BRAYMER, Mo. — A Missouri farmer who served time in federal prison for a cattle fraud scheme has been charged with murdering two Wisconsin brothers whom authorities say he owed $250,000 for cattle.
Garland Joseph "Joey" Nelson, 25, of Braymer, is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, abandonment of a corpse and armed criminal action, Caldwell County court records show. Nelson is also charged with tampering with a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.
The charges stem from the killing of Nick Diemel, 35, and Justin Diemel, 25, both of Shawano County, Wisconsin. The men vanished July 21 after traveling to Nelson’s family’s farm, J4s Farm Enterprises, located about 70 miles northeast of Kansas City, authorities said.
Charred human remains were found July 30 in a manure pile on the 74-acre farm.
Court records say DNA analysis confirmed the remains were those of Nick and Justin Diemel.
Nelson, who appeared for a very brief court hearing Thursday morning, could face the death penalty in the brothers’ killings. The criminal complaint in the case alleges he fatally shot the men.
Caldwell County Sheriff Jerry Galloway and county prosecutor Brady Kopek announced the charges Wednesday during a news conference. Nelson has been in jail since July 26, when he was charged with evidence tampering for allegedly driving the Diemel brothers' rented Ford F-150 to a commuter lot about 35 miles from his farm.
Investigators searching for the missing men found the truck abandoned, with the keys in the ignition and the lights on, court documents say.
Nelson is also being held on a probation violation related to his previous conviction. Federal prison records show Nelson, who served two years in prison, was released from custody in March 2018.
Galloway said the slain brothers, who public records show owned Diemel’s Livestock in Bonduel, Wisconsin, met with Nelson the day of their disappearance regarding cattle transactions. They were reported missing after failing to show up for their scheduled flight back to Wisconsin.
"This is an extremely complex case and has required the hard work of many officers and agencies joining together to investigate and solve this case, and we appreciate their efforts," Kopek said in a statement read by the sheriff as the prosecutor looked on.
Watch Wednesday's news conference below, courtesy of Fox4 News in Kansas City.
Local, state and federal investigators were involved in the case, Galloway said. He declined to answer questions from reporters.
Rob Chubb, who manages the feeder cattle side of the brothers' business, told The Associated Press he suspected Nelson in the men's disappearance immediately because Nelson owed them money. He said he believes Nelson lured the men to Missouri with a promise of repayment, but with plans to kill them.
"I just can't believe somebody is so selfish, so cruel. I don't know how somebody does something like that -- to kill somebody and put them in barrels and burn them," Chubb told the AP. "It takes a really sick individual."
A missing persons report and a grisly find
A probable cause affidavit lays out the case against Nelson, who the Diemels were paying to feed, and then sell, cattle for their business, which is situated about 30 miles outside of Green Bay. The brothers’ father, Jack Diemel, told investigators his sons traveled to Nelson’s farm on July 21 to pick up a check for $250,000 Nelson owed them for cattle. They flew in to Kansas City and rented a pickup truck for the hourlong drive to Nelson’s farm.
“Based on the investigation, it is believed Nicholas and Justin Diemel never left the property after they arrived and were intentionally killed,” the affidavit reads. “It is believed Garland Joseph Nelson acted alone or in concert with others in committing the act of murder against both Nicholas and Justin Diemel.”
Court documents obtained by The Kansas City Star say detectives obtained data from the GPS system in the pickup truck the Diemels had rented from Budget Rent a Car. The data showed the truck had been on Nelson's farm the morning they vanished.
More than two hours after the brothers arrived, the truck left the property, the documents allege. It was seen on surveillance footage outside a store in Polo, about halfway between Braymer and Holt, Missouri, where the truck was recovered.
The footage showed a driver in the truck, but no passengers.
The time frame fits with that outlined in the affidavit on the murder charges, which alleges that the brothers arrived at Nelson’s farm around 9:30 a.m.
According to the affidavit, Nelson admitted to police in July that he drove the brothers’ truck to a park-and-ride lot near Holt around 11:45 a.m. on the day they vanished. He said he removed the men’s cellphones and disposed of them while walking to Holt, where he arranged for a ride home.
Nelson appeared to proclaim innocence in the killings, however, telling investigators he found the men dead upon his return to his family’s farm.
“Nelson said he found and observed two bodies he believed were Nicholas and Justin Diemel dead, each inside of a 55-gallon metal barrel located in the pole barn south of the residence,” the affidavit says. “The bodies were then each moved through the pasture by carrying them one at a time in a skid loader bucket to an adjacent pasture located to the northwest of the residence, where the bodies were burnt by an unknown liquid and diesel fuel being poured over them and ignited.”
Nelson told investigators after the bodies were burned, he moved them to the manure pile in which they were later found. He said he also used the bucket on the skid loader to crush the barrels in which he burned the bodies, discarding them elsewhere on the farm.
According to the affidavit, Nelson then used a shovel to clean up blood from the floor of the barn where the men were killed.
Read the criminal complaint and arrest affidavit in Garland Nelson's case below.
The court documents allege that a neighbor of Nelson’s heard multiple gunshots from the direction of his farm between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on the morning the men vanished. By Nelson’s own admission, he left the farm with the men’s rental truck about 15 minutes after that window of time.
Investigators later found a spent .30-30 rifle cartridge in Nelson’s clothes, which were stained with what DNA tests revealed as Nick Diemel’s blood.
A rifle and more ammunition were found in Nelson’s vehicle, the affidavit says. The shovel Nelson said he used to clean the barn was also seized from his property, as were the crushed metal burn barrels.
‘Nick had every reason to be angry with Joey’
KCTV in Kansas City reported last month that the Diemel brothers' killings are potentially linked to another case in which Nelson has been charged in Bourbon County, Kansas. Nelson was charged Aug. 2 with endangering the food supply and transporting domestic animals infected with disease, according to Kansas court records.
David Foster, who runs a business called Cash Cow Enterprises near Fort Scott, told KCTV that he was in business with Nelson on a cattle venture that turned sour.
A total of 100 of the 131 animals involved in that deal were bought through the Diemels’ business in Wisconsin.
"Our arrangement was that I was going to purchase the calves," Foster told the Missouri news station in an interview. "He was going to feed and raise them, and then when they got to weaning weight, we were going to sell them and split the profit."
Over the winter, Foster said, Nelson stopped making payments on a metal shed he’d gotten from Foster through Cash Cow, which Nelson had offered to tear down in Kansas and reassemble himself on his own property, working as a subcontractor in exchange for a discount on the shed. He also stopped making payments on a pair of refrigerated trailers they’d partnered on, with Foster purchasing the trailers and Nelson leasing them from him.
Foster provided the news station with receipts from both transactions, as well as the paperwork from the purchase of the cattle, which Nelson had not sold as promised, the Kansas farmer said.
"It came time to be due for them to be weaned and then sold, and he was coming up with all these excuses and stories as to why he hadn't sold them yet," Foster told KCTV.
Watch David Foster’s interview with the news station below.
Foster said he began recording his phone conversations with Nelson. In a snippet of a recording played for the news station, a man he identified as the murder suspect is heard complaining about the strain of their business ventures.
"We're gonna go broke," an angry male voice is heard saying. "We're gonna go (expletive) broke if we do not get a (expletive) break here."
The man Foster identified as Nelson tells him he doesn’t have the money to pay the dairy farmer. He tells Foster he is caught between money he is owed and money he owes to others.
“I’ve got guys in Wisconsin … you know, I’m trying to be nice because I know they are going to lose everything they own,” the man says in a trembling voice.
He then appears to mention Justin Diemel by name.
"I told Justin, I said, 'Justin, I know we owe you a (expletive) of money,'" the man says.
The caller tells Foster he is considering harming himself, saying he doesn’t know what to do “short of pulling a gun on somebody and hoping I don’t go to jail.”
Foster said he was prepared to visit Nelson in Missouri to discuss the issues face-to-face, but Nelson instead dumped about 35 of the cattle off in one of Foster’s pastures. The animals were diseased and emaciated, Foster said. Photos he provided to KCTV show scrawny calves with protruding ribs.
"It just about made us sick to our stomach when they showed up," Foster told the news station.
A USDA inspector’s report provided to the station indicates no certificate of veterinary inspection, required when animals are moved from one state to another, was on file for the transfer of the calves. The report says 11 of the cows had no official identification.
Torn ears on some calves indicated their identification tags had been removed, the report says.
“Calves appear to be under weight and size for 5-6 month old calves,” the report states. “Multiple emaciated and thin calves were noted as well. Most calves had ringworm.”
Foster said he does not know what happened to the other 95 cattle he had purchased from the Diemel brothers, but he suspects they died in Nelson’s care.
"That's not a herdsman, that's not a feed lot owner, that's not a farmer," Foster told KCTV.
Foster told the news station he and Nelson stopped speaking, but he reached out to Nelson’s other business partners -- including Nick Diemel.
“Everybody had a very similar story,” Foster said.
He said he learned from the Diemels that they had a separate cattle deal with Nelson, though he did not know the details. The deal was not going according to plan, however.
“I knew Nick had every reason to be angry with Joey,” Foster said.
A prior conviction
Foster also did some research and learned about Nelson’s federal conviction, KCTV reported. Nelson pleaded guilty in November 2015 to a three-part cattle fraud scheme in which federal prosecutors said he bilked his victims out of nearly $300,000.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri, Nelson admitted to selling more than 100 cattle that did not belong to him. A news release said the animals were pledged to the Farm Service Agency, from which Nelson had obtained multiple loans in April 2013.
Nelson sold the cattle without notifying the FSA or turning over to the agency the bulk of his proceeds, which was required under the terms of his loan.
He used the name Joey Nelson to avoid detection during the sales, federal prosecutors said. He also used the name of a friend, who would then turn the money over to Nelson.
Nelson also stole $124,000 in sale proceeds from three people who turned over nearly 650 of their own cattle for Nelson to feed and care for. Prosecutors said he removed all identification from the animals and co-mingled them with his own in order to sell them undetected, then kept the cash.
Watch Nelson speak in December about life before and after his time in the U.S. Penitentiary-Leavenworth below.
In the third part of his scheme, Nelson lied to Farm Bureau Insurance when collecting multiple fraudulent insurance claims in which he said his livestock had drowned or been stolen. Federal investigators said he had instead sold the animals and kept that money, along with the insurance proceeds he collected from Farm Bureau.
Nelson also failed to tell the insurance agency that the FSA had first lien on all his livestock, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to prison in early 2016.
Foster, the Kansas farmer, was left pondering what might have taken place if he had ever made a trip to Missouri to talk to Nelson, like the Diemel brothers ultimately did.
"It's pretty simple," Nelson told KCTV. "It could have been me. Because I could have been in that position."
Foster grew emotional when talking about the brothers. Like him, Nick Diemel was a father of four children.
“It’s just a fluke, that they suffered this,” Foster said of the men.
'How is this happening in our life?'
The brothers' family members described their nightmare ordeal in an interview with the Star in August, as investigators were still trying to piece together what happened to their loved ones.
Justin Diemel’s girlfriend, Taylor Moeller, told the newspaper she knew something was amiss when her boyfriend of eight years didn’t answer her calls at 11:24 a.m. July 21. The calls were placed during the time frame in which Nelson’s neighbor told police he heard gunshots.
The concern escalated following the men’s missed flight.
"If his flight was late, he would have told me it was late," Moeller told the Star. "He literally finds a way to tell me everything."
Nick Diemel’s wife, Lisa Diemel, said the family did not waste time when reporting the men missing.
"Getting started, you have to call your local county and file a missing persons report and have a police officer come out to your house and pray that they take it as seriously as you do," Lisa Diemel said.
The family’s frantic search for the men morphed into an agonizing wait five days after they vanished, when Clinton County, Missouri, Sheriff’s Office officials declared the case a death investigation. Nelson was charged with tampering with evidence that same day.
Lisa Diemel told the Star she began at that point to focus more on taking care of the couple's children, who are 17, 12, 3 and 1. She said their 3-year-old, who was toddling around during her interview with the newspaper, spotted a plane in the sky one day after his father's disappearance.
He said his dad was on a plane, coming home.
“I don’t even know how to approach that,” Diemel said.
She also lamented that the couple’s youngest child, a daughter, will never really know her father.
"I feel so bad for (the baby) because she'll never get to know what a great dad he was," she told the Star. "She'll never feel his love like the other ones do."
Lisa Diemel, Moeller and other family members and friends grieve for the brothers, who were so close they would call each other every day, even though they worked together and constantly saw one another. Theirs was a special bond, despite their 10-year age gap, Lisa Diemel said.
They started their livestock business together four years ago.
Moeller told the newspaper she had spent the first week after the men’s disappearance crying nonstop.
"I cannot believe this is my life," she told the Star. "How is this happening in our life?"
Alongside her grief, Lisa Diemel, who first met her husband on a school bus when she was 12, also had to file paperwork to declare the men dead so she could keep the family’s livestock business running, the Star reported.
She said the family was struggling to understand how someone could have killed the brothers.
"What little regard for somebody's life," Lisa Diemel told the newspaper. "They didn't just impact me and Taylor. They impacted our children, our families, all of their friends, all of their business partners that they worked with." "They were great people," Moeller said. "They didn't deserve anything that happened to them.
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