365 Days of Texas True Crime: Nettie Part 1
Velma Nettie Nesset was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 11th, 1916. She married and had a little girl. Somehow she ended up in Odessa, Tx. At the age of 65 she was divorced and living in some not so nice apartments, alone, on Penbrook Lane in Odessa. She was working as a housekeeper (janitor) at the Permian Mall, now known as Music City Mall.
Nesset’s daughter, Joyce, who was also living in Odessa at the time had received a call from her mother’s co-workers expressing concern that she had not shown up for work. Nettie was a very dependable employee and when she wasn’t there at 5 a.m. as she always was, they knew something was wrong. Joyce reporter her mother missing just before noon. Tommy Morris and Darrell Gilbert, off-duty police officers working security at the mall were alerted to the fact that she was missing and they began to look for her immediately. They searched for her for about an hour before they came upon a body in the middle of the culvert at the intersection of Tanglewood Lane and 42nd Street, just outside the mall.
She was laying in a pool of blood, her throat had been slashed and her slacks and underwear were pulled down a ways from her waist.
Her manager at the mall and everyone she worked with had nothing but good things to say about Nettie. She was kind, gentle and sweet.
Nesset’s body was located at about 1 p.m. and authorities believed that she had been dead for several hours. Nettie walked to work and to get from her apartment to the mall it would’ve taken her about 20 minutes. If she wanted to be on time at 5 a.m., and she always was, she would’ve needed to leave around 4:30 in the morning. She only had a few more steps to go when she met her murderer.
It was just last August that an Odessa teenager had been brutally mutilated and stabbed to death so the public was nervous about the possible connection. Carmen Melinda Croan’s body was discovered August 23rd, 1981, in an oil field just north of the FM 1936 and State Highway 158 intersection in North Ector County. She was nude and had been “stabbed and cut a great number of time”, according to Peace Justice Jimmy Harris. She was last seen on Saturday around 11:30 p.m. at a Graham’s nightclub on 8th street.
Because knives were used in both murder the community was worried about the possibility of a connection.
Then on April 25th, a man who also worked at the Permian mall named Happy Howry, 68, went missing. However, he went missing on a Sunday after church. Although there were those who speculated at a connection between the disappearance of Howry and the murder of Velma Nesset, authorities maintained that they did not believe the two were related.
In 1982, Detective Sgt. Jerry Smith announced that through the use of a FBI prepared psychological profile, a suspect had been identified in Nesset’s case, however the name of the suspect or any other information was not released.
In October of 1983 a man was charged with Nesset’s murder.
He was 22 years old, worked at the mall with Nesset and lived in the same apartment complex that she did. Johnny Ray Foote worked at the mall from March 25th until April 28th, 1982. Although Nesset’s case was featured as an October 4th, 1983, crime of the week, investigators were adamant that the arrest was not as a result of information gained from the Crime Stoppers Program. Det. Gregory A. Travland signed a probable cause statement that indicated Foote was arrested after giving investigators a statement during the course of questioning at the police station. In an Odessa American article in October announcing the arrest in Nesset’s case, police officials called the investigation closed. The statement, allegedly given to police by Foote, stated that he told detectives he “raped her, and then killer her with a knife.” At the time however, investigations showed that the victim had not been raped. Psychiatric testing was scheduled for Foote to be completed before the trial that was set for February 13th, 1983.
Foote wasn’t the only suspect, perhaps he was just the first to crack under the pressure of interrogation? Find out in part 2 tomorrow.