Woman facing murder, arson charges in connection to fatal Fort Atkinson fire


FORT ATKINSON, Wis. — A woman is facing multiple charges for her alleged connection to a fatal Fort Atkinson fire.

According to a Wisconsin Department of Justice news release on Tuesday afternoon, Elizabeth M. Durkee has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, strangulation and suffocation, arson of a building and mutilating a corpse.

Durkee was arrested over the weekend after emergency crews responded Friday morning to 415 Foster St. for a report of a fire. When first responders arrived, they found a woman dead inside the home.

According to the criminal complaint, Fort Atkinson police officers arrived at the house around 11 a.m. and saw flames and smoke coming from the first-floor window on the house’s north side. There was also fire and smoke coming from the back of house, and no cars in the driveway.

The complaint said an officer — who knew people who lived at the home — went to the back of the house and saw flames coming out of the door.

A neighbor told the officer a woman — later identified as Durkee — and her young child left the house prior to the fire. Later that night, around midnight, state authorities issued an AMBER alert for a missing 2-year-old. Authorities said Durkee was seen leaving the house with the young girl, who police said was in great danger.

The AMBER Alert was canceled roughly a half hour after it was issued.

The victim of the fire has not yet been identified. The State Fire Marshal’s Office at DOJ continues to investigate the woman’s death.

The complaint said police interviewed the victim’s daughter, who said her mother wanted the house to go to Durkee, since she didn’t want Durkee, her granddaughter, to go homeless.

After investigating the house, police realized the victim was already in a state of decomposition, due to maggots in her clothing. Durkee’s 17-year-old daughter told police, according to the complaint, if there was a fire in the house, she would leave the victim in the house, and said she would burn the house down after the victim died, or “hopes a tornado would hit it.”

The complaint said Durke also contemplated killing herself and her 2-year-old daughter, by driving into either the Rock River or Lake Michigan.

Early Saturday morning, the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation learned Durkee was staying at a Delevan motel. After forcing their way into the room, the 2-year-old was turned over to family at Durkee’s request, according to the release.

In an interview with authorities, Durkee told investigators her grandmother’s health was declining and she was suffering anxiety and diarrhea. She told investigators her grandmother was “sick of feeling bad all the time and feared going back to a nursing home,” and she wanted to die.

On June 7, just days before the fire, Durkee told her grandmother she would help end her life, “but didn’t know how,” the complaint said. Later that night, Durkee said she covered her grandmother’s home with duct tape and stayed in the room as she gasped for air. After two minutes, she stopped moving, the complaint said.

Durkee didn’t leave the house for two days when she went to go get groceries with her daughter. She told authorities she thought about calling an ambulance, but decided not to.

On Thursday, June 10, Durkee said she noticed her grandmother’s skin on her face had darkened and the odor of decay was worsening, so she later decided to set the house on fire, and have her and her 2-year-old die in it.

Durkee began to pour gas on random pieces of furniture and objects through the first floor, and poured gas on the blanket covering her grandmother.

After deciding she could not kill herself and her daughter, the complaint said Durkee put the gas can back in the garage.

At 9 a.m. Friday, Durkee said she gathered her 2-year-old’s diaper bag and some toys and put them in the car. They later left the home.

During Durkee’s first court appearance Tuesday, a judge found probable cause and set a cash bond of $1 million. Durkee’s next appearance is scheduled for Aug. 6 at 8:30 a.m.