Earle Nelson

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Earle Nelson
Earle Nelson.png
Earle Nelson's mugshot
Born Earle Leonard Nelson
May 12, 1897
San Francisco, California, US
Died (aged 30)
Vaughan Street Jail in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Cause of death Execution by hanging
Other names The Dark Strangler, The Gorilla Man, Charles Harrison, Adrian Harris[1]
Criminal penalty Death
Conviction(s) Murder
Attempted molestation
Breaking and entering
Victims 22+
Span of killings
February 20, 1926–June 9, 1927
Country United States and Canada
Date apprehended
June 16, 1927

Earle Leonard Nelson, known as "the Gorilla Man,"[2] (May 12, 1897 – January 13, 1928) was an American serial killer.

Early life[edit]

Nelson's mother and father both died of syphilis before Nelson reached the age of two years. He was subsequently sent to be raised by his maternal grandmother, a devout Pentecostal.[3]:29-30

Around the age of 10, Nelson collided with a streetcar while riding his bicycle and remained unconscious for six days afterward. After he awoke, his behavior became erratic, and he suffered from frequent headaches and memory loss.[3]:30

Criminal activity[edit]

Nelson began his criminal career early, and was sentenced to two years in San Quentin State Prison in 1915 after breaking into a cabin he believed had been abandoned. Later, he was committed to the Napa State Mental Hospital after behaving oddly and erratically during a short stint in the United States Navy. He managed to escape three times from the mental hospital before staff stopped trying to find him.[2]

Nelson began committing sex crimes when he was 21 years old. In 1921, he attempted to molest a 12-year-old girl named Mary Summers, but was thwarted when she screamed and attracted help.[3]:31 He was committed once again to the Napa State Mental Hospital. After several escapes and attempted escapes, he was released from the institution in 1925. He started his killing spree early in 1926. He killed his first victim, Clara Newman, on February 20, 1926, and two weeks later killed his second, Laura Beal.

Nelson's victims were mostly landladies, whom he would approach on the pretext of renting a room. He often studied his worn Bible, using it to keep his victim at ease and off-guard. Once he had gained their trust, he would kill them (almost always by strangling) and sometimes engage in necrophilia with the corpse.[2] He would often hide the body, leaving it under the nearest bed.[3]:33-34

Capture and trial[edit]

Nelson was arrested twice in Canada, where his murder spree ended. He was first arrested on June 16, 1927, in Wakopa, Manitoba, not long after murdering two women:[4] Nelson's final victims were 14-year-old Lola Cowan, murdered on June 8, 1927, and a housewife, Emily Patterson, whose husband discovered her body on June 9, hidden underneath their bed.[2]

He was incarcerated in a local jail in Wakopa after giving police the alias "Virgil Wilson". He escaped from jail that same evening. However, he made the mistake of trying to catch the same train that was transporting members of the Winnipeg police. He was then recaptured and arrested again the next morning by an officer from the Crystal City, Manitoba, police department.[3]:36


  1. ^ "Nelson Identified as Man Who Killed Buffalo Woman". The Winnipeg Tribune. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. 20 Jun 1927. p. 1. Retrieved 21 December 2016 – via Newspapers.com. 
  2. ^ a b c d Schechter, Harold (2004). Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743483353. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Gibson, Dirk C. (2006). Serial Murder and Media Circuses. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-99064-8. 
  4. ^ Swainger, Jonathan; Backhouse, Constance (2011-11-01). People and Place: Historical Influences on Legal Culture. UBC Press. ISBN 9780774840330.