A missing-person case quickly turned into a murder investigation this weekend in southern Tuscola County.
On Saturday, the remains of 33-year-old Neal James Ellis were discovered by police on the property of 3782 Hanes Road in Vassar Township. On Friday, Ellis’ roommate, 23-year-old Aaron Michael Eby, was arrested, and on Monday afternoon, was charged with Ellis’ murder.
According to a joint press release from Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene and Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Robert Baxter, Ellis was last seen in the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 24.
On Friday, Ellis was reported missing by a friend, at which point authorities began an investigation.
Officials say Eby and Ellis were roommates at a property at 3257 Willard Road, which has a Clio mailing address but is located in Arbela Township on Tuscola County’s southern border with Genesee County. Reene told Tuscola County Magistrate Joseph Van Auken at Monday’s 4 p.m. district court arraignment that his investigation showed that Ellis was killed by Eby at the Willard Road address sometime between Tuesday, April 24 and Friday, April 27, and moved postmortem to the Hanes Road property.
Eby owns both properties according to Tuscola County treasurer records.
Forensic scientists from the Michigan State Police Forensic Laboratory in Bridgeport, as well as detectives and officers from the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office, spent several hours on Friday and Saturday processing the scene at both properties. An MSP canine unit commander was also utilized, Reene said.
“The work that was done by the Tuscola County Sheriff’s (Office), the Millington Police Department assisted initially, and again, the Michigan State Police Crime Lab, I probably can’t even begin to adequately describe the assistance provided,” Reene said.
Reene also gave credit to lead investigator, Detective James Hook of the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office.
“In a circumstance of this sort when you have a family that is wondering what happened to a loved one, the first thing we do is express our heartfelt condolences to them,” Reene said. “Things went the way you would hope from the perspective of getting answers.
“But you get an answer you didn’t want, certainly.”
At his arraignment Monday, Eby was charged with 16 felonies, including an open count of murder, which carries the possibility of life imprisonment. He was also charged with 11 counts of possession of a dangerous weapon and four counts of lying to a peace officer. Metallic Knuckles were listed in the court file as the weapon in all 11 possession of a dangerous weapon counts. Possession of a dangerous weapon and lying to a peace officer carry possible five- and four-year prison sentences, respectively.
Because the investigation is ongoing, Reene would not divulge Ellis’ cause of death.
“The magistrate defined it as ‘an extremely violent death’ and that’s about all we can say at this point and time,” Reene said after the arraignment.
Reene did not say if Ellis’ remains were discovered intact, or if they were buried.
While discussing possible bond release at Monday’s arraignment, Reene requested bond be denied.
“The facts of the case are particularly egregious in regard to what has occurred,” Reene said. “The court is aware the homicide occurred at one location, and his body was found at an entirely different location. Given those circumstances, the people would ask the court to deny bond.”
Reene added that Eby had been untruthful during the arraignment, highlighting differences between Eby’s testimony and the prosecution’s investigation. Eby had told Van Auken that he hadn’t held a job in about a year, had no vehicle and owned just one property, at 3257 Willard Road. Reene said an investigation showed that Eby worked as recently as Thursday, April 26 at a business in Burton, that he purchased a car with cash within the last two weeks and that he also owned the Hanes Road property.
“The information (Eby) provided to the court does not appear to be accurate according to our investigation,” Reene said.
Reene called Eby “an extraordinary risk to the public” and a flight risk, pointing out that over $5,000 in cash was found in Eby’s Willard Road bedroom.
Bond was ultimately denied by Van Auken.
This is the third suspected homicide in less than a month in Tuscola County.
On Saturday March 31, Adam Michael Balcer was arrested and charged in the March 30 shooting deaths of 45-year-old Peter Brodick Jr., and his stepmother, 55-year-old Wendy Brodick. Wendy Brodick was Balcer’s landlord and had filed a complaint in Tuscola County District Court to evict Balcer from the rental property, stating he owed $1,795 in back rent. Balcer is currently lodged at the Tuscola County jail.
Eby is scheduled for a probable cause hearing Monday and a preliminary examination on Monday, May 14.
Authorities ask anyone with information related to the investigation to contact Hook at 989-673-8161 extension 2234.