“A Long, Dark Night” featured in Secret Rockford
In 1978, the Simon Peter Nelson murders shocked Rockford, Illinois, then a thriving city of around 140,000 people. In the early morning hours of Saturday, January 7, while his wife was in a room with another man at the Downtown Ramada Inn in Milwaukee, Nelson brutally murdered his six sleeping children in their home on Camp Avenue. This crime is still whispered about today, but until now, no one has ever written a detailed account of the events on that fateful night and the days leading up to it.
I chronicle these tragic events, which took place between January 3 and Nelson’s arrest on January 7, 1978, in “A Long, Dark Night.” I wrote this article exclusively for Secret Rockford, an anthology of articles and short stories written by Rockfordians from all walks of life. “A Long, Dark Night” ended up being a touch over 11,100 words, with 82 footnotes.
While I was writing this, I couldn’t help but be struck by the senselessness of the crime. There are plenty of couples who have been cheated on and get divorced. Some of those divorces are pretty nasty, with one party or another losing everything. What would compel a man, in this circumstance, to murder his own children? What kind of a person would do such a thing, and why did it happen here in Rockford?
Maybe the answers to those questions will never be fully understood, but I did my best to write down every last detail I could find regarding this horrible crime. Maybe it will help us understand how something like this could happen.