Media ignores story of black woman who kidnapped and burned the body of 12 year old white boy on Christmas Eve
Via the Houston Choricle:
A family acquaintance has been charged with capital murder in the case of Jonathan Foster, a 12-year-old Texas boy last seen Christmas Eve before a burned body believed to be his was found Tuesday, according to local media reports.
Mona Yvette Nelson, 44, an acquaintance of Foster’s family, was named a person of interest early Wednesday and questioned by police, ABC News station KTRK in Houston reported. The Harris County, Texas, District Attorney’s Office later told KTRK that it had accepted capital murder charges against Nelson.
Hours after Christmas Day dinner at her sister’s Third Ward apartment, Mona Yvette Nelson, a nomadic 44-year-old maintenance worker, was jolted by a TV news report detailing the disappearance of 12-year-old Jonathan Foster from a ramshackle Garden Oaks enclave.
Four days later, Nelson found herself in a Harris County jail cell, charged in the boy’s slaying as veteran homicide detectives with uncharacteristic candor painted her a monster.
“She is a cold, soulless murderer who showed an absolute lack of remorse in taking the life of Jonathan Foster,” said Michael Miller, the lead homicide detective on the case for the Houston Police Department.
With that, the evil that had visited the impoverished pocket of Garden Oaks on Christmas Eve had a face, and a nickname that went viral on the Internet: “Mona the Monster.”
Since her arrest, a much more nuanced picture of Nelson — the daughter of a retired schoolteacher and deceased mortician – has emerged. There are hints of the alleged monster. Her Facebook page described an affinity for the movie Saw. Her boxing nickname was “Iron Fist.” But those details are troubling only when taken in the context of Jonathan’s grisly death.
Nelson’s family, her defenders, paint her as a patsy who dumped what she thought was a bag of trash at someone else’s request. She’s a mother, a grandmother of five. Doing this, to a boy the age of one her own grandbabies?
No way, they say.
“She is not a monster,” insisted her mother, Mary Lee Preston, of Mount Pleasant.
Whether Nelson is the cold-blooded killer, the raspy voice overheard in Jonathan’s last phone call to his mother, remains to be seen. She has been charged with capital murder and kidnapping but has admitted only to dumping the boy’s body, saying she thought it was “garbage.”
The key piece of the puzzle in the case – the motive – is elusive, or at least still a well-guarded secret. And then there’s this: If Nelson didn’t do it, she must know who did. She must know the Monster.
Somewhere along the six miles between the rundown apartment where the boy had lived with his mother and the weedy ditch near the Hardy Toll Road where his scorched body was dumped lie the vexing and scant details.
At first, the Foster case seemed unbelievably random. A boy spending Christmas Eve day at home – alone while his mother worked – playing computer games, watching cartoons. Neither police nor anyone who knows her have an explanation for why Nelson might have killed Jonathan.
Interviews with family and friends who saw her in the days after the boy disappeared say Nelson was not nervous.
She was, though, worried about money.
“I asked if she was coming home (for Christmas),” said Preston, Nelson’s 79-year-old mother. “She said, ‘I don’t know. I’m trying to save up money to buy something for my truck.’ ”
The day after Christmas, Nelson received a $20 pay advance from her boss so she could fill her truck with gas. Nelson’s adult daughter, who also lives in Mount Pleasant with her five children, said Nelson was strapped for cash.
“The Tuesday after Christmas, she called, checking up,” said Ava Nelson, 27. “She said she couldn’t come up there because she didn’t have any money.”
Caught on video
The biggest break in the case for police came after the missing boy was found dead.
Security video in the area shows Nelson getting out of her silver pickup and placing what was later determined to be Jonathan’s body in a culvert at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve, about four hours after he was last seen.
Traction on Jonathan’s disappearance was hampered initially because of conflicting stories from Jonathan’s family. His mother, Angela Davis, who once struggled with drug addiction, first told police the boy was left in the care of her roommate, when he actually was home alone.
On Dec. 14, some 10 days before Jonathan disappeared, Davis and her son moved out of the Villa Nueva apartment complex on Oak Street where they had shared a home with David Davis, her husband and Jonathan’s stepfather.
Davis said her husband had hit the boy. With Jonathan in tow, she moved to a dumpy duplex next door with her friend Sharon Ennamorato, whom Jonathan called “Aunt Sharon.”
According to interviews, David Davis dropped by the apartment at 1:45 p.m. Christmas Eve to check on the boy and found him playing games on the computer.
Enter Mona Nelson, who allegedly came to the house some time later looking for Ennamorato. Instead, she found Jonathan, who called his mom at work, supposedly at Nelson’s behest, and talked to a co-worker, saying he needed to get “Aunt Sharon’s” phone number.
Angela Davis called her son back moments later. A “raspy-voiced woman” answered. Davis told the woman she was Jonathan’s mother, and the woman asked Jonathan: “Is Angela your mother?”
“Yes ma’am, Angela’s my mother,” he reportedly said.
The phone went dead.
And Jonathan was gone.
Since the killing, Ennamorato has been evicted from the duplex she shared with Angela Davis and Jonathan. She appears to be the only person who connected Nelson to Jonathan and his mother and stepfather, police say.
Police believe Nelson knew Ennamorato well before Jonathan and his mother arrived on Ennamorato’s doorstep. Ennamorato, who had a felony drug record, said she met Nelson when Ennamorato was living in the Tiffany Oaks Apartments on Oak Street, where Nelson worked in maintenance.
Angela Davis says she never met Nelson until she showed up at the duplex about 7 p.m. Christmas Eve – an hour or so after she was captured on video dumping the body. Nelson reportedly offered to look for Jonathan, saying she had stopped by earlier in the day, before he disappeared, looking for Ennamorato. She said he answered the door shirtless, and she suspected someone else was in the house.
Started on good path
Mona Yvette Nelson was the ninth child, the youngest, born to Mary Preston, a longtime elementary school teacher in Houston’s Third Ward. The man Nelson called her father, mortician James Russo, never married her mother. Though Preston said Russo was part of Nelson’s life, Russo’s grown children said they never heard of Nelson until a year and a half ago, when she turned up at the family’s mortuary claiming to be kin.
Nelson started out on a good path, Preston said. She was a tomboy who loved sports and volunteered at the MLK Community Center as a teenager. At 15, she met her future husband, Mike Nelson, a construction worker. At age 16, Nelson was a pregnant high school dropout. Two months after they married in 1983, she had twins, a boy and a girl, born three months early.
By the time Nelson was 19, she was in serious trouble. She was arrested in the aggravated robbery of a barbecue restaurant. She told police a man forced her to do it, that she feared he was going to hurt her if she didn’t. Nelson pleaded no contest in 1985 and was given 10 years of deferred adjudication, which would revert to prison time if she committed another crime.
“Oh, my God, that almost killed me,” Preston said of her daughter’s arrest.
But Nelson was just getting started.
Some time in the ring
Four years later, in 1989, she was caught by federal officials driving Mexican nationals through the Sarita, Texas, checkpoint, for $600 per person. Her federal arrest resulted in her return to prison because of her robbery case.
For the next 20 years, Nelson would be arrested in nearly a dozen more minor incidents ranging from criminal mischief and theft by check to operating a stolen vehicle and marijuana possession.
Nelson divorced, and her children lived with their father. She began a relationship with another woman, Danita Morris, and they lived together as a couple for about 10 years, raising Morris’ young children in East Texas.
Nelson was arrested in 2001, accused of assaulting Morris and three neighborhood children she was baby-sitting, but Morris dropped the charges.
“She’s always been there for me and my kids no matter what,” said Morris. “She’s not what they’re claiming her to be.”
At nearly 5-foot-11, weighing more than 225 pounds and with crewcut hair, Nelson is an imposing figure who failed on the women’s boxing circuit. After winning her debut bout in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1997, she went on to lose three more matches in 2003, 2004 and 2006. According to her Texas boxing license, which expired last year, she chose the nickname “Iron Fist.”
Nelson’s daughter, Ava Nelson, declined to press charges against her mother after Mount Pleasant police found her with a blackened eye and a bloody face in 2008.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Ava Nelson said this week, adding that despite her mother’s faults, she is a good person.
“This is the lady who helped me raise my kids.”
For the past year, Nelson had worked as a handyman for a management company that took care of odd jobs at various apartment complexes, including the Tiffany Oaks Apartments, just across the street from the duplex where Jonathan and his mom lived with Ennamorato.
Nelson was paid by the job but was on call around the clock. Also a welder, she collected scrap metal at the various apartment properties and was allowed to keep half of what she could get for it.
About three months ago, Nelson moved into a garage apartment near the Hardy Toll Road, about 10 minutes from the ditch where Jonathan’s body was found. Still, she hung out on Oak Street when she didn’t have a job to do.
Alibi offered, but . . .
Maintenance worker Frank Nickles, 47, said on Christmas Eve he was hanging out with Nelson, drinking beer outside his Tiffany Oaks apartment from about 10:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. – and she didn’t leave during that time. But that conflicts with what witnesses told police.
Except for Nelson, “everyone else in the case is accounted for,” said HPD’s Miller.
Early reports cast suspicion on Jonathan’s stepfather, but he is captured on security video at a nearby bar, the Catty Corner Ice House on Wakefield. “His time is accounted for,” Miller said.
At the time of Nelson’s arrest, Quanell X, an advocate for people accused of crimes, asserted that Nelson was innocent of the crime, and a drug debt was at the heart of the boy’s disappearance and killing.
Miller scoffed at the suggestion: “We don’t have any evidence of that at all. I’ve never had a case where an individual who owed up money had their child killed. That’s a fantasy.”
Police said a “wealth of evidence” shows Jonathan was burned at Nelson’s apartment.
They reported finding burned carpet and twine like the kind used to tie Jonathan’s hands at Nelson’s apartment, along with welding equipment they believe she used to burn the body postmortem.
A skilled welder, Nelson owned torches, but nothing inside her apartment was burned, her landlord, Gary Arnold said, noting that it had tile floors.
On whether Nelson has given them the name of an accomplice, Spence added, “We’re not saying.”
The day after she interred her son’s ashes, Davis called Jonathan’s accused killer “cold.”
“God will punish her,” she said.
Surprisingly, Davis also offered her absolution.
“I forgive her,” she said, explaining that she could afford to because Jonathan is now free from harm. “My son’s safe. He’s not hurting.”
Reporters Ericka Mellon, Peggy O’Hare and Dallas freelancer Thomas Korosec contributed to this report.