On December 2, 1993, Nelson John Minter was beaten to death and then burned in
his own home. Detectives in Montgomery County, MD, identified and arrested a suspect. In
the midst of their grieving, Nelson's friends and family hoped at least to see justice
served, but their hopes were dashed when the suspect was set free within two weeks of his
arrest. The case remains unresolved to date, despite a wealth of evidence.
Three years after Nelson Minter was murdered, Washington Post
reporter Karl Vick took a new look at the case in his article titled "In Montgomery,
Someone's Getting Away With Murder: Case of the Charred Corpse Frustrates Police"
(Nov 8, 1996).
The article explains that Minter's house "smoldered for half a
day" before anyone noticed smoke. The article further relates that when "the
Upper Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the firefighter who aimed water over
Nelson Minter's charred and beaten body turned out to be the same man who was living with
the dead man's wife." That firefighter was Kenneth L. Claggett, who has since married
Minter's widow, Karen.
According to the article, detectives say that during an interview Karen
Minter implicated Claggett in the murder then later changed her story. Vick writes, "the detectives who arrested Kenneth L. Claggett set him free two weeks later, when Karen
Minter claimed that she had not said what detectives wrote down."
Claggett maintains that he is innocent and that he was watching a movie
at the approximate time Nelson Minter was beaten to death.
Not long before the murder, Claggett allegedly became very angry when he
heard of an argument between Nelson and Karen Minter regarding child support and parental
visitation of the couple's young son, according to the article.
|Karen has acknowledged that
Claggett attached Nelson Minter's name to a .357-caliber bullet and kept it on top of the
refrigerator. She called the incident a "sick joke," according to Vick.
Vick also points out that broken furniture surrounding Minter's body suggests a
struggle occurred, and that Claggett had scratches on his face and hands, yet Clagget
attributes these to his pets.
Claggett's attorney, Paul De Wolfe is quoted in the article as saying,
"I don't see any evidence that can't be explained innocently."
Others disagree. Vick relates that the crime scene " was destroyed
by a blaze that fire marshals quickly determined had been set" and that police
"call it arson of a skill that amounts to evidence in itself."
"The arsonist sprayed charcoal lighter fluid on a mattress beside
the body, ignited it, then pulled the bedroom door shut. In the enclosed space, the blaze
smoldered with low flames and little smoke, cooking away fibers, latent fingerprints and
blood" according to the article.
Richard Fallin, the original investigator has since retired. Vick quotes
Fallin as saying, "'Whoever set that house on fire knew exactly what he was
Karen Minter Claggett has been accused of laughing about inheriting
money from her late husband; she denies this, according to the article.
At any rate, unbeknownst to Karen, Nelson Minter changed the beneficiary
of his sizable life insurance policy just months before his death. Minter named his son
and a daughter born to another woman as the new beneficiaries, and named his mother as
Nelson Minter's mother, Mary Jane Alexander, continues her efforts to
get justice for her son. She has attended victim-witness assistance meetings, written to
the State's Attorney and other officials, met with detectives, searched for information,
spoken with reporters and agonized over the way the case has been handled. Justice for
Nelson Minter is long overdue.