Hudson police question embalming opponents in double slaying

Star Tribune/February 13, 2002
By Heron Marquez Estrada

Police investigating a double slaying at a Hudson, Wis., funeral home plan to talk to members of a religious group that opposes embalming and reportedly threatened mortuaries around Wisconsin.

Hudson police Sgt. Marty Jensen said Tuesday that the group, The Rest of Jesus Ministry, passed out threatening letters last year, including one to the O'Connell Family Funeral Home where Daniel O'Connell and James Ellison, an intern, were found shot to death on Feb. 5.

Jensen said the group also passed out leaflets at another funeral home a day or so after the two men were killed. Jensen said the group believes morticians desecrate the dead by embalming them. The ministry believes the dead should be only wrapped in a shroud before being laid to rest.

On Tuesday, the group's leader, Kathryn Padilla of Augusta, Wis., was charged in Eau Claire with two counts of disorderly conduct and two counts of stalking, according to Gary Foster, deputy chief of the Eau Claire Police Department.

Padilla, who refused to comment from her home Tuesday night because she said God had told her to talk only to a Minneapolis TV station, was released on bail, Foster said.

Jensen said the ministry came to the attention of Hudson police the day after the funeral-home homicides. Police agencies from around Wisconsin, including Eau Claire and Green Bay, called to say they were investigating the group.

Eau Claire county authorities talked to Padilla on Friday. On Tuesday, Jensen said, Hudson investigators traveled to Augusta, about 20 miles southeast of Eau Claire, to talk with Padilla again.

"She has her followers all over the state," Jensen said. "It's a bizarre situation . . . but we want to be sure we don't miss anything."

Jensen said Padilla, 55, is considered a prophet by followers, who gather at her home each Saturday to hear her speak in tongues and discuss biblical scripture. He said some of the leaflets passed out last week were written in a scripture-like voice, but were not actually taken from the Bible.

He would not reveal the exact nature of the threats in the leaflets because it is part of the investigation.

Jensen said that investigators are trying to gather information about the group and its followers, then talk to as many of them as possible to see if anyone knows why O'Connell, 39, and Ellison, 22, were killed.

The killings, the first in Hudson in 24 years, have shocked the community and baffled police, who have been unable to determine a clear motive in the deaths.

On Tuesday, one week after the killings, police set up roadblocks in front of the funeral home between noon and 2 p.m., Jensen said. About 300 drivers were stopped and asked if they could recall anything curious about the day of the killings, Jensen said.

Authorities think the two men were killed between noon and 1:40 p.m. They were found by the St. Croix County medical examiner, who had come to the mortuary to sign a death certificate.

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