Man leads police to body of strangled girlfriend
On December 23, local police were led to the body of Kelly Elizabeth Butler, 29, by James Zell, 23, the man now under suspicion for her murder.
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department opened a murder investigation on a tip from police in Shenandoah County, Va. on Thursday, December 22.
Local deputies met with Zell at his home in Tri Lake Park in southern Morgan County that day, asking about his girlfriend’s whereabouts.
When asked about Butler, Zell indicated that the couple had a fight two weeks earlier and she had left in a blue car with someone he didn’t know.
According to police, Zell then said he thought Butler might be dead because she had left all of her personal belongings and her dog at their home together.
Police said Zell admitted talking about killing his girlfriend, but said it was only as a joke.
Later that day, the Sheriff’s Department was tipped off that Zell was contacting family members about Butler’s death, and might be threatening to take his own life, according to police.
Zell was picked up on DUI charges in Chambersburg, Pa. that evening.
Description leads police
Lt. Tim Stapleton and Chief Deputy Wade Shambaugh interviewed him further in the early morning of December 23. According to police, Zell confessed to killing Butler about two weeks earlier.
In his confession, Zell allegedly described getting into a fight with his girlfriend at their home after the couple returned from a local bar.
According to police, Zell said Butler had hit him several times in the face, he blacked out, and woke up to find Butler dead on the floor with fingerprints around her neck.
Police said that Zell described loading Butler’s body into his Chevy Blazer and driving her to a cabin in a remote portion of Hampshire County.
Based on Zell’s descriptions, local police and deputies from the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department located the cabin and found Butler’s body.
Preliminary results from the autopsy indicate strangulation as the cause of death.
The autopsy also confirmed that Butler had been pregnant at the time of her death. Information from other sources lead investigators to believe the victim had been pregnant for three months.
Zell is in custody in Franklin County, Pennsylvania and awaiting extradition to Morgan County on murder charges.