Powell County Sheriff Scott Howard identified David Wayne Nelson as a “high person of interest” in the case, the Montana Standard reported Monday, though he has not been charged with anything. Nelson has a Deer Lodge address and is being jailed without bail on a 72-hour investigative hold, Howard said at a news conference .
Nelson, 53, violated probation on an unrelated charge out of Ravalli County and appeared in court late Monday. Montana Department of Corrections records show that he was convicted of robbery and aggravated kidnapping in 1998, burglary in 1981 and accountability for aggravated assault in 2000.
Assistant county attorney Patrick Moody asked for no bail for Nelson because of the “egregious nature” of double homicide charges possibly coming out of Powell County, according to the Standard.
Beverly Giannonatti was informed that a cleaning woman had found a 25-pound bar of gold in her late ex-husband’s home, which Giannonatti was remodeling and planning to move back into.
Giannonatti is believed to have retrieved the bar on Oct. 19 from the cleaning woman who discovered it. Ten days later, she and her son, 57, disappeared, leaving their tight-knit community of small-town Deer Lodge searching for answers.
Investigators located the Giannonattis’ bodies and evidence of a homicide on two dump sites on private property in a wooded area. Howard did not disclose the nature of the evidence, but said the bodies are being sent to the Montana Crime Lab.
“I know you and the public want more information, but it is my duty to protect the integrity of the case. It is our goal to prosecute to the fullest,” the sheriff said, adding that the Giannonattis were targeted.
The news has shocked local residents, many of whom have followed the case closely through a Facebook page run by Gayle Mizner, a friend of Beverly’s and lifelong inhabitant of Deer Lodge. Mizner has been in constant contact with Sheriff Howard and relayed frequent updates from his office.
As of early Tuesday, the page had 1,675 “likes” — about half of the town’s population.
“It’s very upsetting because she’s lived here many, many years,” Mizner said in a phone interview with The Post late Monday. “People are devastated, of course. It’s been long enough that pretty much everybody was thinking that this is how it was going to end.”
Their fate had been foretold by the sheriff earlier this month, when Howard said: “Because of the amount of time that has elapsed since they were last seen, I feel the outcome is not going to be good.”
A sudden fortune, followed by a sudden disappearance
The month-long search for the Giannonattis, undertaken by both local law enforcement and the FBI, was rife with speculation — and even became the subject of a 21-page thread on the Websleuths forum. Rumors and armchair-sleuthing were fueled by the strange circumstances under which the mother and son disappeared.
It started with the block of gold.
With an estimated value of $480,000, the 25-pound ingot was quite the bounty in a town where the median income hovers around $30,000. But Heidi Leathers, Greg’s girlfriend of nine years, told The Washington Post that the Giannonattis had “a ton of money.”
Greg’s late father, Bill Giannonatti, made lucrative investments, and he collected gold as well as coins, Leathers said, recalling that he had large water canisters filled with change.
He was “one of those misers that saves and saves,” she said. It didn’t surprise her that he hadn’t told Beverly and Greg about the gold bar.
The cleaning lady uncovered it in Bill’s old house and told Beverly, who planned to move back into the residence. Friends told police that Beverly had immediately gone to retrieve the treasure, which is now nowhere to be found.
“I cannot find that gold bar,” Howard told MTN News earlier this month. “I’ve checked safety deposit boxes and I’m not coming up with any location on that.”
Nine days after Beverly struck gold, on Oct. 28, she was seen at Muriah’s of Montana, a local steakhouse, having lunch with a white man of around 60 years of age.
Later that night, Greg, the son, was spotted “in an apparent hurry” driving away from his home in a white 1995 Toyota Camry, the Standard reports.
That was the last anyone had seen or heard from them.
On Oct. 31, Beverly’s friend Laurie Pentland alerted police to Beverly’s absence. She told NBC Montana earlier this month that Beverly had failed to show up to her house on Halloween to give her children candy as planned.
There were no signs of struggle at either of Beverly and Greg’s homes. The doors were locked, the cars parked and the dogs appeared to have been left alone for about five days. Beverly would never leave the house without her dogs, her neighbors say.
At Greg’s house, police found warm pot roast in a slow cooker that was still turned on, according to the Standard.
In a strange twist, a burglary occurred at Greg’s home just one day after the initial police search. Authorities found the flat-screen TV in the yard, clothing in bags and a cellphone as well as two weapons missing from the residence. Other items were scattered outside, as if the robber had been intercepted halfway through the heist.
It’s still unclear whether the robbery was related to the Giannonattis’ deaths.
Beverly, described by Mizner as “very sweet, very unassuming,” lived in Deer Lodge for over three decades and worked as a court stenographer. The quiet town in a valley teeming with protected wildlife was where her beloved two sons, Darrell (also deceased) and Greg grew up.
The smiling, curly-haired woman was a devout Catholic who often gave her time to charities for the poor.
Greg, a large man with hazel eyes, attended Bozeman College and later became a city engineer in Roseville, Calif. He moved back to Deer Lodge to be close to his mother, according to Leathers, who dated Greg while he was still in Roseville.
“For me, feeling that he died with his mom, thinking about them together gives me a little sense of peace,” she said. “Their relationship was so tight. Greg and her were like best friends, so his heart was always in Deer Lodge.”
Leathers recalled that Greg used to be a body builder who only ate tuna and egg whites. They lived together for a time, and Beverly would stay with them in the winter months. “He called her by her first name,” Leathers said. “‘Hi Bev, how’s it going Bev?’ It was weird, but endearing.”
Leathers was at a TJ Maxx store when she learned Greg’s body had been found in a dump site, and she fell to her knees sobbing in the middle of the store. Though the couple ended their romantic relationship a decade ago, they still talked every few days.
Even though they were no longer together, Greg had reached out to Leathers and offered to give her son (from another man) money for college, she said.
“If I ever had a bad day, I would pick up the phone and tell him,” she said. “He had a calmness about him. He would have me laughing.” For example, she said, he helped her through the death of a relative.
With a sigh, Leathers added: “Nobody’s going to be around when I lose somebody now.”
In Deer Lodge, population 3,088, housing is cheap and stability sacred. Leathers visited the town several times over the years with Greg, and she recalls a single McDonald’s, no major retailers and a smattering of other establishments frequented by the valley’s devoted residents.
In the wake of the Giannonattis’ deaths, those inhabitants feel like their routines have been violently disrupted by a stranger.
Mizner said she has never heard David Wayne Nelson’s name before. “He’s not a longtime resident of Deer Lodge, as far as I know,” she said.
But everyone sure knows him now.