On the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend of 1991, 56-year-old William Nelson from Costa Mesa, California, was reported missing when he failed to show up at work. He worked part-time as a computer programmer and messenger at Cannon Mortgage Inc. in Tustin.1
William lived at home with his wife, 23-year-old Omaima Aree Nelson. Omaima was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the United States in 1986. William was a convicted drug trafficker who moved to Orange County in search of a new life. The couple had been married in a telephone ceremony conducted by an Egyptian priest just around one month prior. Their marriage came just five days after they met for the first time.2 Unbeknownst to Omaima, however, William’s divorce from his previous wife had was not yet finalized meaning that they were not legally married.
Shortly after William was reported missing, Costa Mesa police received a disturbing phone call from one of Omaima’s friends. Omaima had shown up to his front door and was hysterical and covered in blood. She claimed that William had attacked before exclaiming. “I cut him. I cut him to pieces.” She then showed her friend a garbage bag which was filled with human organs.
Omaima said to her friend, Jose Esquivel, that she had been tied to a bed before being cut on the breast and then raped by William. She claimed that she managed to knock him unconscious with a lamp. “She said that she then had chopped him up in pieces, that his head was in the refrigerator,” Jose later said. Omaima begged Jose to help her dispose of William’s remains and even offered him $75,000. Instead of helping Omaima, however, Jose rang the police.
When police arrived at the Nelsons’ home, they would be met with a grisly scene. They discovered William’s dismembered remains in 33-gallon garbage bags which had been left around the home and on the front seat of William’s corvette.3 In the freezer, they found William’s head wrapped inside foil. His hands and head had been cooked in frying oil.
Omaima was arrested and charged with first degree-murder. During a hearing to determine whether Omaima should stand trial, Jose detailed what Omaima had told him. An ex-boyfriend of Omaima also testified and said that she had confessed to the murder to him as well. Orange County Harbor Municipal Court Judge Susanne Shaw determined that there was enough evidence for Omaima to go to trial. Outside of court, Deputy Public Defender Tom Mooney said that he believed that Omaima had acted in self-defence. He stated: “This is a woman who was preyed upon by William Nelson.”
Omaima went to trial for William’s murder in December of 1992. During opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Randolph Pawloski said that Omaima had struck William over the head twenty times, stabbed him, dismembered his body, cooked his head and hands and then stuffed the other remains in garbage bags and boxes. He told the jury that Omaima had tied William to the bed before attacking him with a lamp and an iron. He said that Omaima had used a “diabolical thought process” to commit the dismemberment and dispose of William’s remains.4
Deputy Public Defender Tomas Mooney said that he would not be denying that Omaima had killed William but said that it would be up to the jury to decide “what her state of mine was at the time she killed him.” He argued that Omaima killed William in self-defence after suffering sexual and physical abuse at his hands. He went on to say that Omaima had been “victimized” throughout her life by men. While growing up in Egypt, Omaima had been molested as a child and had been circumcised by her father without any anesthesia when she was just 6-years-old. “That had an effect on her mentally,” he said. “She was reacting to years of abuse by other people, to recent abuse by William Nelson, and she broke down…”
Deputy District Attorney Pawloski rebutted this and said that there was no evidence that William had ever sexually or physically abused Omaima, stating: “She is a predator who preys on older men.” He went on to say that Omaima had allegedly tied two other men to the bed in the past under the pretense of sex but then produced a weapon and robbed them.
While the defence was contending that Omaima had acted in self-defence, the prosecution put forward the theory that she was motivated by money. It was revealed that William had recently received $30,000 from his previous wife in divorce settlement checks.5 It would also be revealed during trial that a portion of William’s remains were never discovered. According to a neighbour, over Thanksgiving weekend, they had heard strange chopping sounds as well as the garbage disposal running for hours.
During trial, Omaima decided to testify on her own behalf. She told the jury that William had repeatedly raped and beat her during the four weeks of their romance. She said that the killing was the culmination of a lifetime of abuse, both at the hands of her father and other romantic partners she had in America. She said that when she met William in a Costa Mesa tavern, she believed she had found the kind and gentle man she had always been looking for. “It was really nice at first. He was a gentleman who would open the door for me and take me out to dinner,” she said. “I was in love. I was looking for someone who was kind and nice and wouldn’t beat up on me and would give me love, some love I never find before.”6
She told the jury that William because jealous and brutal who demanded sex even when she didn’t feel like it. She said that William called her a “whore” and told her: “I’m getting what I paid for.” She said that she had been raped and sodomized on at least six occasions and said that William had thrown her cat out of a moving car when she refused to perform oral sex. When speaking of the killing, Omaima said that she first of all stabbed William with scissors before whacking him in the head with an iron “just to stop him from hurting me.” She said that when she boiled William’s hands, she hoped she would boil off his fingerprints and would be able to conceal what she had done. She insisted that she had not planned the murder and only wanted to stop the abuse.
Following her testimony, a psychiatrist said that the “mutilation and almost cannibalism” went beyond a desire to conceal a homicide. Dr. David Sheffner said that after Omaima’s arrest, she had become obsessed with the colour of William’s blood and wore red lipstick, heels and a hat as she dismembered his body. He said that Omaima had heard voices urging her to dismember the body and had spoken out loud to severed limbs. Furthermore, Omaima confided in the psychiatrist that she had cook some of William’s body parts with spices and tasted them. She also confessed that for revenge for the sexual assault, she castrated William. “This, to me, is really bizarre. It’s psychotic.”7
Ultimately the jury would reject the defence’s claims and they found Omaima Nelson guilty of second-degree murder. She was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison, which was the maximum sentence. During the sentencing phase, one of the responding police officers said of Omaima: “She is the most bizarre and sickening individual I’ve had the occasion to meet. You no longer need to look to Dahmers of Milwaukee or the Hannibal Lectors of the screen. A new predator has emerged, named Omaima.”
The opinion on Omaima still remains very much divided. Some consider her a battered wife who snapped while others consider her a predator.
- Daily Breeze, 3 December, 1991 – “Woman Arrested in Body Parts Case”
- The Orange County Register, 11 April, 1992 – “Trial is Ordered in Dismemberment Killing”
- The Orange County Register, 2 February, 1992 – “Assault Alleged”
- UPI, 2 December, 1992 – “Prosecutor Tells Jury Woman Stabbed, Chopped Up By Boyfriend”
- UPI, 17 December, 1992 – “Killing a Crime of Financial Gain”
- The Orange County Register, 10 December, 1992 – “Slain Man Savage, Wife Says”
- The Orange County Register, 11 December, 1992 – “Defendant Details Mutilation”