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Montana cold case victim's friends, acquaintances react to identification

Roger Ellis artist rendition
Posted at 12:00 PM, Dec 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-01 14:00:14-05

RED LODGE - Friends and acquaintances are remembering a Wisconsin man, missing for decades, whose remains were identified this week in the Red Lodge area.

The Carbon County Sherriff's Office announced on Tuesday the human remains found near Highway 212 in Red Lodge in 2004 belonged to Roger Lee Ellis of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

He had left town in 1976 and was never heard from again.

A high school friend of Ellis's, Jay Nordstrum, told MTN News Wednesday many figured Ellis had left to start a new life in Chicago after he ran into trouble with law enforcement.

Nordstrum explained he worked for the city of Wisconsin Springs and knew where everybody lived.

"One day, his mother was outside and I spoke with her about Roger, asking her where he was and what he was up to. And at that time, I don’t recall the year, he had left town because he had gotten into some problems," Nordstrum said.

"But I understood her to say he went to Chicago, and I had always thought maybe he had run into a problem after I had heard about the John Wayne Gacy incidents down there," Nordstrum continued.

Nordstrum described Ellis as someone who kept to himself but was very kind. He also says Ellis was a "wizard at electronics," a comment echoed in online obituary posts.

Others who knew Ellis have differing memories of who he was and where he ended up. Tracy Lewis — who helped Ellis rebuild a van in 1974 — provided MTN News with a written comment on Ellis.

"He had accumulated a good deal of cash (rumor) and he left in 1976 for what he said was CA. Never heard from him again. Never heard he was hitchhiking anywhere, and never any mention of Montana, but he was a very paranoid type that kept to himself," Lewis explained.

"Most of us that did know him figured he had met with an untimely death as he carried what he hinted was a good deal of cash. He was very frugal and mostly rode his Schwinn 10-speed bicycle for transportation and rarely spent money," Lewis added. "He had a very caustic insulting personality so not many considered him a 'friend'."

Others have posted online stating they are just thankful to have answers.

Ellis's mother died over a decade ago, according to Nordstrum. His brother, Frederick, also passed away in April 2022, without ever learning what actually happened to Roger.

But Nordstrum says he was shocked to learn that Ellis ended up in Montana.

"The news about him being in Montana was rather surprising to me. I never had any idea, and I don’t really know what his mother knew," Nordstrum explains. "Of course, she told me when he left, they never heard from him again. And I just thought that was kind of sad. I felt sorry for his mother."

The news was a shock, but Nordstrum says once he saw the artist's rendition of what Ellis might have looked like, he knew it was his long-lost friend.

Roger Ellis artist rendering
Roger Ellis artist rendering

“Seeing the artists rendering of what they figured he looked like, I mean it just threw me. It looked just like him, basically," Nordstrum explains. "Me not having a picture of Roger, not quite the smile I remember, but that was definitely him."

The investigation is ongoing. The Carbon County Sherriff's Office asks anyone with information regarding the case to contact Det. Ben Mahoney at (406) 445-7284 or email bmahoney@co.carbon.mt.us.

“After all these years of wondering about Roge, what a disappointing outcome," Nordstrum says. “I’m glad that his family has answers now, but it’s too bad that his mother didn’t survive to find out that answer."