Still Shrouded In Mystery: Florida Woman Fatally Shot At Sheriff Deputy’s Home
Young mother Michelle O’Connell died under suspicious circumstances while at the house of her boyfriend, who was serving as a sheriff's deputy at the time.
Unanswered questions still surround the case of a Florida woman who was fatally shot while at her boyfriend’s house over a decade ago.
Shortly before midnight on September 2, 2010, Jeremy Banks, then a 23-year-old deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Department, called 911 to report his girlfriend, Michelle O’Connell, had turned a gun on herself.
O’Connell was pronounced dead at the scene just over 20 minutes after first responders arrived and tried to save her life.
According to authorities, the bullet that struck 24-year-old O’Connell in the head was fired from Bank’s service weapon, a .45-caliber pistol. The firearm was found lying near O’Connell’s left hand even though she was right-handed and its attached tactical search light was switched on.
Investigators also located a second bullet lodged in the floor near the victim’s right arm, The New York Times reported.
Banks had been drinking at the time of the shooting. “I grabbed him and tuned him up,” Deputy Wesley Grizzard recalled of arriving on the scene, according to the news outlet. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”
Banks allegedly told a detective and sergeant in a squad car outside his home that O’Connell had just broken up with him and she was packing up her stuff to move out. He claimed he heard the first shot while he was in the garage, The New York Times reported, citing Florida Department of Law Enforcement interviews.
Banks allegedly said he then ran into the house, heard a second shot and broke down a door, where he found O’Connell.
O’Connell’s family cast doubt on Banks’ story. Loved ones pointed out that the night she died O’Connell had texted a sister watching her 4-year-old daughter to tell her she’d “be there soon.” She had also called her mother hours earlier to leave a voicemail about breakfast plans.
Family also alleged O’Connell was scared of Banks and she was the victim of domestic abuse in the months leading up to her death, according to The Times.
Authorities have been accused of botching the investigation into one of their own from the start. Officers reportedly failed to test key forensic evidence, including the gun and the clothing Banks wore that night, download his cellphone data or photograph him. Neighbors, family and friends weren’t questioned.
Banks has always denied he had anything to do with O’Connell’s death.
In a 2011 independent inquiry by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, investigators spoke with two of Banks’ neighbors, Stacey Boswell and Heather Ladley. Boswell told The Times that the night of O’Connell’s death she heard a man and woman screaming. “There was something wrong,” Boswell recalled. “There was nothing playful, no nothing. It was somebody that was scared.”
“We heard her yell ‘Help,’ and there was one gunshot, and then she yelled ‘Help’ again, and there was a second gunshot,” the second witness, Ladley, told the inquiry’s lead investigator, Rusty Rodgers.
“It was probably 10, maybe 15 minutes, and then the sirens came,” Boswell noted, explaining, “That’s why we didn’t call anybody.”
Despite the new information, prosecutors have said there is not enough evidence to be able to charge anyone and take the case to court, the Florida Times-Union reported.
Michelle O'Connell died of an apparent suicide, but the evidence doesn't add up. Now, two citizen sleuths (Javier & John of the @criminalcon podcast) are piecing together what really happened. Watch the first episode of #CitizenPI on #discoveryplus: https://t.co/5AtqWD4WgP pic.twitter.com/dKDmLpjwuN— Investigation Discovery (@DiscoveryID) July 27, 2021
In another development, a man who was conducting his own investigation into what happened to O’Connell died in equally strange circumstances.
On the morning of January 31, 2019, the teenage son of Eli “Ellie” Washtock, 38, discovered him shot to death in their condominium in World Golf Village, St. Johns County, Florida.
Jessica Tiffany told Jacksonville’s WJXT that her nephew, the victim’s son, wasn’t staying in the condominium at the time of the murder because Washtock was worried about their safety.
“After his passing, we were also made aware that he had been made aware of some people watching his movements from the back of World Golf Village,” she said.
Washtock’s death was ruled a homicide. Authorities reportedly have a person of interest in the case but have not officially named any suspect, according to WJXT.
Washtock reportedly had grown close with O’Connell’s mother as he investigated her daughter’s death. She believes he was targeted as a result of his research, although homicide detectives investigating the case have not made any connection between the murders.
“There is no perfect murder, and it will be solved,” Tiffany said of what she called a “heinous” crime. “It may not be soon, but it will come out.”
You don't always need a badge to crack the case. #CitizenPI looks into real life cases solved by the help of everyday people.— discovery+ (@discoveryplus) July 28, 2021
Citizen P.I. is streaming now on #discoveryplus. pic.twitter.com/on15lBFnsV
Amateur investigators Javier Leiva and John Taylor have made it their mission to uncover the truth about both deaths.
To learn more about Leiva and Taylor's investigation into these mysterious deaths, stream the four-part docuseries Citizen P.I. on discovery+.