Paulsboro man held for trial in two cold-case murders

A man whose DNA led him to be charged in two cold-case murders from 1989 was held Wednesday for a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court trial.

Police arrested Rudolph Churchill, 52, on March 19 for the murders of Ruby Ellis and Cheryl Hanible, whose bodies were found five weeks apart in North Philadelphia.

Rudolph Churchill of Paulsboro is charged.

Detectives, using decades-old DNA collected from both crime scenes, charged Churchill, who was living in Paulsboro.

He had a three-year prison stint in DeKalb County, Ga., for burglary. Upon his release he submitted a swab of DNA, which police said matched that collected 25 years ago.

On Wednesday, Richard Simmons, a fellow inmate, testified at a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court that Churchill confessed to both crimes.

"One woman, he said, was a prostitute - he said he didn't have the money or drugs to get a girl," Simmons, 42, said of Churchill.

As for the other woman Churchill allegedly described to him, Simmons repeatedly recalled the accused saying that "he had to take her to the spot - someplace inside. That's all he said."

Churchill is charged with raping and strangling both women. Ellis, 19, was killed March 17, 1989. The body of Hanible, 33, was discovered that April 23 in a burned-out bar. Police found a shoestring around her neck and a sock in her mouth.

Simmons faced a series of tough questions from Defense Attorney Wendy Ramos.

"People in protective custody are in protective custody because they're snitches, right?" Ramos asked before detailing Simmons' extensive criminal record and multiple aliases, many of which he called "discrepancies."

Simmons either denied or said he could not remember charges of retail theft, assault, burglary, robbery, and driving under the influence, some as early as 1984.

Simmons said he could not give the exact date of his conversation with the defendant.

"He just started talking to me openly about the case," Simmons said. "I never asked him about it - we were just in the day room, talking."

Following Simmons' testimony, family members of the victims winced as the prosecutor, Gwenn Cujdik, read from the autopsy reports.

Municipal Court Judge David C. Shuter said he was unsure of the evidence of rape in both cases, but set a formal arraignment date of July 16.

"It's been a long time," Cujdik said. "I think the families just hope to get some closure."

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