A Delaware man allegedly drowned a woman in a bathtub at an Elkton home Tuesday night before setting fire to the house in an attempt to cover up the crime, Elkton police said Wednesday. "In my 20 years of police work, I've never seen anything like this," said Lt. Matthew Donnelly of the Elkton Police Department. "It's a bizarre case, and there are so many strange twists and turns."
After killing the woman, 25-year-old Jeffery Cordell of Middletown, Del., also allegedly left two passed-out men he had been drinking with at 221 Locust Lane inside the burning home to die, Donnelly said.
A neighbor discovered the fire at about 10:15 p.m. and escorted the intoxicated men - Patrick Devonshire and Robert Hurt - to safety, he said.
The name and age of the murder victim had not been determined as of late Wednesday, Donnelly said, adding that an autopsy would be performed by the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore.
Cordell turned himself in at the Newark (Del.) Police Department about 8 a.m. on Wednesday and confessed to the murder, which had gone undiscovered and unreported until then, Donnelly said.
At about the same time, state fire investigators were returning to 221 Locust Lane to continue what they had thought would be a routine fire investigation, police added.
A short time after learning about Cordell's confession, fire investigators discovered the woman's body in a bathtub under charred, fallen debris, police said.
"(Cordell) told investigators in Newark that he had done a terrible thing in Elkton the night before," Donnelly said. "He said he drowned a woman in a bathtub and set fire to the house to cover up the crime. Obviously, we were aware that we had had a major fire on Locust Lane on that night."
Donnelly said Cordell told investigators he experienced auditory hallucinations while drinking with Devonshire, Hurt and the woman at the Locust Lane house.
"He heard voices in his head that told him to hurt other people in the house," said Donnelly, who described the foursome were "acquaintances."
Cordell told investigators he had tried to stab one of the men with a knife, but the blade bent after piercing them slightly, Donnelly explained.
"Everyone was pretty intoxicated, so nobody really reacted like someone normally would," Donnelly said.
Cordell claimed he then allegedly attempted to poison the men.
"He tried mixing acid from under the kitchen sink with vodka, but no one drank the mixture," Donnelly said. "The two men had passed out from intoxication after drinking most of the day."
Cordell then turned his attention to the woman in the bathroom, Donnelly added.
"She was soaking in the bathtub," he said. "He held her head under the water and drowned her."
After the murder, Cordell allegedly set fire to the house before running away, leaving the woman's body in the bathtub and Devonshire and Hurt incapacitated in the living room, police said.
"Before the fire was discovered, he was able to get a ride back to Delaware from someone he knew," Donnelly said.
Investigators have ruled out that person as an accomplice, however.
"The person who gave him the ride had no knowledge that Cordell had just murdered a woman and set fire to the house," Donnelly said. "He unwittingly helped him get away."
According to Donnelly, officers met with Devonshire and Hurt, who told police that everybody was out of the house.
Because Devonshire and Hurt told officers that no one else was inside the house and because there was considerable charred debris, the woman's body remained hidden until Cordell came forward, Donnelly said.
"The occupants were unaware a fire had occurred in the rear bedroom while they were in the front living room," Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver J. Alkire said of the initial investigation.
Alkire identified owner of the home as the estate of Myrtle E. Wilson.
The fire caused about $120,000 in damage to the one-story home, he reported.
Approximately 40 firefighters from five county fire companies one from Delaware brought the blaze under control in 30 minutes.
Cordell remained in custody in Delaware on Wednesday night, police said.
He is awaiting extradition back to Cecil County, where he is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree arson, attempted first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault, police said.