The Prolific Murders of Earle Nelson

The Dark Strangler terrorized North America for 18 months, leaving over 20 deaths in his wake

Heather Monroe

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In the era before serial killers were pillars in the news, one of North America’s most terrible and prolific killers was a man named Earle Nelson.

Earle Nelson’s Canadian Mugshot, 1927, Public Domain Image

Rough Beginnings

He was born Earle Leonard Farrel in San Francisco, California, on May 12, 1897. His parents, James C Farrel and Fannie Nelson, died of syphilis before the boy was two years old. Earle found a home with his maternal grandparents, Lars and Mary “Jennie” Nelson, who were raising their own five children. The family lived at 3525 20th Street, in San Francisco.

The Winnipeg Tribune
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
04 Nov 1927, Fri • Page 1

Lars and Jennie were Pentecostals who raised children to believe sex outside of the marriage bed, even the thought of it, meant sure damnation.

Earle’s childhood was marred by illness and near brushes with death. Earle almost died from diphtheria at age nine. When he was ten, he was hit by a streetcar while riding his bicycle. He sustained an injury to his temple and remained unconscious for six days. Earle recovered physically. Mentally, he was never the same. He suffered from bouts of headaches, memory loss, and a developed morbid disposition. Earle became a withdrawn and sullen child, afraid of anything God might regard as unholy. After all, such things took his parents away.

Earle was expelled from school at age seven. He talked to people no one else could see and quoted scripture at the top of his lungs — scriptures that mentioned “the beast.”

As a preteen, Earle refused to eat the food prepared for him. Instead, he threw scraps of food on a plate and mixed it with a bottle of olive oil. Earle would slurp this meal from his plate, instead of with silverware provided to him. His aunt would later say that Earle ate five times more than a child his age should. When his grandfather offered him clean clothing, Earle traded it for ragged clothing.

Lars died in 1904, and Jennie followed in 1907. 14-year-old Earle went to live with his aunt…

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Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•