Kansas Cold Cases: Nelson Jones

Updated: Jul. 17, 2022 at 9:56 PM CDT
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HOPE, Kan. (WIBW) - Growing up in the small town of Hope, Kansas, Nelson Jones was every bit the typical boy.

“He liked the outdoors. He liked to fish, baseball,” his younger sister Melissa Bowell said.

Melissa, the middle of three children, said her brother also was competitive - and fearless.

“(We’d see) who could go the lowest, who could jump the farthest, who could run the fastest,” she said. “We would climb on top of the water shed, and he had tied a water hose to a tree and we’d climb on top of the shed and we would swing down like Tarzan! He always had crazy ideas.”

Brave enough that on October 27, 1990, he insisted he could stay home alone while the rest of the family took a day trip to Wichita.

“He had begged my mom to stay home,” said Melissa, who was 9 at the time. “He was 11, and he had never stayed home by himself before, and he was supposed to hang out with somebody around the neighborhood.”

Dickinson Co. Sheriff Jerry Davis, who was a year into his job as a patrol deputy in 1990, would later took a closer look at the case as a criminal investigator.

“They got home around 6 p.m. Nelson wasn’t at home,” Davis said. “There was a school carnival just a few blocks away at the school, so the family assumed he’d left and gone to the carnival.”

Melissa said the family went to the carnival to find Nelson.

“We went up there and could not find him. Nobody had seen him, so we went back home,” she said.

While Melissa’s mom got on the phone to call neighbors to ask if any of them knew where he was, her younger sister went into Nelson’s room.

“She came out and she said, ‘Mom, I found Nelson and he looks all beat up.’ So we all went into the bedroom, and he was kneeling like he would to pray on the bed, and his upper half (of his body) was laying on the bed. I just remember he looked very pale and blue,” Melissa remembers. “Mom walked around the side and she grabbed his arm to feel for a pulse and I remember her saying, ‘Oh, God, Dennis. He’s dead;’ and my stepdad ran up barefoot to get the police officers.”

Nelson had been strangled. More than 30 years later, Davis said, the case remains open.

“There were several witnesses who saw him playing with people and biking around town. They were all interviewed,” he said. “It was kind of a community where everyone got along, everyone knew each other, and everybody trusted each other, so this was very shocking for the community at that time.”

It was especially shocking - and devastating - for a little girl.

“I was terrified. I was scared of the dark. I was scared to turn 11 - I was afraid I’d get killed, too,” Melissa said. “To be in your home and to not feel safe in your own home is...is pretty traumatizing.”

Melissa said her feelings about not knowing who killed Nelson go back and forth.

“Sometimes I’m really angry, because I think about how it changed our family, the dynamics and all the pain it brought,” she said.

The house where it happened is gone now. The location is a grassy lot in the town of Hope. Melissa’s mom has passed away, as well.

But among the photos and a poem her mom wrote about a child at heaven’s gate with big blue eyes. Melissa still finds hope. Nelson was chosen as the three of hearts in the Kansas Cold Case deck. It’s a new effort to get tips in unsolved cases by featuring them on playing cards.

Melissa says she’s grateful Nelson is not forgotten.

“I often think about what life would be like if he’d been here,” she said. “What kind of brother would he be? What kind of uncle would he be to my children? Would we have competed in sports in high school?”

Sheriff Davis said the case remains personal to him.

“Nelson was an innocent victim, and he deserves to have his story told. His family deserves to know what happened,” he said. “Right now, Nelson would know what happened and the person who killed Nelson would know what happened. Right now, those are the only two leads we may have, and Nelson’s gone. He can’t speak for himself, so hopefully the evidence will speak for him.”

More than 30 years later, Melissa would like to find closure.

“I think I’d want to know why - why did they do that? And maybe tell them what it did to my family - the consequences of their actions, that choice that that person made,” she said. “I’d like to know that they have a conscience, and I hope someday that they will confess and seek forgiveness.”

If you know anything about Nelson’s death - or any unsolved case - call the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-KS-CRIME.

Prior KS Cold Case Profiles:

John Waller

Joshua Jernagin

Clarence “Butch” Lavin

Arthur Goebel

Gary Leo Nelson

Charles Giles

James Winston III

Mercedes Holford and Crystal Andrews

Tirell Ocobock

Carla Avery, Eric Avery, Tamesha Lee, and Marvin Woods

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