By Shereen Siewert
A 36-year-old woman who was named in a statewide AMBER Alert last week involving a missing 2-year-old child is accused of killing her grandmother, then setting fire to the woman’s home days later in an attempt to cover up the crime.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice issued the AMBER Alert on Friday as they searched for the missing girl, who was taken from the home by her mother, Elizabeth Durkee, of Fort Atkinson. The child was recovered safely shortly after the alert was issued.
Durkee now faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide, strangulation and suffocation, arson of a building and mutilating a corpse. The charges were filed June 15 in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Late Friday morning, Fort Atkinson Fire Department and Fort Atkinson Police Department were called to a residential fire on Foster Street in Fort Atkinson. Firefighters encountered heavy fire conditions and ultimately located a deceased adult victim in the residence. The Fort Atkinson Fire and Police Departments requested the State Fire Marshal’s Office at DOJ to investigate the death.
Police say Durkee was living with her grandmother, a 72-year-old woman with advanced Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes, at the Fort Atkinson home at the time the fire was set. Days earlier, Durkee allegedly told a relative that she wanted to put her grandmother “out of her misery,” and suggested she could “take a pillow and smother” the woman. Durkee also allegedly said she would burn the house down after the woman died and planned to drive herself and her 2-year-old daughter either into the Rock River or Lake Michigan.
According to the criminal complaint, Durkee on June 7 covered the victim’s nose and mouth with duct tape to smother her, then covered her with a blanket after she stopped breathing. Durkee allegedly thought about calling an ambulance but chose not to.
Three days later, Durkee set the fire after the odor of decay worsened and a cinnamon wax melt failed to cover the smell, according to statements she allegedly gave police. She then allegedly poured gas on furniture throughout the first floor of the home and on the blanket covering the victim, all part of a plan to start the fire and kill herself and her child in the process, according to the complaint.
But Durkee changed her mind, put the gas can back in the garage and went to bed. On Friday morning, police say, Durkee gathered her daughter’s diaper bag and toys, placed them in her vehicle, started the fire with a lighter and left the home with her daughter.
During an initial appearance Tuesday, Durkee was ordered held on a $1 million cash bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 6.
The prosecution is led by Jefferson County District Attorney Monica Hall.