MILWAUKEE, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- A Wisconsin Justice Department official said if the DNA of a suspected serial killer in Milwaukee hadn't been mishandled, at least one woman might be alive.
State officials have begun an investigation to determine how Walter E. Ellis's DNA sample disappeared, allowing him to remain free for years after the sample was collected, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday. Ellis is suspected in the killings of at least nine women in Milwaukee during a 21-year period.
"In this case, there's at least a concern that had everything been in place, at least one death could have been avoided. We're committed to get to the bottom of it," Gary Hamblin, administrator for the Department of Justice's division of law enforcement services, told the newspaper.
Because he is a convicted felon, a sample of Ellis' DNA should have been collected when he was released from prison in 2001, officials said. While Corrections Department computers indicate a sample was taken, the Justice Department, which maintains the state DNA databank, never received it.
One of the women Ellis is suspected of killing died in 2007, six years after Ellis' DNA profile should have been on file with the state.
"Obviously there was a failure," Hamblin said. "We want to see if it was a system-wide failure or just an isolated incident."