Why did many men die after marrying one woman?
In the late 1980s, detectives were faced with this disturbing mystery as they investigated Sharon Nelson Harrelsonaccording “Black Widow Murders” aeration Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Suspicion first arose when Glen Harrelson, a Denver Fire Department dispatcher, was killed. In 1988, his charred body was found by firefighters responding to a fire at his home in Thornton, Colorado, according to a 1988 AP report.
An autopsy revealed that Harrelson had been shot twice in the face before being cremated. Detectives determined an accelerant had been used to fuel the fire that consumed the home.
“It was no accident,” said Gregg Olsen, author of “The Confessions of an American Black Widow.” “It was murder.”
Investigators took a close look at Harrelson’s intimates. Harrelson, 45, had two children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. In 1987, he met Sharon, then 43, through a Lonely Hearts Club.
Born in 1945, Sharon Douglas comes from strict Adventist roots in North Carolina. She was a widow who had already been married twice. Sharon’s first husband, Mike Fuller, was a pastor. The couple had two daughters. Sharon got bored after a while and started having affairs. The family moved to Trinidad, Colorado, but Sharon and Fuller divorced in 1976. He took the kids and moved to Denver, while she eventually remarried.
Sharon’s second husband, Perry Nelson, tragically died in 1983. Four years later, she met Harrelson. Sharon and Harrelson were married just six months before his death.
From Sharon’s appearance, “you’d think she was anyone’s neighbor,” said retired Thornton police detective Elaine Tygart Kuehne.
Detectives investigated whether Harrelson had any enemies. His ex-wife said no, but she told investigators he told her he suspected someone entered his home because he found soda cans and an unlocked door. This intruder turned out to be Harrelson’s teenage son, who was ruled out by police as a suspect.
Sharon, however, was another story.
As investigators dug into her story, they learned how Sharon met her former husband, Nelson. She began working as an administrative assistant in 1976 for him (he was an optometrist) while married to Fuller. Nelson was married toobut she’s set her sights on him as her next deal, according to “Black Widow Murders.”
“Shortly after these two got together, tongues went wild. People said there was an affair between the doctor and his assistant,” Olsen said.
This case is what forced Mike Fuller to file for divorce from Sharon and move in with the couple’s children. Nelson and his first wife also divorced.
Sharon and Dr Nelson were married in 1977. In 1980 they had two children and life in the family seemed to be happy. But in July 1983, Nelson disappeared after leaving home for an optometry convention.
His car was eventually found in Clear Creek, suggesting he had been in an accident. His body wasn’t in the car, however.
An insurance investigation concluded that the death was an accident. Others weren’t convinced.
“We learned that Sharon was trying to have my father declared legally dead before they found a body,” Perry Nelson’s daughter Tammi Hallock said.
About 18 months later, the doctor’s body was found. The coroner found he had suffered a head injury, but could not say it was due to foul play. Sharon raised $250,000 life insurance payout.
For investigators investigating Harrelson’s murder, the fact that Sharon caused two husbands to die under mysterious circumstances set off alarm bells.
Reports that Sharon was having an affair at the time of Dr Nelson’s death raised more red flags. The other man Sharon was allegedly involved with was Gary Adamshis handyman.
Kuehne and Winter Park Police Chief Glen Trainor first questioned Sharon about Harrelson less than 24 hours after his death.
“She was very cool and poised,” Kuehne said.
Trainor’s gut told her “she knew way more about Glen’s death than she was letting us know,” he told producers.
Investigators arranged to interview Sharon again the next day. On this occasion, Sharon was much more emotional. “She just broke down,” Kuehne said.
Sharon insisted that they not talk to each other at her house. Along with her two young children, Sharon and the detectives went to Pizza Hut.
At the restaurant, Sharon told investigators how Gary Adams had conspired to murder Dr. Nelson for insurance money, claiming that she didn’t know his plan until it was completed.
She said Adams hitchhiked with the doctor and along the way he needed to get out to relieve himself. Adams, she claimed, then made up a story that he dropped his wallet to get Nelson out of the car. He bludgeoned Nelson with a rock, got him back in the car, and pushed the vehicle into the stream.
Life went on for the conspirators, who ended up going their separate ways. But when Sharon got involved with Glen Harrelson, Adams came back into her life. A plot was ultimately hatched to kill Harrelson, she said.
Sharon told investigators that Adams shot Harrelson and then burned down his house to cover up the murder. She had him bring back Harrelson’s wedding ring as proof that the job was done.
“This whole conversation is just surreal,” Trainor said. “It’s not like it happened during a police interview. It’s in a Pizza Hut.
On November 20, 1988, the two accomplices were arrested. Gary Adams and Sharon Nelson have been charged with two counts of first degree murder as well as conspiracy and solicitation to commit first degree murder.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to both homicides to avoid the death penalty. As part of her plea deal, Sharon confessed to her role in planning the murders, admitting that she paid Gary Adams $50,000.
“She was a conniving woman,” Kuehne said.
Sharon Nelson Harrelson and Gary Adams received two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, according to court documents. He remains behind bars. She died in prison in 2017.
For more on the case, watch “Black Widow Murders” aeration Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.