|Earle Leonard Nelson|
San Francisco mugshot
|Born||May 12, 1897
San Francisco, California, USA
|Died||January 13, 1928
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Cause of death
|Execution by hanging|
|Other names||The Dark Strangler
The Gorilla Killer
Breaking and entering
Span of killings
Nelson's mother and father both died of syphilis before Nelson turned two. He was subsequently sent to be raised by his maternal grandmother, a devout Pentecostal. Around the age of 10, Nelson collided with a streetcar while riding his bicycle and remained unconscious for six days following the accident. After he awoke, his behavior became erratic and he suffered from frequent headaches and memory loss. When Nelson was 14, his grandmother died and Nelson went to live with his aunt, Lillian, and her husband.
Nelson began his criminal behavior early, and was sentenced to two years in San Quentin State Prison in 1915 after breaking into a cabin he believed to be abandoned. Later, he was committed to the Napa State Mental Hospital after behaving oddly and erratically during his short stint in the United States Navy. He managed to escape three times from the hospital before hospital staff stopped trying to find him.
Nelson began engaging in sex crimes when he was 21 years old. In 1921, Nelson attempted to molest a 12-year-old girl named Mary Summers but he was thwarted when she screamed and brought attention to Nelson. He was committed once again to the Napa State Mental Hospital. After several escapes and attempted escapes, Nelson was released from the Napa mental institution in 1925 and started on his killing spree early in 1926. He killed his first victim, Clara Newman on February 20, 1926, and two weeks later, he claimed his second victim, Laura Beal.
Nelson's victims were mostly landladies, whom he would approach on the premise of renting a room. Nelson often studied his worn Bible, using it to keep his victim at ease and off-guard around him. Once he gained their trust, he would kill them, almost always by strangling them, and engage in necrophilia with their corpse. He would often hide the body, leaving the corpse under the nearest bed.
By using false names and moving on quickly after he committed the murders, Nelson avoided capture for eighteen months. Nelson claimed victims in several West Coast cities (including San Francisco, San Jose, and Portland, Oregon), throughout the upper Midwest, and finally in Canada. Police were hampered in their efforts by the fact that serial murder was a relatively unknown crime. They were also slowed down by a number of mistaken arrests. Four days after the murder of Laura Beal in San Jose on March 2, 1926, police arrested an Austrian national named Joe Kesesek because he was "acting suspiciously" and wore similar clothes to those worn by the killer. Stephen Nisbet was held in jail for two days after the murder of his wife Mary. Two days after the murder of Isabel Gallegos on August 19, 1926, a Russian immigrant named John Slivkoff was arrested but later released.
Nelson was arrested twice in Canada, where his murder spree ended. He was first arrested on June 15, 1927 in Wakopa, Manitoba, not long after murdering two females in Canada: 14-year-old Lola Cowan, whom he lured to his room (in a boarding house) on the pretense of buying flowers from her. Later, her body was found decomposing under the bed in that room. He also killed housewife Emily Patterson, who was found by her husband underneath their bed. Nelson was incarcerated at the local jail after giving police the alias Virgil Wilson. He escaped that evening from the jail in Wakopa. However, Nelson made the mistake of trying to catch the same train that was transporting members of the Winnipeg police, and was recaptured and arrested again the next morning by an officer from the Crystal City, Manitoba police department.
His trial began on November 1, 1927 in Courtroom Number One of the Manitoba Law Courts Building. Though Nelson's lawyer James Herbert Stitt attempted to portray Nelson as mentally ill and therefore not responsible for his crimes, the jury found Nelson guilty of the Winnipeg slaying of Emily Patterson, found strangled underneath her own bed by her husband who had knelt by the bed to pray for her safe return after finding her missing on the afternoon of June 9. Patterson had been Nelson's fifth victim in just 10 days.
- Gibson 2006, pg. 29-30.
- Gibson 2006, pg. 30.
- Gribben, Earle Leonard Nelson.
- Gibson 2006, p. 31.
- Gibson 2006, pg. 33-34.
- Gibson 2006, pg. 35.
- Gibson 2006, pg. 36.