Man told officers he killed wife and neighbors; motive unclear

Man told officers he killed wife and neighbors; motive unclear
Edward Nelson sits in Coos County Circuit Court on Monday.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — An affidavit filed by a sheriff's deputy in last weekend's triple homicide in Coos County says a 65-year-old man told officers he shot and killed his wife and two neighbors and then set fire to the two houses. But there is no word on why he did it.

Edward L. Nelson of the rural community of Bridge is being held on $6 million bail. He was arraigned Monday on charges of aggravated murder and arson. His lawyer, Geoffrey Gokey, did not respond to telephone calls for comment.

The probable cause statement filed by Deputy Sean Sanborn in Coos County Circuit Court says a neighbor passing by saw Nelson's pickup truck driving from the burning houses. State troopers pulled it over a short time later driving east on Highway 42. Asked if he knew why he had been pulled over, the affidavit says Nelson said yes, but didn't want to talk about it.

Later, after being taken to the Coos County Sheriff's office in Coquille, Nelson indicated he would talk after being advised of his Miranda rights, the affidavit said.

"In that conversation, Mr. Nelson confessed that he shot and killed Renae and Lola Cottam and his wife Kathleen Nelson," the affidavit said. "He also admitted that he had set all three structures described above on fire (two houses and the neighbors' shop building), and that the clothes and shoes he had been wearing at the time of the fire were located in the truck he was driving when stopped by Oregon State Police."

Nelson added that he used two different guns to kill the three people, and the guns were in his pickup truck when he was stopped, the affidavit said. A state trooper found a shell casing from a semi-automatic on the floor next to Mrs. Nelson, who had been shot through the forearm and in the face, Sanborn wrote.

The affidavit also mentioned that a trooper saw "what appears to be a human skull" in the kitchen area of the Cottam's home. There was no further description of the skull.

An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday on the three victims.

The case was to go to a grand jury on Thursday.

Sanborn wrote that he went to the Nelson's two-story home north of the rural community of Bridge on Saturday night on a 911 call, and saw smoke coming from it. Looking in a front window, he saw a woman lying on the living room floor. He went inside and determined she was dead, and had been shot through the forearm and in the face. No one else was inside. He put out the small fire with a fire extinguisher, but smelled a strong odor of gasoline. The fire later came back to life and was put out by firefighters.

Outside, Sanborn wrote that he talked to a Myrtle Point police officer, who told him he saw smoke coming from next door. There, Sanborn saw a small fire burning in the shop building and the house was fully engulfed in flames.

A neighbor, Andrew Aasen, told Sanborn that he was driving by when he saw smoke coming from the Cottam's house and assumed they were burning brush. Then he saw Nelson's pickup pull out of his driveway and head north, away from Highway 42. Aasen went to the Nelson's house, and saw a woman lying on the floor. She was limp. Aasen's wife arrived, and he told her to go home and call 911. He flagged down a passer-by, Dan Brewer, who had been scouting for elk. They went inside and both believed the woman was dead.

A Department of Motor Vehicles records check showed the car out front was registered to Kathleen Nelson. The dispatcher relayed a license plate number for Edward Nelson to state police, who spotted his truck on Highway 42 driving east, the affidavit said.

When he was pulled over, Nelson told the troopers he had guns in the truck, but they couldn't see them, the affidavit said.