CENTERVILLE — Law enforcement filed first-degree murder charges on Wednesday, after ruling a deer hunter’s death in Appanoose County 11 days ago was a homicide. Police say the victim was stabbed and shot multiple times.
Ethan Landon Davis, 27, of Promise City, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 31-year-old Curtis Ross, law enforcement announced in a press conference Wednesday morning. Authorities say they have DNA evidence linking Davis to the crime, and also seized other evidence during their investigation.
A first-degree murder conviction requires authorities to prove the killing was premeditated.
Davis made an initial appearance in district court Wednesday afternoon. He did not offer a plea. He was represented by court-appointed attorneys Kenneth Duker and Nicole Jensen. Davis made only quiet, one-word responses during the hearing.
Ross, of Cedar Falls, had been reported missing to the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office early in the morning on Saturday, Nov. 25. Appanoose County Sheriff Gary Anderson said authorities located Ross’ body after a search around 8 a.m. on that day. Authorities had approximately 396 acres of public land to search for Ross’ body.
The missing person report was made when Ross did not return to the residence he was staying at on Friday, Nov. 24. Anderson said Ross arrived in Appanoose County on Thursday, Nov. 23 to hunt and retrieve equipment he had set out previously.
It is believed Ross was killed between noon and midnight on Friday, Nov. 24, according to court filings.
Anderson said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that Ross was shot and stabbed multiple times. He wouldn't elaborate further on the condition the body was found in after being asked about some of the more gruesome rumors circulating the community.
Anderson also declined to speak on the motive, as it’s still part of the investigation. He also declined to say if Davis and Ross knew each other.
Investigators landed on Davis, Anderson said, because fingerprints at the crime scene matched with Davis’ prints. Search warrants then followed, he said.
The criminal complaint for the murder charge, signed by Appanoose County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Printy, said it “is known that Ethan Davis was familiar with the land Curtis Ross was hunting and where Ross’ body was located.”
Authorities say they located spent rifle casings near the area Ross was found. A court filing said those casings were located within 20 yards of where the body was found. Ammunition and ammunition magazines were also found in the vicinity.
Several items appear to have been found during a search warrant executed where Davis was living at 3326 Ohio Road in Promise City. The property belongs to his parents, but Davis lived in a trailer there, court filings said. Authorities say they found a vehicle owned by Davis approximately one mile north of his residence. Anderson said several areas inside the vehicle tested positive for blood.
Law enforcement also located a rifle that had been concealed under farm equipment in a remote area of the property. Authorities said Davis’ fingerprints were on the rifle, as well as several traces of blood.
By the time the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office announced they had found Ross’ body on Saturday, Nov. 25, Davis was already in custody on other charges. Law enforcement says those charges are unrelated to the homicide.
Davis has been in the Wayne County Jail since around 10 p.m. on Nov. 25. He was charged with first-degree burglary, child endangerment, and causing bodily injury. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, in court filings related to those charges, says Davis broke into a Seymour residence around noon on Friday, Nov. 24.
Authorities say Davis pistol-whipped a male victim at the Seymour residence and fired a 9 mm pistol while he held a 20-month-old child. The child was identified in court documents as Davis’ son.
For his charges originating from Seymour, Davis faces up to 32 years in prison. If convicted of first-degree murder, Davis would face life in prison without parole. Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965.
Davis is being held at the Wayne County Jail. The bond for the murder charge was set at $1 million, cash only. The bond for charges from the unrelated incident in Seymour was set at $100,000 cash only.
A statement by Ross’ family, released last week, said Ross was “a thoughtful and loving son, brother, and uncle” and “was a smart, careful and accomplished outdoorsman.”
Wednesday afternoon, the family released an updated statement following the charges, saying, “The family of Curtis Ross would like to thank all of the people that assisted in the search for Curtis. They are very grateful for all the hard work that law enforcement has put into the investigation. The family asks for continued privacy through this difficult time.”
Law enforcement still says they are asking for the public’s assistance, including if hunters find anything that is out of place. Those with information should call the Appanoose County Law Center at 641-437-4100. If something is found that is believed to be evidence, do not touch it.
The case is being investigated by the Appanoose County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Centerville Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Appanoose County Attorney, Appanoose County Medical Examiner’s Office, Office of State Medical Examiner, and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.