CLOSE

The Attempted Murder at Peanuts Headquarters

At roughly 11 a.m. on July 5, 1995, Shirley Ann Nelson walked into the Santa Rosa offices of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and approached the receptionist’s desk. She asked if her husband, Ronald Nelson, was in. Before the receptionist could answer, Shirley stalked past her and into Ronald’s office.

In court testimony the following year, Ronald would recall that he looked up to see his wife dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing sunglasses. Then he noticed the gun.

“You ruined my life,” she said, and fired.

Ronald had already gotten up from his desk and was attempting to flee when two bullets from the .357 pierced his lower back. He made it to the yard in front of One Snoopy Place before collapsing. Shirley turned the gun on herself and fired once to her chest.

Schulz, who was in the office at the time, would later tell press he hadn’t heard the shots. But after both the victim and the shooter made miraculous recoveries, Schulz and his wife, Jean, would find themselves key witnesses in Shirley's attempted murder trial. Surprisingly, their sympathies would be largely in favor of the defendant. When Shirley needed to post a $2 million cash bail to avoid being incarcerated, it was Schulz who wrote the check.

United Features

In the 1970s, Schulz was having difficulty tending to the demands of both the daily Peanuts strip and the merchandising opportunities it created. To help process the volume of business coming across his desk, he hired Ronald Nelson to act as vice president of Creative Associates, a staff devoted to the ancillary marketing of his characters. While Schulz would still have final approval over toys and other paraphernalia, Nelson would handle the day-to-day details.

The arrangement continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when Peanuts was being licensed on everything from toys to animation to snow-cone machines. Both Schulz and Nelson were headquartered at One Snoopy Place in Santa Rosa, a combination studio and office space. And it was there, according to court testimony recounted by The Press Democrat, that the problems began.

At 65 years of age, Nelson’s wife, Shirley, was more than a decade older than her husband. But Ronald’s office secretary, Eileen, was more than a decade younger than he was. According to Ronald, he and Eileen began seeing each other in the spring of 1995. When Shirley learned of the affair, she was apoplectic. The couple had frequent fights, and Ronald moved out of their home in June.

That same month, Ronald walked into Schulz’s office and told him he would be leaving his wife for a co-worker. Though he considered Ronald a friend, Schulz was angry at the office soap opera, telling him he’d have to stop seeing Eileen or risk one or both of them being fired. Schulz later explained that he was concerned a sexual harassment suit could develop if someone's feelings got hurt.

That would be the least of Ronald’s problems. With a history of depression, the news hit Shirley hard. She composed a series of letters to Ronald, Eileen, and even Schulz, handing them over to her attorney for delivery after her death. To Schulz, she wrote:

“I had a wonderful life with Ron until this slute [sic] went conveniently to afternoon motel sex. Maybe she'll work on you now. I have been destroyed and left for dead and so I take Ron with me to rot in hell.''

Shirley purchased the .357 at a gun shop after hearing the news, though she didn't act immediately. In court, Schulz testified that he and his wife had noticed the Nelsons on a golf course July 4, the day prior to the attack, but opted not to approach them. Later, Ronald would testify their outing was preceded by an angry argument. Moments before the shooting on July 5, Schulz mentioned seeing them the day before. Ronald told him things were going “very badly.”

Not long after, Shirley entered the Peanuts offices and opened fire. The burst of violence was brief and targeted only at Ronald before she turned the weapon on herself; police would later marvel that she didn’t attempt to injure Eileen, who was at work that day, and speculated she was too focused on her husband to concern herself with the mistress.

The receptionist who heard the shots called for help. EMTs found Ronald out front and critically wounded; Shirley was rushed to another hospital in serious condition. She was conscious, though, and admitted to police that she was “sorry” she hadn’t been able to finish the job.

Between her confession and the letters indicating premeditation, it was not a difficult investigative puzzle to put together. But when the case went to trial in the spring of 1996, the jury found themselves wondering whether Shirley was just as much a victim as her husband.

United Features

Though it took more than six weeks, Ronald made a full recovery from his injuries. Shirley had also recovered from her own self-inflicted wound and was being kept under psychiatric evaluation as prosecutors and her defense attorney, Chris Andrian, debated whether she should be eligible for release. After setting bail at $750,000 in July 1995, the judge revoked his decision just a week later, citing the concern both Ronald and Eileen felt over their personal safety and the fact that Shirley was known to have wealthy friends who could post bail. But Andrian told the court that he would refuse to let one anyone do so, believing she was better off under the care of a hospital.

By November 1995, however, Shirley was out on $2 million bail, which had been posted by Schulz. That August, she had entered a plea of not guilty, with Andrian citing insanity in an act he dubbed a “crime of the heart.” Her trial was set for January 1996, then pushed to April. Schulz was the first witness called by the defense to discuss Ronald's admission of the affair; Jean Schulz had been on the stand earlier, ordered by the prosecution to describe how Shirley had wanted to pay off Eileen to leave Ronald.

That month and into May, jurors heard of Ronald’s infidelity, Shirley’s darkening mood, and her spiral into depression. While prosecutor David Dunn argued her attack was calculated, jurors appeared swayed by Andrian’s defense that she had simply taken leave of rational thought. The jury deadlocked 9-3 in favor of an acquittal.

Rather than endure a second trial, Shirley accepted a plea bargain in April 1997: one year in prison, five years’ probation, and 3000 hours of community service. She served roughly six months and another 18 months of home confinement before being released and retreating to a retirement community, dying of colon cancer in 2005 at the age of 78.

Before her trial commenced, Schulz had written a letter urging the prosecution to consider probation in lieu of a jail term. Surprisingly, so did Ronald. Andrian, who acted as a defense attorney for several domestic incidents in his career, reflected on the case in 2009, observing that Shirley was “a good person who went off the deep end.”

Schulz never made any public comment on the case. True to his word, he fired Ronald from Creative Associates in August of 1995. Though the artist told media at the time it had nothing to do with the shooting, he would later testify that he felt compelled to let Ronald go because he and Eileen refused to stop seeing one another. (She would resign shortly thereafter.)

If Schulz was exceptionally annoyed at Ronald’s indiscretion, it may have been because he had been in his shoes. During his first marriage in the early 1970s, Schulz had engaged in an affair with Tracey Claudius, an office employee two decades his junior. In one Peanuts strip from that time period, Charlie Brown cautions Snoopy to stop chasing after an attractive beagle and to “start behaving himself.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Keystone/Getty Images
arrow
crime
The Terrible Crime at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin 
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
Keystone/Getty Images

Some of the most horrific murders in Wisconsin history involved none other than famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was in the middle of building a home, which he named Taliesin, for himself and his mistress in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He had recently left his wife and six children for Martha "Mamah" Borthwick, whose husband Edwin Cheney had commissioned Wright to build a house in Oak Park, Illinois. Cheney may have a gained a Frank Lloyd Wright house, but he lost his wife—Mamah and Wright became close, even traveling to Europe together, sans spouses, in 1909. The Cheneys divorced in 1911; Wright’s divorce would take more than another decade to be finalized.

On August 15, 1914, Wright was away attending to the construction of Midway Gardens in Chicago when he got a terrible message. “Taliesin destroyed by fire,” it read, and that was all. For the time being, at least, Wright was spared the details: Their servant, Julian Carlton, had attacked Mamah, her children, and Taliesin workmen, pouring gasoline under the door and setting the home ablaze. When some of the victims broke windows and tried to escape, Carlton hacked at them from outside of the house with a hatchet.

The Ogden Standard, September 5, 1914
A news account of the tragedy, September 5, 1914
Library of Congress // Public Domain

While precise accounts of the crime vary, according to biographer William Drennan, Carlton first killed Mamah and her two children, 8-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, while they were eating lunch on a porch, bludgeoning them with a hatchet. Once Carlton had taken care of them, he went to a dining room where the workmen were eating, locked them in, and set fire to the place.

In the end, eight people died—seven victims and the murderer himself. The victims included Mamah and her children, draftsman Emil Brodelle, gardener David Lindblom, handyman Tom Brunker, and Ernest Weston, the son of carpenter William Weston.

The murderer didn’t die right away, though. He swallowed hydrochloric acid soon after the attack, and died of starvation about seven weeks later. Despite being questioned, Carlton never did give a motive for his killing spree. There’s some evidence to suggest a series of disputes with the workers, however, and that Carlton had recently been told he was being terminated.

Taliesin
Taliesin as it looks today
edward stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As for the absolutely devastated Frank Lloyd Wright, he rebuilt Taliesin in Mamah’s honor. The land may have been cursed, however, because this second reincarnation of the house was also destroyed by fire. In 1925, a lightning storm apparently ignited the wiring, sparking a conflagration that eventually burned the house down. Not one to be deterred, Wright built Taliesin III on the same spot. Today, the home is open for tours and events.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
8 Animals That Have Been Imprisoned or Arrested
iStock
iStock

It might seem like a case of animals just being animals, but when eight donkeys in northern India recently ate nearly $1000 worth of greenery in their small town, they did four days in the big house. (Perhaps part of the problem? They ate expensive saplings that were planted right near the jail. Rookie mistake.) But whether they harmed property or people, were in cahoots with human outlaws, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, these eight other critters are proof that "crime" can sometimes be cuddly.

1. THE PIGEON THAT WAS ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF ESPIONAGE.

In 2015, officials in India arrested a pigeon they suspected was a spy. The bird’s body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu—Pakistan’s official language—and what appeared to be a Pakistani phone number. It had landed in a village close to the country’s shared border with Pakistan, near the Kashmir region that’s claimed by both countries and has been the subject of multiple wars between India and Pakistan beginning in 1947. Though there was a ceasefire in 1972 (the current situation is that India controls 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan 35 percent, and China 20 percent), because both countries believe they have rights to the area, it's frequently the site of military clashes and infiltration.

So when a 14-year-old boy found the suspicious-looking pigeon so close to Kashmir, he turned it over to authorities. The officials took it to a veterinary hospital for x-rays, and though they couldn’t find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play, they kept the bird in custody, recording it as a “suspected spy” in their police diary.

That said, not everyone took the news as seriously as the Indian police did: In the days following the bird’s arrest, Pakistani social media was flooded with memes depicting the feathered detainee as a slick 007 type, and amused internet users coined hashtags like #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon.

2. THE BEAVER THAT WAS APPREHENDED FOR A DESTRUCTIVE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SESSION.

In December 2016, a wild beaver must have decided that forest trees weren’t festive enough, because it wandered into a dollar store in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, to browse Christmas trees and decorations. Workers noticed the animal knocking items onto the floor, and called the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

Captain Yingling of the sheriff's office arrived on scene to prevent the "shopping" beaver from ruining the store. “The suspect attempted to flee the area but was apprehended by Animal Control,” the sheriff's department joked on their Facebook page.

Instead of allowing the beaver to finish up its holiday shopping, the St. Mary's County Sheriff handed the critter over to a wildlife rehab center. As for the police, they said the quirky incident just marked another day on the job: “As a law enforcement officer, you just never know what your next call may be...” they mused on Facebook.

3. THE FOUL-MOUTHED PARROT IN INDIA THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR REPEATEDLY INSULTING HIS OWNER'S STEPMOTHER.

In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra taught a foul-mouthed parrot named Hariyal a lesson in politeness after they “arrested” it for swearing at an elderly woman named Janabai. According to locals, the pet bird had picked up the rude habit from Janabi’s stepson, Suresh Sakharkar. The two were embroiled in an ugly property dispute, and the latter had reportedly spent the prior two years training Hariyal to spout epithets whenever the estranged relation walked past his house.

The situation escalated, and Janabi, Suresh, and his bird were eventually called to the police station. “Police should investigate and seize the parrot,” the embittered stepmother told Indian news channel Zee News. That said, Hariyal must have known he was in hot water, because he kept his beak shut. “We watched the parrot carefully but it did not utter a word at the police station after being confronted by the complainant,” a police inspector told reporters.

Instead of locking Hariyal up, officials gave the parrot over to Maharashtra’s forestry department, where he can presumably fly—and curse—freely for the remainder of his life.

4. THE SQUIRREL THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR "STALKING" A GERMAN WOMAN.

While walking down the street in the West German city of Bottrop in 2015, a woman realized that she had attracted a furry stalker: a tiny red squirrel. The animal was chasing her and acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called the police for help. Authorities captured the squirrel, “arrested” it, and brought it back to the station. There, they discovered that the critter was suffering from exhaustion.

Police helped nurse the squirrel back to health by feeding it honey, and a spokesman said the squirrel would be sent to a rescue center instead of languishing away in a cell for its stalkerish habits.

5. THE BAD MONKEYS IN INDIA THAT WERE IMPRISONED IN "MONKEY JAIL."

iStock

In 2004, a rogue monkey became infamous for terrorizing residents of the city of Patiala, in India’s northern Punjab region. The monkey was guilty of multiple crimes: It stole food from homes, ripped the buttons off people's shirts, threatened kids with bricks, and once even swiped someone’s math textbooks and calculator. To keep the marauding jungle creature off the streets, officials sentenced it to “monkey jail”—a now-defunct detainment center in Patiala that was reserved for ill-behaving primates.

The “monkey jail"—which appears to have operated from 1996 until the mid-2000s—was located in the corner of a local zoo. The 15-foot-wide barred cell was secured with chain-link fencing and wire mesh, and had a sign that read: "These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous."

Punjab is filled with countless wild Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. Some of the animals have moved into cities and towns in search of food, as humans continue to destroy their natural jungle habitat. Others were once used as animal guards, or trained as performing monkeys, and were set loose by their owners once they turned violent. Particularly ill-treated or mischievous primates have been known to destroy property and pester—or even attack—humans. But since Hindus revere Hanuman, the monkey god, killing the creatures is verboten.

Wildlife officers in Punjab took matters into their own hands by opening the monkey jail. They responded to public complaints by capturing the creatures with trapping cages and tranquilizer guns. Once the monkeys were locked up, there was little to no chance of "parole."

As of 2004, there were 13 jailed monkeys, all imprisoned for harassing people or committing petty crimes. Patiala’s primate penitentiary was eventually closed, and authorities announced it was going to be replaced by “reform school" that's intended to train the monkeys to be less aggressive.

6. THE CAT WHO WAS DETAINED FOR HELPING OUT WITH A PRISON BREAK.

On New Year’s Day 2013, a cat took the heat for scheming Brazilian inmates who were likely either planning a jailbreak or attempting to communicate with outlaws on the outside. The white feline was slinking around the main gates of a medium-security prison in Arapiraca—a city in northeast Brazil—when guards noticed that its body was wrapped in tape. They apprehended the kitty, and discovered that it was carrying items including several saws and drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries, and a phone charger.

Prison officer Luiz de Oliveira Souza told reporters that the cat had been seen entering and exiting the jail before. It had been raised by inmates, and was often in the custody of one of their families. However, officials couldn’t figure out which of the jail’s 263 prisoners had tried to use the feline for their own nefarious purposes: “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak,” a prison spokesperson told local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo.

Following the cat’s “arrest” and brief imprisonment, it was taken to a local animal shelter to receive medical treatment.

7. THE TOUGH PRISON PET THAT WAS ACTUALLY A VERY GOOD BOY.

Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary

Unlike some animals on this list, Pep the dog was a very good boy. But in 1924, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced the dark-haired Labrador to a life sentence without parole. Pep was taken to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, where officials jokingly gave him his own inmate number and mug shot. Reporters nicknamed the canine "Pep The Cat-Murdering Dog," as he was said to have killed the governor’s wife’s cat.

Thanks to all the media hype, Pep had quite the tough reputation. But a few years after the canine’s imprisonment, the governor’s wife, Cornelia Pinchot, set the story straight in an interview with The New York Times. Turns out, Pep had never murdered her pet feline; her family simply bred Labradors, and owned too many dogs. Pep, she said, was a gift to the prisoners to lift their spirits.

Today, researchers say that partisan journalists twisted the facts around, and that Pep was actually a beloved prison pet that freely wandered the hallways and was adored by all. As for the "life sentence without parole" part, the Lab was eventually moved to a newer prison; when he died, he was buried on its grounds.

8. THE FEISTY DONKEY IN MEXICO THAT WAS LOCKED UP TO SETTLE A SCORE.

iStock

In 2008, police in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas arrested a feisty donkey named Blacky after it bit a man in the chest, and kicked a second man trying to rescue him. Police apprehended the burro and locked it in the jail’s drunk tank. “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed, no matter who they are,” said Officer Sinar Gomez.

Police said that the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner, Mauro Gutierrez, paid the injured parties’ medical bills and salary for the days they missed work. The boisterous burro served three days in jail, and Gutierrez settled the score by paying Blacky's victims.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios