Washington Man Denies Killing Girl for Insurance Money

June 15, 2007

An Auburn-area, Wash., man accused of drowning his 3-year-old stepdaughter to collect on a $200,000 life insurance policy pleaded innocent in King County Superior Court and remained in jail on $5 million bail.

Joel Zellmer, 37, was arrested in the death of Ashley McLellan, who was pulled unconscious from the family pool in December 2003 and died two days later.

Authorities initially ruled the drowning an accident but reopened the investigation after finding that the death fit a pattern of near-drownings and other bizarre injuries to befall the young children of women that Zellmer dated or married, according to court records.

Zellmer is charged with first-degree murder, as well as first-degree theft for allegedly faking a head injury to collect $193,000 in disability payments from the state Department of Labor and Industries.

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