Personal tie to unsolved murder at car wash motivates Kannapolis detectives

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — It’s a story Channel 9 has covered from the beginning -- a father taken too soon.

“He was described to us as a person who would have been like, ‘here take my money,’” authorities said in 1999.

Almost 24 years have passed with no answers, but detectives never gave up.


“The investigation never dies,” Kannapolis Police Chief Terry Spry said in 2014.

Now, Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz is still asking Kannapolis police who killed William Nelson and why.

“It just didn’t make a lot of sense,” Det. Glenn Tingen said.

In the early morning hours of July 22, 1999, William Thomas Nelson was found shot to death inside his work van at Whitley’s Car Wash on North Ridge Avenue in Kannapolis. The news that day shocked friends and neighbors, who said Nelson had the biggest heart.

“People I guess lose respect for other people’s lives, I guess,” a neighbor said then. “Don’t think about families they’re destroying and stuff like that -- it hurts a lot of people.”

The 42-year-old father was reportedly cleaning out his Eastway Lock and Key work van at the car wash after a long day when he was killed. No witnesses were around to see what happened.

Police believe it could have been a crime of opportunity.

“It appears that someone that saw the opportunity, he was by himself at the car wash and, you know, took it upon themselves to try to take something of his,” Tingen said.

Tingen is the most recent detective to take over the case. With a fresh set of eyes, he is using new technology to test DNA on old evidence.

“I’ve been working with our crime scene specialist investigator and just kind of bouncing ideas, talking about what’s new out there, what can we do?” Tingen said.

The car wash still stands in the same spot today. Tingen showed Goetz how the layout compares to crime scene photos from that night.

Tingen and Goetz traveled a few miles from the car wash to a residential neighborhood. He said a few days after Nelson’s murder, a few of his personal items -- he didn’t say which -- were found by a neighbor on the side of the road.

“The good thing is there was a partial fingerprint found on it,” he said.

Thanks to new technology, that partial print could be evidence that leads to a break in the case.

“It’s hard to say if that person that discarded the item had any personal connection to the area, or was passing through. But it definitely kind of opens up the door for further investigation,” Tingen said.

There is one more piece to this case that drives Det. Tingen to close it. Getting answers is personal for the Kannapolis Police Department.

“Whenever I was younger, my uncle was murdered as well,” Det. Wesley Wilson told Goetz. “Here in Kannapolis. He was murdered at a car wash, owned Northridge. And that case is still unsolved as well.”

Wesley Wilson, a fellow Kannapolis police detective, is the nephew of William Nelson.

“It really became something that led me down the road of investigations, so I could, you know, be a part of providing that closure for others,” Wilson said. “Just because growing up, I was always able to see the holes in the grievance process from that.”

Det. Wilson was just a kid when his uncle was killed, but it’s a memory that drives his passion every day -- and his colleagues recognize that.

“It adds an extra piece to it, that you’re wanting to try to bring some closure for somebody that you have a personal relationship with,” Tingen said.

The Kannapolis Police Department is asking anyone with information to call Cabarrus County Crimestoppers at 704-932-7463.

(WATCH: Channel 9 takes a look at Kannapolis cold cases that date back decades)

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.