“It’s shocking that he would ever do that. We all grew up like cousins.”
-Ashley Solberg, Jessyka's sister
It was the 25th of June 2015. A Saturday. Twenty eight year old Jessyka Nelson was due to work that day but when she didn't show up, it was so unusual that her mother was contacted. Jessyka's employer called Jessyka's mother, Missy Nelson, to ask her if she had heard from Jessyka as Jessyka was an hour late for work. They told her that they had called but got no answer. Missy also knew it was very unusual for her daughter to be late. She worked at the First National Bank and it was her dream job so she looked forward to going into work every day. Missy called her too, there was no answer so she drove to her house. She continued calling on the way but the phone continued to ring out. Missy was worried that something may have happened to Jessyka on her way to work in her car.
When Missy arrived at Jessyka's house, she saw her car in the driveway. Jessyka lived in Debolt, Nebraska, United States with her six year old son Dominick Dom Nelson. Jessyka's mother was aware that Dom had stayed with his father, John McDowall, the night before so Jessyka was home alone the night of the 24th of June. John and Jessyka were no longer together as John cheated on Jessyka and she moved out with Dom so that she could look after him and give him a stable life. Everything she did was for Dom.
When Missy parked her car, she walked up to the front door of the house. It was locked. She had a key and entered to find the house in complete darkness. Missy heard water running in the bathroom. She opened the door and saw Jessyka lying in the fetal position in the bathtub with the water running. Missy called 911 and told them that "it looks like she slipped in the shower. I don't know how long she has been there."
Jessyka was partially submerged in the bathtub. She was naked and was holding a cell phone charging cord. Missy drained the water so that she could try to help her daughter but she realized that it was too late. Jessyka was already dead.
The cell phone charging cord
When police got to the house, they were not certain that Jessyka had accidentally slipped in the bathtub. There was no sign of any forced entry and Missy informed them that the front door was locked when she got there. Yet, there was a significant amount of blood on the couch in the living room and Jessyka's clothes were in the bathtub with her.
At first glance, there was no obvious trauma to Jessyka's body apart from a small bruise on her neck. Police were not sure what they were dealing with, but they collected evidence as if they were dealing with a homicide investigation and it was quickly established that that's exactly what they were dealing with.
Jessyka Nelson with her son Dom
Police collected swabs for DNA testing from the cell phone charging cord and from items in the bathtub and bathroom. Police found blood outside the bathroom. There was blood in Jessyka's bedroom and in the living room. Jessyka's right thumbnail was bent back. Police swabbed under her fingernails and took fingernail clippings.
The Autopsy confirmed that Jessyka's death was the result of a homicide and determined that she had been strangled to death with the cell phone charging cord that she was found holding.
As there was no sign of forced entry and the door was locked, police believed that the person responsible for Jessyka's death must have been someone that Jessyka knew.
They questioned John, her ex partner, at the station. John told police that he last saw Jessyka on the 24th of June when she dropped Dom over at his house. He denied there were problems between them even though others in Jessyka's life said they had many arguments over custody and money. But John denied that. When police checked his cell phone records, the records placed him where he said he was the night of the 24th of June and it was nowhere near Jessyka's house.
Jessyka, John and Dom
The investigation led to one man in particular being deemed as a potential suspect. His name was Matthew Kidder. Matthew was a longtime friend of Jessyka and her family. His family were good friends with her family and he grew up with Jessyka and her two siblings, Matt and Ashley. He was Matt's best friend and Matthew's father was close friends with Jessyka's father Harry. Matthew referred to Harry as Uncle Harry. When Jessyka was murdered, nobody in her family believed that Matthew was responsible. But police believed that the evidence suggested otherwise.
Police questioned Matthew in relation to his relationship with Jessyka. He told them he was not involved in Jessyka's murder and that they were like brother and sister. He told police that they would engage in sexual innuendo type text messages but he wasn't interested in Jessyka that way and as far as he was aware, she did not like him in that way either. It was just playful teasing. Matthew went on to tell police that whoever killed Jessyka must have waited to make sure she was home alone and that they probably saw her Facebook post which said that she was home alone the night she was killed. On the 24th of June, at 9.49pm, Jessyka posted the following on Facebook:
"I lost my remote to bluray player for like 15 minutes & thought my life was over. Seriously, I am such a mess when Dom is gone."
Police were aware that Matthew was at work the night of the 24th of June and he worked close to Jessyka's house. They also knew he checked his Facebook that night. Did he see Jessyka's Facebook post that night and then wait to make sure she was home alone?
Police discovered that Matthew sent a number of text messages that they described as more eerie than playful teasing to Jessyka.
The text messages on Jessyka's phone dated back to the 4th of February 2014. The thread started with a text message in relation to Matthew helping Jessyka out and they made plans for him to shovel her driveway due to the heavy snowfall. It was clear from the text messages after that initial one that Matthew did most of the texting. A lot of his text messages were in relation to him asking Jessyka to meet up but she either did not reply to some of them or said no to others. She tried to be polite but it was clear that she did not want to meet up with him.
On the 16th of April 2015, Matthew sent a text message to Jessyka and told her that he had to do an early morning errand and needed some place to hang out before then. He asked her if he could stop by her house. Jessyka told him that that was fine but as it would be early, she would be asleep so she'd leave the door unlocked. She told him that he could take a nap on the couch or watch some television or use the chairs outside while he waited.
Matthew went to her house that morning and later that same day Matthew sent Jessyka another text message:
"Ill admit, a little part of me wanted to run in and doggy pile you, but i didnt feel like being stabbed or beat up. Lol."
"Lol yeah that def would've happened. Im a grouch when my sleep is interrupted unless you're [my son], then I'm less grouchy lol."
"Lol. Maybe next time."
"If you want to die. I do keep a good sized knife in my nightstand drawer."
"Challenge accepted. We will need to lay down some ground rules though. No hair pulling, no biting. Lol."
"Or you could just leave me alone when I'm sleeping. Save us all the hassle."
Matthew continued to send text messages to Jessyka after that day, some were sexual text messages. On the 19th of June 2015, he sent her the following text messages:
"Scale of feeling playful stabby to murdered on my sleep."
"Yeah. Trying to make a joke, and now shes mad at me. Lol."
"I figured itd be a funny "breaking the ice" joke since every other guy sends dick pics for their first or all communication and im the one who asked off the wall questions."
Jessyka did not reply to any of those text messages. A few days later, on the 24th of June 2015, Matthew sent another text message to Jessyka:
"Who's down to hang out or catch a movie saturday night?"
Jessyka did not reply to that text message. Just a few hours later, Jessyka was dead.
Police noticed a cut on Matthew's hand which looked like it was caused by a fingernail. He told police that he got the cut on the 24th of June when he was at work. Police asked him about his work and what his hours were like. He told them that most days during the week he worked from 3pm to 11.40pm.
He provided police with a DNA sample and cooperated and consented when they asked to search his phone. Police told him that they knew he was involved in Jessyka's death. He was initially released without charge but a few weeks later, Matthew was questioned again. Police asked him about Jessyka and he said:
"I kinda classify women into like three stages: ones I could be friends with, ones I just want to see naked, and ones I want to sleep with.... [Nelson] was kinda in between I want to see her naked and no feelings ... just because she had a nice rack.... She had nice boobs."
Police again asked him where he was the night of the 24th of June. He told them that he was at work and that he was not at Jessyka's house that night. When asked when he last saw her, he said that he was at her house the night of the 23rd of June as she needed help moving furniture. He told police that he sweated heavily on Jessyka's couch and mattress. He also told police that they may find his blood there as he bleeds everywhere he goes because he either picks his scabs or cuts himself on things.
Police linked Matthew to the murder via the DNA they collected from Jessyka's house. There were two DNA profiles on the cell phone charging cord collected. Jessyka's DNA accounted for one of the profiles and the other was matched to Matthew. The swab under Jessyka's fingernails on her left hand revealed the same results as did the DNA found under her right thumbnail.
Matthew was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
It was the Prosecution's case that Matthew went to Jessyka's house the night of the 24th of June, after he finished work for the day, and raped and strangled her to death.
The Court heard that Jessyka was found in the bathtub clutching a cell phone charging cord and that cord was the one that had been used to strangle Jessyka.
The Prosecution told the Jury that DNA found under Jessyka's fingernails and on the cell phone cord tied Matthew to the crime as did his cell phone data. Matthew's cell phone records showed that his cell phone used a cell tower in the area near Jessyka's home at 11.56pm, the night of the 24th of June, and again at 12.02am on the 25th of June. Thirty minutes later, his cell phone used cell towers close to his own home. The Jury heard that when Matthew was arrested and in prison, he called his father. That call was recorded. He told his father:
"I think she fell asleep on the couch after I left and somebody came in behind."
His father asked him:
"After you left? You were never there."
"Dad. My phone puts me there."
During the call, Matthew told his father that he was at Jessyka's house the night she was killed, the 24th of June, for around twenty minutes.
The Prosecution presented evidence of Jessyka's injuries. The Autopsy revealed bruises and abrasions on Jessyka's neck, hemorrhaging in her eyes, and a ligature mark on her neck that was consistent with the cell phone charging cord.
The cause of death was strangulation.
Jessyka Nelson with her son Dom
The Court heard that Jessyka was sexually assaulted. She had a laceration and bruising in her vaginal area and contusions to her head, abdomen, and bowel.
The Prosecution called Randy Anderson to testify. Randy shared a cell with Matthew for less than a day but it was the Prosecution's case that his evidence was credible as he knew things about the murder before they had been reported publicly.
The Court heard that it was Randy himself who had contacted police and offered to testify. At the time, he was awaiting sentencing on plea based convictions for burglary and making terroristic threats.
At the Trial, Randy told the Court that Matthew told him he was at Jessyka's house the night of the 24th of June. According to Randy, Matthew went to her house because he saw her Facebook post which stated that she was home alone that night. When he got there, he knocked on the side door and Jessyka unlocked the chain on the door and let him in.
Randy testified that Matthew told him that he somehow head butted Jessyka causing an injury to her face which caused her to scream. Matthew strangled her and she cut his hand with her fingernail. Jessica lost consciousness and Matthew took her to the bedroom, removed her sweatpants and strangled her with the cell phone charging cord. He did not admit that he sexually assaulted Jessyka. Randy told the Court that Matthew put her body in the bathtub and ran the water in an attempt to get rid of DNA.
The Prosecution presented evidence of material found on Matthew's laptop. A search of his Internet browsing history files revealed that searches were carried out on an Internet pornography website for "strangled," "forced f*cked," "f*cked by intruder," and "pantyhose bound."
The Court heard that on the 17th of July 2015, a video titled "Psycho-Thrillers presents Waitress Kidnapped, Raped, and Strangled" was downloaded.
Three other similar videos were also found on his laptop.
The Jury heard evidence that in 2008, Matthew sexually assaulted another woman, Patricia Springborg, in her home. Matthew knew Patricia and her family and he called to her house one day and told her he was locked out of his own home. When she let him in, he grabbed her, threw her to the ground, got on top of her and placed his hands on her neck.
Patricia screamed and he put his hand over her mouth and nose. She managed to get free momentarily and screamed "no," and he was quite forceful and sexually assaulted her. Patricia observed that when she tried to fight back, that made him worse and when she stopped fighting back, he lost interest.
Matthew entered a plea of no contest to a charge of attempted first degree sexual assault in relation to that crime.
It was the Defense's case that Matthew wasn't guilty and had nothing to do with Jessyka's death. They told the Jury that all of the evidence the Prosecution had had an innocent explanation. Matthew did not testify at the Trial.
Matthew was found guilty of first degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony in relation to Jessyka's murder after the Jury deliberated for just 41 minutes. He was sentenced to life in prison in relation to the murder charge and fifty years in relation to the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony charge. However before the sentence was officially handed down in Court, his lawyer argued that the law which permits such a sentence came in after Matthew was charged and as such, the Court could only impose a twenty year sentence in lieu of the fifty years.
Matthew appealed but the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld both his convictions and life sentence. They also ordered the lower Court to reinstate the original fifty year sentence and stated that Nebraska law does allow up to fifty years. As such, Matthew was sentenced to life in prison and fifty years.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello