On Nov. 15, 1978, The Southern Democrat read, “The cameras are now gone. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson are buried. Members of the Blount County Sheriff’s Department will welcome a few days of dulling routine after the strain of a political campaign, the loss of a fellow deputy, and the investigation of what they say may be one of the bloodiest crimes ever committed in Blount County.”
Now, 42 years later, both convicted murderers, Arthur Lee Giles and Aaron Jones, are dead – Jones by lethal injection on May 3, 2007, and Giles, who died of pneumonia on Sept. 30, 2020. Giles served more than 30 years on Alabama’s death row and was the second longest death row inmate in Alabama history. At the time of his death, Jones had been the third longest.
Giles and Jones were initially convicted in 1979, in separate, simultaneous trials for the Nov. 10, 1978, double murders of Carl and Willene Nelson, along with the stabbings and/ or shootings of the Nelson’s three children and Carl’s 86-year-old mother. The family lived in the Rosa community when the crimes took place.
Both men were arrested within 24 hours of the crime, yet it took a trial, three re-trials, and more than 41 years before both men were deceased. It is ironic that Giles still remained on death row at the time of his death. Who knows how much longer he would have remained on death row had he not succumbed to pneumonia?
In a recent interview with then Blount County Sheriff Investigator Billy Irvin, he recalled the events of that November night. It is one that will remain in his memory.
Irvin recalled he and deputy Clint Sherrell had just left the scene of a large fire that had taken place at a local business in Hayden. While returning home, Irvin received a call that four gunshot and/or stabbing victims had arrived at then Blount Memorial Hospital seeking medical treatment, and the crime had occurred at the Carl Nelson residence in Rosa.
Irvin requested that other investigators and deputies go to the hospital to gather information, and he headed toward Rosa to the alleged crime scene. As he approached Pine Grove Baptist Church, two Oneonta police officers were awaiting his arrival in the parking lot. From there, they all traveled to the crime scene.
Irvin said blood and bodies were everywhere; it was a gruesome crime scene. In all, there were two deceased and four victims of the heinous crime. Not only were the deceased shot, they were stabbed with what appeared to be a large butcher knife.
The male victim had been shot in the neck area and had a very large stab wound on the left side of his body. Some internal organs were protruding from the wound.
The female victim appeared to have fought hard for her life, as she had at least 29 defensive cuts and stabs over much of her body. Irvin also noted that it appeared that the murderers had tried to decapitate the female.
There was so much evidence to process that it took more than 12 hours before the bodies could be removed from the scene. At that time, there were approximately 26,000 people living in Blount County and gruesome crimes such as this were almost unheard of. Social media didn’t exist so people were not accustomed to seeing or knowing details of such crimes. Irvin said it was one of the worst crime scenes he worked during his career.
After the initial hype died down, trials and convictions, re-trials, sentencings, and appeals, the two convicted murderers were on Alabama’s death row. For more than 41 years, at least one of the convicted felons occupied that position.
Jones was executed by lethal injection on May 3, 2007. Irvin gained permission from the Attorney General’s office and the family to be present during the execution. He had started the investigation of this case, and he wanted to see it end.
After Jones’ execution, Irvin’s thoughts centered on the scene being so gruesome and horrific that the death penalty was deserved. He felt justice was served, despite being more than 30 years after the crime happened.
Several family members attended the execution. Irvin remembers the family being upset that Jones was executed in a civilized way, unlike the horrendous way their parents had died. Some chose to speak with the media after the execution, while others chose to immediately return home.
According to his obituary, Giles died of pneumonia in prison, but was being treated for brain and lung cancer since 2018. Giles’ case was also pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals at the time of his death.