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UPDATE: Man Confesses to Killing Ella, the Loving Deer

UPDATE: Man Confesses to Killing Ella, the Loving Deer

Thanks to an anonymous tip, the man who shot Ella the deer in Kansas City, Missouri’s Elmwood Cemetery last month has admitted to the shooting. Phoenix M. Vankirk, a 19-year-old, was cited for shooting a deer out of season, a misdemeanor that carries a $375 fine.Vankirk claims he shot Ella “…to save a little money and feed his family.” He has a fiance and an 8-month-old son.

Yes, a mere fine of $375 seems too slight a punishment for taking a life. However, the law is the law. “It’s certainly in the public interest that the person will be held accountable,” said John Weilert, president of Elmwood Cemetery board of trustees. “We can only deal with what’s on the books, in terms of laws, but I think the community has pretty well expressed outrage over this kind of behavior, and that’s something that the person is going to have to live with.”

In Defense of Animals was offering a $1,500 reward to anyone who reported a lead that found the perpetrator and ends in a conviction. PETA added $5,000 to the reward money.

The anonymous tip was reported to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office who then put the person in touch with Missouri Department of Conservation. It appears that the tipster may collect the $6,500 reward.

Vankirk said he was grilling food on his porch the night of August 3rd when he saw Ella. It should be noted, Vankirk lives directly adjacent to Elmwood Cemetery. “Vankirk stated he then went into his house and retrieved a .45 caliber handgun and jumped the fence of the cemetery.” He then hid behind a tree and shot Ella when she moved closer to him. Vankirk claims he left Ella’s body because he realized the cemetery was locked and he couldn’t get his vehicle in to load the deer carcass. He also claims he had no idea Ella was so special.

His Account Raises Questions

Comments on a local blog include:

  • “Lives across from the cemetery and after all the PR Ella received he was clueless?”
  • “Also, he didn’t realize the gates to the cemetery were locked until after he shot the deer?”
  • “If he wanted to feed his family, why didn’t he sell his gun &/or cancel his internet service?”

Now I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. In evaluating Vankirk’s story, however, it just doesn’t pass muster. With all the publicity about Ella over the past two years, how could a person living literally next door to her home not know Ella’s status in the community? Is it really possible a 19-year-old would think to kill wildlife to feed his family? Certainly his 8-month-old baby wouldn’t be eating deer meat.

Facebook’s Remembering Ella page has a comment that provides food for thought — no pun intended. “With the fine being only $375.00 and the reward money totaling $6,500.00 you can see where someone might get the idea to have a ‘friend’ turn them in, plead guilty, pay the small fine then split the reward money.”

If this hypothesis were true, could you also infer Vankirk isn’t the actual shooter and only went on record admitting it to get the reward money? That would mean the actual killer is still at large.

The Remembering Ella page also has photos taken of Vankirk’s home and the six foot concrete fence with barbed wire he says he scaled to commit the act. Could a seemingly healthy 19-year-old scale that fence alone and without help?

Since there is no forensic evidence with which to solve this case, it would be rather easy for anyone to fabricate a story of guilt – along with a tipster accomplice — with the goal of splitting the reward money. That’s not hard to believe at all, but is it true?

We may never know.

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All photos from Facebook Remembering Ella page

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8:33PM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

To the person who just said this...obviously you are just as stupid as the killer!! "I do have to say, as much as it sucks that Ella was killed, the guy seemed like he was trying to do right by his family :( How would the average person know she wasn't just wildlife and available to feed their family? And wouldn't most PEOPLE choose feeding their family over a pet deer? Hate to be a devil's advocate, but come on..."


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7:26PM PDT on Aug 26, 2014

I do have to say, as much as it sucks that Ella was killed, the guy seemed like he was trying to do right by his family :( How would the average person know she wasn't just wildlife and available to feed their family? And wouldn't most people choose feeding their family over a pet deer? Hate to be a devil's advocate, but come on...

10:11AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Donna L.: I understand your point. However, my focus was clearly on the needless death of loving Ella, by a COWARD, by a killer... .

5:53AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Sorry but that last comment about 'even if the baby was hungry'...that does not even deserve a mention, because the idiot only was grasping for an excuse!!! A little baby doesn't even eat deer meat!!! Give me a break! The idiot only enjoys killing, and could not have cared less about anything or anyone else!!!! He just wanted to KILL!!!!

5:11AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

Poor, gentle Ella. COWARD is all I can rightly think of, absolutely no excuse for killing such a gentle animal. Let's say the baby was hungry there are foodbanks and other resources. We all have made mistakes in our lives, but resorting to violence against animals and children goes beyond what ought to be human. RIP Ella

1:13AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

yes, the matter is to be investigated further, it seems

3:45AM PST on Nov 18, 2013

Really?? Maybe the dear was hungry also.

9:30AM PDT on Sep 30, 2013

"a misdemeanor that carries a $375 fine".........what a joke. This cost Ella her life and that's all this guy gets?

And he wanted to save some money??????? What an idiot. And have to agree with others......humans are THE most dangerous animal on this planet, bar none.


5:13AM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

Perhaps the best punishment for him is to have him raise a fawn to become an adult, then live with it and continue caring for it until it's as old as Ella was. Then give him a gun and tell him it's OK to shot her. The gun would not be loaded, but he won't know that that.

I doubt that he would kill a second time, as by then he'd be emotionally attached to her, and have a real investment of his time and life, which he completely lacked at the time of the killing. But if he did "fire" at her, then we know he's a psychopath and should be watched the rest of his life until he proves otherwise.

4:58AM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

I know there must be a law about using a weapon close to other homes or something. He is a spineless pos. I can only hope hope that during the rut a male dear looking for his girlfriend Ella shows him a good time with an antler!!!! Scumbag

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