This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
It’s broken down into the following major sections:
- The Two-Day Manhunt
- The First Horrific Murder Scene
- The Second Horrific Murder Scene
- Two Families Laid to Rest
- The Trial and the Jury’s Verdict
- The Sentence
- Mass Murderer Dies Alone in Prison Hospital
All the information for this article was gleaned from Canadian newspaper stories published from 1970 through 1971, and the report of the killer’s death published in 1999.
Dale Merle Nelson was a logger who liked to drink, do LSD and beat his wife Annette.
In early 1970 Nelson became depressed and attempted suicide. He spent two months at Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital in Coquitlam, BC.
Had he been successful, the eight innocent people he brutally murdered would have lived to see Christmas. That’s probably also true if he was just held longer at the lower mainland mental health facility.
But Dale Merle Nelson survived his suicide attempt and doctors at Riverview released him from the facility in January, 1970.
Then in June, Dale Nelson was convicted of assaulting his wife, but was sentenced to a year probation, not jail.
“We pleaded with the judge to send him back to Crease,” said Iris Herrick, Dale Nelson’s mother-in-law, referencing Riverview’s now-closed Crease Clinic.
On Friday, September 4, 1970, Dale Merle Nelson got drunk and, most likely, high on LSD, grabbed a 7mm Mauser 98k bolt action rifle he previously lent to a friend, and used it to murder eight people, including five children, in and around Creston, BC.
Iris Herrick didn’t ease anyone’s nerves after Dale Nelson was identified by RCMP as the suspect.
“I don’t think they’ll get him [alive] this time,” she said.
When asked if he would shoot it out with police, she replied, “Either that or he’ll do it himself.”
A six-man team with dogs found an unidentified man believed to be Dale Nelson sleeping behind the West Creston home of Dale Merle Nelson.
They radioed for help, and another nine RCMP units descended on the remote location where RCMP members surrounded the shack and the area behind it and ordered Dale Nelson to surrender.
“You are surrounded. Stand up, put your hands in the air and walk towards the cabin,” RCMP Superintendent Terrence Stewart said through a loudhailer.
Nelson did not respond.
“All units. Hold your fire.”
The command to come out was repeated a few times and the killer eventually said he would come out.
When he refused to get up off the ground where he lay, Constable Glen Manson sent his dog to subdue the killer.
Nelson got up to defend himself, but the dog threw him to the ground and police swarmed him.
At 5:05 pm on Sunday, September 6, 1970, Dale Merle Nelson was arrested and transported to the Creston RCMP detachment, where he was charged with one count of non-capital murder.
He would later be charged for killing all eight victims.
“He didn’t make any statements after we got him,” said RCMP Corporal James Barr, “but he did answer ‘yes’ to some of our questions.”
Those answers led investigators to the area where the mutilated body of 8-year-old Cathy Phipps was found.
It took 50 weary RCMP members and 3 RCMP dogs over 40 hours to locate and capture the mass murderer, which they did late Sunday afternoon on September 6, 1970.
No reason ever uncovered why Dale Merle Nelson killed and mutilated the bodies three adults and eight children.
- Shirley Wasyk, 30;
- Tracey Joan Wasyk, 8;
- Raymond Phipps, 42;
- Isobel St. Amand (Raymond’s common-law wife), 26;
- Paul St. Amand, 10;
- Catharine Rose St. Amand, 8;
- Bryan St. Amand, 7;
- Kenneth Phipps, 18 months.
The Two-Day Manhunt
Once the RCMP identified the man they were hunting, they put up road blocks and told area residents to lock their doors and not pick up hitchhikers.
RCMP released a description of Dale Merle Nelson, their only suspect, to the press and asked anyone with information about where Nelson was hiding to contact them.
Someone called police and reported an unidentified person moving along a ridge behind West Creston towards the area of Nelson’s home – about half way between the Phipps and Wasyk homes.
RCMP searchers were able to locate the person before dark.
A team of six RCMP members and a police dog stationed themselves on the south end of the ridge about Nelson’s home, but the killer managed to make it past the team sometime during the night.
On Sunday morning they discovered the plastic covering on the exterior of a window sliced open and what appeared to be evidence someone had hastily grabbed provisions.
The search parties were notified and the six-member team worked to pick up the killer’s trail.
While those RCMP members kept searching for Dale Nelson, another team of RCMP members escorted his wife Annette, to the Nelson home so she could grab some essentials for her and her three children.
While she was packing up what she needed, the team behind the house radioed that they found a man sleeping under a tree.
Annette Nelson was hastily escorted out of the house and back to Creston to where she and her children were staying.
When Dale Nelson refused get up off the ground, Constable Glen Manson sent his dog to subdue the suspect.
He got up as the dog attacked, but was no match for the trained canine. After the RCMP dog knocked him to the ground, a barefooted and unshaven Dale Merle Nelson was arrested without a struggle, ending the largest manhunt the area has ever seen.
What nobody knew then was almost two years later to the day, RCMP in the Kootenays would be on the hunt for another mass murderer, escaped mental patient William Bernard Lepine.
William Lepine escaped from Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital, the same institution where Dale Nelson spent two months, four times before going on his murder spree.
The First Horrific Murder Scene
At about 1am on September 5th, Maureen McKay, a neighour of the Wasyk family, was woken up by 12-year-old Debbie Wasyk, who said someone just killed her mother and sisters and was heading for the McKay home next.
When RCMP members arrived at the Wasyk home, they discovered the Shirley Wasyk’s body. She was beaten to death with a blunt object. They also discovered the body of 8-year-old Tracey Wasyk. She was stabbed multiple times.
Believing the murderer was on his way to the McKay residence, RCMP members closed the house and sped off to save the McKay family.
What they didn’t know was the murderer, Dale Merle Nelson, was still at the Wasyk residence.
When they returned some time later, the body of Tracey Wasyk was gone.
They eventually found the young girl’s decapitated, dismembered and mutilated body, with parts strewn over a 50-foot area about two miles away. An abandoned vehicle presumed to be used by the killer was nearby.
Alex Wasyk, husband of Shirley and father of Tracey, was away working at a logging camp at the time of the murders.
I can’t begin to imagine his heartbreak at learning his wife and young daughter were dead.
The Second Horrific Murder Scene
When RCMP members arrived at the Phipps home they discovered the bodies of six of the seven family members shot in the head, and their bodies mutilated.
Missing from the home was 8-year-old Cathy Phipps, who police believed was held hostage while he subdued and murdered the rest of the family.
One can only pray the young girl wasn’t forced to witness the slaughter and mutilation of her entire family.
Two Families Laid to Rest
On Wednesday, September 9, 1970, the murder victims from two families were put to rest in the Creston cemetery.
Separate funeral services were held for the Wasyk and Phipps families.
The RCMP escorted three coaches carrying the bodies of the Phipps family to the cemetery where there were buried.
United Church Minister Frank Baldock held a small, private service at a downtown funeral home. A tiny crowd gathered outside to pay there respects.
Five hours later, a similar service was held for Shirley Wasyk and her daughter Tracey at the Creston Legion Hall.
The Trial and the Jury’s Verdict
Dale Merle Nelson’s trial lasted ten days, but the outcome was all but guaranteed after Nelson’s defence attorney told the court his client had killed all eight victims.
During the trial, Crown counsel introduced a document describing the killing at the Wasyk house. That document described “certain unnatural acts with 8-year-old Charlene Wasyk” by Dale Nelson, and said he attempted to get Charlene to help him kill her sister Tracey.
In his closing arguments, Crown counsel T. G. Bowne-Cohurst suggested Nelson’s motive for the murders was his own perverse sexual gratification, saying Nelson murdered the adults so he could have his way with the little children.
On Friday, April 2, 1971, despite contradictory testimony about Nelson’s mental health, the jury of eight men and four women took only 80 minutes to return with a guilty verdict.
After hearing the jury’s verdict, Justice John Somerset Aikins asked Dale Merle Nelson to stand.
“Do you have anything to say?” Justice Aikins asked.
“No, your worship,” Nelson replied.
“I sentence you now to only penalty for non-capital murder – life in prison.”
The mass murderer gave no visible response.
Nelson was charged specifically with the murders of the two young girls, 7-year-old Tracey Joan Wasyk and 8-year-old Catharine Rose St. Armand.
During the trial, Nelson’s defence attorney told the court his client had killed all eight victims.
Nelson was eligible for parole in 1980, but was never released from prison.
Mass Murderer Dies Alone in Prison Hospital
On February 5, 1999, Dale Merle Nelson died of throat cancer in Matsqui Prison hospital, located outside Mission, B.C.
Judy Parkin says
I have NEVER forgotten this horrifying slaughter. Creston is one hour from my hometown. As a teenager then, I was somewhat naive to the evil that existed and that it could be your next door neighbour.
In my Grade 11 law class, my classmate and I were assigned to go and sit, observe and take notes of the trial. We had attended a couple days, listened to opening statements, which were horrifying, but one day was different.
We were seated right behind the witness box. When the little girl that survived took the stand, I remember thinking how pretty her dress was. It was a cream colour, with little pink and blue flowers. Her blondish hair was in braids. She sat straight and rigid, with her hands folded neatly in her lap. As the lawyers proceeded with their questions, (I don’t recall what they were) I remember looking at my friend and her looking at me, and we both knew we had to get out of that courthouse. I literally felt sick to my stomach. That girl was Cathy Phipps.
We went to our law teacher and told him we weren’t going to sit through that trial, and why. Thankfully he was very understanding, and gave us another project.
Over the years that little girl has crossed my mind quite often, and I have wondered how her life was afterwards. Was she able to find peace and happiness? I pray she did.
Christopher di Armani says
I appreciate you sharing that story. Thank you, Judy.
As a Phipps family member I can tell you you didn’t see Cathy at the trial. Cathy “Phipps” /St. Amond was murdered. Im assuming you mean Debbie Wasyk.
Our family lost touch with her years back. Hopefully she is doing well.
How could parole even be on the table, let alone after only 9 years, given the confession to 8 killings. The recurring trauma to the victims’ families and the possibility, however slim, of this evil being loosed upon the community, indicates how soft we have gone since capital punishment was abolished. The millions spent on feeding and housing this waste of skin for 28 years could have found more worthwhile application.
Christopher di Armani says
Great question, and one for which I wasn’t able to find the answer. I was similarly unable to locate any court documents on the case. The news stories of the day implied he applied for parole but was declined, but they weren’t clear.
Also, eligible to apply for parole is a far cry from being granted parole. For that, at least, we can be thankful.
Jordana Savard says
My grandma used to know Dale, he stalked her and tried to kill her, she was very scared if him. She has never gone to the police about him, I think she should incase any of her info can go with his story.
Marlene Hill says
I knew Dale when he lived in Gibsons Landing 1n 1969. He tried to kill me but no one, not even my husband believed me. I never went to the police. After all if my friends and family wouldn’t believe me why would the police.
I was only 17, and was afraid if Dale found I went to the police he would surely try to kill me again.
The day I met Dale, I had my back to him and when he walked through the door my hair stood up on end. That night I told the person that introduced me to him that he was going to kill someone someday. That was the day two months of terror began. It was like yesterday, I should have gone to the police but I was afraid.
The day after Dale committed the unimaginable, horrific murders the Gibbons RCMP called me in Victoria BC because all these people told the police that I kept telling them Dale would kills someone someday and that he stalked me and that I knew it was Dale that offered money to a little girl if she would pull down her pants but I was to scared to come forward.
They (the police) said they were all dead because of me. I still live this hellish nightmare of guilt.
I often wonder if I would have been his first victim or were there more before me or before the mass murders. It wasn’t just out of the blue. He showed signs way before he took their lives. Only everyone I knew seemed to like Dale and repeatedly said he was harmless, and thought there was something wrong with me for saying he was going to kill someone and then telling them he tried to kill me, and that it was him that was offering kids money. People thought for some reason I had it out for him. My phone didn’t stop ringing for days after the mass murders, everyone saying how did you know. I just knew…
Christopher di Armani says
That’s a pretty nasty guilt trip for the police to lay on you. If nobody in your life would listen to you, I fail to see why the police would have believed you until it was too late.
Nobody goes on a mass murder spree without some signs beforehand. Those signs are always ignored because, like your family members, nobody wants to believe someone they know is capable of this sort of evil.
The guilt is not yours. That much I’m sure of. Maybe your family members, those who refused to believe you, ought to bear that guilt instead.
Not your fault. I am one of the survivors. The only blame to be laid is on his grave
DONALD FINCH says
There were other unseen victims as well. Many of the RCMP members who had to deal with the aftermath ended up very ill with PTSD. My father was the primary officer in charge of the investigation, and unfortunately became one of those victims who then spent many years as a very unwell man. His well prepared case ensured that Nelson was convicted. May he now R.I.P.
Christopher di Armani says
So very true, Donald, and I’m sorry your father suffered as a result of this crime, and your family as well. The ripple effect of these monsters’s crimes go far beyond the immediate family members, as you note so sadly and so well.
Isabel was my mother’s sister.. My father and mother were asked to identify the bodies.. My parents left on September 4 to do this., It was my birthday and they vanished. I was four turning five.. It was finally revealed on my 14th birthday what had happened. My Grandma was visiting our home. Dad and her were discussing the possibility of Nelson getting parole one day. It was an upsetting time for the family.. I finally asked my Dad if I was allowed to know more.. My Grandma and Dad agreed to tell me the story.. My father told me everything. I was horrified.. Looking back I can easily see that they both suffered PTSD for ever..My Father was in the military. Even he could not handle what he saw. He told me,Nelson shot the whole family with a sawed off shotgun,, except for Cathy.. Dad told me she was kidnapped by Nelson and then killed in the forest. To this day I cry on my birthday and I talk to my cousin, up above, who I only met once..
Ray Stickel says
I first heard of this c. 1973 by family members who moved to neighboring Wynndel in 1969. The details of the murders were beyond horrific & I always think of it whenever passing through or visiting Creston.
May the victims and their families be at peace.