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Autopsy: Woman found dead in W.Va. cabin was pregnant

Medical examiner's preliminary findings show Kelly Elizabeth Butler had been strangled

December 29, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • Zell
Zell

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — A Morgan County woman who was strangled earlier this month was pregnant when she died, according to the Morgan County Sheriff's Department.

Kelly Elizabeth Butler, 29, died from strangulation, according to an autopsy conducted by the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the sheriff's office said Thursday.

Butler was found dead in an abandoned cabin on Dec. 23 in a remote part of Hampshire County, W.Va., police said.

James T. Zell Jr., 23, has been charged with her murder. Zell, who was Butler's boyfriend, currently is being held at Franklin County (Pa.) Jail, where he was taken Dec. 23 after being arrested in Chambersburg, Pa. for driving under the influence, police said.

The age of the fetus was not released by the medical examiner's office, but Sheriff's Chief Deputy Wade Shambaugh said Thursday that Zell indicated Butler was three months' pregnant.

Police have said Zell confessed to the murder after being arrested for DUI. He admitted that he and Butler had fought about two weeks earlier at their apartment. Zell said he awoke after blacking out from the altercation with Butler to discover she was dead.

Zell was first questioned about Butler's whereabouts on Dec. 22 at his home at Tri Lake Park in southern Morgan County, police said previously.

The investigation started after the sheriff's office was contacted by authorities in Shenandoah County, Va., who received information that a murder might have occurred in Morgan County, police said.

 Zell initially told police that Butler left after the fight, and that she might have killed herself because she had been depressed, police said.

He told police that she had left her belongings and dog with him.

"When asked (on Dec. 22) about rumors in Virginia circulating that he had killed his girlfriend, Zell replied that he had said that, but only as a joke," police said.

After the interview, police were told that Zell was contacting family members and telling them he killed his girlfriend and intended to kill himself.

Zell allegedly confessed to killing Butler in a second interview at Franklin County Jail, according to police.  He also told police that the fight happened after they had been out at a bar, and that his girlfriend had punched him in the face several times in the fight, causing him to black out.

Police have said that Zell discovered his girlfriend was lying dead on the floor with fingerprints around her throat when he awoke.

"Zell maintains in his statement that he does not remember strangling her but knows that he did because there was a tear on her cheek indicating that she had just died, and there was no one else in the home at that time," the sheriff's department said in a previous news release.

Police said Zell loaded the woman's body into his Chevrolet Blazer and took her to a cabin in the area of Slanesville, W.Va. in Hampshire County, which neighbors Morgan County.

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