Killing of Michelle O’Connell case researcher remains unsolved more than 2 years later

Detectives say there weren’t able to find any evidence that would suggest a stranger had been in Eli Washtock’s World Golf Village condo

The family of a man killed in World Golf Village is still hoping for answers more than two years after his death.

Eli Washtock, 38, was found shot to death Jan. 31, 2019, in a third-floor condo at Laterra Condominiums inside the gated community. Authorities said Washtock was independently looking into the high-profile Michelle O’Connell case.

“My mother is taking this extremely hard, and she’s trying so hard to be strong. She needs to know what happened,” said Jessica Tiffany, Washtock’s sister. “I’m hoping that we can find whoever did this because this crime, it was very heinous. It was very up close and personal.”

Right after Washtock’s death, there was confusion over his identity after detectives learned he legally changed his name to Ellie Washtock. But everyone close to him has always known him as either Eli or his birth name, Craig, which his family calls him by. He was a mechanic and father of two.

Loved ones said Washtock’s teenage son called 911 after finding his body, and News4Jax obtained audio of the call.

Dispatch: “Do you need law enforcement and fire rescue?”

Caller: “Uh, um, I think I just need an ambulance.”

Fire rescue: “What’s going on there?”

Caller: “Um, (redacted) got shot.”

Fire rescue: “Just got shot?”

Caller: “Yes.”

Later in the call, dispatch asks the caller if a weapon can be seen.

Caller: “Yes, there is a weapon.”

Dispatch: “It was his own gun?”

Caller: “Yes, it was.”

Dispatch also asks if there was a lot of gunfire and if Washtock was shot more than once.

Caller: “I don’t know, but there are shots going through the wall.”

During the call, Washtock’s son tells dispatchers he was staying at a different condo the night before Washtock was found dead.

Dispatch: “Were you there all night?”

Caller: “No, I was in a different condo.”

Dispatch: “You live in a different condo? Or you were just staying in a different condo?”

Caller: “Just staying in a different condo?”

Tiffany said Washtock put his son downstairs that night out of fear something may happen to him.

“After his passing, we were also made aware that he had been made aware of some people watching his movements from the back of World Golf Village,” she said.

Washtock’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office. Detectives said they sort of have a person of interest, but they don’t have any hard leads to name a suspect. They said it has to be someone Washtock knew because a stranger couldn’t have made it past the security gate. Investigators also said there wasn’t any sign of forced entry into his condo. But Washtock’s sister said there was money taken from a jar inside the condo.

Authorities previously described Washtock as a private citizen who was researching the O’Connell case, which has been a source of controversy for years in St. Johns County because of the circumstances surrounding her death. So even though Washtock’s death occurred in St. Johns County, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office was asked to take over the investigation to avoid a potential conflict of interest because of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s involvement in the O’Connell case. For similar reasons, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement declined to help preserve and process the shooting scene, according to an FDLE spokesperson.

“As far as any foreign fingerprints or DNA or anything, we weren’t able to find anything that would suggest a stranger has been in there,” said Putnam County Homicide Detective Klayton Usina.

O’Connell, 24, died in September 2010 of a gunshot wound inflicted by the service weapon belonging to her boyfriend, St. Johns County Deputy Jeremy Banks. Her death was ultimately ruled suicide, but members of her family have long held onto the belief that she did not take her own life. The polarizing case has since attracted national attention.

O’Connell’s mother was close with Washtock and believes he was killed because he was getting deep into his private investigation. Washtock’s sister agrees.

When asked if there’s any indication that Washtock’s private investigation into the O’Connell case had anything to do with his death, Usina said: “We’ve looked into that in-depth, and we couldn’t find anything that would connect any of that. The officer that was involved in that case didn’t seem to know who he was or that he was one of the people that were investigating him.”

Tiffany said their family needs justice.

“There is no perfect murder, and it will be solved,” she said. “It may not be soon, but it will come out.”

Anyone with information about Washtock’s death is to call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at 386-329-0800 or CrimeStoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-8477. The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said there is an up to $5,000 reward for information that could lead to a conviction.


About the Author: