Wulfgar! Channels Some Bitterrooter Vérité

by JC

For your weekend reading pleasure, I direct you towards Wulfgar!’s story about growing up “normal” in the Bitterroot and his perspective on Wayne Nance, the serial killer who met his maker one day by being sloppy, and died at the hands of one of his victims in 1986. It was just a few days after I moved to Missoula into a cabin a few blocks from the scene of the crime–having just spent a few weeks in West Riverside with a friend (the location of Nance’s first known victim) as I moved and waited for my rental to open up, and hearing the stories of unsolved murders. What had I gotten myself into, I thought?

GO NOW, over to A Chicken is not Pillage and read “One Degree of Separation.” You’ll be a better person for it. And for what it’s worth, I think that Wulfgar!, instead of being a bookstore employee, should be feeding bookstores novels…

“I grew up in Stevensville, the first community in Montana, having moved there when I was barely 10. Stevensville, as with the other communities in Ravalli county, was a normal small Montana rural town. Except Darby, which was and remains a little … off. By ‘normal’ I mean that very thing, which is why I laugh at those usually urban dwellers who paint small towns with the brush of Mayberry USA. Stevensville wasn’t Mayberry, it was normal. We had a bar owner in town who was an unbelievable bully. Everybody knew he was dealing drugs out of his place, as well as other nefarious things, but he was aided by the inaction of the town cops. The latest of those ‘fine officers’ as I grew up is now the mayor of Stevensville starting in January, and what a twit he is. The bully kind of shriveled up when an ex-NFL football player bought the bar across from his. Funny how that works. We had (and have) the yearly celebration of our town’s industry, the Creamery Picnic. The junior high math teacher ran away after being caught banging the wife of the junior high science teacher. He ended up in Polson for a while. None of my female classmates cared because they thought the math teacher was creepy. He’d stand at the bottom of the stairs between class, especially on Friday when girls were required to wear dresses. There were the usual rumors that the senior prom queen was sleeping with the good looking chemistry teacher. Our town’s prominent business men were often corrupt and usually licentious…”

Go read the rest!

  1. Thanks for the linkage, JC. In a very odd manner, I actually feel ‘improved’ having written that piece.

  2. this is a great story. it totally reminds me of a great (though very dark) comedic novel set in a North Dakota town of some 800 people called “Downtown Owl.” highly recommend this.

  3. Pogo Possum

    Thank’s for the narrative on Wayne Nance, Wulfgar. I fully understand your feelings A lot of people in the Missoula and Bitterroot Valley fall into the 1 degree of separation on the Wayne Nance episode. It impacted a lot of people’s lives.

    I knew a number of the people that were directly and indirectly involved in this case. I didn’t know Nance but spoke to him briefly when he delivered furniture to me in the mid 1980s.

    A friend who attended high school with Wayne Nance said he spoke with Nance a few days after the Donna Pounds murder. Nance showed him the scabbed over brand he had just burnt into his arem and said far he had killed “a child and a Christian and needed to kill an innocent and a betrayer before he could ascend to the fifth level of being a Warlock”. My friend went to the police and gave this testimony in the investigation of Pounds murder but Nance was still excluded as a suspect. My friend strongly suspects (too long of story to tell here) that Nance broke into his house in an attempt to kill him years later. He thinks this was Nance’s promise to “kill a betrayer”.

    The last I heard, police cleared Nance in Siobhan McGuinness’ murder (the 5 year old girl killed and left in a culvert a few months before Donna Pounds was killed.) I still wonder who Nance was referring to when he said he had “killed a child.”

    Another friend who lived in a UM Sorority House told me her sorority sisters on a few occasions found a dead cat nailed to their sorority house door in the mid 1970’s. Nance was known to build altars along the river and in Patti Canyon where he sacrificed cats as part of his devil worship. We can only speculate if Nance had something to do with the dead cats and the sorority house.

    Doug Wells is a friend of mine and about 12 years ago Doug talked to me and another friend for several hours over drinks about Wayne Nance and what happened the night Nance tried to kill him and his wife. Much of what he said is in the book Wulfgar mentioned (To Kill And Kill Again). Some of it isn’t. Doug wouldn’t mind this being re-told.

    Wulfgar is correct; most of the links have many errors about Nance and the killings.

    One of the links said Nance tied up Doug in the basement, left him for dead and then took Kris upstairs to tie her up and kill her. What actually happened is more horrific. Doug said Nance tied both of them up then knelt in front of him for 30 minutes or more, his face inches away, not saying a word, not moving, just staring into his eyes with a lost demonic look in his eyes. He would then go upstairs to the bedroom where he had Kris tied spread eagle on the bed doing the same to her. Doug said this went on for at least 3 hours. He said it was nerve wracking.

    Every time Nance left the basement Doug would work on the ropes trying to get untied. He was almost free when Nance came downstairs for the last time and knelt in front of him again. Once more Nance never said a word and showed no emotions as he stared at him. Finally, Doug said, Nance pulled out a long knife, almost as long as a bayonet, placed it just below his rib cage, held it there for a few moments, looked deep into Doug’s eyes then very very slowly shoved the knife up into Doug’s chest. Doug said Nance never said a word and his face never showed one emotion the entire time. He just stared into Doug’s eyes watching the life drain out of him. Doug finally played dead so Nance would leave.

    Doug said one of the reason’s he and his wife are alive is that he was a hunter and understood both anatomy and the physiology of how animals die. He knew he had a diaphragm/heart wound (the doctors called it a bayonet type wound, the type common in WWI and WWII) and figured he had 5 or 10 minutes to live before he bled out and died so he knew had time to try and save his wife. He didn’t give up even though he was certain he was going to die.

    He got out of the ropes and grabbed a rifle he had been working on that was propped against his work bench. Doug was a gunsmith. He knew there was only one bullet in the clip when he chambered the round.

    Doug said he crawled up stairs. All the lights in the house were out except for one lamp in the bedroom. Nance appeared, silhouetted in the bedroom doorway holding a 22 revolver when Wells fired his one shot from the rifle mortally wounding Nance in the chest. Doug said with his last burst of adrenalin he picked up the rifle, charged Nance and started beating him over the head. He could see his wife tied on the bed helpless.

    Nance fell into the narrow space between the bed and the wall. In the midst of trying to beat Nance to death, one of Doug’s rifle blows knocked out the night table lamp making it pitch black in the room. For the next several minutes Doug continued to swing blindly at Nance who was wedged between the bed and the wall as Nance kept shooting at him blindly from the floor. Doug could see the flashes from the gun and hear the bullets whiz past his head as the gun went off a few feet from his face.

    Contrary to what some of the web sites say, Doug did not take the gun away from Nance and shoot him. Instead, Doug said that with one of his final swings of his rifle, he hit Nance’s revolver just as Nance was trying to pull the trigger to shoot Doug. The downward rifle blow shoved the revolver barrel into Nance’s head causing the revolver to go off, instantly kill Nance with a shot into his brain.

    Police told Doug his first rifle shot to Nance’s chest was a mortal wound. The rifle blows that split open Nance’s head were equally mortal. Though Nance would have eventually died, the police said Nance may have still been able to kill Doug and his wife if Doug hadn’t charged in and ended the fight for good.

    A number of the web sites say Doug “recovered from his wounds.” While that is correct, the recovery was long and difficult. The doctors told him in WWI the survival rate for a bayonet type wound like he received was around 10% or 20% due to the severe infection. In WWII the survival rate was 30% or 40%. In Vietnam the recovery rate was 50%. Doug almost died months later due to complications. At one point he required emergency open heart surgery caused by the lingering infection caused by his stab wounds. Doug and Kris are lucky to be alive. Unfortunately, Doug and Kris’s marriage didn’t survive the trauma from that night.

    For a number of years following the event, the FBI had Doug and Kris speak to FBI agents as part of an FBI training program. According to the FBI, Doug and Kris were the only people to have survived an attempted murder by a mass serial killer in the United States. The FBI also told them that at that time they considered Wayne Nance to be the most prolific serial killer in the US. While the FBI said it was only speculation, they believed Nance had murdered dozens of people in the US and oversees. They tracked Nance’s movements around the US and overseas. Every time Nance appeared in a new area in the US and or in a military base in Japan, people started disappearing. The FBI said the bodies had similar MOs to how Nance killed. When Nance left an area, the murders stopped. The FBI thought Nance was responsible for a least a number of murders in Washington state. Doug said the FBI “at that time” thought Nance could have murdered over 50 people.

    Doug is a great fellow with a positive attitude in life. He is very humble and rarely ever talks about what happened years ago. He doesn’t consider himself a hero…..just someone who saved his wife and himself from a horrible death. He did this community a great deed. He is still a gunsmith and the last I heard, still had his Lock Stock and Barrel gunsmith shop in Huson. If you ever need a scope attached, a gun rebuilt, re-blued or accurized, or need tips on how to improve your hunting load or shooting skills give Doug a call.

    • Great addition, Pogo. I tried to steer clear of the more gruesome details in my narrative, but eventually they have to come out. And if they come from Doug Wells, that should be good enough for anybody.

      As my friend Mike indicated at my place, we used to drive up Patti Canyon, around back of Mount Sentinel and party in the woods up above the railroad tunnel next to the Bonner dam. That is where at least one of Nance’s victims was found. At that time, rumors were wild of animal sacrifice and Devil worship up Patti Canyon, but it was also the national zeitgeist of the time. So who knows.

      When the stories came out of the attack on the Welles, it all seemed too pat. Doug is tied and knifed, frees himself and then a shootout occurs. It was pretty obvious to any who thought about it that the whole thing took time.

      One thing I’ve always wondered about, and will never have an answer to is this. I’ve always wondered if Nance, knowing the end of his killing days was at hand, and that he would be at least caught if not die, I truly wonder if that last shot to his head wasn’t actually on purpose.

  4. mr benson

    An incredible story as told by Wulfgar and Pogo. Probably the best stuff I’ve read on the internet in months. Unbelievable courage by Doug Wells, who deserves a medal. Norman Maclean good!

    I own a couple of books about the anti government activity in Montana, one recommended by Wulfgar. It’s a particular interest of mine, given some brushes with Warren Stone and others.

    If you decide to wax eloquent again about the Bitterroot I think you could add to that history as well. The oral and informal history of Montana shows just how recent the realities of “western” and “rural” and “frontier” still are.

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