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Memorable Manitobans: Earle Nelson, aka Virgil Wilson (1898-1928)

Serial rapist, murderer.

Born in San Francisco, little is known of his early life. He was expelled from school in grade two, could not keep a job, and complained of pains in his head and of “spells.” He spent some time in a mental institution. According to police, his career of violence began in San Francisco in 1926, when his first female victim was raped and strangled. He allegedly repeated the same modus operandi more than 20 times across the United States as far east as Philadelphia, becoming in the process notorious as the “Gorilla Strangler.” His trail of violence ended in Winnipeg in 1927 with two killings in early June, one of a 14-year-old “flower girl” and the other of a 27-year-old housewife. Captured near Wakopa, Manitoba, on 15 June 1927 after Canada’s largest manhunt, he escaped when his guard left the Killarney town hall lockup to find matches. He was subsequently recaptured and taken for trial to Winnipeg. Tried only for the death of the housewife, Nelson was hanged on 13 January 1928. He never confessed to any of the crimes, and the link to the American deaths was purely circumstantial.


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 8 July 2012

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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