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Cops don't know why Ohio man drove to Niagara Falls with body in trunk

Police don't know why JeShawn Elliott drove from Youngstown, Ohio to Niagara Falls on Wednesday.

But he had a dead woman in the trunk of his car.

Police also can't be sure why Elliott parked the car and rented a bicycle near the Falls. He tried to flee from police on the bike, but they Tasered him and captured him.

Detective Capt. Kelly Rizzo said Elliott's behavior "can only be described as bizarre."

The body was found in the trunk of Elliott's car in a downtown parking lot. She was dead of multiple stab wounds, but so far Elliott hasn't been charged with killing her.

Thursday night, police positively identified the victim as Elliott's girlfriend, Anvia Mickens, 28, of Youngstown, Ohio, who was reported missing Wednesday by her mother.

An autopsy conducted at Erie County Medical Center showed Mickens’ cause of death was a combination of 23 stab wounds, 14 lacerations and strangulation, police said. The location of where the murder took place has not been determined.

JeShawn Elliott (Courtesy Niagara Falls Police Department)

Elliott, 27, asked for a lawyer and refused to speak to police after he was captured following a brief chase in which he fell off a bicycle he had just rented near the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.

"The guy didn't act strange at all. He seemed like just another rental customer," said Gaelan Baillie, owner of Niagara Bike Rental on Prospect Street.

He said Elliott rented a bike about 4:50 p.m. Wednesday. Elliott used his real name, signed a liability waiver and paid $10 for his first hour of use.

"He didn't have any shoes on when he rented," Baillie noted. But he said that's not all that unusual, especially when renting to tourists whose shoes might have been soaked on a Maid of the Mist boat ride.

So Baillie thought nothing of the rental until police showed up looking for details.

"I was kind of shocked," Baillie said. "It's strange as a business to be mixed up in this."

Rizzo said after parking his car, Elliott borrowed a cellphone from someone he met on the street and called his brother in Ohio to say he had stabbed his girlfriend and left her in a car parked near an arcade in downtown Niagara Falls.

Elliott's brother called Niagara Falls police just after 5 p.m., and within minutes about 25 officers from several different agencies were swarming through downtown Niagara Falls.

It didn't take long to find a car with Ohio plates parked near an arcade near Tony Roma's Restaurant. The car was registered to Elliott.

The car was locked, but blood was visible on the back seat, Rizzo said. Officers decided to break a window so they could open the trunk. They found the dead woman inside the trunk.

Elliott immediately became the prime suspect, and with help from Youngstown authorities, a photo was sent to Niagara Falls and relayed to local officers.

At about the same time, the mother of Elliott's girlfriend called police to report her daughter missing, because she hadn't gone to work. Rizzo said the woman was last seen alive at about 10 a.m. Wednesday.

"We don't know much beyond that," Rizzo said.

Two undercover narcotics detectives spotted Elliott riding his rented bike near the corner of Third and Niagara streets, not far from the Rainbow Bridge. They made a U-turn in their unmarked car and followed him.

Elliott sped up, pedaling through a parking lot at Niagara Street and Rainbow Boulevard with the officers in pursuit.

"He fell from the bike," Rizzo said. "Other officers were converging on the area. When he rose to his feet, he did so with a folding knife open, lunged toward one of the police officers, waved the knife at one of the police officers, at which time a different police officer employed his Taser, striking him, and the suspect fell to the ground."

Taser wires drag behind JeShawn Elliott as Elliott is taken into custody. (Rob Bennett/Special to the Buffalo News)

Rizzo said Elliott had a cut on his hand, believed to have been caused by his own knife as he fell after being stunned by the Taser.

Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said the arrest was made within a quarter-mile of where the body was found. He said the Taser was fired by Officer Benjamin Shirback, and other officers at the scene were Officer Darren DeSantis and Detective Lt. Scott Dellavia and Detective Joseph Palermo.

DalPorto said the officers who confronted Elliott in the parking lot "exercised great professionalism and restraint. The fact that this individual was taken into custody in close proximity to a felony crime scene in a crowded area and armed with a knife, deadly physical force absolutely would have been justified in this case."

Elliott, after being checked out at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, was charged with two felonies: attempted assault on a police officer and menacing a police officer. In a brief City Court appearance Thursday morning, Elliott, represented by a public defender, pleaded not guilty and waived a preliminary hearing, allowing his case to be taken before a grand jury.

Holding him on those charges gives police time "to build a stronger case on the murder side," Rizzo said. "We have all the time in the world."

Elliott's bail was set at $200,000. An autopsy on the woman's body was conducted Thursday in Erie County Medical Center.

"A large knife was recovered from the vehicle, that we believe was used," Rizzo said. "We cannot confirm that at this time until other testing is completed."

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said legal research is being done as to whether a homicide would be prosecuted here or in Ohio, while Rizzo said detectives are attempting to work out a timeline of events and figure out where and when the woman was killed.

"We don't know for sure that a crime was committed in Youngstown, Ohio. We are sure that we have a deceased woman with stab wounds in the City of Niagara Falls," Rizzo said.

Anyone who might have had contact with Elliott Wednesday is asked to call Niagara Falls police at 286-4553 or 286-4711.

Rizzo said that so far as police in Niagara Falls and Youngstown can tell, Elliott had no family connections to Niagara Falls and never had any previous contact with police there. Rizzo didn't know if he had a criminal record in Ohio or elsewhere.

Rizzo said it would be only speculation to wonder whether Elliott was planning to commit suicide by throwing himself over the falls, or whether he was hoping to cross the bridge into Canada.

"Those types of things do happen at the falls," DalPorto said.

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