your connection to The Boston Globe

Murder victim remembered with memorial in remote spot

C SURPLUS TOWNSHIP, Maine --On a remote hilltop off a dirt road, a memorial stone marks the place where James Whitehurst met his death at the hands of Christian Nielsen.

This is the spot where Nielsen fired the first bullet that set in motion a bloody dayslong murder spree in which he fatally shot and dismembered four people over Labor Day weekend last year.

Whitehurst's 16-year-old son erected this commemorative -- with its marble marker, a birdhouse, an angel figurine and other personal items -- as a way to say goodbye to his father. It also serves as a reminder of the pain that Nielsen's actions brought to his victims' families and friends.

A set of wind chimes, which hangs from a tree branch, marks where Whitehurst was shot, said Dianna Taylor, Whitehurst's sister. The memorial stone is where Nielsen came back the next day with gasoline and dismembered and cremated the body. Etched into the stone are Whitehurst's name, the dates of his birth and death, and the words "Rest Peacefully."

"In two days, he killed him twice -- not once, but twice," Taylor said sadly as she looked down at the memorial.

Whitehurst, who was 50, and Nielsen were boarders at the Black Bear Bed & Breakfast, a picturesque inn near the Sunday River ski resort in Newry. Whitehurst was a handyman, Nielsen a cook at a restaurant in Bethel.

On Sept. 1, 2006, Nielsen bought a .38-cal. revolver at a gun shop, returned to the inn and invited Whitehurst to go on a fishing trip to a cabin he claimed to have in Upton, a tiny town on the New Hampshire border about 30 miles away, according to court documents.

The two packed up sandwiches, and Nielsen drove them in his car to Upton. There, they drove down dirt logging roads into C Surplus, an unorganized township with no paved roads and no people.

There was also no fishing hole and no camp. When they stopped at a clearing to eat lunch, Nielsen fired a bullet into Whitehurst's head and two more into his body, court documents say.

Two days later, Nielsen killed Julie Bullard, the owner of the Black Bear, "in a hail of gunfire" after becoming concerned that she might grow suspicious of him because of Whitehurst's disappearance. A day later, Labor Day, he shot Bullard's daughter, Selby Bullard, and her friend, Cynthia Beatson, when they came to check on Julie Bullard.

Taylor, 53, drove to Maine from her home in Batesville, Ark., this month for Nielsen's trial, where he pleaded guilty last week to four counts of murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.

Taylor, who plans to speak at Nielsen's sentencing, remembers her brother "Jimmy" as a big man with a big heart, who was trying to regain visitation rights with his children. He had a limp from polio when he was a child, and he spoke in a loud voice to compensate for his hearing loss.

He was a free spirit, she said, who liked the outdoors, motorcycles, snowmobiles and four-wheelers.

His remains were sent to Arkansas and buried in a cemetery, Taylor said. The memorial here in Maine was built by his son, James Whitehurst II, who cleared an area in the shape of a heart and bordered it with rocks and plastic edging.

He set the memorial marker, and put out the angel figurine, birdhouse and other items to keep alive his memory. In the middle of the heart is a rock, under which is a letter that the son wrote to his father.

The son, who lives in Maine, could not be reached for comment, and Taylor said he's not interested in talking about the memorial.

"This is little Jim's way of putting it to rest," she said.

Taylor is in Maine with her 78-year-old mother, who has had trouble sleeping since her son's murder and sometimes wakes in the middle of the night screaming his name. Nielsen, she said, owes some sort of explanation.

"How about the truth? That would help," she said.

In interviews with detectives, Nielsen gave no comprehensible motive for the killing. He said Whitehurst was "objectionable," "a pain in the ass" and that he "read, read and read, and one thing led to another."

"He stated that 'killing (Whitehurst) was like looking in the sky and wishing it would rain and then making it rain,'" a prosecutor's sentencing memorandum spells out.

Taylor doesn't think Nielsen was insane, but rather in desperate need of attention. In the end, he'll have to answer to more than just a judge, she said.

"God'll say what he has to say at the Pearly Gates."

More from