Omaima Nelson: The Thanksgiving Butcher
To say that Omaima Aree and Bill Nelson had a “whirlwind romance” is an understatement. Only weeks after meeting over a game of pool in a Huntington Beach, California, bar, the lovely Egyptian immigrant and the brash Texan drove to Phoenix and got married.
It was easy to see why Bill, 56, was attracted to 23-year-old Omaima; her good looks had gotten her work as a model. And Bill was the kind of guy who wanted only the best — he drove a red Corvette, wore bright red cowboy boots and a big gold belt buckle, and enjoyed showing off his wealth wherever he went. Friends described him as “larger than life.”
He wasn’t without his faults, though. In the 1980s, when he was a pilot, he was busted with a load of smuggled Cannabis in his DC 3. He ended up serving several years in prison for the crime.
But when it came to shady pasts, Bill had nothing on Omaima. She was born in a poor village in southern Egypt, near the border with Sudan. According to her, her father was violently abusive, physically and sexually, to her and her mother. Perhaps even worse, when she was young, she was subjected to “female circumcision,” or genital mutilation, making any sex painful and traumatic from then on.
Eventually Omaima’s mother left her abusive husband. Now in utter poverty, the family moved to a Cairo slum called “the city of the dead” because the shacks were built among the tombs. Here, when she was 18, Omaima met an American oil worker, and the two started having a sexual relationship. Omaima’s mother insisted the two get married, and Omaima, seeing a way out of the crushing poverty she lived in, agreed. The couple married, and when her husband’s job in Egypt finished, they flew to his home in Texas.
Predictably, the marriage didn’t last. Now Omaima was in a strange country, didn’t speak English well, and didn’t have any money. She drifted around, sometimes taking jobs as a housekeeper or nanny, sometimes getting modeling gigs. She occasionally engaged in petty theft.
But her main source of support seems to have been a series of boyfriends. She would get involved with a man and move in with him right away, spend his money freely, and then, when he confronted her (or she just got tired of him), she would rob him and disappear. One man, Robert Hannson, she tied to a chair and threatened with a shotgun before robbing him.
After some time of drifting like this, from man to man, town to town, she ended up in Orange County, California, where, in the fall of 1991, she met Bill Nelson, who was flashing a big wad of cash and bragging about how much land he owned back in Texas. What he didn’t tell Omaima was that he was still legally married to another woman.
But that didn’t stop Bill from marrying Omaima. After their quickie wedding, Bill took her on a road-trip honeymoon back to Texas and Arkansas to meet his relatives. Needless to say, most of them were skeptical of his new, very young wife — who was actually younger than some of his children. But, while riding horses at the family ranch, the horse she was riding threw her. She impressed them with her toughness by simply asking for some aspirin and vodka.
The couple returned to California and set up home in Bill’s apartment in Costa Mesa.
On Thanksgiving day, Bill spoke with his daughter Margaret on the phone. He told her how everything was going great and invited her to join them for dinner. Margaret refused. It was to be the last conversation she ever had with her father.
Three days later, early in the morning of Dec. 1, Jose Esquivel was awakened by loud pounding on his door. He looked outside and saw a red Corvette parked outside. Not recognizing the car, he didn’t answer the door. After a while, the visitor went away.
Then at about 1 p.m., the visitor in the red ‘Vette returned. This time, Jose answered. When he opened the door, he saw Omaima, a woman he had briefly dated over a year ago. She was crying and had some cuts on her face and hands.
Omaima told him that her husband had attacked and raped her, so she had killed him in self-defense. She went on to say that she had cut up the body, but needed help disposing of it. She told Jose that she would give him $75,000 and two motorcycles if he would help her get rid of the body.
Jose played it cool — he told Omaima to meet him at her apartment while he arranged to get a truck. When she left, he called the police.
The police found Omaima in Bill’s Corvette. Next to her, in the passenger seat, were some trash bags. When the officer looked inside, he saw what looked like human organs — including lungs with black spots from cigarette smoking.
When questioned, Omaima gave conflicting and confusing answers. She said that the organs were from someone Bill had killed, then she claimed Bill was away on a business trip in Florida.
Police got a warrant to search the Nelsons’ apartment. Inside were numerous boxes of computer parts — Bill earned money repairing and selling computers out of his home. But among the boxes were some suitcases. Inside the suitcases were trash bags. Inside the trash bags were human remains. Police also found a broken lamp and clothes iron with tissue and human hair on them.
As they searched further, they found even more grisly evidence. In the bedroom, the mattress was soaked in blood, and the bedposts were all broken. In the bathroom, a skinned, gutted human torso was suspended from clothes hangars above the tub, bleeding out like a side of beef.
But the worst was in the kitchen. Inside a deep fryer, two human hands floated in oil, mixed with turkey meat. In the trash they found pieces of a human hip, mixed in with turkey and cranberry sauce.
Inside the freezer, behind bags of frozen vegetables, there was a large round object wrapped in foil. It was Bill’s head. It was badly burnt, as though it, too, had been cooked in a deep fryer.
Back at the police station, Omaima kept changing her story. She paced and rambled on, at times acting as though Bill were still alive, at other times claiming a voice “like a demon” had made her dismember her husband. She repeated the claim that Bill had raped her and she had only killed him in self-defense. But when she was forensically examined at a nearby hospital, they found no evidence of sexual trauma. They also stated that the cut marks on her face, hands, and breasts were not defensive wounds, but they would be consistent with injuries sustained while cutting up a body.
Meanwhile the medical examiner pieced together what was left of Bill Nelson — besides being decapitated, dismembered, and disemboweled, he had apparently been castrated too. Cause of death was determined to be from multiple blunt-force injuries to his skull, consistent with being hit by the lamp and iron found at the scene. The ME also found ligature marks around Bill’s ankles. Since Bill’s hands had been cut off, there was no way to determine if his hands were tied as well, but the broken bedposts at the scene would indicate that they were. The ME also noted that the body had been dismembered with unusual precision, as if his killer had done this before.
But perhaps more disturbing was the fact that nearly 100 lbs. of Bill’s remains were missing. The Nelsons’ neighbor told police that he had heard their garbage disposal running constantly for two days, starting the evening of Thanksgiving. He said that he could hear the motor grinding as though it was straining.
But it was what Omaima said to her court-appointed psychologist that shocked the nation. She said that she had cooked Bill’s ribs in barbecue sauce and eaten them, exclaiming, “It’s so sweet!” and that “nothing was sweeter” than her husband’s meat.
She later recanted those statements and now swears she never committed cannibalism. The psychologist diagnosed her as being psychotic and suffering from PTSD.
In December 1992, Omaima Nelson stood trial for the murder and dismemberment of her husband. Thanks to Robert Hannson’s testimony, the prosecution was able to present a scenario that fit the evidence. They claimed that Omaima had lured Bill into a consensual bondage session long enough to tie him to the bedposts. Then, prosecutors speculated, she demanded money or other access to his wealth. When Bill didn’t comply, Omaima beat him brutally with a lamp and then an iron, finally stabbing him with scissors before dismembering his corpse.
Omaima’s defense was that she suffered from PTSD from a childhood filled with abuse, and that Bill had been sexually and physically abusive towards her throughout their four-week marriage. She claimed that that before his murder, he had tied her up and held her captive for several days, raping her repeatedly. She testified that she had gotten one arm loose from the restraints and hit him with the lamp — then stabbed him with scissors — in order to save her own life. She claimed to have no memory of dismembering him.
She also claimed that spirits of ancient Egyptians spoke to her and acted through her. It was these spirits who told her to kill her husband, and then to dismember him — because if his remains were scattered, he couldn’t go on to the afterlife.
In January 1993, the jury deliberated for six days before acquitting her on first-degree murder charges, However, she was found guilty of second-degree murder, as well as for the assault on Hansson, and sentenced to 28 years to life. She is serving her sentence in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, alongside other notorious criminals Susan Atkins (until her death in 2009), Helen Golay, Nancy Garrido, Louise Turpin, and Dorothea Puente (until her death in 2011).
While in prison, she began a long-distance relationship with a disabled man in his 70s. They married and were allowed several conjugal visits before the man passed away, leaving Omaima with a great deal of money.
She first came up for parole in 2006, but was denied because she was found to be “unpredictable and a serious threat to public safety.” She came up again in 2011, but was again denied because the parole board said she had not taken responsibility for the murder.
She’ll be eligible for parole again in 2026.