Hanged at Winnipeg on Friday, JANUARY 13th, 1928, Earle Leonard Nelson, 36, left a trail of 22 raped and strangled landladies behind him before he was finally captured. By that time he had become known throughout America as the “Gorilla Murderer.”
A head injury suffered in childhood continued to cause him agonising pain, and at 26 he was confined in a mental institution after he assaulted a child. Three escapes later, a California court certified him insane.
He began his one-man reign of terror in February 1926 by raping and strangling a 63-year-old woman in the attic of her boarding-house. Twenty more similar killings followed in the United States in short order – at his busiest, Nelson claimed a fresh victim every third week.
In June 1927 he moved on to Canada, renting a room in Winnipeg and telling his landlady how religious he was. She was not to know he was using a false name, and shortly afterwards another of her lodgers, a l4-year-old girl, was found murdered. Then the body of another Winnipeg resident, Mrs. Emily Paterson, was found raped and strangled.
As the murders were investigated a second-hand clothes dealer came forward, his suspicions aroused by a recent customer. This was a man who had changed his clothes at the store, leaving behind a fountain pen which detectives examined with interest: it had been taken from Mrs. Paterson’s home by her killer.
The clothes-dealer’s description of the man was circulated, and Nelson was recognised by a shopkeeper in Wakopa and. arrested.
At his trial for Mrs. Paterson’s murder his wife said he thought he looked like Christ, but with that any resemblance ended. His defence of insanity got him nowhere, the judge telling the jury they should consider whether Nelson’s change of clothes, frequent moves and use of a false name were signs of madness or the cunning behaviour of someone trying to stay free.
“I have never committed murder – never, never, never,” Nelson protested as he was sentenced to death.