10 Innocent People Who Were Executed, Part Six: Ellis Wayne Felker

Ellis Wayne Felker

Executed in 1996

Ellis Wayne Felker was a suspect in the 1981 disappearance of a Georgia woman, Evelyn Joy Ludlum who was working her way through college as a cocktail waitress.

He was put under police surveillance for 2 weeks, during which time Ludlum’s body was found in a creek, raped, stabbed and murdered.

This surveillance was key to his conviction, as it allowed police to determine that Felker had the opportunity to kill Ludlum by an absence of evidence. While the system is supposed to presume innocence until proven evidence of guilt, this is a case of guilt being established because of an absence of evidence of innocence.

Felker knew Ludlum, which gave police a possible motive for the killing. Rarely do random strangers kill strangers. The fact that the victim was familiar with Felker was key in piecing together the weak case the police wanted to make against him.

On Monday evening, November 23, 1981, between 11:00 and 11:30 PM, Felker visited the lounge where Joy  worked as a cocktail waitress at a local Holiday Inn. Felker was wearing a T-Shirt advertising his local leather business. Ludlum remarked on nit and a conversation ensued. Joy Ludlum was looking for a new position, having no love for slinging cocktails. Her conversation led to Felker offering Ludlum a job, and an invitation to meet the next day.

Joy Ludlam
Joy Ludlum

The meeting never happened, as Felker had other business to do when Joy Ludlum arrived the next day at his house. Nevertheless, the interaction at the Holiday Inn and the communication about a job was enough for police to establish a connection between the victim and the suspect.

On Tuesday, December 8, 1981, two weeks after she disappeared, Joy’s body was discovered in Scuffle Creek by a mechanic who was searching the right-of-way along the Cochran short route, looking for discarded bottles and cans. She was clothed in the same plaid coat and red dress that she had been wearing when last seen alive.

When Ludlum’s body was found, the police relied upon a dubious autopsy report to complete the circumstantial case against Felker.

The Crime was reported in the following way by local media:

The State of Georgia is scheduled to put Ellis Wayne Felker to death in the electric chair at 14.00 Thursday 14 November despite grave doubts about his guilt for the crime for which he was sentenced to die

That Georgia should even contemplate this execution going ahead when there is serious concern about whether Ellis Wayne Felker is in fact guilty is unacceptable, Amnesty International said today.

Other evidence against Ellis Wayne Felker also appears weak. He was accused of murdering Joy Ludlum, who disappeared 14 days before the discovery of her body. Ellis Wayne Felker, who knew Joy Ludlum, was the main suspect and was put under police surveillance within hours of her disappearance.

An autopsy performed by an untrained technician found that the body had been dead for five days. This would allow Felker to be the suspect, giving him the means of committing the crime by being monitored when the crime took place – according to a manufactured timeline.

The disappearance on November 23rd and the five day time-of-death meant that Joy was taken and killed after police had placed Felker under surveillance. With Felker being watched by police, the police effectively gave him an alibi for the killing. Changing the time of death from five days to three days would allow the police to created doubt about Felker’s whereabouts within the time line leading up to the death, as police had stopped monitoring Felker three days before her body was discovered.


This is the sixth installment in the Innocent People Who Were Executed series by HistoryDojo. Please find the fifth installment here. Start the series with the first installment here.


The creation of this opportunity for Felker to commit the crime was essential. Evidence to the contrary needed to be suppressed for the States argument to be valid.

After the discovery of Joy Ludlums body in a creek, the first autopsy put her death within the previous five days. However, when it was realized that this would have ruled Ellis Wayne Felker out as a suspect as he had been under police surveillance for the previous 13 days, the findings of the autopsy were changed.

The autopsy was carried out by an unqualified laboratory technician

This information was later changed after realizing this would eliminate Felker as a suspect. Independent autopsies found that the body had been dead no more than three days.

Attorneys representing Ellis Wayne Felker during the appeals process showed the original notes from the autopsy and photographs of Ludlums body to pathologists who unanimously concluded that she could not have been dead for longer than three days.

This would seemingly exonerate Felker using the States own evidence. It did not.

However, the appeal courts have upheld Ellis Wayne Felkers conviction.

In 1996, Felker’s attorneys discovered boxes of evidence that had been unlawfully withheld by the prosecution including DNA evidence and a written confession by another suspect.

Even the presiding judge in one of Felker’s trials stated that his right to a fair trial had been severely compromised. Despite all this mounting evidence and doubts of his guilt, the Georgia Supreme Court denied Felker a new trial nor gave the defense more time to sort through the mounds of evidence to argue for exoneration.

Authorities in Georgia refuse to even consider that a mistake could occur in the administration of the death penalty. The Attorney General of Georgia, Michael Bowers, recently went on record as stating that there were no innocent prisoners on death row: There is rarely any question about the guilt of these people, virtually none. That is a myth…these guys on death row are the pits.

When asked specifically about the Ellis Wayne Felker case, Bowers replied: I’ve talked to the cops who investigated him, and I asked them: Guys, is there any doubt about his guilt? And they told me, Bullshit.

Felker’s execution was delayed numerous times. Once, the execution was delayed because Atlanta was hosting the Olympic games, and the State of Georgia did not want any controversy to interfere with the celebration and commercial success of the Olympics.


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A second execution date was interrupted when it was discovered that prosecutors and the sheriff’s department had boxes of evidence they withheld from investigators. These boxes contained numerous leads that defense attorneys might have followed to create doubt about Felkers guilt, saving him from execution.

One lead even included a signed confession from a mentally ill man that he had in fact raped and murdered Joy Ludlum.

The State of Georgia was not convinced that another delay was necessary, even though prosecutors had hidden evidence form the defense.

Felker’s final appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court drew a strong dissent from Presiding Judge Norman Fletcher, who condemned the prosecution’s behavior and said that the state had “repeatedly misrepresented its entire file.” [2]

Felker was executed by electrocution November 15, 1996 at the age of 48.

Electric-chair-009In 2000, a Georgia judge ruled that DNA testing would be performed in the first-ever attempt by a court to exonerate an executed person in the United States.

The results were ruled as inconclusive.

Without any documented error in the execution of Ellis Wayne Felker, no conclusion could be made about his mistaken conviction, the police and prosecutor misconduct or the validity of the death penalty. These sacrosanct elements of justice were preserved at the expense of the life of an innocent man. In reality, however, both were lost causes. Justice died in the darkness hidden evidence. The system was perverted and preserved by a cover up of the truth about what happened to Eliss Wayne Felker.


[1]http://murderpedia.org/male.F/f1/felker-ellis-wayne.htm

[2] justicedenied.org

Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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