dirt lot not far from IU’s campus. Other parts of her body, including her head and hands, were never found. Privately, some suspected cannibalism.

Lee, 31 at the time, insisted he was innocent. But the jury found him guilty of murder and dismemberment, and the judge sentenced him to 60 years.

“There are some that should be prohibited from walking with society,” the judge told him.

Lee disappeared behind bars, swallowed up inside the prison system. Eventually he was forgotten even by many Bloomington locals.

Two and a half decades later, correction officials realized Lee’s release date was approaching even though he’d completed less than half of his original sentence. For every day he served in prison, another day had been knocked off of his term. He’d shaved off another four years by enrolling in educational programs.

It didn’t matter if officials thought Lee was still dangerous. In Indiana, early release dates are set the day someone is sentenced, and they had no review process to decide whether to let him go.

Standard procedure calls for a parolee to be taken back to the last county where he had an address. Lee was returning to Bloomington.

After the Herald-Times ran the piece about Lee’s upcoming release, the panic began. Bloomington residents called the police and newspapers, demanding an explanation. Why was this “monster” — a word used repeatedly — being set free? What if he killed again?

Reporters asked correction officials if Lee had been given a mental health assessment to make sure he wasn’t still dangerous. Can’t talk about it, they said. Inmate confidentiality.

What officials did talk about was Lee’s safety. Now that the public’s memory had been refreshed, would someone exact revenge? It was hard to imagine how Lee would convince employers to give him a job, find a church to accept him into a congregation, ride on a bus next to passengers who recognized his face.

 * * *

That face appears on the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry.

The site lists Lee’s alias as “Bob” and his current age as 57. It records his height at 5 feet 4 inches and his weight at 145 pounds. It reports that he’s a sex offender — he was convicted of attempted rape years before the murder. But there is no mention of him killing or dismembering anyone. No hint of his personality or history, no clue as to who he became during more than two decades of incarceration.

Long before he was sent to prison, Lee was a loner. He never married and had no children. He’d worked a series of jobs, cleaning up after students in the Indiana Memorial Union, slicing pizza at a Noble Roman’s, manning the cash register at the 7-Eleven on West 11th Street. He had been fired multiple times.

His criminal record stretched back to his teenage years. At 18, he was convicted of attempting to rape a woman at knifepoint in New York and served five years in prison. At 25, he pleaded guilty to attempted theft after trying to siphon gas from a school bus in Spencer, Ind., and served two years. At 28, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated and giving alcohol to a minor. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but most of it was suspended.

In Bloomington, Lee lived in a boarding house not far from campus. His only valuable possessions, he later said in court, were a small color television and microwave oven. He had $71 in cash and a savings account containing $26.

Daniel Grundmann, now the employee services director for the city and an IU professor, remembers Lee from that period, when they worked together at Noble Roman’s. Grundmann recalls Lee spent his days in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and mixing dough. Lee, who was shy and awkward, didn’t talk to customers. Grundmann had the impression Lee struggled with a developmental disability. Something about Lee made it easy for other employees at the restaurant to blame him every time there was a spill in the kitchen or they ran short on dough — even if he was nowhere nearby.

Decades later, the IU instructor talks about Lee in class. He discusses herd mentality in the workplace. Inside that pizza kitchen, Grundmann tells students, Lee was a classic example.

“He was the playground scapegoat,” the professor said.

What Grundmann didn’t know, back at Noble Roman’s, was that in private Lee already harbored violent and unsettling thoughts that would draw the attention of Bloomington police.

According to court records, Lee wrote down a detailed plan to rape, mutilate and murder a woman. He showed a friend a spiral notebook containing the violent blueprint and asked the friend to copy it down, memorize it and help him carry it out. As the friend copied one of the pages, Lee suddenly asked him to stop writing.

“That’s liable to get me 20 years,” the friend remembered Lee saying.

The other man went to the police. Officers visited the boarding house and questioned Lee, who reached into a dresser drawer and showed them the notebook. He admitted he’d fantasized about what was inside:

Girl or woman must be abducted, or killed in a reletivly isolated zone. If killed corpse is to be imediately moved to a place of shelter that is well screened and not traveled normally (woods, abandoned building). If abducted, girl or woman is to be tied, gagged and leg hobbled and moved to a safe area.

Police could find no grounds to arrest him. Lee had not carried out his plan, as far as they could tell, and there was no law against violent daydreams.

Three years later, the neighbor woman went missing.

* * *

Ellen Marks lived in the margins. Once a promising graduate student at IU, she was now 31 and had long since dropped out. She lived in a shanty with only three walls. Years before, she had traveled to Europe and immersed herself in English literature. Now she survived on odd jobs, mucking out a goat barn and showering at other people’s houses.

Somewhere along the way, Marks’ life had skidded off the tracks. Born into an affluent family, she excelled at Ohio’s prestigious Columbus School for Girls. She played flute in the high school marching band and won academic awards in history and science. Her photo did not appear in her senior yearbook. In its place, a line drawing of a face stared out with empty spaces where there should have been eyes. Below the drawing was a Henry David Thoreau quote.

The air is full of invisible bolts. Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.

Marks studied English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, then moved to Bloomington with a fellowship to study English literature. Two years later, she quit. Advisers described her as brilliant but disorganized. She stopped speaking to her family. She wafted through Bloomington, finally taking refuge in her three-walled shack. The 10-by-10 wooden structure stood in a lot on the corner of 10th and Summitt streets. There was no electricity or water.

The shanty contained only a few belongings: a loom Marks had built herself, a flute she’d carved out of wood. In high school, she’d played the same instrument in a band, surrounded by people. Now she played alone.

Her neighbors worried. Marc Haggerty, who lived nearby, still remembers how sad and lonely Marks seemed. By fall 1986, the Haggertys knew her well enough to feel protective. That September, it was starting to get cold, and Haggerty’s wife gave her yarn for her loom.

A week or so later, the Haggertys realized they hadn’t seen Marks in days. Haggerty’s wife asked him to check the shanty.

When he saw Marks wasn’t home, Haggerty grew uneasy. Searching for hints to clarify her absence in the weeds outside, he saw something that made his heart pound.

A splotch of red dirt.

It was no bigger than a fingernail, but Haggerty knew something was wrong. The topsoil in that neighborhood was brownish-black. The only red dirt rested a foot and a half down, he said. Someone had been digging deep enough to unearth that speck, and recently.

When the police were summoned, they excavated the lot and found what was left of Ellen Marks’ body buried and decomposing in a shallow grave. Her torso had been cut open, and pieces were stuffed into Hefty trash bags.

It didn’t take long before someone in the department remembered Lee and his notebook, realizing the boarding house where Lee still lived was only 100 yards away from the lot.

Investigators sprayed the area near her grave with Luminol, a chemical used to find traces of iron, and discovered Marks’ blood in the dirt. When Luminol combines with iron, the reaction glows neon blue. The trail led the investigators to the back door of Lee’s boarding house, where it appeared pools of blood had dripped to the steps.

After searching Lee’s apartment, investigators removed a saw and a hatchet, some knives, a stack of porn magazines — and a box of Hefty trash bags.

Lee’s behavior shortly before the murder heightened officers’ suspicions. According to court documents, Lee had grown more quiet and irritable in the days before the murder, snapping at people who teased him. He asked a friend to sharpen the knife he usually wore on his belt, and he’d bought a small garden shovel shortly before Marks disappeared.

Officers took Lee to the police station, interrogating him for hours. Lee hung his head and mumbled that he was innocent.

* * *

The prosecution’s case was far from airtight.

The blood trail evidence was thrown out after the defense questioned whether the police knew how to spray Luminol. This case marked the first time Bloomington police had ever used it.

Lee’s statements during questioning were never heard by the jury. The police captain in charge of the investigation said the officers had used “questionable tactics” during the interrogation. They admitted to insulting Lee with foul language, accusing him of having sex with his mother and acting in a way that would have embarrassed the department if the tapes were played in court. The captain had erased most of the tapes before anyone else could hear them.

Once the case went to trial the following July, the prosecution called an expert who testified the Hefty bags found in Lee’s room were from the same box as one of the bags containing Marks’ dismembered body. That testimony, along with the murderous plan inside Lee’s notebook — “almost a blueprint,” the coroner called it — was enough for the jury to unanimously find Lee guilty.

At the sentencing hearing, Lee looked tired as Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd proclaimed the defendant had lost contact with humanity.

“He took advantage of an emotionally infirm and vulnerable victim,” the judge said. “The script and physical evidence of the body suggest the victim was tortured and treated in an inhumane manner. Atrocities were committed.”

The prosecutor later acknowledged problems with the evidence and persuaded him to not seek the death penalty. Instead he asked for 60 years, the maximum prison sentence then available. A life sentence without parole didn’t exist in Indiana until the early 1990s.

Lee was originally sent to Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison northeast of Indianapolis. Eventually he was moved to Branchville, a medium security facility south of Bloomington. He was still in Branchville when Indiana law required parole to release him.

If Lee had been convicted in another state — Michigan, for instance — a parole board would have determined whether early release was merited. The board would have weighed the violence of Lee’s crime, his behavior in prison and whether he knew how to live on his own again. In Indiana, parole does not have that discretion.

Lee took off an additional 183 days of his already reduced sentence by training as an assembly technician and another 183 for studying commercial housekeeping. He received a one-year reduction for an associate’s degree and another two years for a bachelor degree, both in business management.

Since Lee has shown little interest in talking to the press, it’s impossible to know whether he took the classes to shorten his sentence or if he genuinely thought the degrees would help him once he was out. Though who would hire someone famous for murder and dismemberment to run their business?

* * *

Only weeks before Lee would be released, parole agents knew they had to find him someplace to live. They turned to Backstreet.

In September, Dana Jones took the Herald-Times article about Lee’s history to his boss. Linda Kelley, who founded Backstreet with her late husband, knew there was no way the shelter could take Lee. She told parole that day. Though Backstreet has worked with murderers before, Lee’s earlier conviction for attempted rape made him a sex offender. Backstreet is less than half a mile from Bloomington New Tech High School, and state law prevents sex offenders from living so close to a school.

Kelley also worried about Lee’s safety. People were already posting swarms of outraged and panicked comments on the Herald-Times website, making vague threats.

“We will all walk in fear now,” one reader wrote. Another answered, “He is the one who should ‘walk in fear.’”

The state had a problem.

* * *

Lee was released Sept. 22. A GPS monitor was strapped to his ankle.

He didn’t have a driver’s license, and parole restrictions barred him from getting into someone’s car without supervision. An officer drove him from the prison in Branchville to a Bloomington apartment, but the owner changed his mind, deciding Lee couldn’t live there after he’d arrived.

Charles Bowen, a region director for the Department of Correction, said officials quickly realized they couldn’t leave Lee in Bloomington. It didn’t matter what the parole officers thought of Lee. They couldn’t put him in harm’s way.

“It’d be against everything we stand for,” Bowen said.

They made inquiries outside the city. They got multiple no’s. Finally someone said yes. Lee’s parole agent worked with convicted sex offender William Fugate, now out of prison and living in a house outside Butlerville, in Jennings County. The agent asked Fugate if he was willing to live with a murderer, and he agreed.

“Mr. Fugate gave us all a lesson on courage,” Bowen said.

Parole agents found Lee a manufacturing job in Jennings County. But the arrangement stuck for only nine days. The news coverage was mushrooming, triggering scare headlines. Reporters interviewed Butlerville residents who said they didn’t want him living there, either. People there wrote to their local newspaper, calling Lee a “sick animal.”

Lee’s next stop was far from ideal. Correction officials took him to an America’s Best Inn on the southern outskirts of Indianapolis. As the news coverage continued, Lee spent most of his time tucked away in his room. The Indianapolis Star printed a brief interview.

“People are giving me all kinds of grief,” Lee told a reporter. “I’ve been run out of Bloomington because someone did a lot of screaming and hollering. In Jennings, they’re saying, ‘Shoot him, burn him down.’”

He pulled up a pant leg to show his GPS anklet.

“I’m being watched very closely,” he said. “They know my every move.”

* * *

By now, it was late October. Parole officials looked north for their next solution and placed Lee at a work release center in South Bend. For the first time since his release, Lee was returning to a facility run by the correction department. The squat building that housed South Bend Community Reentry was encircled by barbed wire fences crowned with spikes.

Once he arrived, Lee was the only resident no longer serving a sentence. He slept in a bunk bed inside barracks with the rest of the population, woke at 5 a.m., made his bed and ate breakfast.

In an interview at the center, Superintendent Greg Cress explained that the center’s program rehabilitates inmates within one to two years of release.

“They’ve been down for so long,” Cress said, “they don’t know the outside anymore.”

On Nov. 19, the superintendent was interviewed, but Lee was not in the building. He was looking for a job. By then, he had applied for food stamps and sought help putting together his resume. He bought a two-week pass for the city buses.

Many of the inmates at the center work in the local RV industry or at other manufacturing jobs making $8-10 per hour. Lee applied for some of those positions but was turned down.

Two months after he was released from prison, it was becoming increasingly difficult to envision his future. Technically, he was free, but what kind of life could he make for himself? Almost no one wanted to hire him. He had little money and limited prospects of finding his own lodging. Across Indiana, many considered him a fiend. Some wanted him dead.

For the moment, though, he was safe. At the center, he had a bed, meals and routine that must have seemed familiar.

The news reports had started to die down. It was November, and the election pushed Lee’s mugshot off the front page. Thanksgiving was only three days away, and the center was decorated with criss-crossed orange streamers. The superintendent ordered a turkey dinner for the inmates. It’s not easy to make a work-release center seem festive, but the staff was trying.

* * *

Lee’s odyssey abruptly ended the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Correction officials have released almost no details except to say he got into a car with a lone woman in South Bend. Though he said he was just giving her directions, getting into a car with a stranger violated his parole. Officials took him into custody at the county jail while they decided what to do with him next.

The parole board will have to review his case by the end of January. Lee’s violation could earn him up to 17 more years in prison.

Kelley has heard Lee is back in custody. She understands his story makes people angry, but what she feels, both for Lee and for Marks’ family, is a lingering sadness.

She doesn’t know why Lee got into that car. Maybe it was the simplest way to return to prison, the place where he’d spent almost his entire adult life, where the world forgot about him and left him alone.

In her mission work, Kelley has known parolees who long to go back to the steadiness and safety waiting behind bars.

“People come out and try to reconstruct their lives,” she said. “But it’s very difficult.”

Deep into a winding odyssey, the drifter searches for a way home. Maybe Lee found his.


Timeline of Robert E. Lee

Here is a look at the events surrounding Robert E. Lee'sincarceration and parole for the dismemberment murder of Ellen Marks.


Police interrogate Lee about notebook but don’t arrest him.

September 1986 

Ellen Marks’ remains are found in the lot. Lee is questioned and arrested.

July 1987 

The case goes to trial. After two weeks, the jury convicts Lee, who is sentenced to 60 years.

September 2012 

Lee is released. He comes to Bloomington, then is taken to Butlerville.

October 2012 

Lee is taken to a hotel in Indianapolis. He is later moved to 

South Bend.


Police arrest suspect in woman's death

The Bloomington Police Department Wednesday night arrested Bloomington resident Robert Evan Lee in connection with the slaying of a woman found dismembered late Sunday morning.

Lee, 506 N. Adams St., is being held in the Monroe County Jail without bond, after being charged with murder at 8:30 p.m.

Murder is punishable by up to 60 years in prison and a $10,000 fine or death in aggravated circumstances.

Capt. Keith Eads, who is in charge of the detective division, confirmed that Lee was charged in connection with the death of 30-year-old Ellen Sear Marks, a former IU graduate student.

Eads would not comment further on the investigation.

Marks was identified earlier Wednesday by Monroe County Coroner Dennis Troy, as the woman who was found dismembered Sunday in a vacant lot on West 10th Street.

She died from apparent multiple stab wounds to the chest and abdomen, Troy said.

The body was decapitated and badly mutilated, Troy said. Police are continuing to search for the woman’s head and hands.

Eads said Wednesday afternoon his department could soon request a heat-sensing device from the Crane Naval Base to search for the missing body parts. He said the machine can determine if parts are buried in the area.

Troy estimated the woman died between Sept. 15 and Saturday.

Eads said early Wednesday evening police were still in the process of questioning a suspect in the slaying. Detectives had been questioning Lee since 1:45 p.m.

Jalon DeLeury, a friend of Marks, said the woman ate many of her meals at the community kitchen in the Christian Center at 14th Street and Blair Avenue, not far from the area where her body was found.

“It was her only meal,” DeLeury said.

Marks also had been a frequent visitor to Dunn Meadow’s shantytown.

Senior Dean Bowman said the last time he saw Marks at the protest settlement was about three weeks ago.

Although she wasn’t involved in many of the shanty-sponsored protests, she did offer the group other forms of support, he said.

“She used to bring us food and help us clean up out there,” Bowman said.

Kevin Coughlin, a junior who has live in shantytown since last spring, described Marks as unassuming.

“I talked to her a few times,” Coughlin said. “She was always really quiet and laid back.”

The autopsy and analysis were conducted by Drs. John Pless and Dean Hawley of the forensic pathology division of the IU Medical Center in Indianapolis. Doctors still were examining the body Wednesday afternoon, Troy said.

He said no evidence of sexual assault was found on the decomposed body.

Factors that helped pathologists determine the woman’s identity included a comparison of her height and weight to previous reports and a positive identification of the clothing on the body as hers.

Marks’ body was found outside a shack she was living in at West 10 th and North Summit streets on the city’s west side.

“The single most conclusive piece of evidence that determined her identity was X-rays,” Troy said.

Marks had fractured a bone in 1979. An X-ray taken Tuesday in Indianapolis showed the same fracture.

Marks, who had lived in Bloomington for at least two years, was last seen alive Sept. 15.

She lived in the shack without electricity or indoor plumbing.

Two friends reported her missing early last week and found the body while they were searching for her.

Marks was born in Columbus, Ohio, and attended graduate school here from fall 1978 to spring 1980.

Her parents, who live in Michigan, were told of her death Tuesday.


Lee convicted

A jury of seven men and five women found Robert E. Lee guilty Thursday night of the dismemberment murder of Ellen Marks.

After six hours of deliberations, the jury entered the courtroom and handed Monroe County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Todd the statement. He read the verdict.

Lee appeared to be holding back tears, his lips pressed tightly together, hands trembling. Six uniformed Bloomington police officers and five Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies flanked the courtroom as the verdict was read.

Special Prosecutor Stanley Levco requested an additional hearing for sentencing. Levco filed a petition alleging Lee is a habitual criminal offender. The jury will return at 10 a.m.today for sentencing.

Two hours before the verdict was announced, John Stein, the victim’s cousin, issued a statement expressing his feelings about the trial.

“I, for one, am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Robert Lee acted out a horrific, murderous fantasy on a random female who happened to be my cousin,” the statement said.

Stein has been present throughout the trail and has worked closely with Levco and police during the trial.

“Much attention has been given in the press and in the trial to the quality of the police investigation in this case,” the statement said. “Some of it was inept, and some was worse, and I have long feared that it would jeopardize the course of justice in this case.”

Stein is the deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, a Washington-based agency that aids victims of violent crimes.

Before the jury left to begin deliberations about noon Thursday, Levco urged it to consider all the evidence and witnesses’ testimonies and to weight them in light of each other.

“The only question in this case is did he (Lee) do it,” Levco said.

Levco asked jurors to think back to September, before any suspects were named. He said they probably would suspect a person who lived nearby and knew the victim or showed signs of having some intention to commit the offense.

“Lee had been planning this crime for three years,” Levco said, calling attention to the note Lee wrote in 1983.

The note was presented earlier as evidence. It described the mutilation and killing of an unnamed woman. Levco said some statements in Lee’s note match what was done to Marks.

Levco also called Lee’s supposed reason for writing the note “absurd.” Lee told police he has written the note to scare James Burks, an acquaintance of Lee’s who was named as a possible suspect during the trial.

Levco said he was unsure what the defense was trying to prove in presenting evidence against Richard Wilson and Burks.

Defense attorney Clarence Frank began his remarks by stating that Lee’s note was a “disgusting, revolting, obnoxious piece of literature.”

Frank criticized the Bloomington Police Department’s investigations of the case. He said the police deliberately disregarded any information about any other suspects 

except Lee.

He spoke of Lee’s alibi, saying it would have been rather difficult to carry out the crime during the few hours of dark when Lee wasn’t at work at the 7-Eleven on W. 11 th Street.

“You ought to have doubts in your mind,” Frank told the jury. He said these doubts should concern the way the police investigation was conducted and the reason why no other leads were investigated.

Defense attorney Michael Hunt, who assisted Frank by taking notes during the trial, spoke briefly about the presumption of innocence.

“We don’t know much about this case,” he said. “There is a lot of evidence, but it doesn’t mean much.”

He told jurors they were left with one question: Who killed Ellen Marks?

“The answer is who knows?” Hunt said. “And when you’re stuck with who knows, you must vote not guilty.”


Victim was reclusive, friends say

Shelter from the rain, clothes rescued from campus dumpsters and a life with few possessions were enough for former IU graduate student Ellen Sears Marks.

“Her flute, and some papers are literally the only material objects she had in her possession when she died,” Marks’ sister Martha Clark said from her home near Grosse Pointe, Mich.

Marks was killed in September. Her body was found by a neighbor in a lot at Tenth and Summit streets, where she lived.

Marks, described by people who knew her as quiet and articulate, came to IU on a graduate fellowship in 1978 to study Old English literature.

“I suspect she had an interest in the evolution of language,” her sister said. Clark added that she didn’t know what Marks planned to do with her degree, but that she excelled in writing.

Although she was bright, Marks was not consistent in her enthusiasm or commitment to her studies,  said her graduate adviser, Eugene Kintgen, professor of English and director of graduate studies.

“I don’t think she was really sure she wanted to be in grad school,” he said.

After Marks left IU in 1980 without completing her degree, she began to make friends with those who shared desire for a non-material existence, said Yassi Knodel, an acquaintance.

Marks’ nomadic lifestyle took her to many homes in Bloomington, where she would stay with friends for short times, usually less than a month, Knodel said.

During winter months, she sometimes took refuge with neighbors, said Kenny Garrison, her boyfriend.

One of those neighbors, Ruby Cramer, was “like a mother figure” to Marks, he said.

“Different ones of us helped her through the winter,” Garrison added.

For Marks, moving into a tiny, unheated shack on Tenth and Summit was a special time in her life, Knodel said.

“She finally could say, ‘This is my place,’” he said.

Knodel met Marks in 1980 when she worked at the Gathering Place, now the Daily Grind coffeehouse. The two frequently ate meals together at the Monroe County Christian Ministries Center where Marks volunteered.

“There’s no name for people who choose the kind of lifestyle she did. They’re just people,” said Debi Jones, kitchen coordinator at the Christian Center.

Although Knodel and Marks were acquainted for six years, they never achieved a close friendship because she kept to herself much of the time, Knodel said.

“Ellen was very isolated. She was pretty private, and could just stop talking to people in the middle of a conversation,” said Pierre Amy, who knew Marks through the Christian Center.

“She lived for her privacy,” Knodel said.

She said Marks was an open and talkative person when she met her, but became more subdued before he death.

“She went through some kind of a withdrawal. I watched her slide into it.” Knodel said.

But Clark said Marks’ move toward seclusion began before she came to Bloomington.

She said her sister seemed different after returning home from a trip to Europe in 1974. 

Marks took the trip after graduation from the Columbus School for Girls, a private high school in Columbus, Ohio, near where she grew up.

“She wasn’t the same person when she came back,” Clark said, attributing the change to a chemical imbalance.

“She had definite emotional problems,” her sister said.

Marks checked herself into Bloomington Hospital’s Mental Health Unit in May 1980 for 72 hours. She remained under psychiatric care on a voluntary basis for four years, according to Monroe County Superior Court records.

“It wasn’t like she was crazy. She was just different,” Jones said, adding, “To her, it probably seemed crazy to work within the system.”

Garrison said he did not know about Marks’ counseling sessions until he read about 

them in newspaper accounts.

The 44-year-old said he and Marks, 30, planned to wed this year.

“She was all enthused about marriage,” Garrison said. “We were getting ready to make an appointment at Bloomington Hospital for blood tests.”

Both Garrison and Clark said Marks loved children.

“I suspect it may have been the one category of people who were not dangerous to her,” Clark said.

When Clark’s now-teenaged son was a child, Marks would call to talk to her nephew.

“Sometimes, the person on the other end would hang up when I answered,” Clark said. 

“I suspect it was Ellen, wanting to talk to my son.”

Garrison agreed, saying, “I always thought it was strange she didn’t have five or six of her own so she could spoil them.”

He and Marks would spend hours in quiet conversation, usually with coffee.

“She was a coffee fiend. As long as you’d pour it, she’d drink it,” Garrison said.

Marks loved walking outdoors and exploring nature. She could carve anything out of wood if she tools nearby, Garrison said.

“She could take a coat hanger and carve a flute with perfect notes,” Garrison said, adding, “the last time I spoke to her, she was going to try and make some pan pipes.”

The two often walked in the west Bloomington neighborhood where Garrison lives.

“We spent a lot of time walking around and gabbing at each other,” he said. “She was really plain-spoken and could talk about anything.”

Anything but her family, he added.

“I didn’t ask her a lot of questions about them because I didn’t want to be nosy,” Garrison said.

He said Marks only became upset when she was pressured to talk and wished to be left alone.

Marks’ adult life contrasted sharply with her childhood, a comfortable life in central Ohio with her sister, her mother and her physical father, Clark said.

Even in her upper-middle class surroundings, Marks enjoyed simple things the most. 

A horse named Sundae, high grades in school, and playing the flute in marching band gave Marks the most satisfaction, Clark said.

“I don’t ever remember her getting anything lower than a B in grade school,” Clark said. 

“Whatever she did, she did it to the fullest.”

Clark said that when she and Marks were children, her sister was no more than private than other girls her age. Though they were only a year apart in age, they were never close, keeping different circles of friends, she said.

“She had friends, but not a great quantity,” she said. “She wasn’t a cheerleader or a social butterfly.”

The Clarks and about 50 friends, neighbors and acquaintances attended a silent memorial service for Marks Oct. 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 40 E. Kirkwood Ave.

Wiping a tear, Clark expressed gratitude that Marks had friends to fill the void her family couldn’t.

“She could have ended up in lots worse places,” she said.


Slaying suspect's past reveals troubled youth

When a man has no anchor to his job or to others, his chance of turning to crime is great, says William Sharp, the retired Owen County judge who sentenced Robert E. Lee in 1981 to two years in prison.

Lee, who is charged with murder in connection with the slaying of former IU graduate student Ellen Sears Marks, had moved to Spencer in 1979, after serving five years in a New York prison for attempted rape.

Since arriving in Indiana, Lee frequently has been without a job and has had little contact with his family.

“I haven’t seen Robert in about 10 years, and we haven’t spoken in about seven,” said his father, George Lee. “He very seldom contacts us.”

Robert Lee, who lived with his mother and stepfather in Spencer, told a counselor at the Community Mental Health Center he fought with them often.

He later moved into the Owen Valley Hotel on Main Street, where he lived until July 1981.

That month, he was arrested for attempting to siphon gas from a school bus, according to court records. He told 

Sharp during sentencing that his car had stalled, and the school bus was the closest source of gas.

“The thing that struck me about him is he had no visible means of support, and he seemed to have floated in here from New York,” the retired judge said.

“He paid his bills and tended to his own business, so I didn’t know him well at all,” said John Miller, who owned the hotel where Lee lived.

Miller couldn’t recall when Lee had left Spencer to move into a duplex at 506 N. Adams St.

Lee’s lack of close friendships impaired his ability to work and associate with others, staff therapist Alane Phelps wrote to Lee’s probation officer in 1981.

Lee attended five sessions with Phelps at the mental health center between Dec. 18, 1980 and Jan. 29, 1981. She diagnosed Lee as having a “schizoid personality disorder.”

Phelps said Lee had a long-term pattern of emotional coldness, and indifference to praise and criticism. There was no evidence of a psychotic disorder, she said.

He was forming a “solid relationship” with her, but did not believe he yet could trust her with his deepest feelings, she wrote.

Lee told her that he had been told before he views everything pessimistically, but believed this was because “from day one nothing has gone his way,” she said.

He appeared to have average, or somewhat below average, intelligence, she said.

“Bob feels discouraged to do anything on his own, because every time he has tried to assert himself he has been shot down in flames,” she wrote. “He fears nothing will work out for him: that his plans will all fall through.”

Monroe County Sheriff Jimmie Young refused to grant a reporter an interview with Lee. He said an interview could jeopardize lee’s right to a fair trial.

George Lee, who lives in Ohio, said he was unaware his son is being held without bond in the Monroe County Jail on a charge of murder.

“I never received any information from Bloomington about it.”

Police arrested Robert Lee Sept. 24.

Marks, 30, was found dismembered Sept. 21 in a vacant lot at 10th and Summit streets, about 60 yards from Lee’s duplex on North Adams Street. Her head and hands still haven’t been found.

Police believe a script, detailing the killing and mutilation of unidentified women, could link Lee to the slaying. 

The script was given to police three years ago by an informant who claimed Lee wrote it. Lee was brought in for questioning at the time, but was released because he had committed no crime.

His father believes Lee’s childhood friends were a bad influence on him.

“His friends were ex-military brats, and he got involved with a few pot smokers in high school,” his father said.

“I’m not sure what his religious beliefs are now, but as a child he was interested in his Christian Science,” his father said.

Robert Lee told Owen County officials in 1981 he still followed his religion. Christian Scientists believe the “real” man reflects God, and is spiritual – the material body and the mortal mind are unreal counterfeits.

Lee’s parents were married in New York and he is the only child from that marriage, which ended in 1960 after five years.

George Lee was awarded custody when his wife failed to appear for the custody hearing. Betty Jean Lee, who now goes by another name, later told the court she could not appear because she had no money or job.

Lee has two half-sisters, one by his fathers’ remarriage and one from his mother’s marriage before she married George Lee. He also has a half-brother from his father’s remarriage.

Robert Lee told Phelps that life with his father had been very strict. He said he was grounded often, physically beaten and denied food.

His father, however, denied had been too strict and beat Robert.

“I’m not sure what the definition of strict is, but he was made to behave just like everyone else,” George Lee said.

But officials of the Ohio school system Robert attended intervened to investigate possible abuse, according to court records.

“That’s news to me,” his father said. “We had no problems to speak of here with him, and I don’t recall him having problems with his brothers and sisters.”

The 5-foot-4-inch Lee lived in Ohio until he was a junior in high school, when he moved to New York to live with his mother.

“That’s where he got in trouble,” his father said.

Lee received his graduate equivalency diploma in 1980, but his father said he believed Lee had graduated from high school in New York.

Lee worked as a custodian in the Indiana Memorial Union from January to May 1980.

“He worked the night shift for me, and I never had any problems with him,” said Marvin Frye, night maintenance supervisor.

Frye said Lee was fired because he went on a strict diet during the time he worked for him, and couldn’t keep up with his work. Lee lost 40 pounds, over a year, court records show.

In October 1980, Lee started work at the Occupational Development Center in Spencer, where he stayed for six months.

From there, he went to Cable Converter Service Corp. in 1981, where he lasted two months.

“He didn’t associate with anyone and always kept to himself,” said Yvonne Wright, personnel manager for the cable company.

Lee was dismissed from the cable company because “he took too long to learn his job and wasn’t quick enough,” she said.

He was employed at 7-Eleven, 1122 W. 11th St., at the time of his arrest.

The 31-year-old was unemployed when he was arrested in Owen County five years ago and charged with attempted theft for trying to steal gas.

Judge Sharp, who lives in Spencer, said he remembers Lee in the courtroom.

“The most unusual thing about him is that I do recall him,” he said. “I was a judge for 20 years, and he was only in here once.”

“Lee was extremely honest with me in the courtroom,” he said.