NOTICE: Tulare County Sheriff’s Department detectives are asking residents of Three Rivers for assistance in this murder case and would like to interview anyone who might have seen the suspect or had any interaction with him. For instance, how did the suspect travel from the remote reaches of Three Rivers to Visalia after his vehicle was incapacitated? Anyone with information in the case is asked to call (559) 733-6218. Anonymous information may be texted to (559) 725-4194 or emailed to TCSO@tipnow.com.
One week after being reported missing by his family, the body of Gin Lu “Tommy” Shwe of Cupertino, Calif., was discovered in a shallow grave near the Shepherd Saddle fire road where it branches off North Fork Drive at the eight-mile marker. Shwe, a real estate investor who was civically active in his community, was apparently strangled by Christopher Charles Ellebracht, who the 70-year-old victim had befriended and employed as a handyman.
According to a January 30 article in the San Jose Mercury News, Ellebracht, 38, had told his mother, Joanne Ellebracht, that “he buried a problem in the mountains.”
Ellebrecht was a person of interest in Shwe’s disappearance from the outset when the missing persons report was filed. On that same day, Ellebrecht had tried to cash a $10,000 check in Morgan Hill from the victim’s account. He was also seen on surveillance video purchasing a shovel at a Home Depot in Morgan Hill.
Friday, Jan. 20— Ellebracht’s vehicle, a white Ford van, was found stuck in the mud and abandoned on upper North Fork Drive in Three Rivers. Shwe’s cell phone was found in a puddle nearby.
The van was reportedly stuck so deep in mud that a tow-truck operator snapped a chain trying to pull the vehicle free. Tulare County Sheriff’s Department deputies, who aided Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department deputies in the investigation, believe the suspect buried the victim, then hitchhiked or somehow made his way to Visalia.
Monday, Jan. 23— Ellebracht was arrested by Visalia police for brandishing a knife outside a fast-food restaurant. The arresting officers found the suspect in possession of Shwe’s wallet.
Wednesday, Jan. 25— Searchers using cadaver-sniffing dogs found a shallow grave concealing the body.
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Ellebrecht’s mother told authorities that her son is a paranoid schizophrenic. He has had numerous run-ins with law officers including a 2004 incident in Fontana where he was shot by police after partially dragging an officer trying to make an arrest.
Ellebrecht’s mother was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying she has sought mental health assistance for her son for three decades but no one would listen. Now Ellebrecht is facing elder abuse, kidnapping, and first-degree murder charges.
No motive for the murder has been determined.