Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Murderer caught here receives life sentence


It’s been more than 20 years since the lives of an Ogden family were changed forever, and many of them were in attendance to see the man convicted of killing their loved one sentenced.

Stephen Phillip Ellenwood, 41, was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Brent West in the 2nd District Court of Ogden on Tuesday after pleading guilty to aggravated murder in April.

The hearing brings a close to the 20-year-old cold case of the rape and murder of 92-year-old Grace Mae Odle.

Ellenwood admitted to breaking into Odle’s Ogden retirement home in 1993 to rape and murder the elderly woman. Ellenwood also attacked and raped another woman the same night.

Ellenwood managed to avoid arrest for the murder for more than 20 years, until the cold case reopened and advances in criminal investigation and DNA detection allowed detectives to place him at the scene.

In early 2013, investigators found Ellenwood living in rural Haines, Alaska and were able to arrest and extradite him back to Ogden to face charges. Due to the statute of limitations, prosecutors could only charge him with aggravated murder.

A plea deal of life in prison was accepted in exchange for pleading guilty. However, some members of Odle’s family were unhappy with the deal and wanted the state to pursue the death penalty.

Ellenwood’s defense attorneys thought the deal was fair and that he could serve a maximum of 25 years before parole would be considered.

Relatives and friends of Odle were in attendance to hear the sentencing and speak on behalf of the murdered woman. 

Her son, Bob Odle, stood before the court and described the woman’s eventful life including raising five sons.

“She had a great love for country, love for God and love for her family. She was very patriotic,” Bob Odle said.

Odle was born in Kansas and lived through the Great Depression and World War II. In Utah she worked with other women making shells and other munitions for soldiers overseas. All five of her sons ended up joining the armed services.

Bob Odle said at her funeral, the chapel was overcrowded with people.

“She was a very well-known and respected woman,” he said.

Granddaughter Karen Odle Ippolito said Grace lived a comfortable life at the Adams Place retirement community before the night she was brutally attacked.

“Her room was filled with photos of family, knitted afghans and oil paintings,” Ippolito said. “She was a lady well in charge of her affairs.”

Still coherent and sharp for her age, it made it all the worse when Ellenwood broke into her room and violated her, Ippolito said, adding that her grandmother did not die immediately, but lingered on in agony for a few days before succumbing to her injuries.

“She was deprived of a graceful death in the arms of those who love her. Her leadership and tender guidance should have been our last memory of her, not these events from a horror movie,” Ippolito said. “Mr. Ellenwood is a cancer. He cannot function without harming society.”

She finished by adding that there are dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren that will attend any parole hearings for Ellenwood in years to come.

Ellenwood himself declined to speak, but his mother, Melanie Ellenwood, stood up to defend her son.

“My son did not know what happened that day,” she said. ”He was not raised to be a horrible person. He is a good and kind person. He’s my child, and you’re taking his life away, but you’re also taking mine.”

West sided with Odle’s family in disapproving of any chance for parole and said he would not recommend to the Board of Pardons to ever set Ellenwood free.

“People who commit these crimes don’t understand how they impact people. Not only did you impact Ms. Odle, but entire generations of her family,” West said, speaking to Ellenwood. “Even your mother, who said she didn’t raise you like this. You got so involved with drugs and alcohol abuse that the only person you were thinking of that night was Mr. Ellenwood.”