Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Earle Leonard Nelson: The Dark Strangler

On the Move

With a determination that only another madman can understand, Earle Nelson crossed the American Northwest for the next 16 months killing at will and leaving almost no clue for police to follow. As the bodies piled up, police in San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, and Portland, Oregon among other cities could only shrug their shoulders in frustration as they took a beating in the press over the apparent ease in which the Dark Strangler could slay.

Mrs. Blanche Myers, victim (CORBIS)
Mrs. Blanche Myers,
victim (CORBIS)

In some homes, the women offered themselves up like sacrificial lambs. Portland's Blanche Myers was eating lunch with a gentleman friend when Nelson came to inquire about a room for rent. Despite press reports about the Dark Strangler, she quickly gave him the tour, accepted his $4 and the story that he was a lumberjack looking for work and went back to lunch. They found Mrs. Myers garroted and dead, underneath the bed she had rented to Earle. He took her life, her diamond engagement ring and $8.50 from her purse when he left.

By the end of 1926, Nelson had killed 14 women and an eight-month-old baby, which he throttled with a diaper. He earned money by working odd jobs and pawning the few baubles he stole from his victims.

Sometimes, Nelson left women alive. He stayed in Portland for a few days, his homicidal impulses apparently sated for the time being, and made a positive impression on the elderly landladies with whom he stayed. They were tracked down when they converted some jewelry he bartered with into cash — it turned out that the gems were stolen from Mary Nisbet.  The women only remembered a pleasant, quiet young man who studied the Bible and left suddenly without paying what remained of his bill.

Nelson fled eastward, stopping first in Iowa for a time, then to Kansas City, then to Philadelphia where he strangled a 60-year-old woman. He then moved to Buffalo, New York, then Detroit and finally into Chicago. By this time Earle Nelson had killed 20 women almost always with his bare hands or with at most a towel or rope.

Heading back to the Northwest, Nelson crossed the international border into Canada. It would be a fateful emigration. The next time he would return to the United States, it would be in a coffin.

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