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Police: Woman killed by boyfriend

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Kelly Butler

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James Zell

Ex-Strasburg resident found dead in abandoned W.Va. cabin; tentative autopsy reports show she was pregnant

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- A former Strasburg woman was pregnant when she was killed by her boyfriend earlier this month, according to the Morgan County, W.Va., Sheriff's Department.

Kelly Elizabeth Butler, 29, who lived at 190 N. Massanutten St., No. 4, Strasburg, as recently as July, was found dead Friday in an abandoned cabin in remote Hampshire County, Morgan County Chief Deputy W.J. Shambaugh said Tuesday.

Shambaugh said Butler was strangled to death by her boyfriend, James T. Zell, 23, who had also lived on North Massanutten Street. Tentative reports from an autopsy also revealed she was pregnant, Shambaugh said.

Zell is awaiting extradition from Pennsylvania on charges of murder and concealment of a dead body. He has admitted killing Butler, Shambaugh said.

Morgan County authorities began looking for Butler after getting a call Thursday from a Shenandoah County deputy, Shambaugh said. The deputy said a resident reported Zell "was down in Shenandoah County saying that" he'd killed Butler, and "offered to show him the body," Shambaugh said.

That day, he and Lt. T.P. Stapleton visited Zell at the home he'd shared with Butler in the Tri Lake Park trailer court in southern Morgan County, just a couple of miles from the Virginia border.

Zell was initially cooperative, Shambaugh said.

"As I started looking around, I noticed there were girls' shoes, there are some girls' clothing, stuff that would be odd that she had left," he said. "At that time, Mr. Zell told us they had gotten into a fight about two weeks previous, and that she had left. A guy picked her up in a blue car."

Shambaugh also thought it suspicious that Butler would leave behind her friendly and affectionate dog.

"[Zell] said, 'Yeah, I've been concerned about her. I think she might be dead,'" Shambaugh said.

He said Zell told them Butler might have killed herself. When Shambaugh pointed out it was strange Zell was joking he'd killed her when he thought this, Zell told him he was just being "drunk and stupid."

"His hands were shaking, and [he] just started looking suspicious," Shambaugh said. "I walked outside with him. I just told him, 'Man, this is not looking good. I said, 'If she's someplace, bodies always turn up. We have got to have some answers.'

"About 11 o'clock that night, Lt. Stapleton called me at home and said he had started getting calls that Zell was calling family members saying he had killed Kelly Butler and was going to kill himself."

Several hours later, Stapleton called back to say Zell was being held by police in Chambersburg, Pa., for driving drunk and waving a shotgun around, Shambaugh said.
He was read his rights and interviewed early Friday morning by Stapleton and Shambaugh.

"He said that they came home from the bar and they had gotten in a fight, and she had punched him several times," Shambaugh said. "He said that he must have blacked out because he said when he came to that Kelly was dead and had finger marks around her throat. He said he knew she had just died because there was still a tear on her cheek, beside her nose. He said he didn't remember it, but he knows he did it because there was no one else there."

Zell then loaded Butler's body into a Chevrolet Blazer and took her to a run-down cabin in an area of Hampshire County where he'd hunted, Shambaugh said. There, he put her body into the cabin's loft.

Sheriff's deputies found Butler's body Friday morning, Shambaugh said. He said she may have been dead since Dec. 8.

Had Zell kept quiet, it's not likely she would've been found for some time, Shambaugh said.

"I'm glad for her family we were able to recover the body fairly quickly," he said.
Shambaugh said Butler had moved numerous times. She and Zell were living in Strasburg when they were arrested by town police on disorderly conduct and public intoxication charges on July 20, according to Shenandoah County General District Court records. Each was sentenced to one year of probation on Sept. 26.

Other charges against Zell may be pending, Shambaugh said.

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