January 7, 1978… The Nelson Murders, Rockford, IL

EDIT:   This post is my most viewed post.  I’d like to know who is searching for this, and why (my guess is that it’s more “kids” who remember the Nelsons).  Please leave a comment.  🙂

To the memories of Ann, Jennifer, Simon Jr, Andrew, Matthew, Rosie, and David.  May they all rest in peace.  And to all who were impacted by the murder of the kids, I hope we can get some closure now that their killer is dead.

January 7, 1978…. it was a clear, cold winter Saturday when my grandmother (and grandfather) walked into our house and asked me if it was my figure skating coach whose 6 children had been murdered, and found earlier that morning.  I froze.  I was just 14 years old (by a couple of months), and had no frame of reference to figure out how to wrap my head around what she had just asked.  It couldn’t be true, could it?  Ann’s kids had to be OK.  I knew  her oldest daughter, Jennifer, who was 13 years old. We saw each other at the skating rink on occasion.  We knew each other well enough to know where we knew each other from- and if we’d been thrown together with strangers we would have stuck together… so we weren’t close friends by any means. But I knew her.  I didn’t know her siblings.  But I knew Ann. I looked up to Ann.

Ann Nelson had been my skating coach for a few years on and off, and more recently had become my coach for private lessons.  She was compassionate (something I didn’t feel much from my own mom, though as the years went by I learned so much more about how much she DID love me- in the only ways she knew how). Ann took the time out of her evenings to call me when I was babysitting to see if I was OK.  She stayed behind from a coaching and rink staff party when I fell and hit my head pretty hard during the Spring Ice Show rehearsals in 1977.  My folks were out of the country and I wouldn’t give anybody the phone number of the grandparents I was staying with (grandma would have freaked if she knew I got hurt on her watch- same grandma who broke ‘the news’ to me), so she made sure I was doing well enough to go home when  it was time for me to be picked up. She’d already called for any available physicians that happened to be at the rink that night to come and see me in the back room where they’d carried me (I’d been knocked out cold), and there was one there- so I’d been seen by a doctor. She also was a role model.  I looked up to just about anything she did. She had been an alternate in ice dance on one of the mid-late 1960s  US skating teams.  I still have a photo of her and myself on my dresser from 1978.

After my head reattached to my body when my grandmother asked me if the kids who were murdered were my coach’s kids, I went into my bedroom and turned on the local radio station.  That’s all that was on.  It was true. Ann’s kids were all dead, and her husband, Simon Peter Nelson, had bludgeoned them with a rubber mallet and hunting knife likely the night before- or that’s when he started.  Over and over, I heard about Jennifer-13, Simon-11, Andrew-8, Matthew-7, Rosie-5, and David-3  being dead.  At first nobody knew anything about Ann, or they weren’t talking about it, so I had no idea what had happened to  her.  I was terrified she was also dead.  Being only 14, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with losing anybody I knew enough to really care about, and really didn’t know how to handle it all.  But I couldn’t stop crying.

The next morning was a Sunday, so the newspaper would be a bigger edition, and my best chance of finding out what information was available.  I found out that Ann had been in Milwaukee, WI after telling Simon Peter Nelson that she wanted a divorce. Evidently, he snapped and killed all of the children, and the family dog- a dachshund named Pretzel.  He then drove to the hotel where Ann was staying, and threatened to kill her, but told her about the kids. At some point, Ann called the police and told them that her husband had told her he’d killed all six of their kids, and they needed to get over to their home; they were Catholic and also requested a priest go as well.  Reports that were going around  said that in order to identify some of the boys, they needed the footprints taken at their births to confirm who was who, they were all in one room, and so mangled from what their father had done… what their    f a t h e r  had done.  The idea that a parent could do such a thing was unthinkable. This was the late 70s. There was no 24/7 news coverage of family atrocities.  These things just weren’t heard of unless they made national news- and those situations were rare, and not in MY city. To people I knew.

I’ve thought about Ann so many times over the years.  I’ve wondered if she’s ever had some sort of peace to continue any quality of life. I’ve wondered if she did end up getting married, as it had been said months after the murders, around the rink.  I had taken lessons from her throughout the time up to and somewhat beyond the trial and conviction.  She had seemed like herself, but I can’t imagine the agony and heartache she must have felt.  The rink had to be sort of a bittersweet place; she was in a familiar place with people who cared about her, but her daughter- a promising ice dance skater- wasn’t there.  Jennifer’s ice dance partner was there, and seeing him had to be hard.  Yet, maybe the familiarity and kids who didn’t ask questions (or some of the younger ones didn’t really understand what had happened) were of some comfort.

It was during this time that I was being ‘groomed’ for ice dance.  My mom told me years later  that Ann had called her and explained that I could be on a national competition circuit path, but it would involve a lot more skating time, much more expensive skates, and that a parent be available to travel with me. Things were different back then.  Now, the coach is considered to be an acceptable adult to accompany the kid.  Back then, it had to be a parent or relative…and my folks both worked, so that wasn’t possible.  It broke my heart to not be able to spend more time skating, but it was what it was, and I survived …but I’ve never stopped wondering how Ann is doing. Where she is. If she’s been as OK as someone could be who had survived the extermination of  her kids.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to understand the magnitude of what happened much better, and really don’t comprehend such a loss.

When I was 14, I’d already been exposed to the kidnapping and murder of an adolescent boy in our city. About a year earlier… Joey Didier was on his paper route when he was abducted, and later found dead at a Boy Scout camp about 25 miles away- he was found while I was staying with my mom’s parents who lived relatively close to the camp. I remember it being dark when the news told of his body being discovered, and being out in the country  near that camp.  Then the Nelson Murders (as they came to be called) happened.  In my adolescent brain, that meant that adults either snatched kids and killed them, or that parents can get mad and kill their kids.  It left a huge impression on me as well as most of the kids in Rockford, IL.   Around here, it’s one of those ‘where were you when?’ events to those in the skating community, or who were of the same ages as those who whose lives were stolen.

My folks didn’t really seem to understand why I was so upset- but I think it was more that nobody knew how to deal with that sort of thing.   It’s just  not in the Parenting 101 Manual- ‘How to Help Your Kid Deal With Parental Murders’ isn’t in the index.  I’d heard of murders among adults- but never anything where a parent wiped out the whole family of kids.  It was scary, as well as incredibly confusing. I was told to get over it- it had nothing to do with me. (No, the most important activity I was involved with outside of church had been decimated by incomprehensible and deliberate brutality of those deaths).  Add to that the loss of my coach, when she eventually moved away after the trial (understandably), and I was upset for several years, though I learned to shut up about it.  But it never went away.  I still remember it every year, 34 years later.  Since moving back here, and having access to online petitions, I sign all  protest petitions that I know about when Simon Peter Nelson comes up for parole.  The city still reports those parole dates on the evening news.

I don’t know if Ann Nelson (or what she changed her name to, though it was rumored that she became ‘Elizabeth Johnson’, marrying the man she’d been divorcing Simon Peter for) is still alive. She’d be about 72 years old now, as she was 38 at the time of the murders and trial.  It’s very possible she’s still out there.  Unless her heart physically broke.  I’ve always wanted to tell her how much of a positive influence she’d been when I was younger, and how much I appreciated the time she spent with me, helping me out when I got hurt, and also  being encouraging when I was going through adolescent ‘stuff’.  I wanted to let her know that I’d thought about her, and prayed for whatever sort of healing one can get to in that sort of incomprehensible loss.  I wanted to let her know that the lousy, hurtful things that were said about her (like why did she leave the kids with ‘him’- as if she had any remote inkling that he was capable of such devastation) weren’t representative of everybody, or even most people.  Mostly, I’d want to let her know how indescribably sorry I was she had to go through that horror, and reach out to her- now that I’m an adult.

It’s been 35 years tomorrow.  I still remember how I found out as if it were yesterday.  I still have the newspaper articles, and that beloved photo on my dresser.   I don’t know how to ‘put this away’ for good- or if that’s even possible.  I do know that I wish the best for Ann,  wherever she is, and whatever her name is now…and that those lovely eternal kids have been able to rest in peace.

For those doing the searches about this, please leave a comment … I’d like to know where all of the searches are from, and what the connection and/or interest is.  I have more searches for the murders and Ann than any other blog topic I’ve written about.

Update:   Simon Peter Nelson died on June 18, 2017, awaiting the decision on his 19th parole request.   He died in St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, IL, having been moved there  5 days before his death.  The initial cause was “natural causes”.   I cried a sort of relief cry when I found out.   He caused SO much collateral damage when he CHOSE to kill his own children.  Every kid old enough to understand what had happened was afraid that mad parents kill kids.  I’ve thought of Ann so many times, and have had the photo of her and myself on my dresser for 39 years (and have no intention of moving it).   My prayers are with her tonight.   As they have been many nights over the decades.   I hope this gives her some type of ‘release’.  ❤ 

UPDATE:   I recently found out that Ann passed away from ovarian cancer in 2014.  She was still married to the same man- so for about 36 years, she was with someone she loved, from all info I have received.  As far as I know, she never had more kids.   I’m glad she was able to have some stability after such a horrifically chaotic event in 1978.   May she RIP.  ❤

Published by JillinoisRN

A disabled RN who is still trying to find ways to help people. I've got a lot of interests, and a lot of things I'd like to convey to people.... whether they want to 'hear' them remains to be seen :)

41 thoughts on “January 7, 1978… The Nelson Murders, Rockford, IL

  1. I was 7 in Florida when this happened and after I heard about it on the news, I remember asking my mom how I was supposed to know that she wasn’t the kind of parent who would murder me.

    She (being as unskilled at compassion as your mom, perhaps) replied, “Well, Susan, how do I know you’re not going to kill me?” It wasn’t her most nurturing moment, but I guess in a way it did teach me to hope for the best.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you. I had heard that the story had been heard away from our region, but hadn’t realized how far it had reached. It was one of the defining moments in my life, and not necessarily in a good way. I learned that trust is never a guarantee, no matter how well I thought I knew someone- and yet, I repeatedly put myself in situations where that was tested- not consciously, but I just wanted to see the good in people. With the 24/7 news we have now, I know that I can really ever only know myself- and just hope that the odds are stacked in my favor with everybody else. I found that not to be true when I was raped, but otherwise, I still hope.

  2. Yes, the tragedy reached distant shores far away and long ago. I remember reading an article about this tragedy in January,1978 – in Australia. I remember thinking how wonderful the little girl looked (far right in your picture, on her father’s knee), and how surreal this was. Still, as an adolescent in Adelaide at that time, I was dealing with the onset of puberty, and also dealing with a series of brutal murders that have basically continued to the present day. Naturally, I got out of Adelaide years ago, and have since found adults and people generally difficult to trust. You may have even read about the Beaumont Children’s disappearance, ‘Family’ murders, Truro and Snowtown murders. Regardless, thanks for posting this article. I’d prefer to remember the child in a positive way. Good luck and God bless you.

    1. Wow- that is amazing, considering all we really had back then for any detailed news were magazines and newspapers. It was a very difficult age to handle those types of things (not that it’s ever easy). All of the news we got here about the children were that they seemed happy- though there were those who criticized Ann (the mother, my skating coach) for leaving the children… she had no idea he was going to be violent in any way- that was never brought up, and I never saw Ann bruised or banged up. I will look up the cases you mentioned. I was pretty sheltered from a lot of things as a kid. There are never ‘just’ the direct victims- it always trickles down to people nobody thinks about and can have a profound impact. Take care ❤

  3. I’m just 26 years old so I wasn’t around when it happened but my mother was an 8 year old in the town at the time. I stumbled upon this bcuz I was trying to find out what ever happened to Ann. Today is the 40th anniversary of this tragic incident. My sister recently moved in to a house two doors down from the “Nelson house” I’m just curious n thought I could find out what happened to her but it doesn’t seem as tho anyone knows or is giving out that information

    1. Actually, the 38th anniversary on January 7th. Ann left shortly after the trial, and changed her name- either by marriage to the man she was seeing (who had a very common last name), or through a court request. Her life was ruined from the media, and that was before 24/7 news coverage. I had a pen pal at the time in Venezuela, and they’d heard about the murders. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t live anywhere near that house, or where I’d have to drive past it. Ann was such a sweet person, and it hurt to see her have to go through so much, and being 14 years old, not really be able to know how to cope with it, let alone let her know how much I cared, and how sorry I was. It’s interesting that this is one of the most ‘clicked on’ blog entries I have. Every week, at least 10 people read this, if not 20. I think that only those close to Ann know where she is, and is protecting her privacy. I’ve tried to find out how she’s doing and never had any luck.

      I wish your sister all the best living near that nightmare’s location- she would have been the age of one of the middle boys when it happened.

    2. I recently found out that Ann died several years ago, from cancer. I won’t go into any more details, but was relieved to know that she had found love in the last decades of her life.

  4. I’ve really been bothered by this and have felt horrible for Ann and the children. I actually went through that house a couple years ago and it was a real Erie place to be. I felt it necessary to go to the cemetery and just see where the children were buried and let them know that people still care. As for simon, no matter how remorseful he tries to act, I hope he burns in hell!

    1. I hear ya. Ann was a great coach, and very caring. I can’t imagine what her life has been like, no matter how much she put it together as best she could.

  5. Thank you for posting your memories and feelings. I can absolutely relate with how you felt; I was a friend of Jenny and a Walker School Student and a neighbor. I felt intense confusion and stifled emotion—not really coming to terms with the tragedy at 12 years old (do we ever really?). As an adult I want to more about what happened, as our adult psyches can now deal with it.§

  6. I looked it up because a friend reminded me about this tragic event by posting the house he grew up in on FB and it was mentioned that the Nelson house was next door.

    I didn’t want to go to the paper (RRS) about it because they are lame about giving information without some type of payment.

    Thanks for the fabulous information on the event that so shaped my life. We discussed it in class and my teacher explained the psychological profile of people who kill like this and it developed a lifetime interest in me about the mind. I read the paper about it to verify my teachers points. I found them.

  7. Thanks for the history. Biography. Rockford news. Your story.
    I especially like that your blog gives me room to have my belief that it is IMPOSSIBLE to get over events like these. I lost my younger brother 6 years ago and that taught me that no parent can ever get over losing a child and other losses along those lines. I don’t care that there is evidence (PROOF!) that people are walking about and I am living and we are functioning but that doesn’t stop me from having my belief.
    Now to you about why I am here. When I am reminded about this event I look it up again. This time a guy posting a picture of the house he grew up in and it was next door to the Nelson house and I thought about Ann. I didn’t know her name. The time before I looked him up was the petition reminded me. I didn’t go to this blog before. I searched: “Rockford, il. ” Simon Peter Nelson

    1. I’m so sorry about your brother. (and for finding your comment so late). I think that people back then just didn’t talk about anything much- and with something so horrific, there was just no way to help us kids through it. My folks lost two newborns, two years apart- and it ‘broke’ my mom. They adopted me, and were great parents- but there was always something “empty” about my mom. She was never allowed to see the babies (didn’t encourage bonding since they were going to die- born just early enough to not survive back then). She had to grieve what she imagined the babies to look like.

      I’ve always wondered about Ann’s ability to move forward. She taught at the rink after the murders (before the trial)… and she was “OK”- but I think she was still in shock to some degree.

  8. In the neighborhood where I grew up (Beloit, WI), there was a house at the end of a block where a strange family lived. I remember the house had a dark, spooky vibe to it- it was completely shaded with evergreens, painted a dark brown/red and always had the curtains drawn. There were a number of children who lived in the house with their parents, but they never came out to play and we rarely ever saw them. The few times I saw the mother, she had on dark sunglasses and her head was covered in a scarf, while the father always looked at us intensely whenever we rode by on our bikes.

    When I was in 6th grade, I was given the position of school bus monitor- like a hall monitor, only on the school bus. One day, the bus happened to pick up the two children old enough ( a boy and girl) to go to school. This was odd, since they almost never seemed to be in school. I remember specifically having to boss them around and tell them to keep seated- they were absolutely wild. There clothes were wrinkled and their hair was unkempt and stringy. I don’t remember ever seeing them after that, and soon after the family moved away.

    Around 5 years later, the Beloit newspaper carried a story about a father having murdered all his children – 6 total- in a rage because his wife had decided to divorce him. The children were the kids who lived in that dark house, two of which I had bossed around on the school bus years before.

  9. I don’t know why the Nelsons popped into my brain today……odd and then I ran across this blog. My family lived next door – at 1421…..I remember well waking up that morning and hearing some kind of commotion outside…..when my husband and I looked out we saw yellow tape…..we knew immediately something awful had happened. I at first thought “gas” and got dressed and walked over. Talking to a police officer is when I found out it certainly wasn’t “gas”. Then news crews showed up, coroner and Father Wentick…I knew Father as he was the chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital and I was in nurisng school there at that time. I was asked to identify the children as I knew them well….they ran with my children thru the neighborhood and the house – always snatching chocolate chip cookies off the counter. After waiting to do so about 20 minutes Father came out and said “NO, you are not going in there.” I described each child to the police and they said that was sufficient. The only chuckle I have about this aftr 38 years is that that damn cat lived. Of course Simon did the dog first to shut him up…..the dog was a yapper extrodinairre. I hated that dog. I did day care for Rosie and David for many months…..and they came in awful condition. I spoke to the parents about my concerns but nothing changed. I bathed and cleaned them every day. David always came with urine soaked diapers and so I would sit him in the bathtub and pour warm water over his little butt and then put Desitin all over. Rose always had dirty and matted hair and her hair was think and long…so I would put her in the tub and we would shampoo and condition and comb and brush. She loved that. Rosie stole my heart – she was just precious…curious, beautiful big brown shining eyes. Matthew was my youngest sons best friend……my son still agonizes over this. Jennifer babysat for us. Jennifer……dear god she was blossoming into a beautiful kind person. The other two boys weren’t around our place too much. Simon Peter junior had a rather flat affect – didn’t or couldn’t relate well. And it is sad I just don’t recollect Andrew very well.

    The descriptions of the murders is very tepid in the newspaper reports……it was much worse according to Father and the police on the scene that I talked to – and I believe the report is inaccurate also in the locations they found the boys in….there was a third story bedroom that I believe one or both of the older boys were found in. I won’t describe the manner the boys were murdered in – I still can’t get my head around it.

    Our house became the press coffee shop and gathering place – Fred Speer – came every day for a week….and they used the phone all the time……remember no computers and no cell phones. And it was cold……very cold. Press was there from all over the world. I still have a letter from a young woman in Argentinia who wanted me to describe for her the details. John Bates sat at our kitchen table and sobbed. We were all in shock. Afterward the house became an object of curiosity……on Sunday’s especially Camp avenue would have streams of cars parking and people in their Sunday best waliking up on the porch and peering in the Windows. Every Sunday you could time it……around 1230 after services let out. After a couple weeks we would pack our boys up and to someplace for the afternoon until the voyeurism tours were over. Even had people climb over the fence – we called the police more than once. The house sat for some time at a VERY reduced rate….a young couple my husband and I knew eventually bought it…..they divorced two years later. Later another couple bought the place – the neighborhood thought they were strange……ha….they were B”Hai faith…..not so very strange….. they finally left….I only hear rumors now on who lives there. Family members of the current owners recently bought our old house at 1421. Someone I hear from in Rockford says it is the Camp Avenue Commune. I have no idea.

    I remember hearing a few weeks after the deaths that the children were buried but no one knew where for some time. Our neighbors Kay and Bill Staniceks found out and on a bitterly cold winters afternoon – a Sunday….about 8-9 of us and all our children with a minister found the unmarked graves and had a service. Other neighbors we invited declined and some thought we were insane – even more so to take our children. The children needed that – some would call it closure…..I hate that term. There is never closure with death – there is a process and you move on and live but death always lives on.

    I don’t argue that Ann was a superb instructor…. She was distant with neightbors….her eyes now that I think back had a look……I don’t know maybe sad, resigned – there was a pall around her. She wasn’t happy. Simon Peter……well his persona and his presence – any interaction with him was scary……actually – maybe ominous? I always thought there was something really really wrong with him. He always appeared to me to have a look of being slightly mad. His eyes were wild and well mad. Things deteriorated with care of the children….rumors of them being locked in their rooms all day. One day we found David had crawled out the second floor window and was on the roof. We got a ladder out and got him to safety. We called Child Protection three times regarding the lack of care and safety for these children- to no avail. So to my mind both parents were certainly culpable as to the neglect they received.

    It is hard to believe that Simon Peter is still alive…..84 years old. And that he had the temerity the gall to opt for a parole hearing every year…….it demonstrates his mentality…….that he thinks this wasn’t his fault….it was Ann’s fault……to his mind. Her leaving “made me do it”.

    There are no Heros in all this……everyone is/was a victim.

    1. The book “Secret Rockford” has a chapter about the murders- they seem to have some details about the location of the bodies- and yes- all four of the boys were in a finished room on the third floor. It was sad to read that they were essentially put to bed (by Jennifer) in regular clothing. I knew Jennifer just slightly from the rink.

      I’d heard rumors about the kids not being well cared for. That is so different than the Ann I knew- she would have been at the rink early (private skaters would skate for an hour or two before school)- maybe 5 a.m. or so- not sure why Simon wasn’t capable of getting his own kids dressed for the day.

      The parole hearings are about every 2-3 years. There was one this year. I signed the online petition to deny. Joe Bruscato (?sp) is one of the ADAs (I think) here- and he goes in person to speak for the kids, and those of us who were collateral damage by simply knowing the family. Ann was like a surrogate mom to me- even if just in a casual way. I’d fallen during rehearsals one year, and hit my head really hard. I didn’t want to be out of the show, so she’d wait at the side of the rink and bundle me up in that big fur coat of hers and take me to a quiet area for a few minutes to rest. She was very compassionate. I wonder if things at home were just so miserable that she disconnected from SP. Jennifer always looked ‘intact’.

      I think about them almost daily.

    2. I’d heard from a schoolmate that the murders were so brutal that identifying the kids at first glance wasn’t possible. I’d also heard that Rosie and David were often in poor condition- and wondered why SP hadn’t cleaned them up- Ann likely would have been at the rink by then- but also heard that Jennifer was more in charge of the younger ones than she should have had to be. SP and Ann are both gone now. And you’re so right- the collateral damage rippled like a boulder in a wading pool.

  10. I’m originally from Rockford, but moved to Colorado in 1975. I was 6 months pregnant with our daughter when the children were murdered. My husband and I were driving somewhere when we heard about it on the radio. I was sickened to hear about their poor little lives being taken and I still am.

    My Father died in 1977 and my Mother in 1995, they are buried about 10 or so yards from the Nelson children. Every time we come to Rockford for a visit I always bring flowers to each of their graves. I know the flowers are removed for mowing and such, but I still want the children remembered.

    I’m not sure when Simon Peters next parole board meets, but I would like to know. Please contact me if you ever hear when the next one will be. The children will always be remembered by us. Gods peace be with you always… Rita

    1. There was just a parole review- and online petition to sign. I think the next one is in another 2 years… he’s 84 years old now, so I would think that the reviews would end permanently soon… as they should. I”m not a vindictive person, but death is almost too good for him.

  11. Please keep me updated on Simon Peters status. The children are buried about 10 yards from my parents. I bring flowers to each of their little graves each time we visit Rockford.

    1. I’ve thought about going out to the cemetery, but not sure I could. SP comes up for parole every few years, and there are online petitions opposing his release. IF only the prison terms ran consecutively.

  12. I lived on Sherman Street. I was playing with the boys making a snow man that previous day. I woke up to the sirens and tons of emergency vehicles driving to Camp Avenue. I think of the kids all the time and just a few years ago, I visited their grave. I always make sure to write a letter and sign the petition each year. I don’t feel that it is fair for him to have his freedom since his children were not given a choice to live. He also claims he remembers nothing of the actual crime which concerns me. I thought of writing a letter to the attorney who attends the parole hearing and have even contemplating going next year. He is up for parole in 2017. This has forever been on my heart. They were great kids! I feel those of us who knew them have to be their voices. I don’t even understand why he does not just request to live his life out in jail.

  13. Simon Peter Nelson III (the victim) was in my class at school when they lived in Beloit WI. We were friends. I stayed at their house for his birthday (~8-9). I got him one of those water and air pressure powered rockets that were so hip back in the day!…. So did someone else… *sigh*

    They moved away (to nearby Rockford) and when I heard about this happening I remember telling my mom how odd it was that this guy who killed his family had the same exact name as my friend Simon…. She just agreed that it was odd… Later, when I found out that my friend Simon was one of the victims, I was pretty upset that my mom hadn’t told me and just played it off… I understand now why she did that, but I still think it was a bad decision.

    The thought of this happening to my friend haunted me… I wanted answers that were just never to be. Why? How? Did they know?… his own dad… I guess it still haunts me somewhat, as I find myself here, after all.

    It freaked me out that a dad could do that to his kids, but I also had good context to put it in, as I had met the senior Simon and he wasn’t at all like my dad (he made me feel uncomfortable and was a bit moody/short with us kids)… It brought to me the reality that not everyone’s life was as good as mine.

    I don’t hate Simon Sr… but I don’t feel like he took from me, either (again, they had moved away… This may be part of why I can distance myself from it)…. I think I feel sorry for him… ?….. Isn’t that odd?

    1. One of the things that hit me – and it took me a long time to really put it into words- was that parents who fight sometimes kill the kids. Back then, nobody talked about how it effected those of us on the fringes who knew the family in some way. Ann was a huge influence in my life- and she never let her home life affect her teaching. Jennifer was quiet, but pleasant- I didn’t know her well at all.

      It’s all just so incomprehensible. I don’t think it’s necessarily odd that you feel sorry for SP… in reading the chapter on the murders in “Secret Rockford” there is some indication about why he turned out how he did… not a good home life. I do wonder what makes people think that taking another life is ever a viable option. Just doesn’t compute.

  14. I had buried thoughts of this incident for years! I had attended PR Walker Elementary with Andy, the middle son who was murdered. I lived a block away from the Nelson house, just across the street from our school… I was 7 at the time and it totally freaked me out. After hearing about the murders I later asked my Dad if he was going to murder our family, so you aren’t the only ones who jumped to such horrible fears and conclusions. I actually knew and played with their next door neighbors as a kid and we all just sort of learned to live with it. I have the chills as I recall that cold winters day, and I pray for the souls of those kids, and their mother, Ann. I hope this doesn’t bring about the nightmares I had as a kid dealing with such a harsh reality. It was definitely the “end of innocence” for me, and at such a young age…

    1. It really did end the idea that childhood was safe. Or that parents who argue will still take care of the kids. I now live in the house I did when I found out about the murders- and I think that has stirred things up a bit. But mostly I wonder about Ann- and hope that she’s as OK as she can possibly be.

  15. This case was very real and close to home for me. I lived a block away from the Nelson house and most of us kids doubted our parents for awhile afterwards; it was a lot to take on at age 7. I still have the occasional nightmare about it but have hope that Ann was able to find some sort of happiness after all was said and done. I hear they may make a movie about these murders, let me know if they need anyone from Churchill’s Grove for insight. It is comforting to know I wasn’t alone in my fears and that people still sign the petitions to keep him locked up!

  16. I’m not sure when your edit was made asking about this post’s popularity, but if it was recent it’s because of the podcast ‘My Favorite Murder’ (the title may seem callous out of context). On the Facebook page, people post their home town murder stories and this was just posted. It’s interesting to get the perspective from an acquaintance of the victims. We often forget that such tragedy affects so many more lives than the direct victims. This must have been so traumatizing.

    1. There was a lot of collateral damage with the kids’ classmates and friends, the folks at the rink, etc. The community in general was left confused and in shock. I’ll have to check out the FB page.

  17. Thank you….I met Jennifer and her siblings at the rink when I was young enjoyed when we went , hoping to see her again as I lived in Belvidere so we didn’the get over there but maybe once a month. I was a paper girl so I found out about the murders on the front page and cried. We had heard through the rumor mill that it was the Mom and boyfriend who did it, never finding out for sure because we moved to New Mexico shortly after that. Thank you for your blog…..I was thinking about them and searched and found you. Thank you for putting the truth out there.

  18. I was at work an we were talking about horrible, tragic happenings in Rockford and this story came up. The house is still standing and has changed hands over the years. Today I was bored and was wondering too if Ann had gone on to remarry and possibly had another child, and came upon your blog. Thanks for sharing your story. I too sign the petitions, it was all so unnecessary and sad 😥

    1. I don’t know if Ann had any other kids (she was 38 or so when she remarried and left town). Thank you for also signing the petitions… he never deserves to breathe ‘free’ air.

  19. Thank you for sharing your story. I felt so bad for Ann losing her children in such a horrific way. No one talks about her in a positive light. I was glad hear the good things and the impression she left on you.
    My mother told me about this when I was on a hometown visit and we were exploring Rockford summer of 2013 or 2014. (The crime occurred 2 years before I was born.) The house was empty and up for sale so we creepily looked in the windows.
    Recently Rockford Reminise posted to FB on the January 7th anniversary. I, again, am enthralled with internet search stories on this whole story so similar to the Amityville murders in 1976. For that to happen in my hometown is disturbing.
    Another reason for my interest could stem from the fact that my father killed my 2nd stepmother at 2111 Douglas St June 10th of 1993. It’s in the Edgewater neighborhood across from Camp Ave and I also went to Walker school as the Nelson kids did. My brother and I weren’t home that night as we were at my mothers, but our custodial home was there. I always wonder what it takes for a person to kill.
    Thanks again!

    1. I’m so sorry for what happened to you and your brother. I get a lot of “hate” comments about Ann, and how she could leave them alone. She never would have put her kids in danger knowingly. She was a warm, funny, kind person.

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