Fatal St. Pete house fire was a murder-suicide, police say

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A St. Petersburg man set his house on fire, killing himself and his wife in an apparent a murder-suicide bid over the weekend, authorities said.

Police said Monday morning that Charles Nelson, 67, died by suicide and that his wife, Janet Nelson, 75, was murdered.

8 On Your Side spoke with a neighbor Monday who said she used to hear them fighting all the time. “This has been going on a long time,” said Pat Ditto who has lived next door to the couple for years. “But I never ever thought that it would come to this…that he would set the house on fire!” Ditto said.

Firefighters were called to a fire at the couple’s home in the 5400 block of 14th Ave. North around 9:30 p.m. Friday. Police said Janet was trapped inside and had dialed 911. Investigators suspect Charles Nelson used an accelerant to start the blaze.

Firefighters arrived and pulled Charles from the home, but he died at the scene. Janet was rescued and taken to the hospital in critical condition. She died two days later.

Police have been called to the home twice, once in 2014 and again in 2019 for
domestic quarrels, but no one was arrested.

Ditto was there when the fire broke our Friday night. “I was in my living room, I heard a big boom. I looked out the window and saw a huge fireball,” Ditto said.

“I’m very grateful [kissed the Virgin Mary on her necklace], that it didn’t [come to my house.] The police thought it was going to leap to my house, they made me leave. I was in my nightgown, they made [other neighbors] leave too…I had to stand outside for 4 hours,” said Ditto.

Police said an investigation into the Nelson’s deaths is ongoing.

St.Pete PD told 8 On Your Side there are a lot of resources in the community for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or suspect someone else is. One of the resources is CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) . According to their website the 24-hour domestic violence hotline in Pinellas County is (727) 895-4912 and for anyone outside Pinellas County is (800) 500-1119.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can be reached by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com.

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