After starving nearly 1,000 calves, Nelson shot two creditors & burned their bodies
KANSAS CITY, Missouri––If Garland Joseph “Joey” Nelson, 28, had been promptly prosecuted and sentenced for animal neglect and abuse committed in the name of cattle ranching more than five years ago, he might still be in prison, seeking parole.
Nelson instead is serving the equivalent of a triple life sentence for the 2019 murders of Wisconsin brothers Nicholas Diemel, 35, and Justin Diemel, 24, in an attempted cover-up of financial crimes committed in part through mass neglect and abuse of cattle.
Accepting guilty pleas that Nelson entered on October 4, 2022 to single counts of mail fraud and being a felon in possession of a firearm, U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips on April 24, 2023 sentenced Nelson to serve 32 years in federal prison without parole.
The 32-year sentence is to be served after completion of the two life sentences that Nelson is already serving on Missouri state charges for killing the Diemel brothers.
Ordered to pay $2.27 million
Nelson on September 30, 2022 pleaded guilty in Johnson County, Missouri to two counts of first degree murder. There Nelson was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on each count, also to be served consecutively.
Phillips further “ordered Nelson to pay $260,925 in restitution to his victims,” announced the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri.
This, likely never to be paid, would be in addition to $2 million already won by the Diemel family in a civil case against Nelson, his mother, Tomme Feil, and their family cattle business, J4s Farm Enterprises. That case was reportedly settled in May 2020.
Four Stages of Cruelty
“The Four Stages of Cruelty,” a set of engravings published by the British artist William Hogarth on February 21, 1751, illustrated the degeneracy of one Tom Nero, from abuse of a dog, to abuse of a horse, to the betrayal and murder of a woman who loved him, to his hanging and public dissection, during which a dog steals and eats his entrails.
The degeneracy of Garland Joseph Nelson followed a comparable trajectory, with hundreds of animal victims whose entrails were eaten by crows; many criminal betrayals of those who trusted him, including Feil, his school bus driver mother; and the murders of the Diemel brothers.
While held without bond awaiting trial, Nelson also allegedly arranged the theft of a truck and trailer rig.
It all began, for Nelson, with the institutionalized betrayal of the trust of cattle called the beef industry, in which all of his known victims, animal and human, participated––the animals unwittingly, the humans just to make a buck.
Repeat offender at an early age
Most farmers observe mores, even while forcibly separating baby animals from their mothers and selling animals to slaughter, which preclude theft and murder of fellow humans.
For Nelson, though, the distinction between practicing animal agriculture and practicing prosecutable crime appears to have been blurred, even after he served his first prison term, beginning at age 22, for committing essentially the same crimes that preceded his commission of murder.
What Nelson did before age 18 is unclear, but according to the 2018 Iowa Public Broadcasting System Market to Market program documentary “Life After Leavenworth: A Cattle Producer Shares His Story,” he went into cattle ranching at age 19 on his mother’s land near Brayden, Missouri, with the help of a federal loan.
Nelson and his mother Tomme Feil then did business as Nelson Farms.
Nelson told Market to Market that he contracted to raise cattle with an Iowa company that subsequently went bankrupt, had received more cattle than he could feed, sold some of his own cattle to make ends meet, and thereby violated the terms of his federal loan agreement, for which his cattle had been collateral.
The reality of Nelson’s situation appears to have been somewhat different.
“Online court records show Nelson pleaded guilty to two different counts of passing a bad check in 2015,” summarized St. Joseph, Missouri News-Press investigative reporter Matt Hoffman on May 21, 2021.
“A bankruptcy filing shows Nelson wrote a $1,111 bad check to a Hamilton, Missouri woman in 2014. He wrote bad checks to a nearby veterinary service for $266.20, and one for almost $300 to a sandwich shop,” Hoffmann continued.
Served time for fraud
What the bankruptcy filing further shows is that Nelson ran up debts of $374,000 in his first brief venture into the cattle business, including $15,660 owed to his mother.
But that was just the beginning.
“Nelson previously served time for fraud,” noted Kelli Arseneau of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on September 28, 2022. “In 2016, he was convicted in federal court of cattle fraud and sentenced to two years in prison for scamming victims out of more than $262,000. He was released in January 2018,” after serving 13 months.
Upon release, Nelson and his mother went back into the cattle business as J4s Farm Enterprises, Inc., with Nelson technically an employee of his mother.
Only 53 of 1,016 cattle survived
Nelson, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, “agreed to care for cattle belonging to Diemel’s Livestock,” founded by Wisconsin residents Nicholas and Justin Diemel.
“Nelson agreed to feed and pasture the cattle, then sell the cattle and send Diemel’s Livestock the proceeds, minus the costs of raising the cattle,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office explained.
“The Diemels sent several loads of cattle to Nelson from November 2018 through April 2019,” the U.S. Attorney’s office continued.
Jennifer Nichols Halvorson, a friend of the Diemel family, on Facebook listed six cattle deliveries from the Diemels to Nelson totaling 1,016 head, of whom only 53 survived to be recovered in “sickly, emaciated” condition by the Diemel family in April 2020.
Cash Cow Enterprises
“Nelson sold some loads of cattle and paid the Diemels,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. However, Nelson admitted he killed many of the Diemels’ cattle and then fraudulently billed the Diemels for feed and yardage [pasture land] for the dead cattle.
“Nelson admitted that he did not properly care for cattle due to incompetence, neglect, or maltreatment,” the U.S. Attorney’s office added.
“According to court documents,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “Nelson engaged in at least two more cattle fraud schemes. In December 2018, Nelson was entrusted with feeding and caring for 131 calves he co-owned with a Kansas farmer,” David Foster of Cash Cow Enterprises, “less than a year after he was released from prison for his 2015 conviction and in direct contravention to the conditions of his supervised release.
“On May 23, 2019, Nelson dropped off 35 calves at the co-owner’s farm in Kansas, apparently all that survived of the 131. Of the surviving 35 calves, many were emaciated and had ringworm; some could not even walk onto a truck to be transported. Some calves had their ears torn as though identifying ear tags had been removed.
“According to court documents,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office continued, “those calves were involved in another cattle fraud scheme engaged by Nelson. Nelson told a Bogard, Missouri farmer,” John Gingrich, “that he would furnish all the food and medicine for 131 bottle calves and pay the farmer a dollar per day per calf for the use of his barn and the time he would spend feeding the calves.
“Nelson bought almost no food or medicine for the calves in the five months he kept them at the Bogard farm,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
“Seemed like an ordinary cattleman”
“Instead, the farmer paid $14,363 out of his own pocket for food and veterinary care for the calves. Nor did Nelson ever pay anything to the farmer for the use of his barn and time spent feeding and caring for the calves as he had promised. (Nelson’s mother later paid the farmer $2,000.)”
Amish farmer John Gingrich told KCTV-5 News of Kansas City, Missouri, that Nelson rented the land to pasture around 100 calves.
Summarized Benita Mathew of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Gingrich “knew that Nelson had been convicted of cattle fraud but thought Nelson seemed like an ordinary cattleman.”
“Decided not to call the police”
Gingrich “became worried about overcrowding and food for the calves when Nelson brought more than 300 animals to his property.” Mathew wrote.
“Two bales of straw and two bales of silage for 312 head wasn’t even close to enough,” Gingrich told KCTV-5 News.
Continued Mathew, Gingrich “also saw that Nelson wasn’t removing the plastic net wrap from the bales and saw cattle eating the plastic. A few cattle died each day, Gingrich said.
“Gingrich decided not to call the police because he did not want to give Nelson more problems,” Mathew summarized.
“Nelson left about 170 dead cattle and many that were too sick to walk to Gingrich, according to KCTV-5,” Mathew narrated. “Gingrich hired a contractor, who asked KCTV-5 News to remain anonymous out of fear of Nelson, to help him move the dead cattle from his land.”
Resumed the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “In late April 2019, Nelson picked up the living bottle calves from the Bogard farm and took them to his mother’s farm. On May 23, 2019, Nelson dumped the 35 remaining calves,” all who survived of the original 131, “without warning at the Kansas farm,” owned by David Foster, after Foster complained about not receiving promised payment.
“This was a problem,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office explained, “because the Kansas farmer [Foster] had a closed dairy herd and bringing unvaccinated and potentially diseased calves onto his property put his existing herd at risk.”
Foster, wrote Matt Hoffman, “reported Nelson to the Bourbon County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nelson was charged with several misdemeanors for endangering the food supply, essentially for illegally moving the cattle across state lines.
“What Joey did was inhumane”
“A USDA inspector wrote in a report, referring to Nelson, ‘Calves appear to be underweight and size for 5-6-month-old calves. Multiple emaciated and thin calves were noted as well. Most calves had ringworm,’” Hoffman summarized.
Said Foster, “All of a sudden there’s just pitiful looking calves that had just shown up in one of our pastures. What Joey was doing was inhumane. He was starving them. It was the worst cattle I had ever seen.”
But nobody threw the book or even so much as a spitwad at Nelson for cruelty to the calves.
Meanwhile, continued the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “Throughout the spring of 2019, Nicholas Diemel pressed Nelson for payment for his cattle. He sent no more loads of cattle to Nelson while he awaited his payment.
Sent Diemel brothers a bad check, then shot them
“To deprive the Diemels of their cattle or their money and to prevent them from recovering either their cattle or their money, in June 2019 Nelson fraudulently sent the Diemels a bad check for $215,936 while his bank account had a balance of 21 cents. The check had been intentionally torn and damaged so that it could not be submitted for payment.
“Nelson told the Diemels they could come to Missouri to get their money,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office narrated. “On July 17, 2019, Nicholas Diemel bought two round-trip airline tickets from Milwaukee to Kansas City. On July 20, 2019, Nicholas and Justin Diemel arrived in Kansas City and rented a pickup truck from Budget.
“On July 21, 2019, the Diemels drove their rental truck to Nelson’s mother’s farm in Braymer. Nelson’s mother and other family members were in Branson for the weekend, so Nelson was alone on the farm. Nelson murdered both of the Diemels,” apparently by shooting them, “and attempted to dispose of their bodies.”
“Nick and Justin Diemel never left the property”
Summarized WBAY, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, from Nelson’s arrest warrant, “Based on the investigation, it is believed Nick and Justin Diemel never left the property after they arrived and were intentionally killed. It is believed Garland Joseph Nelson acted alone or in concert with others in committing the act of murder against both Nick and Justin Diemel.
“A neighbor described hearing the sound of multiple gunshots coming from the direction of the Nelson farm at about 11:15-to-11:30 on the morning of July 21, 2019. That’s the time Nelson admitted that the Diemels were on the property.
Dumped truck & cell phones
“The affidavit says at 11:45 a.m. that day, Nelson drove the Diemel brothers’ rental vehicle from his Braymer farm to a park-and-ride in Holt, Missouri. Nelson stated that he left the keys in the ignition and removed the Diemel brothers’ cell phones and tossed them along the roadway. He arranged for someone to pick him up and take him back to the farm.
“The affidavit states remains were found in a 55-gallon barrel in a pole barn on the Nelson farm. The affidavit states Nelson admitted to burning the remains, crushing the burn barrels, and cleaning up blood in a barn.
“A blood stain on Nelson’s clothing was a DNA match for Nick Diemel, according to the affidavit.
“Remains were also found in a stock trailer on a ranch in Hershey, Nebraska. A rancher had recently purchased the trailer from Missouri.”
The murder of Nick Diemel left his wife Lisa Diemel with four children to raise alone, ages 2, 4, 13, and 18.
Had Nelson been promptly prosecuted for cruelty to cattle, that too would not have happened.