Sex crime fugitive’s assumed identity fooled many in Penticton

Two vastly different portraits of Edward Melvin Ellis have emerged since his arrest in Penticton on a Canada-wide warrant.

Update: May 17, 2013

Edward Ellis has since been exonerated on two of three charges, and pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm.

Posted: July 10, 2012

Two vastly different portraits of Edward Melvin Ellis have emerged since his arrest in Penticton on a Canada-wide warrant in connection with a 13-year-old sex crime thousands of kilometres away.

Ellis, 51, was nabbed Thursday at his home on Poplar Grove Road and faces three charges stemming from “a brutal sexual assault on a female he sought at a private party” in Toronto in 1999, according a bulletin on the RCMP’s website.

Following the arrest, police said Ellis had been living in the Penticton area for the past nine years under an assumed identity.

Among the downtown business community, he was known as James Ellis, the face of Knot Just Beads. Ellis was “very pleasant, very well-mannered and very supportive of the work and anything we needed to do,” said Barb Haynes, executive director of the Downtown Penticton Association, of which the bead store was a member. Haynes was “shocked” to learn of Ellis’s alleged past, and said he was also well-liked among vendors at the farmers’ market, where he sold sunglasses.

“I found him to be very community-oriented,” Haynes said.

Knot Just Beads closed in February after six years in business at two different storefronts on the 400 block of Main Street. According to city records, the store’s business licence was issued to Julie Desfosses, with whom Ellis raised a son.

“I did not get an explanation as to the closure, other than they were looking to do other activities,” said Haynes.

Ellis apparently had a soft spot for a pair of charities near his store. Rhelda Pawulski, manager of the I.O.D.E Thrift Shop, said Ellis was always friendly and quick to lend a hand when needed.

“I don’t know how he made a living there, because he was always outside having a smoke,” Pawulski added.

At the nearby Wings Thrift Store, volunteers would call upon Ellis to help with heavy lifting.

“If somebody needed furniture loaded onto or off their vehicle, he would provide the strong arms,” said Eleanor Summer, executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society, which operates Wings.

Ellis was also well-liked on Poplar Grove Road.

“He’s been a very, very helpful neighbour,” said a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, and was also surprised to learn of Ellis’s arrest. “He worked at a business in town, so it’s not like he was hiding away.”

In a news release issued Friday, Mounties said they were contacted in April by the Toronto Police Service fugitive squad, which had received a tip that Ellis may be in the area, and investigators here used both their files and public records to find him.

Ellis was co-operative during his arrest and “conceded to police that he had been looking over his shoulder since 1999, wondering if and when police would catch up with him,” RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said in the release.

Moskaluk said the bust shows it’s never too late for people to come forward with information about an alleged crime, and that Ellis’s arrest will bring “a certain degree of solace” to the alleged victim in Toronto.

Ellis appeared in Penticton provincial court on Friday and was to remain in custody until he could be returned to Toronto. He is charged with forcible confinement, sexual assault and assault causing bodily harm.