By Jim Hagerty
SPRINGFIELD — Simon Peter Nelson, Rockford’s notorious mass murderer, has died in prison. He was 85.
Nelson died of natural causes Sunday, June 19, at a Springfield hospital. He was awaiting his 19th parole hearing.
Nelson shocked the Rockford community in January 1978 when he killed his six children and the family dog inside their Camp Avenue home. Police were called to the property to do a welfare check but had limited information. Nelson’s wife then called back and said she feared he may have harmed the children.
Her fears were realized as police went from room-to-room finding the bodies of the six Nelson children: Jenny, 12; Simon Peter III, 10; Andrew, 8; Matthew, 7; Roseann, 6; and 3-year-old David. Nelson also killed the family dog.
Unlike some murders scenes, the Nelson kids had been savagely attacked. Repeated blows to the head with a mallet rendered them unrecognizable. Their father also slit their throats.
Nelson’s rampage did not end in Rockford. After slaying his children, he drove to Milwaukee, tracked down his wife and attacked her before he was arrested.
Nelson later told investigators he snapped after learning his wife was seeking a divorce.
The family’s Churchill’s Grove home has changed hands a few times over the years, yet no owner has been interested in tearing it down.
A string of Winnebago County prosecutors have fought against Nelson’s parole over the years. State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato has traveled to Springfield to speak against his release, each time reminding the Prisoner Review Board the horrific nature of the murders, for which Nelson was serving six concurrent life sentences.
Bruscato was prepared to be at Nelson’s upcoming parole hearing. Each time he appeared, Bruscato had petitions in hand, signed by hundreds of community members who are still haunted by the city’s most gruesome crime.
“Nelson was one of Winnebago County’s most brutal killers, and the impact of his terrible crimes continue to haunt the community,” Bruscato said. “For years, the State’s Attorney’s Office has worked to keep Nelson in prison for his heinous crimes. As always, our thoughts remain with the victim’s family and loved ones who continue to mourn the deaths of Nelson children almost 40 years ago. We as a community will continue to grieve the loss, and hope for continued healing for all who knew and loved those children.”
Social media users echoed Bruscato’s sentiments Sunday night when the news broke of killer’s death. Former classmates of the Nelson children vividly recounted the day they learned that six of their neighbors had been slain.
“I was a little girl when this occurred. I happened to be taking ice skating lessons at the Rockford Ice House where his wife and mother of the children worked a skating instructor,” one Facebook user posted. “She wasn’t my instructor but I saw her when I was there. This was AWFUL and all children in this area have always been traumatized.”
Nelson was first eligible for parole in 1986. He was being housed in the Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro and had hospitalized since last week. R.
This story has been updated.