Hudson struggles to come to grips with tragic deaths

by Josh Linehan

HUDSON, Wis. ñ Traffic snaked down 11th Street on Wednesday afternoon as passers-by slowed to take in a scene at once seemingly normal and profoundly wrong.

From a distance, the residential neighborhood including the O’Connell Family Funeral Home fit with the rest of the sleepy town of 9,151 nestled on the bank of the St. Croix River.

But up close, the colors didn’t match.

Two bouquets of flowers wrapped in pink paper lay on a blanket of snow, one resting against yellow and black police tape. Still-green grass poked through the snow on the other side of the line.

This was the only sign two men – one current and one former University student – were murdered here some time Tuesday afternoon, sending shockwaves through town and painting disbelief on faces everywhere.

Hudson Police Sgt. Marty Jensen said the deaths of Daniel O’Connell and James Ellison were being investigated as a double homicide Wednesday after their bodies were found inside the funeral home Tuesday afternoon.

“It seems the two indeed were in the office in back and were surprised by someone,” Jensen said. He also said they found handgun shell casings but not a weapon.

Hudson is the kind of town where drivers on Main Street still slow down for crossing pedestrians. And it’s also the kind of town where no one can remember when the last murder occurred.

“There’s been some speculation about when the last murder was. I know it was in the late ’70s,” Jensen said.

Now, Hudson has a full-fledged murder mystery on its hands.

Jensen said he was tipped to check if the perpetrator or perpetrators took any formaldehyde – which could then be used to increase the potency of marijuana.

But he also said his office was still determining how to proceed with the case.

“We haven’t gotten anything yet as far as motive. They don’t keep cash at that location, so we don’t think it was a burglary. And the place is really run by family and close friends. We haven’t ruled anything out yet,” Jensen said.

Police towed two cars from the funeral home lot Tuesday, but both belonged to employees and have since been released.

In addition to the Hudson Police Department, representatives from the St. Croix Sheriff’s Department, the River Falls Police Department, the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation and FBI agents are working on the case.

DCI agents took employees through the building Wednesday, searching for missing items or any kind of clue.

The Ramsey County medical examiner performed autopsies on both bodies Wednesday, but results were not released.

The O’Connell family has operated the funeral home in Hudson since 1926. Residents described them as prominent and active in the community.

Daniel O’Connell’s father Tom served on the St. Croix Board of Supervisors for 30 years, and he and his wife Janet led the local United Way campaign.

Both Daniel O’Connell and his brother Michael graduated from the University’s mortuary science program and followed their father into the family business. Family members could not be reached for comment.

“The O’Connells are a wonderful family,” said Michael LuBrant, the program director. “It’s just such a blow. We’re completely devastated.”

O’Connell, 38, was married and is survived by his wife Jennie and two elementary-age children. He also served as a volunteer emergency medical technician with the Hudson St. Croix Emergency Medical Services.

The death of a man who was such a fixture in the community has many in Hudson baffled.

“Everybody’s a little bit on edge,” Jensen said. “There are a lot of concerned citizens out there. Especially when it happens to such a well-liked individual, everyone is really still in shock.”