Two young fathers are dead, leaving friends and families stunned over what Delaware State Police say was a double murder Jan. 14.
William Hopkins, 27, and Cletis T. Nelson, 29, who friends say were from the Milton area, were shot multiple times inside a Harmons Hill Road residence, said Sgt. Paul Shavack of the Delaware State Police.
A relative of Nelson's went to the residence and found the bodies after no one had heard from Nelson, Shavack said.
The two bodies were taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner who determined the men died in a double homicide resulting from “multiple gunshot wounds to the upper body,” Shavack said.
Neighbors living next to the rented home heard no gunshots the night before or during the days leading up to when the bodies were found.
“It's been quiet,” said Beth Suydam, who lives next door. “We hadn't heard anything.”
After preliminary investigation, Shavack said police do not believe the double murder was a random act.
Property owner, Julie Ennis-Hall of Lewes, said she knew nothing about the two men found dead in her rental property. She said she was renting to a different man; she didn't know whether Hopkins or Nelson were living in the residence.
“I did not know them and was not aware of them living there,” she said.
She describes her tenant as a nice guy who was installing a new floor. She said he may have run into some recent trouble.
“He was completely paid up through January,” she said.
On Nelson's Facebook page, Nelson wrote how happy he was to be out of jail on Christmas Eve. Hopkins had been released September 2013, according to court records.
Talon Taylor, a friend of both men who had known them since they were teenagers, said Hopkins had two little girls, and Cletis had a son.
“They were both good people,” he said. “Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but they didn't deserve this.”
Taylor said he used to play basketball with the two victims.
“They had very big hearts,” he said. “They were talking about getting their life on track.”
Another childhood friend of Nelson's, Jimmy Allen, said Nelson always had his back, especially when other kids teased Allen.
“He always stood up for me,” he said. “He made a lot of crazy decisions, but his heart was good.”
Nelson's sister, Tameka Nelson, said both men were looking toward the future, possibly considering going to school.
“Regardless of the past, it should have never been brought up,” she said. “They shouldn't have to be judged by the past."
Teresa Houchens last spoke to her cousin, Nelson, on his birthday, Jan. 8. "Who would have thought it was the last conversation I would have with him?" she said. "My cousin did his six years and came home to do the right thing for himself and his child. He did not deserve this."
She said Nelson called her at 1:12 p.m. Jan. 12, but she didn't answer; she tried to call him back Monday, but the call went straight to voicemail.
William Hopkins, she said, "has two kids and they are in Louisiana. This could have been the year that they turned it around and did the right thing. They were both working hard for their kids."
Christopher Boone said both Hopkins and Nelson are sons and fathers who only tried to provide for their children.
“William was the kind of guy that would give you his shirt off his back just because you looked a little chilled,” Boone said.
Boone said he wants to know what leads the police have, and he hopes those responsible are brought to justice.
Shavack declined to provide any new details on the investigation.
“This is considered an active and ongoing investigation by the Delaware State Police Homicide Unit. Detectives have been given assignments, and there is a considerable amount of work and interviews to be conducted to determine the circumstances surrounding this incident. We are actively engaged with the investigation, following leads and conducting interviews. I do not want to jeopardize any of these efforts by discussing the investigative details,” he said.
Meanwhile, this weekend's Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will continue as planned.
“Yes, it happened in the community, and it's sad,” said Clem Jordan, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Organization. “If anything, it might bring people out and bring them together.”
Quiet neighborhood disrupted
Harmons Hill Road resident Charles Suydam couldn't believe the number of cars lined up along his road Tuesday morning, Jan. 14. When he heard there had been a double murder next door to his home of 10 years, he was shocked.
“It's always been a quiet neighborhood,” he said.
Suydam's neighbor agrees. "We've never had anything like this out here that I can remember," said Jackie Golder, a resident for 27 years who lives two doors away from the murder scene.
The family member went to the home on Harmons Hill Road to check on Nelson, found the two men dead and called police, who arrived at the scene at 1:08 a.m.
White shades covered the windows of the house, which sits on an acre of land just off the roadway. Shavack said inside the residence was clean and orderly. Throughout the morning, detectives gathered evidence at the scene, including a white car that was towed from the property.
Officers placed the covered bodies on a stretcher and moved them into a van; they were taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Two weeks earlier, neighbor Beth Suydam said, she noticed new neighbors next door. She said they were much quieter than other renters who have lived there over the years.
A dense row of trees provides a barrier between Suydam's property and the residence where the murders occurred. Planted years ago to give her some privacy from previous tenants, the trees prevented Suydam from seeing who was coming or going at the home. She said she heard people talking a couple of times and saw a late-model white car come and go, and that was about it.
“When I saw the nice car, I thought, well, finally it's rented to quiet people,” she said.
Police continue to investigate the double murder. Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Fred Chambers at 388-0196, call 1-800-TIP-3333, go to www.tipsubmit.com, text 274637 using keyword DSP or download an app at http://www.delaware.gov/apps/.