An Illinois man who brutally killed his six children and their pet dog almost 40 years ago has died in custody.
Simon Peter Nelson was awaiting his 19th parole hearing when he died at a Springfield, Illinois hospital Sunday, June 19. He was 85.
The horror of Nelson’s crimes blanketed the city of Rockford on January 7, 1978; the day police received a call from a woman who told dispatchers she feared her husband may have hurt their children. With not much else to go on, officers performed a welfare check at the couple’s home in the historic northwest subdivision known as Churchill’s Grove.
What they found inside unfolded as the most gruesome murder scene Rockford police have ever investigated. Even before the grisly discovery, a responding officer told the Rockford Register Star that he felt an eerie tinge in his nostrils even though there was no identifiable odor.
However, it wan’t long before Officer Steve Pirages discovered what his senses were revealing: the “smell of death.”
In a room-by-room search, police located six bodies, the oldest a 12-year-old girl, the smallest a little boy, 3. Their father, Simon Peter Nelson, beat them with a rubber mallet and slit their throats as they slept. The family’s dachshund, Pretzel, lay dead next to two of the kids.
— Register Star (@rrstar) June 20, 2017
After the killings, Nelson drove to Milwaukee, where his wife was staying, to make her his seventh victim. She survived the attack and Nelson was arrested.
He told police he “snapped” when his wife told him she wanted a divorce. She had traveled to Milwaukee to contemplate the marriage.
Nelson was sentenced to six concurrent life sentences and was first eligible for parole in 1986. Each time he was up for early release, county prosecutors fought to keep him behind bars, citing the indelible impact the killings had on the Rockford community.
“Nelson was one of Winnebago County’s most brutal killers, and the impact of his terrible crimes continue to haunt the community,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Bruscato said. “For years, the State’s Attorney’s Office has worked to keep Nelson in prison for his heinous crimes. As always, our thoughts remain with the victim’s family and loved ones who continue to mourn the deaths of Nelson children almost 40 years ago.”
Simon Peter Nelson Up for Parole for 18th Time http://t.co/7rX7JB9M00
— 23 WIFR (@23WIFR) August 27, 2014
Bruscato planned to be at Nelson’s upcoming parole hearing and remind the Illinois Prisoner Review Board that although Nelson was elderly, frail and in poor health, the people of Rockford are still saddened by what has been called an unspeakable tragedy. Thousands of people signed petitions over the years urging the board to keep Nelson locked up.
“We as a community will continue to grieve the loss, and hope for continued healing for all who knew and loved those children,” the prosecutor said.
Nelson died of natural causes. He had been hospitalized since last week.
[Featured Image by Illinois Department of Corrections]