UPDATE: Child sex abuse, felony charges added to growing list of warrants for Ellingson couple
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story will be updated as information allows. The story in the June 23 Jefferson Herald does not contain the newest child sex abuse charges. Criminal reports detailing the charges have not been released.
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A litany of new felony charges has put increased emphasis on a Jefferson couple on the run.
Ben and Shanda Ellingson, who left town on June 5 after Ben bailed out of jail for threatening to kill his wife, have been charged with a number of child sexual abuse accusations.
In addition to Ben’s original charges of domestic abuse assault causing injury, first degree harassment and possession of a controlled substance violation (marijuana) with intent to distribute, warrants are now out for his arrest for lascivious acts with a child (Class C Felony), enticing a minor under the age of 16 for sexual purpose (D Felony), continuous sexual abuse of a child (B Felony), prostitution (D Felony), third degree sex abuse of a child in the same household (Class A Felony) and sexual explotatiion of a minor (Class C Felony).
Shanda, Ben’s wife, filed the original charges of domestic abuse assault and harassment on June 2 after providing officers with audio recordings of Ben allegedly threatening to kill her. Shanda is believed to be with Ben. Neither have been heard from since June 5.
Shanda has been charged with several new felonies in addition to a protective order violation and child endangerment charge, including domestic abuse assault while displaying a weapon, solicitation of lascivious acts with a child, enticing a minor under the age of 16 for sexual purposes, continous abuse of a child, third degree sex abuse with the child victim coerced by person in authority, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.
Law enforcement obtained child pornography during their initial search of the Ellingson’s home on Chestnut Street after their disappearance, which may have contributed to the child sexual abuse charges.
As of this publishing, it is unclear why prostitituon charges were handed out and why Shanda was charged with domestic assault. Court records are expected to be available soon.
BEN’S VIOLENT PAST
Ben Ellingson, 37, was arrested June 3 for domestic assault and harassment for allegedly assaulting and threatening his wife. Shanda is now classified as a missing and endangered person via the National Crime Information Center database, though the newest charges may indicate she perhaps left on her own.
The Ellingsons allegedly disappeared on June 5, two days after Ben was released from jail for allegedly threatening to kill Shanda and also making sexually explicit threats aimed at his wife’s teenage daughter. Ben was also charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell after officers located more than seven ounces of cannabis in their Jefferson home.
The couple originally said they were “headed off the grid toward Canada” in a note left at their home on Chestnut Street which was detailed in court records.
The latest search warrant executed at their home on June 8 turned up a laptop, a tablet, a hand-written note (allegedly from the wife and mother) and a Tracfone, a pay-as-you-go cell phone.
Last week, Jefferson Police Officers issued arrest warrants for both Ben and his wife. Shanda left behind two teenage girls while a protective order was also in place for both her and Ben.
The investigation led to discovery of a video message Ben’s wife sent her neighbor, court documents say. Shanda can be seen saying in the video that “if anything were to happen to her she wanted (her neighbor) to care for her daughters.”
A note was also addressed to the same neighbor, which officers believe was written by Ben’s wife. It said the same thing as the video, for her neighbor to care for her daughters if something were to happen to her.
Shanda’s two daughters said they did not know why their mother left, though they were able to briefly contact her via cell phone, court documents say.
Shanda allegedly told the girls she was “with a friend and would be coming home that night.” She had also allegedly asked one of her children to join them, court documents said. One of the notes said she “can’t live with Ben being locked up” and that she won’t be able to call her children.
The most recent criminal report filed by a Jefferson police officer following the June 8 search said he believes that if Ellingson’s is not located soon, her life would be in danger.
The Ellingsons married in 2020, court documents show. Ben sports a violent past, having been convicted and sentenced to prison for kidnapping, third degree sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of a minor. Ben committed the crimes in 2004 in Decorah and was sentenced to 10-15 years in prison.
POLICE CONTINUE SEARCH FOR ELLINGSONS
Urgency has increased with these most recent charges. Local law enforcement have not classified it as a kidnapping case, believing Shanda could have left willingly. Ben bonded out of jail the same day he was arrested for domestic assault, harassment and possession of marijuana with intent to sell, then left town two days later, with Shanda.
"We have about equal evidence to support both theories (that the pair left together on their own). It's not a kidnapping case right now," Jefferson police captain Jason Kroeger said. "Kidnapping is a very specific term and we don't have a strong case that she was kidnapped."
The case has now reached a national level. The warrants have been posted in the NCIC database, Kroeger said, and because the duo indicated that they may cross state lines in their travels, the local police department also reached out to the FBI.
The Jefferson Police Department said they do have a few leads as to where the Ellingsons may be at, but in order to not tip off the wanted persons, they chose to withhold the information from the press.
"The circumstances are odd for this one that they are together," Kroeger said. "We are concerned for (Elingson's wife), but don't know if she's actually in danger."
Kroeger said it's important to alert law enforcement with any possible information.
"It's fairly common for them to flee," the captain said. "People rarely turn themselves in, especially if they know there may be some serious consequences.
ORIGINAL STORY - PUBLISHED JUNE 8
The accusations of Ben Ellingson’s domestic abuse first originated on June 2.
Ellingson’s current wife provided law enforcement with a number of audio recordings of the alleged abuser, saying he had been physically and verbally abusing her for at least six months. The audio recordings feature a voice believed to be Ben’s threatening to kill his wife on several occasions, including one such instance in which he said he would “strangle (her), I wouldn’t shoot you because I like things up close and personal.”
A number of other recordings indicate Ben was allegedly physically harming his wife, she can be heard telling him to not burn her and that she was in pain before a child enters the room and asks Ellingson to stop. The person believed to be Ben tells the child to go to their room.
Another alarming recording of a person believed to be Ellingson has him making sexually explicit and detailed remarks about his underage step daughter to his wife, the mother of the child.
The victim, Ellingson’s wife, admitted to being afraid for her life if and when she came forward to police, the original criminal report said, and admitted Ellingson had been voicing the alleged threats along with the alleged domestic violence for at least six months.
The accusations of harassment and domestic abuse initiated a search of Ellingson’s home in the 700 block of Chestnut Street in Jefferson, leading to additional drug charges on June 3. Law enforcement located significant amounts of marijuana, including seven mason jars of marijuana totaling approximately 196 grams of cannabis (or roughly 6.9 ounces) as well as 18 containers of THC, court documents said. Criminal reports also indicate officers found baggies and scales, which are believed to be associated with illegal distribution.
COUPLE ALLEGEDLY FLEES TOWN
Ben posted his $8,300 bond on June 3, court documents say, the same day he was arrested for the alleged violent crimes. Ben is believed to have left Jefferson two days later on Sunday, June 5 with his wife who accused him of domestic abuse, according to a note dated at that same time.
A Jefferson resident who is an acquaintance of Shanda tipped off law enforcement of the couple’s possible disappearance by reporting the wife missing on June 6. A police report filed at 4:50 p.m. indicated a “female’s husband had been arrested recently for domestic abuse assault” and that she could not be located.
The reporting resident was the same person who joined Ellingson’s wife to speak with police on June 2 accusing Ben of the aforementioned domestic abuse crimes.
Jefferson police officers, according to the June 6 police report, believed the female left town with the estranged husband, likely Ben, forcing law enforcement to execute another search warrant.
The officers entered the Ellingson’s home again on Chestnut Street, finding notes detailing their possible whereabouts.
The wife allegedly commissioned the notes, court documents say, explaining to her children why she left.
The search of the Ellingson’s home also turned up child pornography, though no charges have been handed out.
Law enforcement said there has been no cell phone use from either party since June 5 and the wife reported she wouldn’t be at work that day. Ben’s employer said he had not shown up for his scheduled work time that following Monday.
Officers believe the couple first left Jefferson in a Kia Sportage then transferred vehicles to a Nissan Frontier. The wife’s cell phone was last pinged to a location in Boone while Ben’s phone was last located in Jefferson. They are unsure whether Shanda actually left under her own power or if she was forced.
A preliminary hearing for Ben Ellingson’s most recent charges was scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 8. The hearing was waived shortly after the couple’s disappearance. The hearing has not been rescheduled.
Elllingson’s violent behavior dates back to 2004 when he lured his ex-girlfriend into his car, then drove to his apartment without her consent, handcuffed her and continued to sexually assault her. The charges were filed out of Winneshiek County and he was convicted in 2005.