Officer: Suspect in boy's murder in Houston is 'stone cold'
• Update: KPRC-Channel 2 reported on Friday that services for slain 12-year-old Jonathan Foster will be held on Tuesday.
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When Houston police brought Mona Yvette Nelson in for questioning in the disappearance of 12-year-old Jonathan Foster, she seemed unfazed, even chatty, a veteran homicide investigator said.
She breezily signed consent forms allowing authorities to search her truck and home, Officer Mike Miller said, and showed no emotion even when told she was being charged with capital murder in the slaying of Jonathan, who vanished from his northwest Houston home on Christmas Eve.
Miller has interviewed hundreds of suspects in 14 years on the homicide squad but said he saw something in Nelson's eyes that he's only seen once before — in the gaze of an accused serial killer.
It was a "dead look," the investigator said. "Anything but remorse … Stone cold without a soul."
Nelson declined an interview from a Harris County Jail cell Thursday, but police and people who know the woman - born Mona Preston on March 5, 1966 - described her as an adept plumber and welder, a boxer, an immigrant smuggler, a mother and grandmother.
Miller found her "a hard nut to crack," he said. "You just can't figure her out."
Nelson, 44, is no stranger to criminal activity.
She pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene of a 1984 armed robbery in a hail of gunfire, according to court documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
She and a friend held up a barbecue restaurant in Houston with a rifle, according to court records. When the robbery went sour, the pair fled as the restaurant owner shot at the car. Police stopped the duo after a brief chase.
High school dropout
In one document from a 1985 pre-sentencing investigation, Nelson shared her life story with authorities in hopes of a more lenient punishment.
She says she attended five Houston-area schools, earning B and C grade averages. She dropped out of Bellaire High School in 11th grade and completed her GED at Houston Community College.
She left home at age 15 and met her future husband, Michael Nelson, shortly before her 16th birthday. The couple married on May 7, 1983, when the bride was 17 and the groom 28.
Two months later, Nelson reportedly gave birth to twins - a boy and a girl - three months prematurely.
Nelson said she'd been living in Cookville in East Texas since January 1985, in a house owned by her father-in-law, Clyde Nelson, a sex offender who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl in August 1985. A probation officer who visited the home in September 1985 reported the home was clean and Nelson's children appeared well cared-for.
The family lived on the $900 per month earned by her husband, a carpenter.
Nelson said she was studying pre-med at Northeast Texas Community College with the goal of becoming a physician.
She reported working summer jobs in 1980 and '81 at the Martin Luther King Center in Houston, where she assisted with clerical duties and recreational activities and tutored at the center's day care. A supervisor there described her in court documents as a hard worker who "has demonstrated herself to be a good mother."
Border incident in 1991
The judge granted probation in 1986, but five years later border patrol agents caught Nelson trafficking Mexican nationals.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Nelson in Kenedy County in July 1991 with five illegal immigrants allegedly smuggled in for $600 each.
She served six months concurrent with the 10-year sentence imposed and was paroled after three years.
In 1997, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft by check case out of Daingerfield and served 30 days in jail. In 2002, she served 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana possession in McKinney.
In 2005, she was charged with making a terroristic threat to another woman and with misdemeanor criminal mischief in Mount Vernon, Texas. She served one year probation and two months in jail for the threat and a concurrent sentence for the mischief charge.
Recently, Nelson worked in maintenance at several apartment complexes in north Houston.
An employee of the Sherwood Lane Apartments who asked not to be identified said Nelson used to fix plumbing problems there. She said Nelson had spoken of her children and said she recently had a grandchild. Another co-worker said Nelson talked about how she used to box in Detroit.
On her MySpace page, Nelson lists herself as single and her interests as working out, going to the beach and watching forensic science TV shows.
Nelson was friends with Jonathan's mother's roommate, Sharon Ennamorato, who also was Jonathan's frequent babysitter. Ennamorato has said she knew Nelson as a maintenance worker at an apartment complex across the street from the cottage Ennamorato shared with Jonathan and his mother.
Police believe Nelson kidnapped Jonathan from the cottage - where she found him home alone around 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve - and killed him at a two-unit garage apartment in the 8800 block of Allwood, in northeast Houston, later the same day.
Being held without bail
A neighbor who declined to give her name said she thought the home and garage apartments were vacant. Another said Nelson lived in a rear apartment but "kept to herself."
Nelson had been scheduled to appear in a court hearing Thursday, but officials said she had a medical issue and was not brought to the courtroom.
They didn't release details of her condition. She was ordered held without bail.
Prosecutors said Nelson admitted to police that she dumped the boy's body in a ditch in the 9900 block of East Hardy.
Footage from surveillance cameras at a business nearby shows Nelson's silver pickup pull up at about 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, a few hours after Jonathan disappeared, police said. The video shows Nelson taking the boy's body out of the truck bed and placing it in the ditch, they said.
Investigators also found burned carpet at Nelson's apartment, twine that appeared to match the string used to bind Jonathan's hands, and a stun-gun in the glove compartment of Nelson's truck, Miller said.
Arson dogs detected no accelerant on Jonathan's body, he said, adding that Nelson possibly used welding torches at her home. An autopsy found no soot in the boy's lungs, so Miller said Jonathan likely was not alive when he was burned.
Nelson has not confessed to killing Jonathan, and investigators have yet to determine a motive.
"I still don't know how the hell you could do something like that," Miller said.
Terri Langford, Susan Carroll, Peggy O'Hare, and Dale Lezon contributed to this report.
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