Horror in St. Louis Hills | Gary Consolino, Ellen Dooling, and the murders that shook a city

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 1:33 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It was a crisp fall night; the kind good for sleeping. But John Dooling was awakened by a noise in his driveway. His daughter Ellen had been out on a date, and he was suddenly worried. He looked out the window and saw a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass parked in front of his house, it’s engine still running. Concerned, he went outside, saw Ellen in passenger seat, opened the door, and pulled her out.

John Dooling screamed. And screamed. And screamed. A piercing scream so horrible and loud, lights flickered up and down the 6200 block of Walsh Street.

It was 4 a.m. The calendar had turned to November 15, 1980.

Gary Consolino and Ellen Dooling met just a month earlier while working at Sears in Crestwood Plaza and immediately realized they had much in common. They both grew up Catholic in South St. Louis. Gary had gone to Bishop DuBourg, Ellen was a proud graduate of Nerinx Hall. Gary was a 20-year-old junior at UMSL, Ellen an 18-year-old freshman at SLU. Both were active in drama. Both were starting to save money for their future.

When Gary asked Ellen out for a date, she eagerly accepted. They had so much fun they planned a second date, this time at a school play. Afterward, they returned to Gary’s house to watch television. Later they went to McDonald’s before Gary drove Ellen home, where she had lived on the beautiful, tree-lined streets of the peaceful St. Louis Hills neighborhood since she was born. It was 1 a.m.

Three hours later, with the car still running and the windows rolled up, John Dooling awakened.

Ellen Dooling and Gary Consolino
Ellen Dooling and Gary Consolino(KMOV)

Gary and Ellen had been shot and killed. There was no robbery. No assault. No struggle. There were no witnesses. There was no noise to awaken the sleepy neighborhood until John’s anguish rang out.

Sirens soon followed his cries, and police cars flooded the area. By the time the sun rose, the neighborhood was being canvassed. As the days went by, police would interview hundreds of people. Nearby Francis Park was combed inch by inch. Lie detector tests were given. School friends were questioned. Rewards were offered. A hypnotist was brought in. The investigation was as intense as any city homicide investigator could remember. Now, more than 40 years later, there are still no clear answers.

The murders of Gary Consolino and Ellen Dooling remain among the coldest cases in the history of St. Louis.

The Dooling family declined to be interviewed for this story. The Consolino family name is a landmark in The Hill neighborhood. Their family opened a grocery store in 1906, and D. Consolino’s Market was a must-visit in the 1940s. Despite their history, it’s the events of those early hours on that 1980 date that live forever with the family.

“I miss him every day,” said Dominic Consolino, Gary’s older brother. “Someone knows something. This has been pent up in somebody for 40 years. It’s time for them to come forward. It’s been long enough. This needs closure for many people.”

Mike Downey was Gary’s best friend since eighth grade.

“He liked to write, and fish, and swim. Gary was absolutely funny. He had a grin that was half angelic and half devilish. They were a very close-nit family,” Downey said.

When Downey joined the armed services, Gary would write to him, and even visited him in California. Even now, Downey remembers in vivid detail the day he received the phone call about his best friend’s death.

“It was pure shock. It was disbelief,” he said. “We just couldn’t figure it out. It just didn’t make any sense.”

Dominic will never forget the call either.

“Even today, there is just no understanding why something like this would happen to somebody that didn’t have any enemies. It just makes no sense,” he said. “There’s no reason for this. We just couldn’t understand how this could happen to him.”

For the big brother, it’s a pain that will never go away.

“It’s been horrible. It’s something I want no one to experience,” he said.

So, who killed Gary and Ellen? And why?

Sometimes, murder has no answer. Sometimes there is no motive. Sometimes, if there is an answer, it seems capricious. And sometimes, you have to look for answers in strange places.

Four years after Gary and Ellen were murdered, Ronald Adcox and his friend Darren Molitor, in their 20s and without jobs or cars, spent most of their days hanging around the Saint Louis University campus. There, they befriended Mary Towey, an 18-year-old from Oakville, whose father was a SLU professor. The three soon became fast friends, with a common interest in the board game Dungeons and Dragons. When Towey’s parents left town for a weekend in March of 1984, she decided to throw a “Friday the 13th” party and invited Adcox and Molitor along with other friends. When Towey’s parents returned home after the weekend, Mary was nowhere to be found. Neither was the Towey family car.

Days later her body, wrapped in wire, was discovered along a wooded road west of Barnhart. She had been strangled to death.

The police investigation would quickly turn to Adcox and Molitor, who had also disappeared. The family car was found at the Atlanta airport. Adcox and Molitor were found in an Atlanta motel. Both men confessed and were charged with first degree murder. At his trial in St. Louis, Molitor said he and Adcox tied Mary up after a night of drinking and drugs, to “mess with her mind.” Molitor claimed he was desensitized by playing Dungeons and Dragons. Adcox claimed police coerced him into confessing.

Both men were found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. Adcox wound up in a federal penitentiary in Indiana. While there, he was convicted of murdering another inmate in 1991; strangling them with a cord. Later, he was charged with conspiracy to murder another inmate. With that, Adcox was bound for one of America’s toughest prisons: USP Marion.

And with multiple murder convictions, Ronald Adcox will spend the rest of his life in prison. While his name never surfaced as a suspect in the murders of Gary Consolino or Ellen Dooling, it eventually would.

In 1987, seven years after Gary and Ellen were murdered, with their case still cold, homicide detective Chris Pappas asked to take over the investigation. His long, winding investigative road would eventually lead him to Adcox, and Marion Penitentiary.

The Dooling's house on Walsh Street in St. Louis Hills
The Dooling's house on Walsh Street in St. Louis Hills(KMOV)

In 1989, Pappas received a tip that from an informant that an inmate at Marion had information about the Consolino and Dooling murders, but the inmate wasn’t talking. Finally, four years later in 1993, that inmate spoke.

The story he told was of a conversation with another inmate who claimed he was responsible for the murders. That inmate was Ronald Adcox. According to the informant, Adcox said he was “higher than a kite” and killed Consolino and Dooling after a late-night road rage incident. Pappas began digging and discovered that Adcox lived in south St. Louis in November of 1980, right between the Consolino and Dooling homes. According to his friends, Adcox liked to hang out at Francis Park, just a block from where Dooling lived.

The calendar turned to 1994, 14 years after Consolino and Dooling were murdered, and 10 years after Mary Towey was murdered. It had been seven years since Pappas took over Gary and Ellen’s case, and with this new information, he decided it was time to visit Adcox in prison.

Deep in the bowels of Marion Penitentiary, Pappas made his way to where officers kept what they considered to be the most dangerous inmates. He sat down, and was greeted by a very large man with very long hair, who had been living in an eight-by-eight cell 23 hours a day.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come,” Adcox said.

Pappas pressed for any information on Gary and Ellen, he recalled in a recent interview with News 4. Pappas is retired from the force and is now in private security in St. Louis.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I was sober, but if I was drunk and high, I might have,” Adcox reportedly told Pappas. Pappas kept his foot on the gas, pressing for details. Adcox just laughed.

“I’m gonna make you prove it,” the inmate said.

Today, Adcox sits in a Texas prison, serving a life sentence. 40 years after Gary Consolino and Ellen Dooling were killed, Pappas still refers to Adcox as a suspect, and still remembers the final words from his mouth when they spoke.

“If I knew I would be here the rest of my life, I would fess up.”

He will be. And he hasn’t.

For family and friends, the pain of that tragic night in 1980 will never go away. Of all the pain, and all the hurt, what stands out most is what might have been for two young people who had the world in front of them

“I never met her,” Downey said of Dooling. “But in his last letter to me, Gary wrote, ‘She’s the one. She’s the one. This is the one I’m going to marry.”’

If you have any information on the details of the murders of Gary Consolino and Ellen Dooling, call the St. Louis City homicide department at 314-444-5371. or the CrimeStoppers anonymous tip hotline at 866-371-8477 (TIPS).