Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Victims Matter More than Money

by Diane Fanning

Last week, a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Florida said that the case is too old and the investigation would cost too much to continue. That bothers me--a lot.

I am saddened but do understand when a law enforcement agency says that they have no more leads, no suspects and nowhere to turn. Dead ends can end an investigation. But money should not block the path to justice. And in the case in question, there is a suspect.

In 1965, Nelos Sills' death was ruled a suicide. This conclusion was based on the statement of his wife Betty Sills. According to her, she and her husband were alone in their mobile home on
Big Coppitt Key. They argued and Nelos pulled out a gun and shot himself--once. An autopsy was not performed.

But Nelos was in the Navy and the
Naval Criminal Investigation Service had a file on the case. According to their documents, Nelos was shot twice--definitely not a typical suicide. One bullet from the pistol went through his heart, the other sliced his liver.

The current investigators wanted to exhume his body but they were told since it might be voluntary manslaughter, the statute of limitations had run out. Of course, if that assumption is wrong and Betty commited first or even second degree murder, there is not time limit. How can they determine that it was the lesser crime without an autopsy?

Also, according to the Navy, the couple was not alone. Betty's two children were there. Gary Flynn, her son, is dead. Betty's daughter, Peggy Saunders, lives in Ocala, Florida, and remembers the argument and the shooting. (Betty, Gary, Peggy, on the right) Monroe County investigators did not question her. Why? The same Sheriff's Office spokesperson said that "they just didn't have the money to fly all over the state."

Betty received life insurance after the death of Nelos--she benefited from his death.

Where is Betty now at the age of 76? You've heard her name in the news recently. She's suspected black widow, Betty Neumar. This past summer, she was arrested in North Carolina for the 1986 homicide of the fourth of her five dead husbands, Harold Gentry. Nelos Sills was her third husband.

Betty is out on a $300,000 bail bond awaiting trial for soliciting three different people to commit first-degree murder in the six weeks before Harold was found shot dead in his home. In Ohio, Betty is being investigated in the 1970 shooting death of her first husband,
Clarence Malone. They are also investigating what happened to her son, Gary, whose death in 1985 was ruled a suicide. Betty collected life insurance when he died, too.

Georgia has recently closed their investigation into the death of her fifth husband, John Neumar. His family feels the closure of that case, too, was premature. And no one is looking into the death of her second husband, James Flynn. Betty told North Carolina investigators that he "died on a pier" somewhere in New York in the mid-fifties.

I ran across a similar cases while researching the murders committed by serial killer
Tommy Lynn Sells. One investigator told me that he didn't see any sense in wasting taxpayer money on an investigation when the perpetrator was already sitting on death row in Texas. "If anybody'll take care of him, Texas will."

Yes, he is right. But a victim cries out for justice and a family waits on the sidelines for answers. The victim's death and the family's questions do matter.

Murder investigation--particularly in a cold case--is an expensive proposition. And time-consuming as well. But don't our law enforcement agencies owe it to the victim and their families to pursue justice until all leads have been exhausted?

I understand if law enforcement has to limit the resources and make an older, expensive investigation a lower priority. But to give up because it would cost too much? It sounds too much like putting a price tag on someone's life.

That, I will never understand.


FleaStiff said...

We allocate our financial resources and enforcement resources poorly enough as it is. Why go after someone who is already a defendant in other cases and who if sentenced to death will only get great medical care on death row at taxpayer's expense and die during the appeals process.

Cold case squads are great places for detectives to grind out their time until retirement working on old boxes and interviewing middle-aged witnesses instead of dangerous hopheads, but there are financial limits. Decisions are made based on finances in searches for bodies and in searches for defendants.

Many cases get short shrift for a variety of reasons. We misallocate resources in education, traffic safety, infrastructure repair, medicine, ... why should criminal law enforcement suddenly be free of arbitrary and whimsical limitations?

Diane Fanning said...

I do understand the limitations of resources on a logical level. But, I can't get past the strong feeling that we, as a society, owe something to the victims of violence and their families.
Not interviewing an in-state witness seems to me to be dismissive of that obligation.

Paralegal Sandy said...

Good post Diane. When 1 plus 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals four, it just seems like guilt is most likely the case in these murder cases. Wouldn't you think?

If you were killed wouldn't you want someone to make that killer accountable in some way for taking your life away. Wouldn't you think your life would be worth it?

Since money is .... once again the big factor here, it seems like there would be some way some one could look into it more in a voluntary way. I'd love to investigate this sort of thing in my spare time. Unfortunately I lack the know how.

Diane Fanning said...

I agree with you, Sandy. I've been contacted by a lot of families who've lost a loved one to an act of violence. They want answers so badly. Not knowing who is responsible for the murder tears them apart and makes them feel victimized again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I hear MANY people say we're not tuff enough on crime, should investigate and prosecute more people, etc., but it's rare that I hear those same people go to a city council or state Legislature to say "Please raise my taxes." For example, has anyone here ever done so? If not, aren't such complaints just a little disingenuous? In fact, the "tuff on crime" folks are frequently also movers and shakers in the "don't raise my taxes" camp - there's usually a lot of crossover there.

A Voice of Sanity said...

Makes Aruba LE look a lot better, doesn't it? I know of no states which sent their government employees out for a day to search for a lost teen.

Diane Fanning said...

I don't think tough on crime is anywhere near as important as tough on homicide. And in a case where the perpetrator is behind bars for life or with a death sentence, I certainly don't think prosecution is necessary. But a thorough investigation that attempts to close the case and provide answers to the family members is very important to any society who values life.

Jessica said...

I am one of 18 grandchildren of Nelos Sills, and I am sad to find out how my grandfather's life was taken, I never knew him or any of my family on his side, and that saddens me to know that I have family that I don't know because everytime I did research on him, I hit a dead end. Now to know what happened makes me sad for my mother and aunts and uncles to think all of their lives, they thought that their father commitied suicide. I believe that every family deserves justice, including mine. whatever costs, doesn't matter, what if he was your dad?

Diane Fanning said...

Thank you so much for writing. The loss of a family member to violence is a pain that lives forever.
Answers do matter.
I have a contract with St. Martin's Press to write a book about the crimes committed by Betty Neumar. I'll continue researching that as soon as I complete the Casey Anthony manuscript. Hopefully, I can find more answers. If you would be willing to talk to me when I get to work researching the story, please send me an email at diane@dianefanning.com.
Thank you.
Sorry again for your family's loss.

Lisa Marie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I too am a grandaughter to the late Nelos Sills and we as a family are very saddened to find this news out. My father carries on the Sills name and he wants answers too, so he can heal and find the truth. He was shameful to think all these years that his father took his own life, but infact someone else took it from him!! That being said we want justice to prevail not only for the victim, our grandfather but for our family that was cheated out of knowing him.

Diane Fanning said...

Thank you for for writing Anonymous and Lisa Marie. I want to be sure that all my readers know about Nelos Sills and the tragedy of his stolen life.
I am so sorry for your loss.