Petaluma widow's long wait for answers in husband's killing

  • PC: Mary Ann Nelson sits in her Petaluma living room holding a box that she made containing among other things letters from her husband and some of his ashes. Her husband Bob was killed two years ago, with his body left off the side of the road outside of Montgomery, Ala., 2,500 miles away.
    7/1/2001: A1-C: Mary Ann Nelson sits in her Petaluma living room holding a box that she made containing letters from her husband, some of his ashes and other items.

They say the wheels of justice turn slowly.

But when, after nearly 12 years of widowhood, Mary Ann Nelson learned Alabama authorities had finally made an arrest in her husband's mysterious slaying, she thought a full picture of how and why he died would emerge at last.

Now, two years later, the Petaluma woman and her family are learning to accept that it could be several more years before the man suspected in Bob Nelson's killing comes to trial and investigators reveal what they know, thanks to a crushing backlog in the Alabama courts.

"My friend keeps saying, 'You need to call back there and find out what's going on,' " Mary Ann Nelson, 61, said in a recent interview.

But she already knows the answer: "It's that waiting game."

Bob Nelson, 59, a long-haul trucker who was transporting frozen chicken parts to Florida, was found fatally stabbed July 2, 1999 -- his body and the bedding from the sleeper compartment of his rig dumped on the side of Interstate 85 about 20 miles outside Montgomery, Ala.

His blood-spattered cab was later found at a north Georgia truck stop -- the keys in the ignition and Nelson's heart and blood pressure medications inside.

The refrigerator trailer -- its stinking, rotting load of chicken finally arousing attention -- was found at another truck stop 15 miles away.

The mystifying case languished for more than a decade before DNA analysis of some cigarette butts and a semen stain in the cab led investigators to a suspect, an Amarillo, Texas, man and mainstay of the criminal justice system named Gary Lee Poisel Jr.

Poisel, now 41, was arrested in Texas two years ago and indicted by a grand jury in February 2012 for murder in the course of stealing Nelson's Freightliner tractor rig. He is eligible for the death penalty.

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