Start with a large dose of Venereal Disease
(Earl’s parents both died of syphilis before he was two years old.)
Simmer slowly with fire and brimstone religion
(He was raised by a strict puritan Pentecostal grandmother)
Shake briskly and serve
(Earle received a severe concussion in a streetcar accident, which put him in a coma for five days).
Earle was a psychotic prodigy. He was expelled from primary school at the age of 7. His behavior included talking to invisible people, quoting bible passages about the great beast, and peeking at his cousin Rachel undressing. He would often leave the house with a new set of clothes and return days later dressed in dirty ragged clothing.
Though short, Earle developed large hands and tremendous upper body strength. He could walk on his hands for blocks at a time and lift chairs with his teeth. If only he had joined the circus.
Earle left school at 14, worked in a serious of manual jobs and acquired venereal disease in the brothels of the Barbary Coast. By age 19 Earle had been in San Quentin, the Navy and Napa State Mental Hospital. Upon being discharged from Napa State he made his next illogical move, marrying a 58-year-old spinster who he soon abandoned.
After attacking a 12-year-old girl, Nelson was arrested and spent 3 more years in Napa State mental hospital, from which he escaped several times. In a spectacular example of medical malfeasance he was discharged as “improved” in 1925. He spent the rest of his life proving how wrong his doctors were.
On February 1926 Nelson appeared at 2037 Pierce Street home of 60-year-old Clara Newman, a landlady who had a room for rent. She soon disappeared and her strangled and mangled body was discovered in the vacant apartment the next day.
He killed Landlady Lillian St. Mary, at 1073 Delores Street before taking his murderous act on the road. Earle was on his best behavior when first meeting landladies with an apartment for rent. He was polite and talked about his deep Christian beliefs. He would carefully inspect the rooms and took particular interest in the condition of the furnace. His goal was to get the landlady alone in the basement where he would attack them.
Witnesses described him as a dark, stocky man, with long arms and large hands. Because of this description and the ferocity of his attacks on the victims, newspapers started referring to him as “The Dark Strangler “or “The Gorilla Killer.” His list of activities also included necrophilia; after strangling his victims he would routinely have sex with their corpses.
As the police search intensified, Nelson crisscrossed the country, stopping in Portland, Council Bluffs, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago, leaving a corpse in each city.
On June 8th 1927, looking for greener pastures to bloody, Earle moved north to Winnipeg Canada with bible in hand and devout look in eye. His landlady, Mrs. August Hill was impressed with his piety. Two days later, after Lola Cowan, a 14-year-old girl disappeared and another woman was strangled, a police check of boarding houses brought them to Mrs. Hill’s establishment. When she described Roger Wilson as a short dark religious man, police searched his room. Under his bed they found the decaying body of Lola Cowan.
Assuming that Nelson was headed back to the U.S Police sent descriptions to all police stations and post offices. Five days later two constables in Killarney, a border town, arrested a man named Virgil Wilson who fit the description. He was so relaxed and cooperative that they thought they had the wrong man. They handcuffed him to a cell while they went next door to call Winnipeg Police Chief George Smith. When they described their captive, Smith said, “Don’t let that man out of your sight. I want one of you with him at all times! .” When the constables returned to the jail a few minutes later they found the cell door open and handcuffs dangling from the bar.
Panic gripped the town, all the women and children spent the night in a church, guarded by dozens of armed men. A 500-man posse went from house to house while Nelson spent a peaceful night in the loft of a farmer’s barn. The next morning Nelson walked to the station and waited for the train back to the U.S. This train, however, led to a different destination. When the train doors opened dozens of armed detectives, led by Police Chief Smith, charged out and Nelson was quickly arrested.
In all, between February 1926 and June 1927, Nelson killed at least 22 women, all but two of them landladies. He was convicted of murder and executed in Winnipeg on January 13, 1928. The next day Landladies all over North America breathed a sigh of relief.