After Beverly Giannonatti and her son Gregory vanished without a trace from Deer Lodge, Mont., in late October, speculation swirled over whether their disappearance was linked to a 25-pound gold bar that Beverly was said to have recently acquired.
And during the month they were missing, the small town wondered and worried and, as it turned out, with good reason. Their bodies were found after a month-long search. They were allegedly murdered. Now police say it wasn’t for the gold, valued at $480,000. It was for 1,700 ounces of silver, worth about $26,000, authorities said.
The Powell County Sheriff’s Office has charged a local handyman with stealing the silver, killing the mother and son in a violent fight after being confronted about the theft, and then disposing of their bodies and other evidence in remote locations around Deer Lodge. To obscure the bodies’ location outdoors at a dump site, he covered them with sticks and logs, police say.
The bar of gold, assuming it ever existed, has yet to be found.
Charged with two counts of deliberate homicide Tuesday was David Wayne Nelson — formerly a “person of interest” — was charged Tuesday with two counts of deliberate homicide. Authorities say Nelson has confessed to the crime. He has a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 5.
According to the affidavit submitted by authorities, both murders occurred in the bathroom of Beverly’s deceased ex-husband’s house, where the much-discussed gold bar was supposedly discovered by a cleaning woman.
An ex-girlfriend of Greg’s told The Washington Post earlier this month that the late Bill Giannonatti, Greg’s father and Beverly’s ex-husband, was a “miser” who had “a ton of money” from investments and collected gold as well as coins. Beverly planned to move back into Bill’s old house, where she’d spent many years of her life, and was in the process of having it remodeled.
The Giannonattis knew Nelson, who had an extensive criminal record, because he did some work for Beverly on some of her rental properties, according to the affidavit. On Oct. 24 or 25, Gregory discovered that the silver was missing and confronted Nelson in the bathroom of a property where he was working.
Nelson told police that Gregory hit him in the face and he fell back. “Nelson then grabbed a hammer and hit Gregory behind the left ear with the hammer causing him to fall,” said the affidavit. He continued hitting him with the hammer when Beverly came into the bathroom, at which point he “grabbed her and threw her against the wall,” and then strangled her with a “length of electrical wire.”
He then disposed of their bodies and the hammer.
During the long search period for the Giannonattis, those following the case took to Websleuths forum and The Post’s own comment boards to exchange theories of who was behind the pair’s disappearance. Inspired by a crime story trope, many pointed fingers at the cleaning woman — who has not been charged with any crime in connection with the two slayings.
Investigators made the connection between Nelson and the Giannonattis when they discovered that he had sold the silver bars on Oct. 23 at Grizzly Gold and Silver, where Gregory had originally purchased them.
The handyman-turned-alleged murderer faces the possibility of life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of 100 for each homicide.
News of the charges may bring overdue closure to the 3,088 residents of rural Deer Lodge, a quiet town in the valley. Many followed the case as the search unfolded — and even after the bodies were found — through a Facebook page run by Gayle Mizner, a friend of Beverly’s.
“Is there not something to post that is new,” one user on the page commented two weeks ago. “The wait at this time of the year is so hard.”
Beverly was “very sweet, very unassuming,” Mizner told The Post earlier this month. She lived in Deer Lodge for more than three decades and worked as a court stenographer. The Montana Standard describes her as having been “well-liked by many,” a devout Catholic with curly hair and a quick smile.
Heidi Leathers, one of Greg’s ex-girlfriends, told The Post that Beverly and her son “were like best friends.” After working as a city engineer in Roseville, Calif., Greg moved back to Deer Lodge four years ago to be with his mother.
“For me, feeling that he died with his mom,” Leathers said, “thinking about them together — that gives me a little sense of peace.”
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