Estranged Husband Charged in Murder, Arson - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/03/06

Estranged Husband Charged in Murder, Arson

A Bluffton man is behind bars accused of murdering his wife and setting fire to her house. The fire started Sunday night and firefighters found Ellen Anna McCormick's body inside with a head wound. Police arrested her estranged husband, Charles McCormick, and charged him with threatening the county coroner. But tonight, he's facing murder charges.

Investigators aren't saying exactly what happened led up to this, but they say the two had been legally separated since November.

It was too close to home for Lori Zahler and her family after a fire ripped through their neighbor's home Sunday night. Although she's trying to get back to normal life, she says looking at the remnants of the fire is a constant reminder of that terrifying night.

"I heard some noises," she told us. "Me and my four-year-old son were in the back bedroom getting ready to go to sleep and the neighbor across the street banged on our door."

The fire was very hot and nearly spread to the Zahler's home. "My husband ran for the garden hose to put water on the side of our house so it wouldn't get burned," she said. "The neighbor yelled inside, 'Lori, Zackary, get out of the house because Ellen's house is burning.' It just went into flames. It was terrible. Horrible."

While firefighters tried to control the blaze, they found 50-year-old McCormick dead inside with head injuries.

"It's been established through an autopsy and facts and circumstances at the crime scene that she was in fact shot and killed prior to the fire being set," reported Lt. Bob Bromage with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Zahler says she and neighbors had been hoping and praying McCormick wasn't inside. But she had no idea something like this would happen. "Her car was there, and usually when her car is there, she is pretty much there, so my husband tried to kick the door in, but I guess the heat was too much and it was locked. But he tried it many times," she said. "The whole thing makes me sick. The whole thing is very heartbreaking. And poor Ellen, she didn't deserve this."

Investigators originally arrested 49-year-old Charles McCormick the night of the fire for threatening the coroner's life. However, they're now charging him with murder, arson in the second degree, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com

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