Ercell Elizabeth Russell : “Seventy-five years ago, Barberton woman vanished, leaving behind a haunting mystery”

Death – Obituary – Accident and Crime News : Seventy-five years ago, the small town of Barberton, Ohio was struck by a baffling disappearance that still haunts the community to this day. Ercell Elizabeth Russell, a 36-year-old woman described as “petite, red-haired and very pretty,” vanished without a trace on a snowy day in December 1948. Her disappearance has remained a mystery, leaving authorities and loved ones searching for answers.

Russell was last seen in good spirits when she left her home on 17th Street Northwest on December 10, 1948. She made a brief stop at her sister Lillian’s house on 19th Street to inform her that she was going to visit their parents in Canaan Township, located in Wayne County. However, Russell never arrived at her destination.

Two days later, investigators made a chilling discovery. Russell’s 1937 green sedan was found abandoned at a roadside park on Route 21, less than a mile south of Canal Fulton. Her purse was found in the nearby Tuscarawas River, about 200 feet downstream from the vehicle. Strangely, the contents of the purse appeared to be intact, with over $10 in cash still inside.

Search efforts were launched, with searchers combing the woods and dragging the river and Ohio & Erie Canal, but no body was found. Detectives began delving into Russell’s personal life, hoping to find clues that could explain her disappearance.

Born in 1912 in Canaan, Russell grew up on a farm near Creston with her parents and three siblings. She had married Joseph Angelo in 1931 but tragically lost two premature babies during their marriage. After their divorce in 1938, Russell returned to her maiden name.

During World War II, Russell worked at Goodyear Aircraft in Akron and later found employment at a department store in Wooster. She had a long-term relationship with a Wayne County mortician, which ended in 1947. In the months leading up to her disappearance, they had tried to reconcile, but their relationship remained unstable. Russell had also reportedly suffered from a “partial nervous breakdown.”

As investigators dug deeper, they discovered that Russell’s estranged boyfriend had made a peculiar call to her sister on the day she vanished. He asked if Russell was present, to which Lillian replied that she had visited earlier but had gone to Canaan. The man then mentioned that he was “going to Michigan” on a short visit. Authorities began to wonder if this call was an attempt to establish an alibi.

After weeks of fruitless searching, Russell’s family hired a private detective to investigate the case and offered a reward for any information about her whereabouts. Detectives returned to the rest area where Russell’s car had been found and discovered a small bottle of medicine in one of the restrooms. Russell’s landlady identified it as medicine she had given to Russell for her nervous condition. This led investigators to believe that Russell had spent some time at the park, possibly waiting for someone.

Despite their efforts, no further leads emerged. The mortician was questioned extensively, but he was never publicly named or charged in connection with Russell’s disappearance. Wayne County Sheriff Glenn Rike believed that Russell had “met with violence,” but without concrete evidence, the case remained unresolved.

In June 1956, Summit County Probate Judge Vincent Zurz officially declared Russell dead at her family’s request. However, her final resting place remains unknown. Detective Martin Seryak, who later became Barberton’s police chief, reflected on the case as one of the most memorable of his career. He believed that Russell had been murdered and buried somewhere in the vicinity, but the truth remains elusive.

To this day, Ercell Elizabeth Russell’s name is etched on the headstone of her parents’ grave in Canaan Cemetery. It serves as a cenotaph, a monument to someone buried elsewhere. The mystery of her disappearance continues to haunt the community, leaving them to wonder if a Wayne County undertaker took the secret of her final resting place to the grave.

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