Dr. Isaac “Cam” Anderson, brother of Bristol’s Mayor Anderson, wedded Gate City beauty Mary Nelms, in October 1901. He moved to Gate City and became the most prominent physician in town. He gained an impressive reputation after successfully treating many lawmen wounded during shootouts with regional outlaws.
Sadly, Anderson was eventually attacked by a lawless individual, and possibly a number of them. He was found in December 1906. His body was covered in blood. His wife stood behind her family’s claim that it was suicide.
They told an elaborate tale, complete with Anderson claiming, “I’ll be in hell in 10 minutes.” One of the many problems was that Anderson chose a most bizarre method for self-destruction. Despite extensive knowledge of the human body, and easy access to toxic substances, the Nelms assured authorities that Anderson bled to death from a deep, self-inflicted, cut on his upper arm.
The Plot Thickens
The authorities did not investigate the event, at first. The Nelms assured everyone it was a suicide, and their word was taken on faith. That faith grew shaky when the maid cleaned the room where the death occurred. She lifted a carpet and found a surgical instrument with blood encrusted on it.
The case was presented to the coroner’s jury. Everyone believed the jury would return a verdict of suicide. They were shocked when the jury returned a verdict of “murder,” and suspicion fell upon 21-year-old James “Jim” Nelms, Anderson’s brother-in-law. The Nelms clung to their story, but it showed signs of wear. They first claimed they didn’t see Anderson at all that evening, and didn’t know what he was doing until it was too late. Then they saw him, just for a moment. The small details continued to change as time passed.
The Prosecution is a Success
The authorities initially believed the murderer had the key to Anderson’s pharmacy, where Anderson kept medical supplies and surgical instruments. They assumed the person with the key would be the culprit, and the Nelms supported it. Of course, none of the Nelms produced the key, and the defense suggested it was a certain sign of innocence.
Authorities served Jim Nelms with an arrest warrant before the end of December. The defense was stunned when the prosecution presented an unexpected “smoking gun.” Alexander Anderson, the doctor’s brother, and Bristol’s mayor, was among the first people on the scene after the event. Anderson was still conscious. Alexander testified that his brother revealed, “Jim Nelms stabbed me.”
Cam then said Mary, his wife, and her mother held him down so Jim could open the artery in his arm. The statement was also supported by Rhea Anderson and Elijah Kane.
The Smoking Gun
The Nelms encountered unexpected facts several times through the trial. Several medical professionals stated it was physically impossible to inflict such a wound upon oneself. Other witnesses testified that Anderson regularly lived in fear for his life. He’d previously told several close friends he believed his brother-in-law would kill him.
Nelms had problems with the bottle. He’d been an alcoholic for some time, and Cam had barred him from visiting his home, due to theft. The Nelms expected Cam to support and enable Jim’s habit, but he wouldn’t. A number of fellow physicians testified at trial, and they all agreed inflicting such a wound on oneself was nearly impossible.
Nelms was found guilty, but only sentenced to a year in prison. Regardless of what he did or did not admit, it was established that Anderson and Nelms fought just before the murder occurred. Perhaps the most baffling element is the family’s persistence in claiming an obvious murder was suicide.