COLD CASE: Shooting Death Changed Downtown Policing

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Downtown Mobile was a place to avoid after dark in the 1980’s. But by the mid-90’s, things were changing.

Mayor Mike Dow’s String of Pearls plan for downtown was full speed ahead. The Mobile Convention Center and Government Plaza had opened and new bars and restaurants were opening on Dauphin Street, creating a downtown entertainment district.

“Twenty-one years ago, the renaissance was underway, but just beginning,” said Carol Hunter of the Downtown Mobile Alliance.

And then, 25-year-old Robert Ellingwood was shot to death in a late-night robbery attempt at Cathedral Square on March 15, 1997.

Sam Cochran, then Mobile Police Chief, said two other people were approached before the attack on Mr. Ellingwood. In each case, the suspects approached their potential victims and asked for a cigarette.

“It was such a tragic case,” recalls Hunter, who was then a television reporter.  For the last 13 years, she’s worked promoting downtown for the Downtown Mobile Alliance.

“That certainly did give people pause and the folks who were actively involved in the redevelopment of downtown at the time were very concerned that the break may go on,” she said.

While friends and family mourned for Ellingwood, a young man pursuing his dream of being a charter boat captain, city leaders debated what action to take. The first step by then-mayor Mike Dow was setting up surveillance on Dauphin Street.

“I’m going to jack somebody up to the ceiling to get these cameras in as soon as possible,” said a frustrated Dow at the time.

Cameras were installed soon after. A police precinct on Dauphin Street was opened as a result of the Ellingwood murder. And downtown business owners agreed to shut down streets for certain events. Future County Commissioner Steve Nodine represented the group.

“We need to do something to control the safety and control the access of the downtown entertainment district,” Nodine said at the time.

The murder of Robert Ellingwood changed the city and police department’s strategy toward downtown and the Dauphin Street entertainment district has thrived and has been extremely safe. But two decades after the murder of Robert Ellingwood, the case remains unsolved.

Despite several witnesses and a large reward, no arrest was ever made. A person of interest was identified, Marcus Lockett, but he was never charged. Six years after the murder, he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for drug-dealing.

So, while some say justice may have been served, the case of Robert Ellingwood remains unsolved.

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