The Criminal Podcast tells stories of people who've "done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." This week, host Phoebe Judge introduces us to Martha Elliot. She's a journalist and rape survivor who, for years, was a devoted friend to a rapist and murderer on death row.
The criminal was Michael Bruce Ross, who was raised by a strict and dysfunctional family on an egg farm in rural Connecticut. He was eager to get away, but when he enrolled at Cornell University, he had trouble adjusting to life there. He began stalking women. In the early 1980s, turned to raping and killing them, even after graduation and his return to Connecticut.
Ross killed eight women in all, and the final two were 14-year-olds. Judge says Ross appeared to be troubled by his own behavior.
"We think he wanted to get caught. The last murder that he committed was in broad daylight. He eventually confessed and was sentenced to death. And when he was sentenced to death, he ended up not really trying to fight that conviction."
His sentence was stayed in 1994, but he wrote publicly that he wanted to be executed to spare the victims' families re-trial.
This caught the interest of Martha Elliott, an opponent of the death penalty who edited the Connecticut Law Tribune at the time. She interviewed him for a story, but the process triggered memories of her own rape in college. She disclosed her experience to Ross, and she said he was respectful.
"He said, 'I've caused enough pain. If this is causing you pain, you never have to speak to me again, and forget about writing this story," Elliott recalled.
She wrote the story. And she kept in touch with Michael Ross, who called her frequently from prison for years.
"I didn't have the heart not to take his calls because I knew there are very few people in the world he could call and he became my, sort of, community service."
Elliott was one of the last people to speak to him before his execution in 2005. Ross was the final death row inmate to be executed before Connecticut repealed the death penalty.
Elliott wrote a book about her friendship with Michael Ross. It's called, "The Man in the Monster". You can hear more from Elliott's story on this week's episode of Criminal. The podcast is recorded at WUNC.