Ernestine Morning Owl takes comfort in knowing that her younger sister was finally returned home when she was buried last month at the Black Wolf Cemetery, the burial grounds for the Rock Creek band of the Yakama Nation near Roosevelt, Klickitat County.
“She’s in that beautiful light. She’s with good people, she’s with the Creator,” Morning Owl said of her sister, Mavis Kindness Nelson, 56. “I’m not going to forget what happened to her, but her spirit is free.”
Nelson, the mother of three grown children, was reported missing in Seattle by her daughter and co-workers in May. Her dismembered remains were discovered a month later in the Kincaid Ravine near the Burke-Gilman Trail in the University District.
Seattle police arrested Charles Becker, 32, on Oct. 4 in connection with Nelson’s killing, and King County prosecutors charged him Friday with first-degree murder and sexually violating human remains. He remains jailed in lieu of $5 million bail.
Becker was previously convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the 2015 accidental killing of his infant son in Pullman, Whitman County, court records show. The baby died after his airway was obstructed by a piece of plastic bag, and Becker was sentenced to just over two years in prison, according to court records.
The Seattle police investigation into Nelson’s killing is ongoing, and charging papers indicate one or more other people were involved in her violent death and the desecration and disposal of her body. The King County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Nelson died from multiple sharp-force wounds.
Police learned during their investigation that Nelson took a Lyft rideshare from Auburn on May 19 and arrived at her Seattle apartment a little after 10 p.m. After her remains were found June 20, police searched her unit and collected empty beer cans, some of which had Becker’s fingerprints on them, charging papers say.
Phone records showed Nelson and Becker exchanged 12 text messages after Nelson got back to Seattle, and scientists at the State Patrol Crime Lab later found Becker’s DNA on medical gloves recovered with Nelson’s remains, according to the charges. Additional unknown male DNA was also located.
Police obtained a low-resolution video in July that showed two people who appeared to throw something off the elevated roadway in the 2200 block of Northeast 45th Street within 24 hours of passersby discovering Nelson’s remains in the ravine, the charges say.
Becker was arrested four months later, and police took samples of garbage bags and gloves they found at his workplace, which are being scientifically compared to those used to dispose of Nelson’s remains, the charges say.
During a nine-hour interview with police last week, Becker provided information that only a person “who was involved and had firsthand knowledge of Nelson’s disappearance, death, dismemberment and body disposal would know,” a detective wrote in charging papers. Police say Becker confirmed he knew Nelson and that he had drank beer in her apartment before she went to his University District rooming house the night of her disappearance.
Becker claimed Nelson “mysteriously died” in his room and he stored her body in his closet, according to the charges. Police say Becker participated in Nelson’s dismemberment, and blood and other evidence were found in his room, according to charging papers. Forensic testing is ongoing.
Morning Owl, who lives in Pendleton, Oregon, said she was initially critical of the Seattle police investigation while her family waited months for answers but now understands detectives couldn’t share information as they built a criminal case against Becker.
“I want to tell all the other families not to give up,” she said of loved ones of other missing and murdered Indigenous women. “I never thought I would be one of these people, but I’m in that same boat.”
Nelson, who worked for the Compass Center and later Plymouth Housing, was a hardworking, caring woman who often let people stay at her apartment, her sister said. She loved boating, had a unique laugh — kind of a giggle that ended in a wheeze — and was nicknamed “Boots” by one of her brothers because of her love of the Nancy Sinatra song, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’ ” Morning Owl said.
She grew up in Goldendale, Klickitat County, before moving to Seattle, and was buried Sept. 22 near her brother and mother, Morning Owl said.
Though she’s hopeful about seeing justice for Nelson, Morning Owl is worried about another loved one: Her niece Crystal Kindness, 41, was reported missing Aug. 8 in Toppenish, Yakima County. (Editor’s note: Crystal Kindness contacted her family
Tuesday and is unharmed, according to Morning Owl.)
In addition to Morning Owl and her three children, Nelson is survived by her older brother, Tyrone Kindness, and younger sister, Kelly Kindness. Morning Owl said she lost contact with Kelly Kindness after Nelson was killed and asked that she get in touch with the family.
Nelson’s homicide is one of 47 committed in the city so far this year, including one case being investigated by the Washington State Patrol, according to preliminary data compiled with information from police, prosecutors and the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Of those victims, seven were women.
That tally has already surpassed last year’s total of 40 homicides in Seattle, and with 2½ months remaining in 2022, could potentially top the 51 homicides investigated by Seattle police in 2020.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.